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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - At this juncture, I desire to clear away certain misunderstandings which exist in the minds of members of the Opposition. Senator Collings said that excessive profitmaking by cement companies should be dealt with by means of taxation, and Senator Brown has suggested that if the facts are as found by the Tariff Board, ah inquiry of a punitive character should be embarked upon by the board under section 15 of the act. The latter suggestion constitutes an attempt by the Labour party to throw up a smoke screen in order to enable its supporters to extricate themselves from the predicament in which they find themselves. The Tariff Board act expresses clearly the duties of the Minister. Honorable senators will recall that, in the course of my second-reading speech, I approved of the policy laid down by Mr. Scullin in 1931, in which he indicated that the Tariff Board was the proper authority to employ to inquire into these matters. To-day, honorable senators opposite, suggest - and this is a subtlety of their opposition to the Government - that because a Tariff Board inquiry has been held under one section of the act, and has found certain things in regard to this industry which we are not attempting to remedy by still allowing them the benefit of the exchange equivalent of 9d. per cwt. on cement, we should technically refer the matter to the board under section 15 1 h, for a punitive inquiry which can be made only after the Minister has received complaints of the nature specified in the act. An inquiry has been made under the provisions of paragraph d which reads -

(d)   The necessity for new, increased, or reduced duties, and the deferment of existing or proposed deferred duties;

The board heard evidence on two occasions, and on this arrived at its findings. Yet the honorable senator seeks to escape those findings on the empty technicality that the inquiry should have been held under the provisions of paragraph h. In such circumstances I should imagine that those interested in the cement industry would say: "Save us from our friends." Paragraph h reads -

(h)   Any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the tariff, and in particular in regard to his -

(i)   charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods; or

(ii)   acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public; or

(iii)   acting in a manner which results in unnecessarily high prices being charged to the consumer for his goods, and shall not take any action in respect of any of those matters untilhe has received the report of the board.

The Minister has received such a report together with the recommendations of the Tariff Board. Does Senator Brown suggest that because no complaint had previously been made, the Minister could not refer this matter to the board and that the complaint having now been made the Minister should ask the board to conduct an inquiry under paragraph h? I ask the honorable senator what distinction can be drawn between the findings arrived at by the board on the inquiry already held and any inquiry which it might make. Under paragraph h, I emphasize that Mr. Scullin, in 1930, held the view that the Tariff Board, irrespective of how it had come into existence, was the proper authority to employ for inquiries of this nature. I admit that Mr. Scullin, on that occasion, made specific reference to section8 of the act; but what does that matter? We have the facts and findings of the board based on inquiries which it has already held into this industry. The provisions under which those inquiries were held do not inflict punishment on any one.

Senator Brown - That is a lawyer's view.

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