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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . - I do not propose to occupy the time of the committee in discussing the requested modification of the amendment, but I wish to say a few words about the general question. The item covering the duties on cement in no way differs from hundreds of other items in the schedule; but, as the result of a discussion which took place upon it in the House of Representatives, it assumed an importance which, I feel sure, the manufacturers of cement did not appreciate, and which very few people expected that it would. It was asserted by at least one member of the Government that the amendment carried in the House of Representatives was a breach of the Ottawa agreement; but what, in my view, was far more important, was the protest which, we were informed, had been made by the British Government against what it considered to be a contravention of our undertaking at Ottawa. So far as I know, that protest lias not been withdrawn. The Leader of the Senate has expressed the opinion that this postponement of the duty on British cement was a technical breach of the agreement, and the Postmaster-General has told us that it will be a subject for consultation, but that he has very little doubt that the British Government will condone any breach of the agreement that may be made if we. retain the duty. But I recall that the Postmaster-General warned us last week when Senator Foll submitted a similar request, that it would be a direct breach of the Ottawa agreement.

Senator Sir George Pearce - That request was for a postponement of the duties for twelve months.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - That is so, but the principle is identical with that contained in what is now the Government's proposal in this chamber. The Leader of the Opposition now suggests that the period should be extended to eighteen months. I do not wish to revile anybody in connexion with this matter; but, for my part, if the imposition of the British duty is a technical breach, or in any other respect is a contravention of the Ottawa agreement, I stand for honouring our commitments. Last week I reminded honorable senators that the obligation was on us to see that the spirit of the agreement was carried out. I said, at the time, that I was in some doubt that what was about to be done was legally a breach of the agreement, but as it was claimed by the British Government to be a breach, and as this Governmentthought it was a breach, we ought to treat it on that basis. I admit that, in voting as I did last week, I was influenced by the knowledge that the British Government would regard the retention of the duty on British cement as a breach of the Ottawa agreement, and I am not now inclined to reverse my vote. Unlike Senator Leckie, I stand, not for the cement industry or any other industry, but for carrying out our obligations to the British Empire.

Amendment negatived.

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