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Wednesday, 29 April 1936

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .- Although in the ordinary course the debate on this motion would cover a wide range, it appears to have developed into a discussion concerning the duties on cement. I shall reserve my remarks under this heading until the committee is dealing with the relevant item, but it will be necessary to make passing reference to the subject owing to. the fact that the Government has announced the receipt from the British Government of a protest against the restoration by the House of Representatives of the duty on British cement, claiming that it contravenes the Ottawa agreement. It seems to me extraordinary that, when the Senate is about to discuss the tariff schedule, the British Government should, contrary to its traditions for courtesy to a self-governing dominion, make this protest for the obvious purpose of influencing votes in the Senate and stifling the private opinions of honorable senators.

Senator Brown - Perhaps the protest was inspired?

Senator LECKIE - The honorable senator may be right, and without knowing the circumstances and the exact terms of the protest, all we can say is that the action of the British Government is not in accordance with the traditions of

British diplomacy. I think the Government would be well supported if, on behalf of this Parliament, it resented any attempted interference hy an outside government during the discussion of tariff measures.

It is acknowledged that Parliament should have the earliest opportunity to consider the effect of duties imposed by the tariff. It is claimed by the Government that as the removal of the duty on British cement recommended by the Tariff Board became operative many months ago, when the schedule was laid on the table of the House of Representatives, any restoration of the former duty is an infringement of the terms of the Ottawa agreement. That argument is so infantile that I am unable to follow it. Perhaps the explanation is that the bridge between my mind and the collective mind of the Government has broken down. Whether it has broken down at my end or the Government's end is immaterial. I repeat that the argument does not appeal to me, and I feel sure also that it does not appeal to many hundreds of thousands of citizens in Australia. It is important to note that earlier legislation enacts that a reduction of a duty becomes operative immediately a new schedule is laid upon the table of the House of Representatives. That is a distinct departure from the procedure in any other Parliament, so far as I am aware. A period of eighteen months or more has elapsed between the introduction of a new tariff schedule a.nd the discussion of its incidence by Parliament. This procedure has on occasions worked a grave injustice to certain industries: Recently the Labour party re-announced its " new protection " policy.

Senator Hardy - The same old policy in a new dress.

Senator LECKIE - That party will grant protection to an industry only when it gives to its employees proper wages and conditions. Let us visualize what might, happen -in the event of an industrial dispute occurring with the Labour party in power in the Commonwealth. Were an industry not to give to its employees wages and conditions which that government thought proper., it could immediately table a tariff schedule removing altogether the import duties on competitive articles from overseas.

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