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Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - - I congratulate the Minister of Trade and Customs upon having brought down a set of proposals in which "he does not believe, and upon having thrown them on the table in much the same way as a man throws a bone to his dog. I have not the slightest intention of commencing to gnaw that bone myself. I prefer to wait until the Minister has brought down his mature and definite proposals, so that honorable members may discuss something of a tangible character. I have certainly never known a Minister who was engaged in formulating proposals as important as these are - they affect our revenue to the extent of millions sterling, so far as their total yield is concerned - to frankly tell the Committee that he has no definite propositions to submit, and to ask honorable members in the meantime to discuss something before the Chamber, but to which his own knowledge led him to believe he could not subscribe. That is an unheard-of position of affairs, and one that I venture to say will find no parallel in any of our State political arenas in connexion with proposals made by any of our State Ministries.

Sir William Lyne - Could I do anything which would please the honorable member ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not a matter of pleasing me or any other honorable member upon this side of the Chamber. The position is that the Minister, who is responsible for the conduct of his own Department, and who is the custodian of the Customs and Excise revenues of the Commonwealth, should know what he ought to do under a given set of circumstances. After having received the mature opinions of the Tariff Commission, which have spent many anxious months in the consideration of these matters, he ought to have made up his mind as to what would be his final attitude in regard to them.

Sir William Lyne - It is the report of the Commission which makes the trouble.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It appears to me that the trouble of which the Minister speaks has only arisen since his visit to South Australia. May be if he paid a visit to New South Wales in connexion with this matter his opinion might be again varied. I hope, at all events, that the further proposals will not be like the lame, silly speech which the honorable gentleman made at Adelaide on Saturday night last. Perhaps it was because his mind was preoccupied with these more important matters that he then delivered the disjointed speech which we read in the newspapers.

Sir William Lyne - Has that speech anything to do with the proposals now before the Committee?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It has, since, among other' statements which the honorable gentleman made at the meeting in question, was the assertion that he believed in protection, and not in Excise duties. Are we to understand that when he spoke in that way he was referring to the spirit duties? I should say that he will have to believe in Excise duties in relation to spirits, whether or not he likes them in connexion with other matters. But I am not going to discuss this Question at the present stage; I prefer to wait until the Minister brings down his definite proposals.

Sir William Lyne - If the honorable member does not discuss them now, he may have to wait some little time for another opportunity.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not particularly concerned in that regard. I point out that the Minister now seems to be in a most casual mood. He appears to be proceeding in the most leisurely way in regard to these matters, which were t at one time said to be of pressing urgency and importance. . We have heard times out of number of the way in which our Australian distillers have been and are being punished by our mangling and strangling Tariff. It seems now, however, that the nearer we approach the general election the less urgency there is in relation to Tariff questions. Here we have another illustration of this fact. The Minister of Trade and Customs is in the most casual and leisurely mood, and does not care whether or not he proceeds with the consideration of these matters. If he cares nothing about them, I fail to see why the Opposition should trouble very much. I rose only to protest against the Minister's method of proceeding with important matters, since he has indicated to the Committee that he has another set of proposals which may radically differ from those now before us, and which he will bring down on a subsequent date.

Sir William Lyne - I said nothing of the kind.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has not the honorable gentleman indicated to the Committee that he is going to make some alterations ?

Sir William Lyne - I said that there might be some alterations suggested in regard to one or two of the clauses.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the statement of the honorable gentleman that as soon as he had looked further into these matters he found some serious faults with them does not indicate the necessity for serious consideration, I should like to know what does. At any rate, his tentative, timid attitude serves only to make the position more serious. Other honorable members mayproceed, if they desire to do so, to discuss these questions, but I propose to wait until the Minister comes down with matured and connected propositions which the Government are able to stand by - subject, of course, to reasonable discussion in Committee - in other words, until Ministers have finally made up their minds as to what they propose to do with regard to the spirit duties.

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