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Wednesday, 31 August 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for. Defence) . - I can quite understand that this is an item that captures the eye; and a certain amount of sympathy can be felt with the desire of Senator Lynch to impose heavy duties. I draw the attention of the honorable senator, however, to the fact that these are unset and uncut stones, which are the raw material of the jewellery trade. Moreover, I suppose there is not an item on which it would be more difficult to enforce duties than this ; they are small, and so easy to secrete that it would be impossible for the Customs officials to discover them.

Senator Lynch - The same applies to imitation jewellery and articles for personal adornment.

Senator PEARCE - Those aremadeup goods, and more bulky, and have to be brought in some sort of package.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - There was a duty of 35 per cent, on these imitation precious stones before.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. Perhaps I had better read what the InterState Commission reported and recommended. The debate in Parliament on the 1908 Tariff indicates that the duty placed on imitation precious stones, was in order to encourage the use of Australian stones. The Inter-State . Commission, in dealing with an application for a duty on precious stones, reported as follows : -

Any effort to give effect to this application is beset with difficulties. In the first place, if precious stones are made dutiable, it will seriously affect the manufacturing jewellery industry, a very important industry, which has made considerable progress in artistic merit as well as in volume of output; and, secondly, it will be impracticable for the Customs authorities to exercise any reasonably efficient control which would insure the due collection of the duty which may be imposed. Gems in quantity and high value may be so easily secreted that duties would merely offer an encouragement for smuggling, and the higher the duty, the greater would bethe incentive.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Then what is the use of the duty under the general Tariff?

Senator PEARCE - I agree that the argument applies to the general Tariff as well -

Those persons interested, who observed the requirements of the law and declared the true value of their importations to the Customs, would be hopelessly at a disadvantage in competition with others, who could so easily and successfully deceive the most vigilant officers. To keep a check on the entry of precious stones would be impossible, even if every passenger were thoroughly searched. There are, obviously, unlimited means by which articles of high value and small size may be secreted.

That is a point worth bearing in mind -

The applicants are correct in stating if any Tariff assistance is possible, it should apply to imitation as well as to real precious stones, since in the case of synthetic gems they are now made to such perfection, that physically and chemically they are identical in character and composition with the gems they represent.

For those reasons, the Government consider that, under all the circumstances, the recommendation of the Inter-State Commission should be accepted.

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