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Tuesday, 10 June 1902

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I think that the Government are to be commended for their desire to establish this most valuable industry within the Commonwealth. I would be prepared to go as far as most honorable members to attain that very desirable object if we had a reasonable assurance of the permanent success of the industry when established. With that intention in view, I supported Division VIa. of the Tariff, but on the distinct understanding that before a penny was expended, the Government would bring down a Bill - as they have done - and would submit such information to Parliament as would justify us in voting the large amount of money involved in this proposal. I never expected that the whole of that information could be obtained in time to allow of a measure being introduced during the current session, and I think that the Minister for Trade and Customs is disposed to push this matter forward with undue haste. The point referred to by the two last speakers is one upon which we should have more information before we entertain the idea of voting such a large sum of money. The question to be considered is whether any protective duties which may hereafter be imposed can be levied against the principal users of iron. It appears to me that if the States Governments can introduce iron for their railways and other works free of duty, it would be a very serious matter, because they are beyond all question the largest users of this material - practically the only users. At any rate, those persons outside of. the States Governments who use iron would not take a sufficient quantity to justify us in incurring the great cost involved in establishing this industry. It appears to me, therefore, that we should have fuller information upon this point before attempting to proceed further. I should be indeed sorry to see this great question shelved by the defeat of a Bill at the end of the session. Honorable members must recollect that £324,000 is a very large sum of money, more especially when on the very day that we are asked to vote that amount a Loan Bill has been introduced, showing that we cannot, out of revenue, provide sufficient money for works which are usually paid for from that source. I would strongly recommend the Government to postpone the consideration of this matter. Parliament has already been sitting for thirteen months, and I think that this Bill might well be held over till next session. It would be infinitely better to adopt that course than to run the risk of the defeat or shelving of the Bill for a considerable time. Of course, if reasonable assurance could be given upon the most material points, I would support the Government, but I could not justify my action to the people of the Commonwealth and to my constituents if I supported such a large expenditure upon such flimsy information as has up to the present been placed before us. I do not blame the Minister for Trade and Customs for being unable to place fuller information before us because he has not had time to do so, and his hands have been full of other matters. But it would certainly be wise to inquire fully into this matter during the recess, and to ascertain, if possible, whether protective duties can be levied against the States Governments, and if not, whether the industry could live without any measure of protection. I fear that it could not. I repeat that the Minister for Trade and Customs would be acting wisely if he allowed the consideration of this Bill to be deferred till next session.

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