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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - On this vexed question I adopted the same attitude as the Government, which was apparently in conformity with the recommendation of the Tariff Board. The board accepted the necessities of the agreement made at Ottawa, and the Government decided that the original proposal of the House of Representatives to impose a duty upon the admission of British cement, which was contrary to the finding of the board, was an infringement of the agreement. Apparently, the British representative in Australia and the British Government thought similarly. In the circumstances, the decision as to what is right and wrong must apparently be left to the decision of individual senators. In my opinion, that is wrong. I voted for the observation of the Ottawa agreement because, if an agreement is made between two countries, it should be carried out to the full. In any future agreement, which we may make with Great Britain, our undertakings should be set out more plainly than was done in the Ottawa agreement. I admit that peculiar circumstances existed at Ottawa, but it . is most unsatisfactory that the agreement should have been so worded as to give rise to such 'remarkable differences of opinion as have been expressed on it recently. I have met men who hold that the rejection of the Tariff Board's recommendation in respect of cement duties would definitely constitute a breach of the Ottawa agreement, and others who, just as definitely, hold the opposite view. Such differences are hard to understand. With the object of studying this matter as closely as possible, I read all the speeches made on the Ottawa agreement in the House of Representatives, hut, finally, I was obliged to interpret it for myself, and I have come to the conclusion that the agreement leaves it to the Tariff Board to decide what constitutes opportunities for fair competition for British manufacturers. I agree with Senator Millen that if British cement were allowed to enter this country at abnormally low prices, the local industry would be destroyed, and if this should eventuate it will be the duty of this Government to take steps to preserve the Australian industry.

Senator Sampson - Why give to British manufacturers the opportunity, in the first place, to destroy the Australian industry?

Senator ARKINS - The honorable senator knows my views on this matter. We are aware that some of the Australian cement companies have made abnormal profits, and that one or two State governments have actually set up companies in opposition to the existing companies in order that they might be able to secure cement at cheaper prices. It would be better, not only for this country as a whole, but also for the cement firms themselves if cement were sold as cheaply as possible. Again, I express the hope that when the Ottawa agreement is reviewed the new agreement will be more definite, and that no room for doubt will exist as to what will constitute a breach of either the spirit or the letter of the agreement. In the existing agreement, Great Britain's obligations are clearly set out.

I cannot see any good reason why J should change 'my previous attitude on this matter. I agree, however, that this is a compromise,- and therefore I shall not vote against the Government. If any breach of the agreement has been committed it becomes a matter for consultation and adjustment between this Government and that of the United Kingdom. I believe that we should endeavour to honour, both in the letter and the spirit, any agreement which we make with any other country.

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