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Friday, 24 August 1906

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) . - The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that honorable members have been directing his attention to all portions of the Bill. ' What is the reason for that? It is to be found in the fact that the Minister of Trade and Customs has the " loan " of him. He has introduced this measure, which involves the payment of a sum of ,£500,900. without any adequate explanation of its provisions. Incidentally we have been told that he has taken infinite pains to obtain information from the States, so that he might be able to present a straightforward statement to the Committee. Yet the Bill has been brought forward when the Minister of

Trade and Customs is absent. Are we not being treated as so many children? We are asked to authorize the expenditure of half-a-million sterling without any information as to the scheme under which it will be disbursed. As a representative of the people, I am desired to vote upon the Bill. Is it fair that I should be sent before my constituents under such circumstances? Is it fair that I should be liable to be asked by an elector why I voted this sum of money in the absence of proper information? The Vice-President of the Executive Council has not been fairly treated ; he has been called upon suddenly to take charge of the Bill, and is unable to give that information which the Committee desires. When knotty questions are put which' he cannot answer, he merely says, in effect, " Grant us this money, and we will accept your amendment in order that we may overcome the difficulty." The Prime Minister deals generously with! his colleagues; he allows them to go on tour whenever they choose to ask for leave of absence, and is readyto take charge of a Bill in order that the Minister to whose Department it relates may go on an electioneering tour.

Mr Page - Why do not the Opposition call off their dogs?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am not indulging in mere carping criticism.

Mr Page - If any one were after the honorable member's seat he would not be long in hurrying off to his electorate.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The question at issue is something more important than is the retention of a seat by an honorable member. I am not finding fault without cause, and I am sure that the honorable member takes the same view of this matter as I do. The representatives of the people in this House are not fairly treated when, in the absence of information which' ought to be forthcoming, they are asked to vote a large sum of money for the payment of bounties. With one exception, the bounty system in Australia has been a failure. We know that in some cases people are prepared to enter am industry merely for the sake of securing a bounty, and with no intention of remaining in it. It is proposed to give a bounty for the production of olive oil, but the olive tree grows so slowly that any one who planted now would not obtain a yield in time to enable him to participate in that bounty. The honorable member for Parramatta showed me a note referring to the granting of a bounty on the export of fruit - a most important industry - and an amendment providing for the payment of bounties to encourage irrigation has also been foreshadowed by the honorable member for Echuca. The Minister of Trade and Customs ought to be here to explain the scheme lie has formulated to carry out the objects of the Bill. We have a right to amend this Bill so that it may as nearly as possible approach perfection, and the Minister of Trade and Customs by his absence is treating, not only the Vice-President of the Executive Council, but the Committee, very cavalierly. I protest against this procedure, and my attitude is not that of one who has declared himself opposed to the scheme outlined in the BilL, The bounty system is the least objectionable form of protection. If a clear case for the granting of protection to certain industries by means of the bounty system could be made out, the Government might secure the support of those whose fiscal leanings are in another direction. But we are asked to vote in the absence of the necessary information for our guidance.

Mr Ewing - Will the> honorable member mention the details with respect to which he desires information?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable gentleman has said that he is not in possession of all the information collated by the Minister of Trade and Customs, whose Department will be intrusted with the administration of this measure. That being so, he is unable to give us the information we require as to the details of the scheme under which these bounties are to be paid. I should like a full and explicit statement from the Minister, who has made this subject his careful study. The Government are imposing upon the generosity of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and I think that they will find before long that he has had enough of it.

Mr Thomas - - The honorable member should make a dignified protest, and walk out of the chamber.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - This sort of thing' would not be tolerated in any other legislature. It is possible here only because a few honorable members are indifferent to their responsibilities, because, irrespective of anything they may do, a solid party vote is recorded for them.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member must not proceed with that line of argument.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It is only in such circumstances that an honorable member would view with complacency a request by the Government for power to expend £500,000 without affording the Committee any information as to the proposed scheme of distribution.

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