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Tuesday, 10 July 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, the Massey-Harris Company is a British company.

Sir William Lyne - It is a Canadian company, supported by the United States.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a British company operating within the charmed circle of the Empire, for the prosperity of which Ministers profess so much concern. Now, however, they have submitted legislation which is specially aimed at the Canadian exporters of harvesters to Australia. If the Massey-Harris Company are engaged in destructive competition, such as has been so clearly explained by the honorable member for Perth - if they have designs on our harvester trade, and have expressed a determination to drive the local makers out of the market with a view to afterwards increasing the prices of their machines, the Minister might appeal to us to do something. But when he is challenged, he merely quotes figures which show that the trade has been carried on in the ordinary course. He told us that £85,000 worth of harvesters had been imported into Australia during the last year.

Mr Glynn - And that £30,000 had been exported.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It has been proved, in the course of evidence given before the Tariff Commission, that the Australian harvester manufacturers are turning out harvesters to the value of £250,000 per annum. It does not appear that they are being subjected to destructive competition. On the contrary, it is clear that our harvester manufacturers are holding their own against Canadian and American competitors. At any rate, I hope with all my heart that they are. Neither I nor those associated with me on this side of the Chamber, desire to see the local factories closed up ' through the operation of foreign competition. Nothing would please us better than to see the Australian harvester manufacturers flourishing, and able to compete with all 'their outside rivals, so long as they can do so upon terms fair to the public. There is nothing in the present conditions, so far as they have been disclosed to us, to indicate that anything beyond ordinary trading operations are being carried on. If there is anything to which objection can be taken, why are we not furnished with information either by the Minister or by the members of the Tariff Commission, who have been engaged in inquiring into the matter ? The Tariff Commission have visited the various States during, the recess, and have, in the most self-sacrificing manner, devoted themselves to the acquirement of information bearing upon the very problem that is now engaging our attention. And yet, on the very eve of the presentation of their report to this House, this Bill is being rushed through. There is no justification for asking us to pass1 legislation of this kind until we have been placed in possession of the information obtained by the Tariff Commission. The Minister is in duty bound to enlighten us as to the basis upon which he rests his present proposal. Unless he does so, we are entitled to ask that this legislation shall be held over. We shall be justified in adopting every means that may be open to us to insure that the fullest light shall be thrown upon the matter. We ought to be exceedingly chary about passing legislation which in its very essence involves prohibitive protection. The way in which to meet unfair competition from abroad is not by passing a Bill which would prevent the possibility of trade, but by so regulating the importations by means of a Tariff - that is, if we believe in regulating such matters - as to insure that the competition shall not be destructive to our industries. That would be a much more straightforward way of meeting the difficulty ; but there is one very important reason why that method should not be adopted by the Government. The Prime Minister, more than any other man in this Chamber, is pledged not to raise the Tariff question during the currency of this Parliament. He knows very well that if he brought down a new Tariff schedule without reference to the reports of the Tariff Commission, he would break a pledge which he solemnly gave from all the public platforms upon which he appeared at the last election. Knowing that that pledge is in existence, and feeling that he is bound to observe it - at least, outwardly - he is endeavouring by means of the present Bill to sneak behind his promise. This part of the' measure in its present form means prohibitive protection, and therefore Ave are entitled to demand that the fullest justification shall be offered for its introduction. I again ask the Minister of Trade and Customs to fulfil the promise he made during the second-reading debate. It is his duty to the House and to the country to inform us as to the basis upon which his drastic proposals rest. It is due also - and I hope that I may say this without laying myself open to any unfair accusations - to the persons against whom we are raising these barriers that they should know the basis upon which we are proceeding. It is only fair that the Massey-Harris Company, as a British firm, should know why we are proposing to ruthlessly shut them out of our markets. If the company are adopting unfair means with a view to bringing about the downfall of our harvester manufacturers, we should be informed as to how they are acting. Apparently, however; those who have the fullest information on the subject are not permitted to impart it to us. Having regard to all the circumstances surrounding the case, I do not know that it' would be contravening any political ethic for the Chairman of the Tariff Commission to give us the information which he has upon this subject. Indeed, it seems to me that he might incur a grave responsibility if he withheld information which would prevent us from making a grave mistake. That is a matter, of course, which he will have to decide for himself, and I am sure that he and the other members of the Commission will be actuated by considerations of duty, and nothing else. I desire to pay the Commission the compliment of saying that they have performed exceedingly hard work, and the information which they have gathered at so much cost to themselves should prove very valuable to us. It is disgraceful that we should be debarred from taking advantage of that information, when we are being asked to legislate with regard to matters which the Commission have made the subject of special inquiry. I suppose that it is of no use to make any further appeal to the Minister of Trade and Customs. He has made up his mind as to the course he will pursue, and he has a very effective way of meeting, a situation of this kind, namely, to sit still and say nothing. He is sure of those who sit behind him. Thev ask no questions. Free-trader and protectionist behind him are alike dumb, and therefore the Minister thinks that it is best to sit tight until honorable members of the Opposition have exhausted themselves.. This legislation will be placed on the statute-book, and, too late, we may find that those who know most about' the subject have declared that it is not necessary so far as some of these enterprises are concerned. After seeing in the daily pressfrom time to time reports of the evidence given before the Tariff Commission, I shall be very much surprised if the members of that Commission report that there. is need' for this special legislative interference for the protection of the manufacture of harvesters in Australia.

Mr Mcwilliams - It deals with all agricultural machinery, and not with harvesters alone.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am aware of that, hut the Minister specially singled out harvesters in his speech. The honorable gentleman made that large general statement, which we have heard from platforms a thousand times already, as to the many million pounds' worth of metals and machinery that are being imported to this country. The strange thing about the honorable gentleman's statements is that the figures he gave in his secondreading speech indicated a decline in the importations of metals and machinery, and not an increase. They showed a decline of over £1,000,000.

Sir William Lyne - They showed an increase for last year over the year before.

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