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Thursday, 11 August 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) . - I am intervening at this juncture because the question under consideration is not really a Tariff matter,, but one which concerns the machinery of our administration, and in the hope that honorable senators will not adopt the suggestion put forward by Senator Senior and supported by Senator Pratten. Senator Pratten has made certain statements with which we Gan all agree, particularly concerning the imposition of taxation being a function of Parliament. Of course it is. These words in the Tariff do not in any way interfere with that function; it is Parliament's way of expressing its authority. The reference of the honorable senator to the powers given to the Minister under the Customs Act have no bearing on this question. Senator Pratten complains that the Minister for Trade and Customs has taken on himself certain powers, but that is not so. The honorable senator's reference to the Customs Act shows that these powers have been conferred on the Minister for Trade and Customs by Parliament to facilitate the administration of the Tariff and to protect^ the interests of the Commonwealth. Parliament would not have given these powers to the Minister for Trade and Customs had it not been convinced that they were needed. The honorable senator says, further, that the power of the Minister to determine what goods shall be admitted free, and what shall .be subject to duty, is affected by the point raised by Senator Senior; but that is not so. Section 2 of sub-item a says that calico for bag making, as prescribed by departmental by-laws, shall be admitted free; that is, that whereas calico imported for anything .but bag making may be dutiable, that material, when imported for bag making under conditions which the Minister for Trade and Customs shall prescribe, will be admitted free. The Minister for Trade and Customs must be satisfied that the calico is imported for bag making. Members of Parliament cannot wish to be bothered with all the details of importation, and the safeguards necessary to protect the revenue by preventing importers from improperly taking advantage of this provision. It is not necessary that the conditions of importation shall be set out in Executive minutes to become regulations to b'e laid before Parliament. Members complain already that they have, too many regulations to read. The Minister for Trade and Customs has his directions from Parliament. He is told that calico imported for bag making must be admitted free, and it is for him to prescribe the conditions with which the importations must comply. If a Minister for Trade and Customs dishonestly, corruptly, or wrongly uses the power given to him, some person interested in the importation of calico will soon make known the facts, and answer must then be made to Parliament. Senator Pratten, in trying to make his point, cited an item which he said enabled the Minister for Trade and Customs to use his power to do some thing contrary to the will of Parliament; but he could not have made a more unfortunate citation. The implement to which he referred is a tool of trade which Parliament has declared shall be dutiable. But Parliament also says that if the Minister is satisfied that this tool 'of trade is not made commercially in Australia, he may put it on the free list. When the Minister found that these particular tools of trade were being made in Australia, he exercised the power which Parliament had given him to levy a duty on them.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under the Tariff, tools of trade are free.

Senator PEARCE - "As prescribed by departmental by-laws." There are fifty-four items in the Tariff which may be affected by departmental by-laws, and if the Committee were to adopt the proposal which has been put forward, it would be taking a course which has not been taken in connexion with any other Tariff in the world, and has never been followed in Australia, either since or before Federation. If we took from the Minister for Trade and Customs the power of making departmental by-laws governing the importation of certain articles, we should hold up business, and subject this community to the ridicule of the world. I ask honorable senators to think of the expenditure of public money on clerical labour and printing which would be uselessly' incurred if the proposal were adopted. By-laws have, frequently to be altered. You cannot make a set of them, and say that you have finally dealt with the subject. Every manufacturer may wan,t some variation of a by-law, because variation is required by all manner of conditions. . I am assured by the Customs officials that in regard to nearly every application some variation i3 required to meet the convenience of a manufacturer, whilst at the same time giving effect to the will of Parliament. To deal with these matters by regulation, with all the routine that that would involve, would be very clumsy in comparison with the method now followed.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What has this to do with the question of duty in the case before the Committee?

Senator PEARCE - It has this to do with it, that if the calico is not imported in accordance with the departmental bylaws it will be dutiable.

Senator Senior - Does the importer know the by-laws? Has he an opportunity to see them?

Senator PEARCE - "When he makes his application, he is informed of the conditions applying to the importation. I ask Senator Senior not to press the request.

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