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Wednesday, 29 April 1936

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . - As apparently has been the case with other honorable senators, this bill does not arouse very much enthusiasm in me. I suppose that the relative lack of interest in the tariff which has been noticeable throughout it.s consideration in this chamber and in the House of Representatives, is inevitable, in view of the great delay that has occurred in affording Parliament an opportunity to express its opinion on the duties. The first instalment of this schedule was laid before the House of Representatives on the 6th December, 1934, and as those duties came into effect at that date, it is natural that some of the novelty should have worn off that portion of the schedule. Three years have elapsed since we had our last full-dress debate on the tariff. I do not propose to" go through all the details that I pre- sented to this chamber on that occasion, but I intend to say a few words to bring the position up to date. I do not in any way depart from the views I expressed on the tariff three years ago. In fact, I go further, and say that the views which various honorable senators, including myself, enunciated then with regard to the tariff as it affects Australia generally, are being proved to be sound. I shall adduce some reasons in support of that assertion. To begin with, .the very fact that so many reductions of duties have been made is in itself a proof that the rates of duties submitted to us three years ago were too high. I have said elsewhere, if I have not already made the statement in this chamber, that it does not really matter much what attitude we take towards the tariff, because the tariff issue has passed outside Australia. I and other honorable senators urged three years ago that, by moving to meet hostile action by other countries, we might to some extent avert the impending storm. That movement has not taken place, and the impending storm is now more imminent and more threatening than it was three years ago.

Senator Hardy - What is the impending storm?

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - -It is that countries overseas are becoming, as we also are becoming in relation to them, increasingly critical of others which do not make proper trade arrangements with them, or in default of such arrangements do not trade with them. The result is that we have reached a stage when we can hope to keep our trade with other countries in what constitutes a great portion of our products, only by making special treaties. I shall have something further .to say on that matter later.

I find myself in no more agreement to-day than I was three years ago with the Government's attitude on the tariff. 1 agree with Senator Leckie that to this' "Government and its predecessor we owe the restoration of confidence in the community, and the apparent rehabilitation of business generally in the Commonwealth. However, I do not agree that the Government's tariff policy is correct. Senator Leckie, approaching the matter from a different angle, holds the same view. The Government started out,

I'32l partly with the object of restoring employment. We are all in agreement with that objective. The aim of all of us is to benefit our country, but we have different ideas as to how that end will best and most permanently be achieved. On this point, I join issue with some other honorable senators. The Government started out with the idea of increasing employment, and I admit that it has to a considerable extent succeeded. I do not think there can be any question about that. At the same time, I feel that its policy has leaned very definitely to the side of the manufacturers of Australia, with unfavorable results to the primary producers.

Senator Arkins - Senator Leckie disagrees with the honorable senator.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - I shall answer the points raised by Senator Leckie.

Senator Hardy - Senator Leckie was beginning to think that the honorable senator was his ally.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Yes, and on certain points I am. For instance, I agree with what he said concerning the delay in affording the Parliament an opportunity to deal with this schedule, although we criticize this delay from different angles. But I do not agree with Senator Leckie's view that a schedule should come into operation forthwith only when it effects an upward variation of duties. If this course were adopted, a great advantage would be given to the manufacturers in the event of an increase of duties, whilst a tariff effecting a downward revision of duties might lie on the table, as has happened in. this instance, for sixteen months, before coming into operation.

I dissent from what the honorable senator said concerning the Tariff Board. I do not wish anything that I say concerning the board to be regarded as criticism of its actions although I do not suggest that all of its decisions are the best imaginable. I have, however, no doubt' in my mind that the board conducts its investigations with the greate ' of care and in a true public spirit. Senator Leckie suggested that Parliament has handed over its powers to the Tariff Board; that is not so. Parliament will continue to exercise its judgment, and will have the final determination. I remind the honorable senator that he accepted the function of the Tariff Board when he approved of the Ottawa agreement. I did not accept it. At the general elections, and when the measure embodying the agreement was under consideration, I said that I was not in favour of leaving these matters to the Tariff Board. I contend that it is the duty of the Government to propose what the customs duties shall be after having received recommendations from the Tariff Board.

Senator Leckie - I agree.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - The honorable senator and others who think as he does have had the benefit of the delays caused by the fact that for three years the Lyons Government has chosen to refer to the Tariff Board certain matters for investigation, and it is unfair now, when duties begin to decrease slightly, for such interests to say that they are opposed to the Tariff Board system.

Senator Leckiepointed out that we have to pay exchange on the interest on overseas loans, and that the exchange rate is fixed by the Commonwealth Bank Board. Has it occurred to the honorable senator that we are not the only ones placed in some such position? Like the honorable senator, I am inclined to the view that it would be better to leave the exchange unpegged, so that it might find its own level. But I speak only as an amateur in financial matters; the men who decide these things know more about the subject than I do. Instead of cushioning the fall, to prevent any bones from being broken, they may have thought it best to state the limit to which the exchange should fall; I do not profess to be able to say with authority whether such a policy is right. In recent years, the currency of the majority of the great nations of the world has been devalued and stabilized. The honorable senator criticized the exchange rate because it depreciates Australian currency, but what of the devaluation and stabilization of the mark in Germany, the franc in France, and the lira in Italy?

Senator Leckie - I objected to the pegging of the exchange because it merely depreciates our currency and cannot be used for the regulation of overseas trade.

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