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Thursday, 11 August 1921


Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - If I thought that the words objected to authorized the Minister for Trade and Customs to impose a duty or to remove a duty, without the authority of Parliament, I should support Senator Senior's request. If, again, I mistrusted the Minister as generally as Senator Gardiner appears to . do, I should support . it. The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has very properly pointed out that these words appear in all the Tariffs "of the Commonwealth since its inception. A practice has grown up under them. I do not suppose that any individual members of this Parliament, unless they may happen to have held office as Ministers for Trade and Customs, know very much of the practice. There has been established, during the last eighteen or twenty years, a practice in connexion with the prescription of departmental bylaws which I personally do not consider altogether satisfactory. Parliament is not given the same opportunity of reviewing departmental by-laws that it has of reviewing regulations under ordinary Statutes. I think there is not one of us who does not realize that already there are being issued far too many regulations under different Statutes for any one to properly read, much less understand. If that volume of ordinary regulations is to be swollen by Customs regulations similarly framed, I do not know that we shall be very much better off as a Parliament or as individual members so far as exercising a check on what is done is concerned. I believe* that the departmental by-laws that have been made in the past have been very numerous. They have been varied from time to time, on occasions, very suddenly, and in many intances, without any (notice whatever to those affected by them. I do not know whether there is any publication in the nature of a compilation of by-laws of the Trade and Customs Department, or whether they could be published in a single volume or in volumes as large as those which now contain the regulations under ordinary Statutes. I have heard complaints in the past, though not, so many recently, that some business people arc absolutely unacquainted with and uninformed as to departmental by-laws which affect them in their relations with the Trade and Customs Department. They have sometimes found that these by-laws have been framed almost on the very eve of their approaching the Department m connexion with certain business, and apparently in view of that particular business. Again, I have heard it complained that a departmental decision may be one thing this morning and another this afternoon; one thing to-day, and another tomorrow. Individuals throughout the Commonwealth have been subjected to very unfair competition as a result of these sudden changes of front on the part of the Trade and Customs Department. I do 'not know that we should gain much by multiplying the regulations circulated amongst us, but I do think that the practice of prescription by departmental bylaws needs something in the nature of a general review and the adoption of some procedure under which these by-laws may be given more publicity, ' be made more readily accessible to the public than they have been in the past, and also be given a greater degree of permanence than has characterized them in our past experience. For the present I cannot see my way to support Senator Senior's request. The same point was raised on an earlier item, and I then understood the Minister in charge of the Bill to indicate that it wa3 his intention, if the objection to the USE of those words was lot pressed at that time, to give consideration to the whole position. I was under the impression that before the Customs Tariff Bill finally leaves the Senate it would be settled one way or another, whether the past and present practice of carrying on the administration of the Department under the system indicated in the use of these words in the Tariff should be continued or some other method adopted. If the Minister is still of that mind that is one more reason to justify my refusal to support the request. I should like the Minister to say whether I have correctly indicated the position he takes up, and whether a*n opportunity will be afforded us to deal with the question generally. I understood from the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), that, there are fifty-four items yet to be considered in the words to which Senator Senior takes exception appear. If we could get some assurance from Senator Russell that the procedure in connexion with these matters will be open to discussion at a later stage of the Bill Senator Senior might be willing to withdraw his request.


Senator Russell - As soon as the consideration of the Tariff is completed it is intended to consolidate the departmental by-laws covering the whole of the Tariff, and to issue them as one volume.


Senator KEATING - I am afraid that that does not touch the point at issue. The real question is how the volume will be added to afterwards.


Senator Russell - That raises a question too big for an answer now.


Senator KEATING - We ' are dealing with a practice that has existed since the establishment of the Trade and Customs Department of the Commonwealth, and, as Senator Pearce says, a similar practice was followed in the different States before Federation, and is adopted in other countries of the world in which Tariffs are imposed. If Senator Senior's request were agreed to and accepted by another place, it would involve a very radical departure from all past practice and experience, and I hardly think we would be justified in deciding to adopt such a course in connexion with the discussion of a single item of the Tariff. I should like to have some assurance from the Minister in charge of the Bill that the whole practice of the Trade and Customs Department with regard to these matters will be considered before the Bill leaves the Senate. If an opportunity is afforded to discuss the matter thoroughly, the Minister can put the whole case for the Department, and those. who desire to submit an alternative procedure will be in a position to do so. If an assurance that we shall have an opportunity to discuss so important a matter in all its bearings is given definitely now, it will facilitate the passage of the remaining items of the Tariff in which the words under consideration occur. If it is not given, we may have a repetition of the present discussion on every item in . which the words occur.







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