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Thursday, 11 August 1921

Senator SENIOR (South Australia) . - I do not want to prolong the debate, but I should like to have some definite assurance from the Minister concerning this particular provision, which occurs so frequently in the schedule.

Senator Keating - It appears fiftyfour times.

Senator SENIOR - Then, in respect of fifty-four items, the Minister of Customs will have authority to judge at what psychological moment the Tariff varied. If the Minister (Senator Russell) will give honorable senators an assurance that before the schedule leaves this Chamber he will make some definite statement, I shall not delay the Committee. I seized this opportunity because it was the first that presented itself of' getting a definite pronouncement on the subject. I am not concerned so much about calico used for certain purposes being in the free list as about the authority to determine important issues of this nature by departmental bylaws. Lower down in the item there appears provision, by virtue of departmental by-laws, to reduce the duty on certain articles.

Senator Russell - If they comply with the conditions laid down.

Senator SENIOR - But there is the danger that a by-law may operate in the other direction, and that duties which Parliament thought were fixed in the schedule may be raised. Parliament should not shed its responsibility in this way upon the shoulders of the Minister for Trade and Customs," who again may place it upon the shoulders of departmental officials.

Senator Crawford - Do you say that Parliament should determine these questions when they arise?

Senator SENIOR - Parliament should exercise the same control over these bylaws as over other measures. For instance, no one questions, or would attempt to interfere with, the power of Parliament to levy taxation; but by means of departmental by-laws in this schedule Ave are practically departing from that principle. I should like some assurance from the Minister that he will make a definite statement before the Tariff leaves this Chamber.

Senator Earle - We have had an hour's discussion on it. Why not decide the question on this vote?

Senator SENIOR - Does Senator Earle think that honorable senators can place their responsibility upon the. Minister for Trade and Customs and his officials by giving them power to make regulations which may differ materially as between Hobart, Sydney, or Melbourne and Adelaide?

Senator Earle - It may be very necessary.

Senator SENIOR - How can it be necessary? Moreover, it is contrary to constitutional law, contrary to common justice, and contrary to, the best interests - of the Commonwealth. It will result in friction with the commercial community, and expose Parliament to ridicule for having evaded its responsibilities.

Senator Crawford - Ridiculed by importers who cannot get their own way, perhaps. ยป

Senator SENIOR - The importer has a perfect right to say that if he imported goods on the basis of this schedule it should not be varied against him. If by means of departmental by-laws there was some variation in the duty on sugar operating against Queensland, I. think Senator Crawford would be the first to raise his voice against it.

Senator Lynch - What about the question of shovels?

Senator SENIOR - All along, shovels have been interpreted by the Customs authorities as tools of trade, but departmental by-laws changed that. There was the same trouble over infants' and invalids' foods, which hitherto had been admitted free; but by virtue of departmental by-laws the Tariff was varied and certain lines were made dutiable. For these reasons, I think it is very desirable that the Minister should make a statement to the Committee.

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