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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) - We have arrived at a very extraordinary position. We are all satisfied that the measure means nothing, so that, apparently, the Opposition is now devoting itself to help the Government to do nothing, which, it seems to me, is an unconstitutional position for an Opposition to occupy. I have read the principal Act and the amending Bill, to see how we stand, and it appears to me that the only difference between the two indicates a back-down on the part of the Government. Division VI.a of the schedule to the Customs Tariff Act provides that the duties therein mentioned are -

To come into operation on dates to be fixed by Proclamation, and exempt from duty in the meantime, except as to iron, galvanized, plate and sheet.

The Bill omits these words, and provides in lieu thereof, that -

The operation of this Division is suspended as to the articles of manufacture specified therein, which (except iron galvanized, plate, and sheet) are exempt from duty until this Division ils brought into operation.

This Division may, by Proclamation, be brought into operation as to any such article from a date specified in the Proclamation.

It seems to me that those statements are practically identical, although that in the principal Acf is briefer and more concise than that contained in the Bill. The principal Act continues -

Proclamation to issue so soon as it is certified, by the Minister that the manufacture to which the Proclamation refers, has been sufficiently established in the Commonwealth, according to the provisions of any law relating to bonuses for the encouragement of manufactures, or to the establishment of manufactures under the direct control of the Commonwealth or State Governments; but no Proclamation to issue except in pursuance of a joint address passed on the motion of Ministers, by both Houses of Parliament, stating that such manufacture is sufficiently established.

In lieu of that provision, it is now proposed to adopt the following: -

Provided,, however, that no Proclamation bringing this Division into operation as to any article shall be made until the Minister for Trade and Customs certifies that the manufacture of the article (or, in the case of a Proclamation bringing this Division into operation as to scrap iron or scrap steel, certifies that the manufacture of iron or steel) from Australian ore or material is sufficientlyestablished in the Commonwealth, and the certificate has been affirmed by joint addresses, passed, on the motion of Ministers, by both Houses of Parliament.

Now there we have the two propositions complete. Is there any difference between the two ? There is, however, a slight change which is rather significant. In the original

Act the following words appear: -

According to the provisions of any law relating to bonuses for the encouragement of manufactures, or to the establishment of manufactures under the direct control of the Commonwealth or State Governments.

Those words are not in the amending Bill now under discussion ; for this measure does notcontain any proposition relating to bonuses. Therefore, the only difference between this Bill and the principal Act is that this Bill provides for the dropping of the idea of giving a bounty on the production of iron. If the Government choose to waste a couple of days in unnecessarily altering the verbiage of an Act of Parliament, that is their affair, though it is a pity that they should be forced to juggle with words in order to disguise from the electors the fact that they have done nothing to honour their election pledges in this, regard. Yesterday, when the honorable member for Wide Bay made an interjection which led to the adoption of the vital amendment made in Committee, I was led to think that the Minister of Trade and Customs was not fully seised of the significance of his proposition ; but I do not think that now. I think that probably the honorable gentleman had made up his mind beforehand to move this amendment, and that he knew that some such amendment would be accepted ; for I cannot believe that the Minister was not sufficiently alert for the maintenance of the protectionist principles which he espouses. The Prime Minister has told us that the Bill gives as much as can be got. Are Ministers endeavouring to make it appear that the Opposition have prevented the passing of a Bill for the payment of bounties on the production of iron? Those who have followed the methods recently adopted by the Government to force legislation through the House know that it is not due to the Opposition that this proposal has been dropped. The party which has compelled the Government to drop it is that upon which they have to depend for their political existence.

Mr KING O'MALLEY (DARWIN, TASMANIA) - Has the Opposition had a caucus?

Mr KELLY - What I suggest to the honorable member is that perhaps the Labour Party in caucus decided that they could not support any proposal for an iron bounty.

Mr King O'Malley -No.

Mr KELLY - The Government could not live unless theyhad the solid backing of the Labour Party. Even if one or two members of the Labour Party oppose any proposal, it is forthwith sacrificed !

Mr Bamford - Since the Government of New South Wales have decided to give a bonus there has been no necessity for the Commonwealth to give one.

Mr KELLY - Exactly ! Yet I have seen a letter from the great iron district of New South Wales, in which it is stated that the Government contract will not keep the iron industry alive unless it gets some assistance of this kind ! The Prime Minister has told us that he believes that the establishment of the iron industry is anxiously looked forward to throughout the Commonwealth, but that this sham is all he can get from Parliament. He is in a position to advise the Governor-General to dissolve the House and go to the country, in order to prove the bona fides of his election pledges in this regard. We have a right to expect that a Prime Minister should not tamely sit down under the criticism of an Opposition if he thinks that his attitude will meet with the support of the country at large. It is significant of the bargain which has been contracted in the House between two of the three cricket elevens about which the Prime Minister was once so eloquent, that the nominal captain of both is afraid to face alone the club that supports him.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.

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