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Monday, 18 December 1911

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I do not believe that I shall have much trouble in replying to the criticisms levelled at this Bill. From what has been said on both sides, the Bill should go through Committee and become law almost immediately. Supporters of the Government have declared that they are in sympathy with it so far as it goes, and they will therefore support it. Honorable senators on the other side admit that the country has declared for Protection, and therefore they will not oppose the protective items involved in the Tariff now submitted. If the Bill is to be supported by one side and is not to be opposed by the other, it should pass rapidly. A few remarks have, however, been made which may be considered to require some answer. It has been said by honorable senators on both sides that the existing Tariff does not afford sufficient protection to Australian industries. On the other hand, it has been snown that all industries in Australia are in a flourishing condition, that the number of factories is increasing, that the number of employes connected with our industries has materially increased, and that the wages paid have gone up very nearly 50 per cent. Those who have asserted that the increase of imports is an indication that the existing Tariff is not effective have been misled by the results of the prosperity of the Commonwealth during the last five or six years. The general prosperity of Australia has enabled people to purchase more than they were able to purchase previously. They have had more money, and there has been a greater accumulation of the products of the country to be divided amongst them. Even if £1 will purchase to-day no more than 16s. would purchase some time ago, the fact remains that the people have had more money in their possession than they previously had, and their purchasing power has therefore been greater than it was some time ago. This accounts to a great extent for the increase of imports. It must be admitted that the amount of revenue collected through the Customs has been increased as the result of a more effective, stringent, and honest administration of the Trade and Customs Department. Senator Vardon will recollect that two or three years ago an individual in his own State was detected in defrauding the country at the rate of £3,000 or £4,000 a year. He was punished. The proceedings against him only indicated that the same kind of thing was going on. in many other directions, but those who were doing that kind of thing became alarmed at the fate of the individual referred to, and stopped their malpractices. As a consequence, the revenue from theCustoms naturally increased.

Senator Vardon - The lax administration of the Department was largely accountable for the malpractices referred to.

Senator McGREGOR - That may be so; but it was not a Labour Government that was in power when those malpractices occurred.

Senator Vardon - A Labour Government was in power part of the time.

Senator McGREGOR - Now that we have a Labour Minister in charge of that Department, surrounded by energetic officers, that sort of thing is put an end to.

Senator McColl - Mr. Kingston was as severe as any one who has been in charge of the Department.

Senator McGREGOR - No doubt he was, but he was not as successful as some others have been. Only quite recently honorable senators have seen that in connexion with the importation of motor cars and such vehicles serious disclosures have been made, and prosecutions of an astounding character have been launched. Thousands of pounds have, as a result, been paid into the Treasury that previously went somewhere else. For one who has been discovered in an attempt to defraud the Customs, probably as many ' more have been carrying on the same game without discovery, but they have become alarmed, have ceased their operations, and consequently the revenue has been increased. Every £1 by which the revenue from Customs has been increased is an indication of an increase of imports. If we get £1,000 more of Customs revenue, it is an indication that our imports have increased in value by probably £4,000 or £5,000. There are many reasons why the revenue from Customs and the value of our imports have mounted up, although Protection may all the time have been effective. That it has been effective is shown, as I have already said, by the increase in the number of factories, and of their employes, and in the increase generally of the wages of those employes. The very fact that almost every manufacturer in the Commonwealth is crying out for more workmen and workwomen is an indication that the Tariff has had a good effect.

Senator St Ledger - That is the crux of the whole difficulty.

Senator McGREGOR - There is no crux in the difficulty, if that is all that can be complained of, because at the present time the stream of emigration has turned to Australia to such an extent that it looks as if it would become necessary to build vessels specially to provide accommodation for those who wish to come to this ' country. This shows, further, that the advent of the Labour party to power and the existence of an effective Protectionist Tariff has so increased the confidence in

Australia of people in other parts of the world that they are turning attention to this country as a desirable place to which to emigrate. Success is bound to follow us. Our friend and colleague, Senator Stewart, considers that we should raise the Protectionist wall to such a height that, as some honorable senators have said, one would need a flying machine or balloon to get over it. If we were to raise it to a height above the moon it would make no difference if we had not the people here to supply the requirements of our population in the products of the industries affected by the Tariff. The Tariff must be of such a character that it will be effective in encouraging the establishment of industries, and yet not so high that it may result in exorbitant prices to our consumers for local products. This Government will see that advantage is taken of fitting opportunities to increase the Tariff so that industries may be started which will supply employment, and afford good wages and a good living to the immigrants who are now coming in increased numbers to the Commonwealth. On the subject of direct taxation, I should like to point out to Senator Stewart that the way to make an industry or a policy thrive is not to screw its neck straight away, but to encourage its growth by providing the food necessary for it. That is exactly what the present Government are doing in connexion both with Protection and the imposition of direct taxation. No one can say that we have not imposed direct taxation to a considerable extent. We are waiting, but not unreasonably, to see what will be the effect of the indirect taxation already imposed. Senators Stewart and Givens and other honorable senators of the same way of thinking must recognise that in a new country such as Australia a protective Tariff, no matter how high, must be revenueproducing for some time. If, for instance, we raised the duty upon a particular article which is not manufactured here but which could be manufactured here to 50 or 60' per cent,, it would take two or three years before the industry for its manufacture could become established in this country, and for that period the duty of 50 or 60 per cent. on that article would be collected upon the imports of it required by the people. These are things which have to be considered in gradually adapting the Tariff to the requirements of the country. That is what the Government are endeavouring to do at the present time, and hope to do in the future. They hope to make the Tariff of Australia of such a character that it will give employment to people as they come here at fair wages and under good conditions, and will not produce an excessive amount of revenue, so that direct taxation may be justified in the interests of crushing monopolies and the proper development of our resources. I hope the Bill will soon pass through all its stages.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

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