Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - Notwithstanding what the honorable member for Angas has said about some honorable memberswishing the Committee to " bolt " the recommendations of the Tariff Commission whole, I think it is to be deplored that it has allowed itself to drift into the present desultory discussion. I do not think that honorable members fully realize where we are. We have just listened to a most complete treatise on the chemistry of distillation, and the honorable member who has made that contribution seems to me to have lost sight of the fact that to-night the Committee is taking a step which may aim a serious blow at Royal Commissions in the future. Honorable members are talking of the Tariff Commission as if it were simply a Select Committee of the House, forgetful of the fact that the question which is being discussed, and into which I do not intend to enter, because I am not competent to discuss its merits, is really one on which the Commission has been sitting for over fifteen months. Why did the House require this and other questions to be referred, not to a Select Committee, but to a Commission composed of men who were supposed to have time and inclination to make adeep study of the questions involved, in the light of an enormous mass of evidence which was to be brought forward?

Mr Glynn - The same thing applies to the Tobacco Monopoly Commission.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, I should apply the same answer. The members of the Tariff Commission sat for over fifteen months; they sacrificed .their personal convenience, and listened to volumes of evidence from all sides; and the Committee appears to attach so little importance to the judicial aspect of their report that it is now proceeding to drift into a debate on one of the very questions which the Commission has settled. And on what testimony is it being asked to upset those conclusions ? On the one-sided testimony of a number of discontented people who had their chance of submitting all the facts, which, if submitted, were duly considered. The Minister puts the Committee in a most humiliating position. When he came forward, what did he say ? With very little ceremony - which I think should have received some notice from the Prime Minister - he moved a motion which involved a stultification of the conclusions at which the Commission had arrived. He actually said that his proposals were at the present time in an undecided form, but he would like the Committee to "thresh them out." For what reason? Presumably that he might ascertain what it thought before he put his proposal into a definite form.

Mr Webster - Not at all.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member must be absolutely wanting in knowledge of dignity and the rules of Parliament to say such a thing. « What is a Royal Commission for ?

Mr Webster - Dignity !

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not going to discuss the matter with, the honorable member. Let him make a speech after I have done.

Mr Webster - Do not talk of dignity, then.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is a Royal Commission for?

Mr Webster - Dignity !

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not dealing with honorable members with as little knowledge of the subject as the honorable member on my left.

Mr Webster - We are talking on a practical subject, not dignity.

The CHAIRMAN - Order !

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are dealing with a dignified body, consisting of eight men who were specially appointed by the Crown from both parties, because they were supposed to be capable and impartial.

Mr Webster - They are seldom here to show their capability.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask your protection, sir, because the honorable member's voice is more like a fog horn, and makes it impossible for me to proceed.

Mr Webster - And the honorable member's is like a steam whistle.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! I have already called the honorable member to order, and he ought to respect the direction of the Chair.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not hope to impress the honorable member ; I address myself to those who have had political experience, and recognise with me the great importance of this situation. I am much disappointed that the Prime Minister has shown so little appreciation of the seriousness of the situation as to fail to make a statement of his reasons for departing from the traditions and practices of Parliaments. I do not say that if a Royal Com-" mission makes a demonstrable blunder, obvious to all, its recommendation should be accepted, but when a Royal Commission has been appointed by the Crown to examine difficult and complex questions, to take evidence on all sides, on oath, and bring up an impartial finding, its conclusions should not be treated in the haphazard and cavalier way in which the Minister for Trade and Customs has dealt with the conclusions of the Tariff Commission. He had not a resolution ready to place before the Committee, and, when it was pointed out to him that we were being called upon to debate something which had not been put into the form of a definite issue, he said, "Well, I should like honorable members to thresh the matter out," presumably to give him an inkling as to the opinions of the majority, so that he may act accordingly, and so that the Government may float with the tide, instead, possibly, of struggling against it. I do not hesitate to say that if I were in the position of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo as Chairman of the Royal Commission, I should throw up my commission, because of , the contempt with which he and his colleagues have been treated by the Government. What evidence has the Minister resorted to to show that the Commission misunderstood this question ? I received today, as I suppose every other honorable member did, a copy of a letter addressed to the Minister of Trade and Customs by the South Australian Wine Growers'" Association, beginning -

In response to your invitation for suggestions from those interested in respect to the conclusions of the Royal Commission.

Those words reveal the existence of a highly reprehensible state of things. After a Royal Commission appointed by the Crown has fully inquired into this subject, the Minister of Trade and Customs - as late as the 24th July last - invited interested persons to criticise its findings.

Mr Watson - Why should he not do so?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely, the honorable member, if he had been Prime Minister, would not have allowed his Minister of Trade and Customs to invite interested persons to put before the Ministry ex -parte statements.

Mr Watson - Can we have too much light on this subject?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We can have it at the wrong time. The Commission has dealt judicially with an immense mass of evidence given on oath, and it is not only unfair, but an insult, to the Commission to put aside their conclusions because of ex parte and unsworn statements of persons who probably gave evidence which was considered of less weight than evidence in support of a contrary view. In its far-reaching consequences the want of appreciation of the dignity of the Commission shown by the Prime Minister and the Government mav be, a verv serious matter. If I, or any other honorable member, were now asked to sit upon a Commission, what would be the obvious answer? Would it not be said, " I might give mv time, and sacrifice my personal interests, for fifteen months, or more, and, having arrived at sound judicial conclusions in regard to an immense body of evidence, might then find that a Minister bad invited interested parties, who were disappointed with the findings of the Commission, to send in objections, and on them would be ready to set aside the Commission's recommendations " ?

Mr Tudor - That is what we thought in regard to the Shipping Commission.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There was a great difference qf opinion among the members of the Shipping Commission in regard to almost every point. But the Government wish us to set aside the unanimous recommendations of the Tariff Commis sioners, who, protectionists and free-traders alike, arrived at certain conclusions.

Mr Poynton - Are we to assume that the Commissioners were infallible?


Mr Poynton - The honorable and learned member practically said so.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have not said ,. so, nor is that inference to be drawn from v any sentence I have uttered. What I say is,that it would be impossible for honorable members to deal with, in a night or in a week, the evidence which the Commission took on oath from persons of all shades of opinion, and in regard to which they made unanimous recommendations. The Minister proposes to set aside, these recommendations because of the statement of persons who are admittedly interested, and who gave evidence before the Commission. It is as if, after the parties had stated their respective cases on oath in a Court of law, and the jury had given its verdict, one of them had said to the Judge, " I want you to hear me again, with a view to upset the verdict, because I am dissatisfied with it." I hope that the members of the Commission will take the step which. I have suggested, so that the country may realize the seriousness of what is being done. If I were one of them, I should throw up my commission at once, and not file another report. If the Government had a true sense of the constitutional importance of the situation it would refuse to allow the Minister of Trade and Customs to practically tout for objections from interested parties against the conclusions of the Commission, and would accept the recommendations of the body which they were practically the means of appointing, and which has made practically a judicial examination of the whole subject.

Suggest corrections