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Thursday, 11 August 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - The astonishing reference of the Minister for Defence to the way in which the powers given to the Minister for Trade and Customs are used confirms my determination to pursue this matter further. In regard to shovels, the Minister told us that if ,the Minister for Customs" is satisfied that they are being manufactured in the country, he may impose a duty on them. That is the sort of thing to which I object. ' Recently, in the course of conversation, the manager of our State Brickworks told me that the cost of shovels was now 14s., whereas before the war it was 4s., and he asserted that there was a heavy duty on shovels, which, at first, I was inclined to deny.

Senator Pearce - The Tariff imposes a duty on shovels.

Senator GARDINER - The Tariff makes tools of trade free; but, when the Department discovered that on being satisfied that shovels were made here they could impose a duty on them, shovels were made dutiable.

Senator Pearce - No. Shovels were already dutiable.

Senator GARDINER - The question is: Shall the Minister or shall Parliament determine whether a duty shall be levied on any article? As Senator Senior has pointed out, there are, on the page of the Tariff with which we are now dealing, no fewer than five kinds of imports in regard to which the Department may pass by-laws affecting the duties. The Minister might allow calico to be imported free for the making of bags to contain flour, and might make it dutiable if imported to make bags for other purposes; or he might allow calico to be imported free for the use of one person; and not for the use of another. I would remind Senator Pearce that there is as much cost in preparing and publishing a departmental by-law as in preparing and publishing a regulation; but the regulation has to be laid before Parliament, and may be objected to. I do not read all the regulations put before Parliament; but I know that if a commercial man finds that a charge is made on him to-day which he was not asked to pay yesterday, and that this is in consequence of the passing of some regulation, he soon complains to a member of Parliament, and the regulation .can then be called in question. I realize that it makes it easy for the Department to have the power to prescribe conditions by by-laws. This arrangement takes power from Parliament, which is constituted of the representatives of the people, and gives it to those entrenched in the Public Service who, though responsible to the Minister, as he is to Parliament, are so far removed from popular control that inconveniences are constantly being heaped oh the commercial world. These are not suffered in silence. One has only to move among those who have business with the Customs Department to hear complaints, whisperings, and suspicion. Dissatisfaction and discontent are rampant in the commercial world of Australia, and one of the chief causes of this state of things is this power to make departmental bylaws. Just as the Minister for Trade and Customs can benefit one set of candlemakers to the injury of another, so he can act unfairly towards some manufacturers and importers, and help others.

Senator Pearce - It is Parliament that gives this power.

Senator GARDINER - It is the Minister for Trade and Customs himself who proposes that it shall be given, and the servile following of the Government that agrees to his proposal. If the Minister for Trade and Customs is given this power, why should he not be allowed to prescribe exactly what duties shall be imposed, and what exemptions shall be made? When the Department discovers that things are not being used for the purposes for which they were admitted ' duty free, it makes them dutiable; but I ask why cannot that be provided for specifically in the Tariff?

Senator Pearce - The Minister is only empowered to prescribe the conditions under which importations shall take place.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister means the Department. It is suggested, probably by an interested party, that unfair competition is taking place because of the free importation of certain articles, and the Minister gets it into his mind that he can level up things to suit his informant. He finds that under the power to make by-laws he can tax the article that has been coming in free.

Senator Pearce - In this case, calico imported for the making of bags can be taxed only if it is not being used for that purpose.

Senator Keating - That is the wish of Parliament.

Senator GARDINER - The importation may be for a purpose so closely related to bag-making that Parliament would desire the free admission of the calico. When the Minister should intervene, how, and on whose initiative, are all matters which I claim should be left to Parliament. If we want proof that in the opinion of the community these matters should be left to Parliament, all we have to do is to go amongst the people who suffer from departmental by-laws. They find their business interfered with, their trade interrupted, and no consideration given to them in respect of expenditure they have been called upon to make.

Senator Pearce - They would smilingly accept all .the regulations, I suppose, if the new procedure proposed were adopted ?

Senator GARDINER - If - these matters were dealt with by regulation those affected by them could make their appeal to responsible members of this Parliament.

Senator Vardon - There would be finality also.

Senator GARDINER - That is so. A business man in Sydney, believing that a gross injustice was inflicted upon him by a regulation of the Trade and Customs Department, would need only to write a letter to a newspaper to call public attention at once to his grievance, and in this Parliament we have a public institution in which the matter could be threshed out.

Senator Pearce - Can he not do the same in respect of a departmental by-law?

Senator GARDINER - Yes, but he has no remedy. Who is to take a hand to help him? If these matters were dealt with by regulation the regulations would have to run the gauntlet of public discussion. At the present time they are dealt with by the Minister in his Department, where everything is smothered up, which is itself an encouragement to injustice. I brought this matter up myself only the other day, but I am afraid that there is very little hope that we shall be able to secure any improvement in the practice adopted in view of the majority behind the Government, the members of which, by the way, are outside while matters are being discussed, and enter the' chamber only when they are being decided.

Senator Pearce - I would be prepared to take a vote of those who are present now.

Senator GARDINER - Very well, I shall sit down if the honorable senator will do so.

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