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Friday, 24 August 1906

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member must not refer to the conduct of the Minister in regard to other Bills.

Mr JOHNSON - I am merely making incidental reference in order to show that his absences are not accidental, but are his constant practice. They are so frequent as to call for remark, having become almost chronic. We are entitled to the benefit of his information in regard to this measure. For my own part, I see no reason why . £500,000 should be appropriated for the payment of bounties on the production of cocoa, coffee, chicory, cotton, fibres, fish, milk, oils, rice, rubber, kapok, and such other miscellaneous goods as may be prescribed.

Mr Thomas - No bounty is proposed for the encouragement of the poultry industry.

Mr JOHNSON - That is not the only industry which is left out. Why should invidious distinctions be made between one class of produce and another? To my mind, the Bill is merely an electioneering dodge, and is tantamount to, and intended as, a bribe to secure votes for the Government from the agricultural interests in certain districts. There is no urgency for a measure of this kind. What excuse is advanced for proposing a bounty for the production of chicory, for example? The fact that this measure has been sprung upon the House upon the eve of a general election justifies the impression that it has been introduced for electioneering purposes. We are asked to vote a large sum of money - a cool half a million - in the face of the prediction of the Treasurer that next year our revenue will probably be reduced. In view of the increasing obligations which are being assumed by the Commonwealth, and of the large amount of revenue which it is proposed to sacrifice under the Treasurer's proposal for penny postage alone, it seems madness to practically throw away £500,000 in the manner proposed. It has not been shown that we should derive any advantage from the proposed expenditure. In any case, the principle underlying the measure is unsound. I have always held that it is improper to tax the whole community for the benefit of a few individuals. It may be admitted that when it is considered desirable to encourage private enterprise by extending State aid, it is better to do so by means qf bonuses than by imposing protective duties, because when bonuses are granted the public know exactly how much they are paying, whereas when protective duties are imposed they can form no conception of the extent to which they are being fleeced. Moreover, bonuses are generally granted for a limited period, although experience shows us that almost invariably a demand is made for the extension of the period, and often for an increase of the bonus. It is always pleaded, after an industry has been stimulated bv means of a bonus, that it would not be fair to permit it to col-4 lapse. This plea generally excites a large amount of sympathy, especially amongst those who believe that the community can be made rich bv taking money out of one pocket, and putting it into the other. The result is that very often the Legislature finds itself compelled to continue ad infinitum bonuses which it was originally intended to grant for only a limited, period ;

Mr Page - It seems to me that the honorable member's second reading speech is going on ad infinitum.

Mr JOHNSON - The honorable member will also have an opportunity to speak if he so desires. I judge that I am expressing his views as well as my own.

Mr Page - I cannot say a word - the honorable member is saying all that I want to say.

Mr JOHNSON - Then there will be no necessity for the honorable member to speak. I am pleased to know that at least one honorable member on the Government benches shares my views upon this question. In order to arrive at something approaching finality, in regard to the payment of bonuses, it has been the practice, at the end of the period originally fixed; to yield to the inevitable demand for a continuance of the bonus beyond the period originally fixed, and to adopt a > sliding scale for a further fixed term. But before the expiration of the renewed term, a demand is invariably made for the imposition of protective duties. After large sums of money have been paid directly out of the pockets of the taxpayers in order to 'establish an industry, first of all, upon the supposition that it would prove advantageous to the whole community, and, secondly, in the belief that at the end of the bonus period it would be able to get along without assistance, it is found that, owing, perhaps, to the fact that it is not natural to the country, and perhaps to other causes, it must die unless further assistance is granted. When an application is made for the imposition of protective duties, those who approved of the bonus in the belief that nothing more was to be asked for are looked upon as inconsistent if they allow the industry to perish for want of a little further assistance. And thus, before granting bonuses, the greatest care should be exercised. I hold that, under certain circumstances, bonuses are justifiable. For example, it might be shown that if certain works were established, the interests of the community as a whole would be promoted. It might be justifiable to grant a bonus in order to secure the establishment of an industry that would assist us in connexion with our defences, or serve some other great and important national purpose, and which it would be more beneficial to establish by private enterprise, assisted by a bounty, than as a direct Government industrial concern. None of the industries referred to in the schedule can, however, he regarded as coming within that category. The money now proposed to be spent upon bonuses might be more justifiably devoted to promoting technical education, and the establishment of agricultural colleges, and, perhaps, a Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, to work in conjunction with the States Departments. The honorable member for Echuca delivered a very able address to the House, in which he expressed and elaborated similar views. If the practice of granting public money to assist private enterprise is justifiable at all, it should be distributed in such a way that the community, as a whole, and not a particular section, should reap the benefit of it. The entire community would certainly benefit by any advance which was made in the dissemination of scientific knowledge relating to rural industries, which are the backbone of the country. There would be infinitely less objection to the .expenditure of public money in. that direction than there is to its disbursement under the method proposed by the Government. Reference has been made to the fact that the right honorable member for East Sydney has approved of this system of bounties. But I would remind the Committee that he spoke merely for himself, and the fact that he may approve of the granting of bonuses does not necessarily commit his supporters to the proposal now before the Committee.

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