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Friday, 13 June 1902

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I think honorable members will admit that whenever I consider that there are legitimate grounds for criticising the actions of the Government I do not hesitate to criticise them. On the present occasion I consider that the Government have been subjected to very unfair criticism. It is only a few weeks since the question of imposing duties upon grain and fodder was under the consideration of the Committee of Ways and Means, and a very substantial majority then decided that duties should be imposed for the protection of the producers. Recently, however, a small section of the House has made a demand for the suspension or remission of those duties. The reasons advanced for that course of action are such as must obtain the sympathy of every rightthinking man. The unfortunate condition to which the pastoralists of some of the States have been reduced in consequence of the prolonged drought must call forth the sympathy of all.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not onlythe pastoralists, but people in every walk of life have suffered.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - But if the duties upon fodder were remitted, the' consumers purchasing in the cities and central markets of the Commonwealth would benefit as largely as the pastoralists, and at the expense of the farmers. It is only in years of drought that the farmers receive any benefit from protective duties ; but the existence of these duties causes them in times of plenty to continue producing cheap supplies for Australia, and exporting the surplus. New South Wales is one of the finest States in the Commonwealth, and with reasonable encouragement could supply sufficient produce for the whole of Australia. Little Victoria, the cabbage-garden of Australia, because of its protective duties-

Mr Thomson - And because of the rainfall with which Providence has blessed it.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I admitthat Victoria has not as large an area of droughtstricken country as New South Wales has, but, on the other hand, New South Wales hasan area of country, as large as Victoria, which does not suffer considerably from drought. The districts within a reasonable distance of the coast of New South Wales could have supplied their own wants even in this year of drought if they had devoted the same attention to agriculture as we have done in Victoria. If the duties upon fodder were remitted, the farmers of Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia, who have been endeavouring to meet the wants of the Commonwealth, would not sow their crops next year, because they would know that the market would be inundated by the importations from other places.

Mr Thomson - If stock were dying in Victoria at the rate at which they are dying in other States, the honorable member would vote for the remission of the duties.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The northern districts of Victoria are suffering severely from the drought, but the people there do not ask for the remission of the duties, because they know that the effect would be to reduce supplies next season.What is to prevent the Governments of the States which are suffering from giving to those who require fodder an advantage equal to the advantage which would be gained by the remission of the duties ? They could, if they chose, free them from charges which are quite as high as the duties. They can remit the railway freights.

Mr Wilks - They have already done so in New South Wales. They are charging only 2s. per ton for conveying fodder to Bourke, a distance of 500 miles.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - They could go even further if necessary and remit the freight altogether, and vote to the pastoralists a sum of money equal to the duties collected upon the fodder imported.

Mr Thomson - The Attorney-General has not stated that they could do that.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - If they could not actually remit the duties, they could follow a course similar to that which has been adopted in Victoria over and over again. When the farmers have been reduced to a state of distress through drought, Parliament has voted sums of money for the purchase of seed-wheat, and where settlers have been burnt out by bush-fires, money has been voted to enable them to replace their homesteads. What is to prevent the Government of New South Wale's from giving a subsidy to those persons who have to import fodder or grain for their starving stock 1 The subsidy might be equal in amount to the duties which are collected by the Commonwealth, and afterwards handed over to the State.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The State should do all this,whilst the Commonwealth fleeces the people by means of the duties ?

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - My honorable friend must not think that because he is a century behind the times, he can imbue other people with his old-fashioned ideas. We have all passed through the initial stage in which the honorable gentleman still lingers. How is it that New South Wales cannot supply her own wants, when little Victoria is able to do so, and to export a large surplus ? Because the Government of Victoria has had the good sense to give some encouragement to the farmers. I am satisfied, from communications which I have received from all parts of Victoria, that if the grain duties were remitted, it would have the effect of preventing thousands of acres from being sown with grain during the present season. This would not assist those honorable members who are advocating the interests of the stock-owners. They should devote their surplus energy to inducing the Governments of their respective States to give assistance to the unfortunate pastoralists who are suffering from drought. The remission of the duties would do more harm than good.

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