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Wednesday, 25 November 1959

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- I direct the attention of the House to the fact that on 19th November a set of tariff proposals, which were the outcome of a review of an agreement between Australia and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, was brought before the House. It was expected that the Parliament would have an opportunity to discuss the merits of the proposals before the end of the session. I take it that that opportunity is offered now. But something else has happened. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has to-night presented to the Parliament a sheaf of tariff proposals which are additional to those presented on 19th November.

Mr Osborne - There is nothing unusual in that.

Mr POLLARD - Yes, there is. They will operate immediately. We now have two separate sets of proposals - those presented on 19th November, which were associated with the Rhodesian trade agreement, and those presented to-night, which are the outcome of Tariff Board reports. The Minister to-night throws on the table of the House a large bundle of Tariff Board reports dealing with the proposals that are now. to all intents and purposes, operating.

Mr Osborne - That is the invariable practice, and it has been followed for years.

Mr POLLARD - The Minister talks about the invariable practice, but the fact remains that this is altogether undesirable.

Here, in the dying hours of the session, with not more than twelve or fifteen members present out of a House of 120 members, the Parliament is confronted with a fait accompli. These proposals operate from to-morrow. It is of no use the Minister being funny; the fact remains that they will operate from to-morrow, and he does not deny it. We are now in the dying hours of the session, and the reports on which these tariff proposals are based are tabled for the first time to-night. They include -

Cotton canvas and duck,

Waterproofed cotton piece goods and waterproofed canvas and duck,

Plain clear sheet glass,

Antimony and antimonial products,

Electrically operated human hair-clipping machines,

Circuit breakers and switch units,

Electrically operated cloth - cutting machines,

Marking and stamping devices,

Slide viewers, slide projectors and bulb type flash guns,

Shipbuilding industry.

The shipbuilding industry is of profound importance to the community, to employees in the industry and the proprietors of the shipbuilding yards. The industry is at present confronted with very serious difficulties. Surely, the Parliament is being treated with contempt when, in the closing hours of the session, all these Tariff Board reports, which have not been seen by any member of the Parliament, are laid on the table with proposals that operate from tomorrow, but no opportunity is given to the Parliament to decide whether they are desirable. As a protectionist party, the Australian Labour Party realizes that, although we have not an opportunity to debate the desirability of the tariff proposals, they should be given effect. We have enough knowledge, gained from our own resources, to know that the Australian shipbuilding industry is confronted with a difficult situation. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has information on this situation and further information will be gleaned from the Tariff Board report. We have a pretty fair idea of what is contained in the proposals. It is most undesirable that we should be deprived of an opportunity to discuss these proposals before they are given effect to. Yet it is true that in the normal process of parliamentary procedure we could have the recommendations of the Tariff Board presented to us a month after the new rate of tariff is levied; and we could have tariff proposals brought down in this Parliament accepting, rejecting or modifying the recommendations of the Tariff Board just before the Parliament went into a long period of recess. That is why I protest now. In effect, the Government is contemptuous of the right of honorable members to discuss these all-important proposals. Speaking for the party that I represent, we resent that attitude. Whilst we are protagonists of the protection of Australian industry against foreign competition, and although in the main - I make the reservation " in the main " - the Government's proposals involve an increased measure of protection to Australian industry, nevertheless we have no alternative but to support the proposals. The fact is that the Parliament is treated with contempt. We should have had these proposals placed before us earlier in the session. The Tariff Board reports upon which these proposals are based have not been seen and examined by honorable members, and we protest against this attitude of the Government,

Involved in these proposals and associated with them is the recently concluded review of the trade agreement with the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. No outline of that review has been tabled for the information of this Parliament. This Parliament is simply informed that the Government has completed a review of the trade agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and as an outcome of that review, in respect of which no legislative enactment has been provided, the Government introduces tariff proposals to-night to give effect to the agreement. The agreement inevitably involves a series of tariff alterations which are now before the Parliament for discussion. Those alterations are aperative from 19th November. I want honorable members to note the marked difference between those proposals and the new proposals brought down by the Minister to-night. These proposals, apart from the Rhodesian proposals, will lie dormant, as far as debate is concerned, until the House meets again.

Mr Osborne - Both sets of proposals are in exactly the same position.

Mr POLLARD - They are not. The Rhodesian proposals have been before the House since 19th November. They are operative and at least, before the House goes into recess, we are now taking the opportunity to debate them.

What are the factors surrounding this reciprocal agreement with the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland? We find that in this agreement Rhodesia undertakes to reduce duties in respect of fifteen Australian commodities. There will be a lower rate of duty imposed on all those items with the exception of felt hats. In return, the Federation will be given a tariff preference over most other suppliers to this country; it will enjoy the preference enjoyed by the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries. The particular items include biscuits, which are of profound importance to the Australian biscuit manufacturing industry and, following that product to its source, also of importance to the wheat producers of Australia. In the same category are cakes, which are of importance to the wheat industry and the dried fruits industry. Puddings and pastry are in the same category, and here I am afraid that margarine will be used instead of butter. That will affect the dairying industry and will be of interest to the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden). Jelly powders are another item, which will affect the gelatine interests and, because they are manufactured from the hooves of cattle, the cattle industry. We find that lamp fittings are included in the agreement. We all know that the Australian lamp industry has for many years been employing Australians and turning out a product second to none. Also, employees in that industry are consuming the products of our rural industries.

Outstanding among the items to be admitted to the Federation at a lower tariff rate are Australian lawn mowers. I occasionally watch television, and I have noticed that Victa lawn mowers are extensively advertised. They are just the cat's whiskers for cutting your lawn. Here we have something that originated in the mind of the Australian worker and has become popular all over the world. To-day Australian manufacturers are selling Victa lawn mowers and other brands in the markets of the world in competition with manufacturers in other countries. Their product is covered by this trade agreement.

Pens and pencils I do not know much about. It is quite obvious that they are being manufactured in Australia - probably under licence from overseas firms. We know all about felt hats. Apparently insulating, film, masking and adhesive tapes are being made in Australia, and the Department of Trade thinks it desirable to seek preferential treatment for their entry into the Rhodesian market.

All those items, innocent as they may look, not only have gained access to the markets of the world under difficult circumstances but also offer excellent prospects for entry in ever-increasing quantities to the market of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It is obvious that you do not conclude a trade pact with another country unless you are prepared to give something in return. We are told by the Minister that in return Australia will give to Rhodesia British preferential tariff treatment in respect of six items imported into Australia. First, let me deal with copper. At present we do not produce sufficient copper to meet our own requirements. Indeed, despite the fact that we pay a bounty out of revenue to assist the Australian copper producers at Mount Isa, Lake George and Mount Morgan, we still import this commodity. As a quid pro quo to Rhodesia for the concessions that have been granted to us, we have said, "The British preferential tariff will apply on copper that is imported into Australia ".

I come now to the second of the six items, passionfruit pulp, and I should like the attention of members of the Australian Country Party, and of the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) and the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean). Due to the limitation of time that this Government has placed upon consideration of these items, I have not had sufficient opportunity to pursue my research into this problem very deeply, but I recall that the honorable members to whom I have referred have sought assistance for the passionfruit-growing industry.

Mr Whitlam - But they only want to penalize the New Guinea producers.

Mr POLLARD - Exactly. But, be that as it may, we in this Parliament must be careful that in return for concessions that are granted to us by another country we do not show a willingness to sacrifice what may appear, in the eyes of the Minister, the departmental officers and even members of Parliament, to be unimportant Australian industries. We must always have in the forefront of our thinking the fact that the small man, the pioneer of the small industry and the proprietor of the small agricultural holding are as important as the controllers of any major industry in this country. I am apprehensive that in the reciprocal benefit that has been granted by Australia to the Federation of Rhodesia the passionfruit-producers of our territories, and indeed of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, may have been sold down the river by this Government.

The Opposition wants an assurance that the Government, to gain benefits for fifteen sources of production and progress in Australia, has not acted at the expense of what may appear to be minor productive activity. If the Government is not prepared to give this assurance, this Parliament will see to it that the injured parties are fully compensated by some form of protection, perhaps by a bounty or something of that character. I should like the Minister to deal with this aspect, because I have a distinct recollection that some time ago an appeal was made on behalf of the passionfruit-growers of Australia.

Dealing with the agreement, we find that we shall give some concessions to Rhodesia on graphite. I am not sure, but I do not think that the production of graphite is a substantial industry of an indigenous character. Then we come to unsweetened lime juice. In this instance, the producers of lime juices may have been sacrificed in this trade pact with Rhodesia. The same remarks apply in relation to nicotine sulphate and to some selected essential oils.

I know the character of these negotiations. I know that Ministers and responsible officers negotiate with their opposite numbers and take into consideration the ultimate advantage to their country's industries as a whole. But I believe that there is a tendency to sell the small fellow down the river in order to gain advantage for the big fellow. We must always be on guard against that kind of operation. The Opposition wants some elucidation of this particular problem and some assurance from the Minister that these little fellows - little in the sense of the magnitude of their industry as compared with the other fifteen industries which are receiving concessions from Rhodesia - are fully protected.

In his second-reading speech, the Minister stated that some time ago Rhodesia asked to be relieved of a previous undertaking that it had given in relation to dried full-cream milk powder. The federation decided that it wanted to protect its own dried full-cream milk powder industry. The Australian negotiators, with the consent of the Minister, finally acceded to the federation's request only on condition that it agreed to give to the dairying industry concessions equivalent to those which had been intended formerly in respect of dried full-cream milk powder. As far as I can see - and, as the Minister knows, I am always fair in these things - that proposal is unexceptionable. It is true that the arrangement may adversely affect a particular dried full-cream milk factory, but the industry as a whole, by virtue of the manner in which it conducts its marketing operations - mainly on a co-operative basis - will not be at a disadvantage.

I have no other comment to make except to repeat that the Opposition wants some assurance from the Minister that these little fellows are amply protected and are not being used as pawns in order to gain an advantage for the much more powerful wheat, biscuit, pudding, cake and other industries which are gaining concessions under this tariff item. I repeat also that when I refer to these little fellows. I do not mean that they are little in the sense of their personal importance and their production, in the sense of their individual contribution to the overall production of Australia, or in the sense of their individual interests. T leave the matter at that. T hope that the Minister will give us the assurances that we have sought.

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