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Monday, 18 December 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - Senator Stewart began his speech with a remarkable definition of the kind of Protection which would satisfy him. I feel extremely grateful to the honorable senator for the new light which he has thrown upon the meaning of Protection and its application to Australian industries. He says that the object of the Protectionist party - and he assumes the Government are in tha main Protectionists - is to place the Australian workers above the condition of the struggling workers of other coun-tries. If there is anything that could convert me to a system of Protection it would foe the definition which 'Senator Stewart has given. While what the honorable senator has said may not be the accepted definition, it is, to some extent, an economic justification for the imposition of some form of protective Tariff. But, unfortunately, Protectionists themselves, and certainly the Republican party in America, have over and over again scouted and flouted that justification; and the honorable senator, who says that he devotes a great deal of his time to newspapers and, doubtless, magazines dealing with the subject, ought to be thoroughly well aware of the fact. Further, Canadian Protectionists will not Admit the principle, and we all know that there are many high Protectionists in Australia who also refuse to accept it. Some of us who may not improperly be called fiscal atheists are faced with a puzzle when dealing with this matter. Protectionists in every country, but more especially those who find expression in very high Tariffs, when they come to give a definition or seek a reason for their attitude, are found quarrelling with their own definition and its application and extension. It is not more amusing than it is instructive to find a high Protectionist, in the person of a Government supporter, quarrelling unmistakably with the Government which he assumes to be high Protectionist. I hope that some day those who are perpetually appealing to Parliament for higher and higher duties will be able to make up their minds, and give us some scientific and economic definition of what high Protection and a high Tariff mean, and that they will alSO be able to agree on some common form of application of the definition. It is unchallengable that the measure of Protection before us is a " poor thing," though, after all, it is the Government's "own." I quite agree with Senator Stewart that, if there is anything in a Pro tectionist or high Tariff policy - if that is what the people in their tens of thousands have been looking to the Labour party, as their economic saviour, to provide - the result is the sorriest thing that has ever been presented for consideration in any Parliament in the world. This is the first time in the history of the Commonwealth when a measure brought down by the Government has produced almost unanimity of comment in the way of condemnation of almost every item, and certainly of the main principles involved. I said that I had been described, both inside and outside Parliament, and not altogether improperly, as a sort of fiscal atheist.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator is a fiscal farce !

Senator ST LEDGER - The honorable gentleman, with characteristic courtesy, can never listen to criticism, especially from myself, which drives something home to him, without becoming personal, and, as a rule, insulting. Of course, it is late in the session, and we on this side are driving the Government very hard; but the. VicePresident of the Executive Council ought to consider his important position and the large salary he enjoys, inadequate though it may be, and not descend to such depths.

Senator McGregor - How can the honorable senator be a fiscal atheist, and yet believe in a duty on bananas?

Senator ST LEDGER - I shall meet the Minister on that ground if I am challenged. No doubt the honorable gentleman, like a boy cricketer, regards himself as the most expert of players, and able to clean bowl me at first ball. But he will find me ready to debate the point he has raised when we reach that item on the Tariff - he will find me ready to convert this discussion into a battle royal on the relative merits of a duty on the dried herbs of South Australia, and a duty on the bananas of Queensland. However, the business is too urgent to permit me to proceed on those lines. When I said that I had been not improperly described as a fiscal atheist, I meant that I, in common with many supporters of the Labour party throughout the world, am of opinion that fiscalism does not mean industrialism, and that industrialism does not mean fiscalism. When the VicePresident of the Executive Council gibes at me, will he turn his eyes towards the composition of his own party, a powerful section of which holds the same view as that entertained by every Labour party throughout the world ? They regard a high protective Tariff-

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that the English Labour party support a high protective Tariff-

Senator ST LEDGER - No, I say that they regard a high Tariff with suspicion. Unless within the last few. years the English Labour party have departed from their fiscal belief, or Senator Pearce has thrown overboard his own belief, then the Labour party throughout the world is closer in touch with the fiscal policy which the honorable senator would support if the necessities of political life or the occupancy of the Ministerial benches-

Senator Pearce - Like the honorable senator's leader, I have accepted the verdict of the people.

Senator ST LEDGER - Exactly. Whilst I am a fiscal atheist, I recognise the fact than on two appeals the people of Australia have unmistakably assented to the doctrine of Protection ; and, consequently, I am bound to accept their verdict. I should be unfit to be the representative of any constituency or State unless I were to give intelligent effect to the desire the people have expressed. But though I am a fiscal atheist, what evidence is there of fiscal faith in this measure which the Government have sat upon and1 hatched, and which they now lay upon the table as a source of political salvation for themselves? None whatever. It is not an expression of the principle of Protection in any way. I believe that every fiscal party, whether representative of Free Traders, Protectionists, or Revenue Tariffists is more or less seized with the necessity of rectifying anomalies in the Tariff. But in this Bill there is no attempt to rectify anomalies. The Government have merely introduced a measure of expediency. They have resorted to the diplomacy of Chinese ambassadors who eternally commit themselves to nothing, and are always praying to their Joss for means of saving their face.

Senator Millen - The last thing that this Government would want to do is to save its face.

Senator ST LEDGER - I really believe that on this question the Government have not a face to save. Ever since this Bill was brought before Parliament manufacturers and importers have, so to speak, taken up their residence on the doormats of Parliament House. 1 do not object to that. Subject to the convenience of members of Parliament they have a right to make their views known. Every member of this Parliament has been deluged with a flood of correspondence giving reasons why a duty should be raised here and lowered there. Every man represents that his particular industry is going to be ruined unless the Tariff is altered in some particular. Many ask for reductions in certain items. A few ask for increases. But the evidence produced is entirely ex forte, and is made under such circumstances that no member of Parliament can sift it. The majority of us have little more than a nodding acquaintance with the industries affected. The statements made by manufacturers and importers, though supplied to us in good faith, may be absolutely misleading. Their real import cannot be grasped by a single member, nor by the Government itself. The last time the Tariff was under review, we had the advantage of the reports and evidence of a Commission which had sat for about eighteen months. Nevertheless we were not able to give satisfaction. The difficulty will be eternally present until a Tariff advisory board is appointed by some Government.

Senator Pearce - When in doubt trust the Government.

Senator ST LEDGER - In this instance I should say, " When in doubt mistrust the Government." Our experience shows that not even the expert officers can satisfactorily advise Parliament as to the adjustment of the Tariff in such a way as to do justice to the public, to the manufacturers, and to what is called the Protectionist verdict of the people of Australia. The last Government suggested as a matter of policy -that a Tariff board should be appointed in order that Parliament might be thoroughly well informed when alterations of duties were proposed.

Senator McGregor - How could such a board do any better than the Tariff Commission did?

Senator ST LEDGER - Because, with all respect to the members of that Commission, it was composed of men who were not fitted to come to an impartial conclusion. The situation was similar to that of a number of men engaged in a tug-of-war. The Free Traders pulled one way and the Protectionists pulled the other.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator wants fiscal atheists, like himself, on the advisory board.

Senator ST LEDGER - A fiscal atheist is a man who watches the whole question critically, and deals with it impartially and disinterestedly.

Senator McGregor - That is a fiscal agnostic,

Senator ST LEDGER - There is not much difference between the two terms ; but let us say "fiscal agnostic" if it pleases the honorable senator. The honorable senator in mentioning the work of the Royal Commission gave away his case. A Commission consisting of Protectionists, Free Traders, and Revenue Tariffists must necessarily be prejudiced, and its report, as was the case with the report of the last Royal Commission, instead of instructing and guiding Parliament, will rather hamper it. To obtain sound and impartial opinions upon Tariff matters, you must eliminate the Department - you must eliminate Ministers and politicians generally - so far as the Tariff is concerned, and refer the whole question to an impartial tribunal outside Parliament for advice.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator wants a few archangels for his proposed board.

Senator ST LEDGER - The honorable senator only a few days ago invited us to pass a Bill in which he set up a tribunal for the Public Service which- will have to be presided over by an archangel if it is to give satisfaction. We cannot get infallible intelligence, but we can obtain impartial judgment, and if there is a question on which we require to secure an impartial judgment, it is that of the Tariff. The war of Tariffs in the United States recently became so pressing that the Democratic party, which has Free Trade leanings, and the Republican party, which is strongly wedded to Protection, agreed that it was about time, if the public of the United States were to be served economically and properly, that the Tariff should be transferred from Congress to an impartial body for consideration, and that it should finally be brought back to both Houses through Standing Committees appointed still further to revise it. This Bill and our experience regarding similar Tariff proposals, show the absolute necessity for such a tribunal as I have suggested. Those who speak of the policy of Australia as a Protectionist ohe seem to use that phrase as meaning a highly protective Tariff. Like Senator Stewart, they make frequent reference to the growth of our imports, and seem to think that because our importations are increasing our Tariff should be made higher and higher. If that is to be the expression of the protective policy of Australia, then I for one deny it. I deny that the people of Australia have given the verdict that because our imports are increasing our Tariff must be increased accordingly. Since parties will probably dispute later as to what is the meaning of the term " Protection," it is well that I should call attention to some figures which I think will speak more accurately and clearly than could any argument to which we might give expression on the subject. In 1905-6 the duties collected on imports into Australia amounted to £8,921,819, and in 1911-12 it is estimated that they will amount to ^13,800,000. Possibly next year the figures will be a little higher. In other words, between 1905-6 and 1911-12 there will be an increase of ^4,878,181, or about 54 per cent., in our import duties.

Senator McGregor - But our natural prosperity had doubled in the meantime. The honorable n.ember is comparing last year's returns with those of a year just following the big drought.

Senator ST LEDGER - Will the honorable member allow me to complete my sentence before he jumps in? As Senator Stewart has pointed out, the increase is very largely due to the remarkable prosperity of Australia, and I do not wish to press that point very strongly. I am anxious, however, to call attention to the fact that our Customs and Excise taxation is equal to about £3 2s. 8d. per head of the population, or, with the exception of New Zealand, greater than that of any other country. That being so, those who ask for a still higher Tariff should surely be required to give good reasons for their demand. It seems to me that the very prosperity of Australia has been made a pretext by the present Government, and possibly by Governments which have preceded them, for depriving the people of the full measure of prosperity to which they are entitled. It does not follow that people should be taxed because they are prosperous. The only justification for taxation is the absolute necessities of the Government. When we find that the Customs and Excise taxation of Australia per head of the population is about the highest of any country, save New Zealand, it is not unreasonable to sound a warning to those who are asking for still more protection, and to let them know that we shall require them to give reasons, and pretty strong ones too, for their demand. Let us compare our taxation, Customs and Excise taxation, with that of other countries which are equally pronounced in favour of Protection. In 19 10 the population of the United States of America was estimated at about 92,000,000, and its Customs and Excise taxation for that year was £125,117,590, or £1 7s. per capita. American economists are continually proclaiming that there and there alone is what might be called the truly scientific Protection, yet the Customs and Excise taxation of that country per head of its. population, is less than half of our own. Canada's population in 191.0 was estimated at 7,500,000, and her Customs and Excise taxation amounts to £15,710,310, or about £2 per head. Then again, let us look at the figures for Germany where, it is also claimed. Protection has been reduced to a science. In 1 9 10 the population of that country was 65,000,000, and its total Customs and Excise revenue was just under £60,000,000, or less than £1 per head. Yet we do not hear any complaint that the industries of Germany are being strangled. When, therefore, the assertion is made that the industries of Australia require a larger measure of Protection than that which has already been accorded -them, I say that the onus is upon those who make the statement to establish an irrefutable case.. From official figures I learn that in 1905 there were 11,945 factories throughout the Commonwealth, in 1909 there were 13,197, and in 1910 there were 13,822. In other words there was an increase during those years of 1,887. In this connexion I would remind honorable senators that there is a uniform definition of " factory " throughout Australia. It means a place in which more than four persons are engaged in some work.

Senator Vardon - In South Australia a factory is a place in which one person is engaged.

Senator ST LEDGER - But for the purposes of the Year-Book of Australia the statistics have all been standardized. Then I find that whilst in 1905 there were 214,594 persons employed in these factories, in 1909 there were 266,418, and in 1910, there were 286,831. That is to say, between 1905 and 19 10 there was an increase of nearly 72,000 hands, or approximately 25 per cent. Then, what is the position from the stand-point of the sala ries and wages paid? In 1905 the salaries and wages paid amounted to £15,319,000, in 1909 they were £21,105,000, and in 1910, they were £23.874,959, an increase of £8,000,000, or approximately 52 per cent. In the light of these figures it seems to me that when the assertion is made that the industries of Australia are being strangled, those who make it leave the gentle slopes of rhetorical exaggeration and reach in one steep descent the region of cold almost snowbound mendacity. Statistics show that our industries are not being strangled. They do not even exhibit signs of languishing. On the contrary, they display a development which is probably unparalleled - having regard to the number of our people - in any other country in the world. Then we hear a good deal about the wages which are paid in these industries, and of their relation to the Tariff. We are told how vital, is the necessity for correlating the two. Let us see how the industries of. Australia stand from the point of view of the wages which are paid in them. I find that the value added to the raw material by manuafcturing processes during 1909 was ,£42,216,493, and that the salaries and wages paid in our factories was £21,105,456, leaving a residue of £21,111,037. That means that for every pound of added value to output of our factories the workers of Australia received 10s. or one-half. I challenge honorable senators opposite to point to a country on earth where a larger return has been secured to the workers. Consequently, I am- inclined to believe that a good many of the complaints that we hear of ill-treatment of the workers by trusts and monopolists are largely manufactured for platform and political purposes. It must be a source of general satisfaction to every man in the community to find that the wages of the workers are advancing, and the number of our factories is increasing. /

Senator McGregor - Is that not a great recommendation for a Labour Administration ?

Senator ST LEDGER - Not at all. It is part and parcel of the prosperity of the country. The Vice-President of the Executive Council is too prone to seize upon any advantage which the community may have derived, and to place it to the credit of the Labour party. But my chief object was to disabuse the minds of honorable senators opposite of the idea that our industries are being strangled. They are not ; otherwise there is no truth in the multiplication table. If we accept the fiscal verdict of Australia, we are bound to rectify Tariff anomalies. We are bound to see that those anomalies do not operate to the advantage of one industry, and to the detriment of another, but that each industry shall fight for its existence on an equal footing. For these reasons I am inclined to scoff at the cry that the necessity for this measure arises from the fact that Australian industries are being strangled.

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