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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) . - I am a -little confused by the last two speakers. The Minister in charge of the Bill said that the Cabinet would be entirely responsible for the actions of the Board, but Senator Reid argued that the Board will be entirely independent of the Minister.

Senator Reid -Isaid that this clause will give the Board power to act independently.

SenatorRussell.- Only to initiate an inquiry. The Board's report must be sent to the Minister.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I desire to see the whole power retained in the hands of the Cabinet, who are responsible to this Parliament. If wegive to the Board the power proposed in the clause, and the Board should be doing something of which this Parliament did not approve, how could we stop them ? The Minister will have no power to discharge the members of the Board immediately.

Senator Russell - He will have power to reject their report.

Senator Pearce - And to suspend them.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - That would be done only in a grave emergency. Parliament is imposing a high Tariff in the hope that it will stimulate manufacturing industries, and this Bill is brought forward for the purpose of strengthening the Tariff. What man would invest a lot of money in a new manufacturing business if there was always overhanging him a threat of interference by the Board, withthe possibility of being called before them and compelled to explain his business transactions ? Thatisthe policy that is being followed by Labour Governments, in connexion with their price-fixing devices, but it has been abandoned by allNational Governments. The proposalin this clause is nothing but a price-fixing device, which experience has proved a failure. The only influence that will cope with abnormally high prices is the law of supply and demand.

Senator Russell - We have not interfered with wool. We have fixed the prices with an upward, tendency, and that has saved the wool-growers this year.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes ; but there was no demand for wool. When prices are high the position is different. I am sure we shall destroy entirely any good which might result : from the Tariff if we allow this Board to continually interfere with manufacturers, probe into their businesses, and drag them before the public. Any good that is derived from the high Tariff will be discounted in that way.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Surelywe ought to inquire into the doings of a man like Collins.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I do not wish to inquire into anybody's business, and I know nothing about Collins. No good will result fromthis sort of motherly legislation by which' Boards are appointed to inquire into Everything. Irecommend to the Ministerthe example of the

Committee of Public-. Works, which acts only on matters referred, to it by Parliament,, on the motion of the Minister' for Works. Thus the principle of Ministerial responsibility and parliamentary control is preserved. The War Service Homes Commission is another very instructive illustration. That Commission is allowedto act on its own responsibility.

Senator Pearce - The Commission can act, and has not to report to the Minister.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - And the Tariff Board would act similarly.

Senator Pearce - No; the- Minister., and not the Board, would have the. power to act.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - We should follow the procedure adopted in respect of the Public Works Committee. It has done admirable work, but always on matters referred toit by the Minister 'for Works. We do not wish to lose parliamentary control of the Tariff Board, but if we allow them to act on their own initiative, they will be absolutely out of our control. If we disagree with anything they do, we may take remedial measures, but the damage will Have been already done.

Senator Russell - Read sub-clause 3 of clause 18.

Senator Wilson - But the manufacturer will have already been put to inconvenience in supplying evidence to the Board.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes; and the manufacturer will have been- subjected to all sorts of disabilities. If the clause is agreed to as drafted, it will undo the whole of the good which we expect to be derived from the high Tariff.

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