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Friday, 22 June 1906

Mr POYNTON (Grey) .- The introduction of this measure and the grip it seems already to have on honorable members, is the strongest possible evidence of what may be achieved by persistency. In my opinion, Mr. McKay, the manufacturer of the Sunshine Harvester, is entitled to congratulate himself upon what he has accomplished, because there is no doubt that the introduction of this measure is the outcome of his agitation. He has been sufficiently shrewd to decline to produce his books to show in what way his industry has been affected, but it is well known that it has increased by leaps and bounds, and I am safe in saying that to-day he controls at least one-half of the total output of harvesters manufactured in Australia. It is admitted that those engaged in the manufacture of harvesters have done well. Any statement to the contrary might easily be contradicted by a simple reference to the enormous growth of the industry. Mr. McKay makes no secret of the fact that what he desires is prohibition of imports, and the nearest road to that is disclosed in this measure. I wish at once to enter my protest against this most objectionable method of dealing with the Tariff. If a majority of the members of this House are in favour of Tariff reform, I shall be prepared to bow to their wishes if given expression to in a constitutional way by an amendment of the Tariff. That is not what is proposed. We have here a proposal to place in the hands of the Minister of Trade and Customs for the time being the power to hold up any imports, under the plea that they are the products of industries carried on under conditions of lower wages and longer hours of labour than prevail in similar industries in Australia. The Attorney-General made no secret of the fact that the hours of labour and! the wages paid in an industry are to form the test by which the admission or prohibition of goods is to be decided, and notwithstanding all the clap-trap we have heard from Ministers about preferential trade with England, there is not a single line of British manufactures the introduction of which might not be objected to if that is to be the test applied.

Mr Kennedy - What does the New Zealand Act provide?

Mr Fowler - In the New Zealand Act there is an explicit provision under which British manufactures are exempt from prohibition.

Mr POYNTON - This measure does not provide for that. I should like to know if the Minister will agree to exempt British goods from the operation of the Bill? That would be a proposal in the direction of preferential trade which we could understand. We are asked in the Bill to do something to check the threatened raids of a monster from outside, but there is in the measure machinery for the creation of a greater monster within our own borders. We know that there are many very powerful trusts and combines in America, and the experience of that country is that they have never yet been able to put them down. I ask honorable members to consider the operations of the great beef trust. They have so manipulated the trade that only one price is offered for cattle in the whole of the American markets. By systematic methods they succeeded in three years in reducing the price of cattle by $8 per head, whilst in the same period, through the operation of their packing houses, they increased the retail prices by 5 cents per lb. They have succeeded in absolutely ruining forty private banks that had advanced money to graziers for com to top up their cattle. Their operations have been followed by desolation, and in some instances by suicide. Quite recently a Committee was appointed, whose chairman was) a Mr. Garfield, who, I presume, is a descendant of President Garfield ; but its inquiries failed to produce any good result; and, singularly enough, it has been left to the writer of a novel to do more for preferential trade than has been done by the speeches and actions of all the statesmen in the Empire. Not only has the publication of The Jungle called the attention of the public to the objectionable methods of the Beef Trust, and incensed the people to such a degree against those who are responsible that better conditions will probably obtain in the future ; but it has done more to bring about preferential trade than has been done in any other way. The decision of the Imperial authorities to obtain in future from the British possessions- all the supplies of meat required for the British Army, is a great thing for Australia and New Zealand, from which these supplies will be chiefly drawn. I asked the Prime Minister, in all seriousness, a question relating to this Bill, which he treated with indifference. 1 wished to know if he would favour the making-of it a penal offence to charge abroad for articles manufactured in Australia lower prices than are charged within the Commonwealth. We have both States and Commonwealth legislation insisting that only our primest produce shall be exported'. We send the very best of what we produce to other countries, but, strangely enough, it is often sold there for prices lower than the people of the Commonwealth have to pay for similar or inferior produce. Prior to Federation a South Australian candlemaker was selling his candles at Broken Hill for 2d. a lb. less than he charged to the people of South Australia, who were paying for the protection of his industry, and, at the present time, the Colonial Sugar .Refining Company is selling its sugar in New Zealand at prices lower than are charged in Australia. If it be right to prevent, in the interests of our manufacturers, the inundation of our markets with dumped productions, is it not equally right to try to protect our consumers from imposition on the part of the local manufacturers? Manufacturers are the same all the world over, and will always be human enough to fake advantage of any legislation which will enable them to make higher profits. Consequently, if, under this measure, the importation of certain goods is prohibited, the effect will be, not to reduce, Mr. McKay, was quite willing to combine with the companies of which he is now complaining, in order to keep up the price of harvesters in this market, and. although he now declares the Harvester Trust to be a menace to Australian industry, he was at one time quite prepared to sell his business interests to it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member would not prevent a man from making a sale .which would be to his interest ?

Mr POYNTON - No ; but I am pointing out the hypocrisy of his present declarations. ' If he believes that the International Harvester Trust is a menace to the manufacturers and producers of Australia, why was he ready to hand over to it, at a price, the control of his business? I notice that a certain gentleman is going round this State, at the instance of the manufacturers of Victoria, giving lectures, and organizing. I presume that he is paid by them.

Mr Mauger - To whom does the honorable member allude?

Mr POYNTON - To Mr. Trenwith.

Mr Mauger - He is not paid by any manufacturer.

Mr POYNTON - It is very strange that he should travel all over the country at his own expense to do this work.

Mr Mauger - He is not being paid by the manufacturers for the work which he is doing. He has given his life to the cause.

Mr POYNTON - He is working for an organization which has certain funds, and is collecting for it. To whom does the money go?

Mr Mauger - Not to the manufacturers.

Mr POYNTON - If Mr. Trenwith does not get it, some one else must get it, because the money must be spent.

Mr Mauger - Are not the secretariesof trade unions paid? Cannot workmen, if they choose, pay a man for doing otherwork? What is the difference?

Mr POYNTON - There is a differencebetween the payments made by tradeunions and those made by manufacturers.

Mr Mauger - Tens of thousands of workmen are interested in this matter.

Mr POYNTON - Mr. McKayhasstated that, if the Bill is passed, or a duty °f £25 each imposed, he will give anundertaking to reduce the price of his harvesters by £5 this year, and £10 next year. That is the bribe held out to the farmers to support legislation of this kind. But what is the value of such a guarantee?' Within two or three months after the passing of the measure, he could sell out the whole of his interests. We shall make a mistake if we pass the Bill before we get. the report of the Tariff Commission on the whole question of Tariff reform. It was alleged, at the time of the appointment of that Commission, that the state of the iron industry and of the agricultural implement industry, necessitated some change in the Tariff; but it seems a farce to deal with this matter before we can obtain the reports of the Commission, whose investigations have already cost the country £10,000. When the Commission's reports come to hand, I am sure that honorable members, if the evidence shows the necessity for such action, will be ready to do whatever is necessary to prevent Australian industries from being destroyed by the tactics of manufacturers abroad in dumping their goods here. I, as a freetrader, would be ready -to protect local manufacturers against dumping, but I object to legislating on this matter in the dark, especially when we shall soon have the report of the Commission which was appointed to inquire into it.

Mr Fowler - We are asked to legislate on the assumption that there is dumping, but we do not know that dumping exists.

Mr Mauger - If there is no dumping, the provisions of Part III. cannot be brought into operation.

Mr POYNTON - Just imagine a board composed of men of the type of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. Before such a Board it would be the easiest thing in the world to prove that goods were produced under such conditions as to justify their importation being prohibited. Different decisions would probably be arrived at by boards appointed in New South Wales and Victoria respectively. I venture to say that the members of such boards would be distinctly biased - unconsciously, it may be - and would probably arrive at directly opposite conclusions with regard to the same class of articles. However, I understand that it is intended to substitute a Judge for the proposed board - an arrangement that will be less open to objection than the one proposed under the Bill. I fear, however, that delays will take place, and that trade will be hampered when certain goods are being refused admission to our markets pending an inquiry. One of the most objectionable features of the Tariff administration has been the delay in arriving at a decision with regard to imports in relation to which some question has arisen as to the amount of duty payable. The importers have not objected to the payment of the highest amount of duty for which they could be held liable, but their trade has been seriously hampered, and they have been greatly harassed by the delay in obtaining delivery of their goods. I am afraid that similar difficulties will occur in connexion with the administration of this Bill. I .shall vote for the second reading, but when we reach the Committee stage, I shall hold myself free to vote as my judgment dictates. I would suggest that the final consideration of the measure should be delayed until we can obtain a report from the Tariff Commission with regard to the imports that are likely to be most seriously affected by the present proposals. It is due to honorable members that they should have placed before them information of a far more specific character than that now available. If the Commission can show that imports are unfairly interfering with our industries, I, as an Austraiian, and as one who is anxious to support local industries, will do everything I can to afford the local manufacturers protection. At the same time, I do not wish to encourage any industry, however good it may be in its own way, at enormous cost to the consumers.

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