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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - This is the last opportunity we shall have of discussing the Bill, and in view of the hour I should like to ask the Minister in charge of the measure to agree to an adjournment of the debate until to-morrow. I promise him that I shall not take more than twenty minutes in dealing with the Bill to-morrow. There are some things which I desire to say, but I would like to be able to say them under favorable conditions. If the Minister will not accept my suggestion I must say what I have to say now. I think that honorable senators, having given the attention they have given to the schedule - and I congratulate all hands on that - must realize the disastrous effect, in its interference with trade, produced by a measure of this character. We realize as we pass from item to item and page to page of the Tariff schedule that some persons are being seriously interfered with - that firms which have made investments in various directions are likely to find themselves in a most precarious position as the result of the duties we have imposed. The interests of secondary industries clash with those of primary industries. The in terests of the one have been overlooked in our desire to consider the interests of the other, and we have made things worse than they were before. That at least is my honest opinion. As this is the last occasion on which I shall be able to address myself to this phase of the question,

I desire to buttress the opinions I have expressed by quoting those of leading business men in England with regard to governmental interference with trade. I take the following from a well-known journal : -

The leading bankers of London have all joined in a public statement, in which they have laid down very cogently the arguments in favour of public economy, and a minimum of governmental interference with trade. It is worth reading, for it lays clown general principles which apply to one country as well as another. The full statement, with signatures, is appended herewith : - "A hundred years ago, in a time of depression following a great war, ' the merchants of London presented to Parliament a memorable petition against the ' anti-commercial principles' of the restrictive system then in force. To-day, moved by the same anxieties, weighed down by far heavier taxation, and face to face with proposals intended to renew the restrictive methods of the past, we submit that it is essential fo the revival of confidence that no legislative or administrative measures be taken which would diminish the total output of British industry, or check the free exchange of British goods. "The burden of taxation can only be lightened if the necessity for public economy is resolutely faced. The present rate of national expenditure thcatens to cripple the country's resources and to impair its credit abroad. In our judgment, it is more than the commercial community can bear, more than the capacity of the nation can afford, more than, were proper economics effected, the nation need be asked to sustain. " The system of Government regulating trade by licences, controls, and departmental orders has, admittedly, however well-intended, had in many cases unfortunate results. Political interference with the natural course of commerce without regard to economic laws invariably does mischief. British trade needs nothing so much for its recovery as freedom to deal with its own difficulties, to study and provide for its own interests and to work out its own salvation. " It is as true as i,t was a hundred years ago, that foreign commerce conduces to the wealth and prosperity of a country by enabling it to import the commodities which other countries are best able to supply, and to export in payment those articles which, from its own situation. It is best adapted to produce; that freedom from restraint be calculated to give the utmost extension to foreign trade, and the best direction to capital and industry, and that the maxim of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest, which regulates every merchant in hia individual dealings, is the best rule fur the trade of the whole nation. " The poliq'y of trying to oxclude the production of other countries, with thewell-meant design of encouraging our own, cannot increase the volume of employment here. But it may well compel the consumers, who form the bulk of our population, to submit to privations in the quality or quantity of the goods they buy. The importation of foreign goods . does not diminish the activities of our people, because . such goods can only be paid for by the produce of British capital and labour. The advocates of a restrictive system are too apt to lose sight of the elementary fact that nations, or, rather, individual members of nations, buy foreign goods because they need them, not to benefit, others, but to benefit themselves, and pay for them by producing goods which the foreigner, in his turn, requires. We cannot limit imports into this country without limiting our export trade, and striking a grave blow at the world-wide commerce on which this island kingdom, principally depends. " Trade is exohnnge. No nation which lives by trading with others can prosper unless other nations prosper, too. We hold to-day great stocks of goods. We are ready to manufacture more. There is a large and insistent demand for them abroad. But, owing to the paralysis of Continental commerce- due in part to the restrictive barriers which the new States have set up between themselves - the would-be buyers of our goods have not the means to pay for what they want. We have to build up tha market that we need by encouraging Continental nations to export to us. For it is only by exports that they can re-establish their credit and provide funds for the payment of their debts. In such a situation we believe that all expedients to control and hamper imports into this country, whether by licences, Tariffs, or any other means, can only retard improvement in the Continental exchanges, and prevent the natural recovery of trade. Legislation of this nature, while it may increase the profits of a few selected industries, cannot fail to check our output as a whole, and to increase the costs of production to a level which may make it increasingly difficult for British traders to compete successfully with others in the markets of the world. " With party or political considerations we, as bankers, are not concerned. But in the interests of British industry and commerce, now menaced by anxieties which it would be a profound mistake to underrate, we desire to enter a respectful protest against every restrictive regulation of trade which tends to diminish the resources of the State.

C.   S. Addis, Avebury, Henry Bell, E. H. Brand, E. C. Brown, Chalmers, L. E. chalmers, L. currie, F. C. good enough, H. C. Hambro, R. M. Holland-Martin, Inchcape, F. Huth Jackson. R. M. Kindersley, H. S. King, Walter Leap, James Leigh-Wood, F. C. Le Marchant, E. McKenna, Algernon H. Mills, Edward Paul, J. Beaumont Pease, Felix Schuster, J. Hope Simpson, J. H. Tritton, B. V. Vassar-Smitii."

I put these statements on record as the deliberate and well-weighed utterances of leading banking and business men in Great Britain. Let us apply them to what has been done in Australia. They certainly are a weighty pronouncement against the interference with trade in which we have been engaged for the last few weeks. In conclusion, I congratulate the Government for the opportunities they have afforded honorable senators to deal with the Tariff throughout the tiring Committee stage. Their conduct of the Customs Tariff Bill throughout its various stages meets with my entire approval.

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