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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - But for Senator James McLachlan's quotation of a sentence from a speech delivered in the House of Representatives on this subject by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), I would not have participated in this debate. That quotation, I suggest, is like a number of other quotations often submitted to honorable senators; divorced from its text, it seems rather damaging. On this matter I am placed in a rather difficult position, because I recognize that the cement industry is of vital importance to Australia, and care should be exercised to see that no actual harm is done to it, whilst, on the other hand, I feel that we must, undoubtedly, honour the Ottawa agreement, which has proved of great value to Australia. In my difficulty I have studied the debates which took place in both chambers when tha Ottawa agreement was before this Parliament. The only conclusion I arrived at was that the then Opposition, led by Mr. Scullin, attacked the Government violently on the ground that the agreement denied to this Parliament the right to review or alter in this respect any finding of the Tariff Board. On that occasion, Mr. Beasley said - . . A good deal has already been said in this debate about article 12. and much more will be said about it before the debate concludes. It cannot be too frequently stressed that this article seriously affects the power of this Parliament to protect the industries of Australia. There cannot be a shadow of doubt that the article implies the scuttling of Australian secondary industries. It is proposed that the Tariff Board shall be equipped with greater power than this Parliament has. It is required of us, in my opinion, to jealously safeguard our power, and to rigorously resist any intrusion into our sphere of government. If the agrement is approved, unemployment would undoubtedly increase, and Parliament will be unable to do anything to safeguard or stimulate our secondary industries. Stripped of all humbug, this agreement means that for five years the Parliament of Australia will be powerless to do anything effectively for the protection of Australian industries.

This, of course, rather over-states the case, but in view of these remarks, I cannot understand the attitude adopted by the members of the present Opposition in this chamber. I emphasize that there were two parties to this agreement - Great Britain and Australia. They entered into a pact which was to operate over a period of years. The Australian delegates to the conference at Ottawa undertook that the Australian Government would place the agreement before Parliament and the British delegates undertook that their Government would do likewise. If one of two parties to an agreement claims that it has been broken, somebody must decide which party is in the right, and which is in the wrong. Speaking on the Ottawa agreement in the chamber, Sir Hal Colebatch pointed out that the time would arrive when someone would have to decide such a dispute. When asked by an honorable senator if the High Court should be the body to decide it, he replied that he. did not know, adding that perhaps time would decide the matter. The following report appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, of yesterday.

The British High Commissioner (Sir Geoffrey Whiskard) warmly defended Great Britain's intervention in the controversy over cement duties, in a speech to-day to the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce.

Sir GeoffreyWhiskard, who was the guest of the chamber at a luncheon, said that the freedom of both Australia and Great Britain had been curtailed by the Ottawa agreement, and he asked whether Australia would not have protested vigorously if Great Britain had broken her part of the agreement.

At Ottawa Australia made a definite bargain with Great Britain. Both parties to the agreement expect to get something from it and the Commonwealth, equally with Great Britain, is in honour bound to observe its part of the contract. Sir Geoffrey Whiskard went on to say -

In the last few years the members of the Empire, he said, had realized that the more each bought from the others, the more each could sell. They had learned that if trade was to be progressive, it had to be bilateral. At the Ottawa Conference there had been hard bargaining, not in the spirit of men determined to get the better of the other fellow, but in the spirit of men who realized that the more they bought, the more they could sell.

It hod been suggested, he continued, that certain representations about cement duties, which he had made on behalf of the British.

Government, were a gross interference by the United Kingdom with the freedom of Aus tralia to manage its own affairs. " Is this true?" Sir Geoffrey asked. "Is it not a fact that in every bargain each buyer does in certain specific respects limit his own freedom of action for the time of the bargain V"

Under the Ottawa agreement we have limited our action for five years. Our undertaking is that British manufacturers shall have a reasonable opportunity to compete in the Australian market, in return for which Great Britain has given us valuable concessions in the British market.

Senator COLLINGS - The Ottawa agreement does not bind us to eliminate all protection of our secondary industries.

Senator ARKINS - Under the Ottawa agreement questions relating to duties are to be referred to the Tariff Board. Sir Geoffrey Whiskard stated further -

Tho British Government entered into u certain bargain concerning imports from foreign countries which limited her freedom of action. Supposing the Parliament of Westminster decided to disregard those limits, would not the Commonwealth Government be entitled to protest very vigorously? The British Government and the other governments of the Empire undertook certain things at Ottawa, and they undertook those tilings in return for very definite and worthwhile advantages.

The British Government, Sir Geoffrey added, had undertaken obligations at Ottawa which were not easy to assume, notably the obligation of restricting meat imports from a country with which it had close economic relations, hut Great Britain now felt that it had been worth while to undertake those obligations. 1 have endeavoured, during this discussion, to find out where I stand with regard to the Ottawa agreement which I regard as vital. I was surprised to hear Senator Herbert Hays say that he, as one representative of the State of Tasmania, reserved to himself the right to interpret the agreement. If other honorable senators took the same view the position would be impossible. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has stated that the Tariff Board's findings may be reviewed, but only by agreement between the two parties - the British and Commonwealth. Governments - which alone may determine in what particular it may be altered. I have no desire to injure any of our secondary industries; but I take the view that, under the Ottawa agreement, we are bound to do certain things. In many respects it is a wise agreement. The Leader of the Senate told us to-night that matters of very great importance to the Commonwealth and the Empire, even the Ottawa agreement itself, will be reviewed very shortly. Therefore, we should be especially careful. The British High Commissioner, with the full responsibility of his office, has intimated quite plainly that the British Government would regard the retention of the duty on British cement as an infringement of the Ottawa agreement. The Commonwealth Government takes the same view. There is disagreement among senators, some supporting the Government, and others being opposed to it on this item. In view of what has been said, and of the importance of this issue to the Commonwealth and the Empire, I believe that we should stand by the obligations which we entered into at Ottawa. This course, I am convinced, will be in the best interests of the Commonwealth and of the Empire.

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