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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - I should not have taken part in this discussion if the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) had not indulged in extravagant criticism of the remarks of Senator Herbert Hays, whose one desire, I take it, is to ensure that farm tools covered by this sub-item are made available to primary producers at a cheaper rate than, is now possible. I fail to see how the expression of that wish can be construed as a desire to revert to the industrial conditions that obtained a couple of decades ago. I deprecate very strongly this attempt, by the Leader of the Opposition, to discredit Senator Herbert Hays, because I am quite sure that no honorable senator would wish to return to conditions that existed 25 years ago. There was the same unfair suggestion in the honorable gentleman's statement that Australian manufacturers would not submit evidence to the Tariff Board, for the implied reason that the board was " stacked."

Senator Collings - I rise to a point of order ! I do not know whether Senator Hardy intended to do so or not, but he certainly conveyed the impression that, in the course of my remarks, I expressed the view that the Tariff Board was "stacked." That remark is personally offensive to me, and I think it should be withdrawn. I did not say that, nor was it in my thoughts. Furthermore, I did not say anything that could be twisted to convey that meaning.

Senator HARDY - I said that the implication of the honorable senator's remarks was that the Tariff Board was " stacked." Undoubtedly, the honorable gentleman did say that Australian manufacturers would not submit evidence to the board because of their belief that, despite any recommendation made by the board, this Government would continue' with its policy of extinguishing Australian industries.

Senator Collings - Is that a reflection on the Tariff Board?

Senator HARDY - I regard it as such, because the board conducts an impartial inquiry, and presents to the Government an impartial recommendation based on the evidence submitted to it.

Senator Brown - Is the Tariff Board infallible?

Senator HARDY - I do not suggest that it is; but I think every honorable senator will admit that it is impartial, and is guided solely by evidence placed before it.

Senator Brown - Have we not the right to criticize it?

Senator HARDY - Most decidedly we have; but criticism should be reasonable and fair. If the honorable senator considers that the remarks of his leader relating to Senator Herbert Hays were fair, I am a bad judge of what is reasonable and fair. I agree with Senator Herbert Hays that primary producers should be able to purchase hooks and slashers at a low price, because they are standard farm tools, and are very largely used. In the last four year prices have been reduced, on one occasion by 12 per cent., and on another by 21 per cent. I do not know if it is the intention of Senator Herbert Hays to request the House of Representatives to make the rates lower than those recommended by the Tariff Board. If it is, I shall not support him. because the Tariff Board made a careful inquiry- into this matter, and expressed the view that lower rates would threaten an Australian industry. The board stated -

Taking into consideration the importance of keeping tho prices of such important tools of trade as low as possible, and also the fact that the duty that would be required to secure a big proportion of the market to local manufacturers would need to be excessive, the board is forced to the conclusion that increased duties would not be justified.

Another course which the board has considered is to recommend 'the removal of the duty on British goods altogether. While this would possi'bly result in a net benefit to the community, the board realizes that it would cause severe loss to manufacturers who have gone to considerable expense in establishing plants for tool manufacture. In view of the fact that manufacturers were encouraged to engage in the industry by reason of the fact that high duties were .provided in the customs tariff, the board is unwilling to recommend that the duties be removed.

The board then suggested a middle course -

There remains the medium course of imposing moderate rates of duty. At present, the protection through the Customs Tariff is 26i per cent. This is augmented by the protective effect of exchange, which is equal to more than 20 per cent, ad valorem. The board sees no sound justification at the present time for a duty higher than 25 per cent, ad valorem, which, with exchange, but excluding primage, provides a total protection (over and above freight and charges) of over 45 per cent. The board, therefore, finds that reasonable rates of duty under the British preferential tariff would be 25 per cent, under existing conditions of exchange, and 45 per cent, with exchange at par.

As I agree entirely with the board's conclusions I shall support the rates recommended by that body. I believe, with the board, that whilst lower duties would probably be of benefit to the community, they would threaten the extinction of an industry which was established under high protective duties. Therefore, it is reasonable to take the middle course recommended by the board.

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