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Wednesday, 13 May 1936


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . - I shall not take up a great deal of the time of the committee, because I said what I wished to say, and, at some length, in the general debate. My purpose to-night is to summarize my views on this subject. The first point to consider is the relation of this item to the Ottawa agreement, and as the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) has dealt admirably and in detail with that aspect of the matter - very much better than I could have done - it is not necessary that I should attempt to add anything to what he has said. It does, however, seem to me that we should be giving a very poor return for the benefits which we have enjoyed for many years if now we sought to re-open the Ottawa agreement with a view to deciding whether or not we should honour our part of the compact.


Senator Herbert Hays - The benefits under the Ottawa agreement are mutual.


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - That is. true, but that does not affect the question now before the committee. The benefits which we have enjoyed have exceeded those accruing to Great Britain, partly because the concessions given by the Mother Country were immediate, whereas ours, from the very nature of the agreement, have been delayed.


Senator Herbert Hays - Figures relating to British imports have shown a substantial increase.


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Perhaps so, but I repeat that that does not affect the question which we have now to decide, namely, whether we shall carry out our part of the agreement.


Senator Plain - We have done so.


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - In the general debate, I questioned whether we had properly honoured our part of the contract, particularly in relation to primage, and I took the view that we had not done so. This, of course, is a matter of opinion, but any honorable senator who cares to study the articles of the Ottawa agreement, particularly article 14, which deals with primage, will, I am sure, have very grave doubts on the point.


Senator Foll - We agreed to remove the primage duty immediately the finances of the Commonwealth permitted that to be done. ^ Senator DUNCANHUGHES.Exactly. Paragraph c of article 11 places on the Commonwealth the obligation to " remove primage duty as soon as the finances of Australia will allow." We could, of course, delay action until we had repaid every internal and external borrower; but obviously, that would not be the observance of the spirit of the agreement. As to whether, from the legal point of view, the agreement has been broken by the amendment of the British preferential duty in the House of Representatives, I cannot say. I know that four eminent King's counsel have expressed the opinion that the British duty of 6d. per cwt. is not a breach of the Ottawa agreement. Those gentlemen know much more of the law than I do. I move away from the word of the law very reluctantly to the spirit of the law, because laws were made in order that parties to an agreement might understand their legal position; it is dangerous to get away from the word of the law to the spirit of the law. In this matter we should do well to heed what the Leader of the Senate has just emphasized, namely, that whatever may be the legal position, we should carry out the general terms of the Ottawa agreement in a proper and honorable spirit. If we read the articles in conjunction with the statement of the Leader of the Senate this evening, we can, I think, come to no other conclusion than that, if we say that legally we are not bound to do certain things, we shall simply be taking advantage of a legal flaw in the agreement. If we adopt that course, is it likely, in the long run, to benefit Australia? I support the Government, because, on the merits of the Ottawa agreement, I think its attitude is right. But I can quite understand Senator Leckie's opposition to the agreement. He considers that it is of no advantage to us. I gather that he is frankly hostile to it, and would like to see it abrogated.


Senator Leckie - No ; but I should like to see it amended. I do not question the value to Australia of the British market.


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES -That is what the honorable senator did, if he will excuse my saying so, when he spoke on the second reading, and that is why Senator Brennan and I took him up. He stated, quite definitely, that the Ottawa agreement had been of no advantage to Australia. I say that it has been of great benefit to us. Whilst most agreements require alteration occasionally, it is a bad thing for the country and the Empire to say that, because there are provisions in the Ottawa agreement which might be improved, the agreement is an absolute failure.

I support the Government also because it proposes to reduce tariffs. Ever since I was elected to the Senate I have stood for a reduction of tariffs, and it would be most inconsistent on my part if, when the Government proposes a reduction, I failed to support it, irrespective of whether an industry in my own State was affected. Nevertheless, I agree with Senator Millen that the proposed reduction of theduties on cement is rather severe, although a general reduction of duties might be a good thing. Senator Millen also mentioned the duties on textiles as amongst those which might be reduced. There is also the duty on galvanized iron, which three years ago the Senate challenged; a1 though its decision was not confirmed by the other branch of the legislature. Glass, boots and shoes, and a number of other articles could also with advantage be subject to lower duties.


Senator Foll - What about motorcar bodies?


Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - We shall come to that item to-morrow. In passing, I may say that the duties on British motor-car panels are not excessively high.

Senator Sampsonand Senator Collings referred to the value of cement in the defence of Australia. The former said that it was always desirable to make a personal reconnaissance. I agree with Senator Brennan that it was not necessary for those who were weighing the pros and cons of the cement duties to visit the works of the companies affected, and 1 remind Senator Sampson that General Ludendorff, who knows something about military matters, has stated that, even in the military sphere, it is most undesirable for a senior officer to visit the front line trenches because, if he does, he is almost certain to have his judgment affected by the difficulties which he sees there. Senator Plain said that the protest of the British Government suggested that the people and the politicians of this country are dishonest. I do not understand the British protest at all in that way. In my opinion, it means merely that a business agreement, which had existed for some time and in relation to which there have probably been many differences of opinion, is regarded by the Government of the United Kingdom as not, in the present instance, being kept as faithfully by Australia as it should be. I do not think that any one can cavil at the action of the British Government. Surely it is better to point out in advance the danger than to wait until a breach of the agreement has occurred. The duties on cement are of relatively small importance when the main issues are taken into account. To those immediately concerned they appear to be of vital importance, but we are here to consider, not only the interests of those engaged in the cement business, but, even more, the interests of the community as a whole. I do not fear that the Government's proposal, if agreed to, will have the disastrous effect on the Australian cement-making industry that Senator Leckie and others profess to believe. In any case, it is our duty to consider this subject as representatives of the whole community. Similar problems will arise from time to time, and we must always remember that the concrete case under consideration has to be weighed against a host of intangibles which are of far more importance to the nation.







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