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Friday, 13 June 1902

Mr FULLER (Illawarra) - I am surprised at the small-minded attitude taken up by representatives of Victoria upon this question of the proposed suspension of the fodder duties. When the States entered into federation no one expected that a pettifogging spirit - such as has been exhibited by representatives of Victoria today - would be manifested. I am profoundly disappointed at the inaction of the Federal Government in connexion with this matter. We. were told by the honorable member for Gippsland that there was not a representative of this State who did not sympathize deeply with those who are suffering from the effects of the existing drought. The Attorney-General also assured the most important deputation which has waited upon him since the accomplishment of federation of his personal sympathy. But what is the use of sympathy when such a disastrous state of affairs exists in Queensland and New South Wales ? It is not sympathy that we want, but action on the part of the Federal Government, who alone are in a position to take it. What is the use of honorable members opposite urging that this matter should be dealt with by the States ? I ask the Attorney-General if that is the constitutional view which he entertains of this question. He is silent. What was said by the honorable member for

Gippsland regarding the pastoral districts of New South Wales shows his absolute ignorance of this matter.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I have business relations with more settlers in New South Wales than has the honorable member.

Mr FULLER - I do not care what business relations the honorable member has. I do not wish to import unnecessary warmth into the debate, but the free-traders have been accused of bringing this question forward for purely party purposes. Yet we find the honorable member for New England, who is one of the most loyal Ministerial supporters, making a strong speech in favour of the suspension of the fodder duties. Leading representatives of the protectionists in New South Wales entertain a similar view. Where, then, is the evidence of any party move by freetraders in this Chamber? The honorable member for Echuca has told us that our action is prompted by a desire to disgust the farmers with the administration of the Commonwealth. There is no necessity for us to do that. The farmers are already disgusted with everything done by the Government in connexion with Tariff administration. In theIllawarra district we are importing tons of hay to keep our stock alive, and in the Camden and Picton districts, two of the most favoured spots in New South Wales, this agitation was started over two months ago. It is utter nonsense to allege that it has been originated in the interests of a few wealthy pastoralists. We know very well that the pastoralists have been struggling for years, and that atthe presenttimethegreat majority of them are in the hands of the banks and financial institutions. I am surprised at the statement of the Minister for Home Affairs, who loyally fought for New South Wales during the federal movement. The honorable gentleman declares that the people of that State do not desire the remission of the fodder duties, and that all the information which he has received is in the contrary direction. It is true that he did receivea telegram to that effect from Lockhart, in his electorate, the full text of which was published in the daily papers. But he has received no other information of the same character. Public opinion from one end of Queensland to the other, and throughout New South Wales, is unquestionably almost unanimously in favour of the suspension of these duties. Surely the Government betray absolute weakness in declining to take the law into their ownhands during a time of dire distress, in order to avert disaster to the biggest wealth-producing industry in our midst. Why should we wait upon the Governments of New South Wales or Queensland ? It is the duty of the Federal Government to look after matters of national concern, and they will be recreant to their trust if they do not immediately deal with this question. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, who represents a very favoured portion of the country - although the newspaper reports do not indicate that there is much fodder available even in that district - saysthatthe States Governments should remit the railway freights upon fodder. But I would point out that the New South Wales railway authorities have already done everything that they possibly can in this connexion. At the present time they are carrying food for starving stock for 2s. per ton. I might also add that the Premier of Queensland has telegraphed to the Federal Government, declaring that in view of the deplorable condition of things in that State he is favorable to the suspension of these duties. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs declares that the people of Queensland are averse to that course being adopted. Whose testimony shall we credit - that of the honorable and learned member" for Darling Downs, or that of Mr. Philp, who is intimately acquainted with the conditions prevailing throughout the State of Queensland ? In order to test this matter, I desire to move that the total amount covered by this Bill be increased by £10,000. I do that to enable the Treasurer to refund the duties collected on fodder during the next three months.

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