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Friday, 8 August 1902

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - While I do not always agree with the views of the honorable member for North Sydney, I can say that there are few Members of this Parliament for whose judgment I have more respect. To whatever views the honorable member may give expression, we all give him credit for being thoroughly sincere. But the honorable member was hardly fair to the honorable member for Moira: When the latter gentleman pointed out last night that the pastoralists had passed through a severe drought in 1897, he did not suggest for one moment that that fact made them better qualified to endure the present losses. The honorable member for Moira made it . very plain, I think, that the experience gained during the previous drought should have taught a lesson, by means qf which much of the unfortunate suffering being experienced at the present time might have been averted.

Mr Skene - How was that possible? There has been no rain in parts since 1897.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Instances were given in which pastoralists had actually grown fodder of the kind, but instead of storing it, they preferred to sell it.

Mr F E McLEAN (LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Those were iso lated instances.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The honorable member for Moira pointed out that the pastoralists were now buying back this fodder for double the price at which they themselves sold it. No eloquence is necessary to show the consequences of the drought. The facts come home to each of us, and every rightthinking person must sympathize deeply with the unfortunate people who are immediately concerned. The consequences of the pastoralists' losses fall upon the whole of the community : and we, as a Federal Parliament, should deal with this question in the way that will be best in the interests of the sufferers and the people of the Commonwealth. It is not fair or right to use this unfortunate drought as the basis of an appeal to the sympathies of the people, in order to bring about by indirect means what cannot be obtained on its merits. It is not the relief of the pastoralist, through the abolition of the duty, that is sought by the amendment ; the object is to obtain a little modicum of free-trade which could not otherwise be hoped for.

Mr F E McLEAN (LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In this we have a glaring instance in the necessity for freetrade.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Farmers, on the faith of the fiscal policy in several of the States, went to great expense in sowing crops and making provision for bad seasons ; and the amendment will deprive those men of the benefits of their forethought. And who will gain by the abolition of the duties? Not only the pastoralists but the whole of the large consumers in the cities of the Commonwealth, who can well afford to pay reasonable prices to the farmer. It is the people of the cities who will getnine-tenths or, at any rate, five-sixths of the benefit, because they consume more largely than do the few pastoralists. My sympathy with the pastoralists cannot be doubted. I have been connected with the industry all my life, and I have not only a large number of friends, but some near relatives, who are at present suffering from the drought. My business as a stock and station agent depends upon the pastoral industry, but at the same time I cannot shut my eyes to the farming interests, which are entitled to just as much consideration.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Some of the dairy farmers are suffering more than any one else from the drought, and are paying £2 a day for feed.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - That may be so, but I contend that the method proposed is not a proper one by which to give relief. It is riot necessary to cheapen fodder in all the large cities of the Commonwealth in Order to give relief to the pastoralists. Relief can be given very much better through the different State Governments, to whom the whole of the revenue from these duties is handed. There is nothing easier than to give relief to those persons who really require it by granting them a refund of the duties paid. None of us wishes to shut out the importation of feed for those whose stock are dying. We should like to see them getting relief from any direction whence they can procure it. If they get a remission of the duty they pay they have nothing to complain of.

Sir William McMillan - Is that the way the honorable member reads the Constitution?

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I have spoken to some of the best constitutional lawyers in the Commonwealth on this subject. None of them was prepared to express an opinion in the absence of a decision by the High Court, but they certainly did not deny that what I have suggested could be done in some way.

Sir WilliamMcMillan. But what about the spirit of the Constitution?

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Does my honorable friend think that the spirit of the Constitution would prevent any State from making a direct gift to any class that was suffering either from being burnt out or from drought? The relief need not be in the form of directly repaying duties, but a State could give compensation to the value of the duties paid. Will my honorable friend say that any State Government would be debarred from importing shipments of fodder and distributing it to the pastoralists who are suffering? If the Constitution ties the hands of the people of the Commonwealth to such an extent that a State Government cannot give relief, it is an unfortunate instrument. Honorable members might as well say that the Constitution would prevent us from giving relief to thesufferers from the Mount Kembla accident as tell me that any State Government by reason of the Constitution, could not, if it chose, import shipments of fodder from any part of the world, and make a free gift of it.

Mr Thomson - They could not if there were a High Court in existence.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I venture to say that no High Court in the world would, in our present circumstances - unless they put a meaning upon the words of the Constitution that are not upon the face of it - prevent a State Government from importing fodder, paying the duty, and distributing that fodder amongst the persons who are suffering from the effects of the drought.

Mr F E McLEAN (LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should a State Government do so when we can ask the Commonwealth to refrain from plundering the people ?

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Why should the Commonwealth rob the people of the fair and honest fruits of their enterprise and industry, because my honorable friend, being a bigoted free-trader himself, wants to gain by indirect means what he feels that he cannot gain on the merits of the question? We know that all these pathetic appeals on behalf of the pastoralists, from persons who have no interest in common with them are only talk to the galleries.

If the view of honorable members opposite be correct, and if my views are fallacious, I am speaking against the interests of the people with whom the whole of my business relations exist.

Mr Thomson - -The honorable member need not make unfair statements ; that is not usual with him.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I should be very sorry to' do so ; but will my honorable friend tell me seriously that his main object in this movement is not to gain a little modicum of free-trade %

Mr Thomson - lt is not; the object is to relieve the difficulties of the pastoralists.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - My honorable friend is not as clear sighted as I gave him credit for being. Usually under such circumstances he would be able to see that the simplest way of doing what he requires would be through the Governments of the various States.

Mr Thomson - We are not providing for the present time only, but for the future as well.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - That is a proof of what I say. I maintain - and I know it for a fact, because I have seen the effects of such a policy in Victoria - that if these duties are abolished a large number of people will, be prevented from making provision against drought, because, instead of being self-reliant and depending upon their own resources, they will be induced to depend upon foreign supplies for the relief of their necessities. That is a weak and childish policy to pursue. I should be sorry to see Australia, which has perhaps agricultural resources as large as those of any country under the sun, stop ploughing the land and producing, and depend upon the industry of more enterprising and energetic people in other parts of the world to supply its wants, and come to its relief in the hour cf need. My honorable friend the member for North Sydney, in his very plausible and able way - he puts his case so well that, if persons were not thoroughly conversant with the subject, they would be liable to be misled - pointed out that protection could not benefit the farmer, because in times of scarcity his resources are not equal to the demands of the continent.

Mr Thomson - I was speaking of cheap fodder.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - It is quite true that in times of plenty a duty will not benefit the farmer, because he produces more than the Commonwealth can consume. When we produce in excess of our requirements we export. That is what we have endeavoured to impress upon honorable members opposite, and what they have refused to understand. We have tried to show them that when we produce more than we can consume, a duty is not a tax or a burden in any shape or form, because internal competition regulates the price. My honorable friend by own argument admitted ' that this morning. He forgot that he was giving away his previous contention. He admitted that when the farmers produce sufficient to supply the whole of our own requirements and leave a surplus for export the duty cannot injure the public.

Mr Thomson - I have always said that when we over-produce prices are regulated by foreign markets.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Then why talk about a tax on the consumer 1 I fail to see that there is any tax upon the consumer.

Mr Thomson - It is ' a tax until the country gets to the exporting standard.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - It is so in regard to any commodity. Victoria at the present time, in many lines of production - such as boots and shoes - has overtaken the local demand, and is exporting. Yet my honorable friend persists in saying that a duty which is dormant upon the statute-book is a tax upon the people who use the commodities affected. What such a duty as this does is to secure the home market for our own farmers. It assures the farmers that if they have sufficient enterprise and energy to sow their lands and cultivate products they will at any rate have a market to the extent of our own requirements. But if they have to face the competition of the outside world, they will not have that assurance. Before duties were imposed in the interests of the agriculturists in Victoria, we had to import nearly everything the farmer produces. We possessed an excellent soil and climate, admirably suited for the production of agricultural commodities, but the farmers would not grow them, because they did not care to compete with the outside producer. They were afraid that perhaps there would be a glut of products in some adjacent place, which would pull down prices below the rate at which it would pay to produce them. But within a few years after the imposition of duties in the interests of the farmers we were producing largely in excess of our requirements. Then the price of wheat and other commodities came down in consequence of the internal competition.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable member in order in going into a general dissertation upon the benefits of protection ?

Sir George Turner - It was understood that we were to have a. general discussion upon this item.

Mr.J oseph Cook. - I object to that. I want to facilitate the progress of business, and protest against any general debate. The item before the Chair is fruits and vegetables, and I contend that thehonorable member is not in order in discussing the whole question of agricultural products.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - On the point of order, I wish to say that I was told before I rose that the whole question of the fodder duties was to be decided on the vote to be next taken. The object of the amendment, as I understand it, is to reduce this duty, and that is to be taken to apply to the next item affecting fodder. As the amendment involves the abolition of customs duties, surely I am in order in pointing out what would be the effect of their abolition?

Mr Thomson - Some reference was made to an arrangement, but that arrangement could not be carried out without the consent of the Chair. It is true that I said the general question relating to fodder could be debated upon this item, and that if it took place now it would probably limit the debate in regard to the duty on hay and chaff.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The honorable member spoke on those lines.

Mr Thomson - I did not. I merely referred to that class of fodder of which vegetables such as mangolds and turnips form part. I do not object to the line adopted by the honorable member, for I still think that the present debate will materially reduce the discussion upon the duties on hay and chaff.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Ireferred last night to the question of the fodder duties generally, and pointed out that the item was inseparable from that relating to hay and chaff, because we were contending that the use of certain vegetables, would be of assistance to the farmers, and possibly render it unnecessary for them to pay high prices for other fodder. Although I do not agree with the honorable member's views, I think he is in order, and that he should be allowed the latitude extended to me.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not object to the settlement of the duties on fodder, or any other item, at this stage. My point is that the honorable member has no right to go into the wholehistory of protection. The honorable member for Gippsland referred to what occurred in Victoria 30 or 40 years ago, prior to the imposition of protective duties, and I contend that he was entirely out of order in doing so.

Mr Kingston - An honest understanding was mentioned last night and again this morning, and the honorable member for Gippsland is in no way trespassing beyond the limits previously allowed. I trust that we shall obtain a ruling which will enable the question generally to be discussed.

Mr McDonald - I understood that we were to be allowed to discuss the general question of the fodder duties on this item, but not that a debate should be allowed on the merits of protection or free-trade. Judging from the number of papers and books which some honorable members have brought into the Chamber, I am afraid that if that latitude is to be allowed, the discussion will last all day.

The CHAIRMAN - It has been my desire at all times not to interpret the standing orders so strictly as to make them irksome to honorable members, and when honorable members generally evinced a desire that the discussion on this item should be allowed to travel over requests Nos. 14 and 15, I allowed it to proceed on those lines. The same arguments must be used in regard to this and the next two items, and, so far as I am aware, the honorable member for Gippsland has not gone beyond the question to which they relate. I should certainly have called him to order if he had done so.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Shortly before the committee rose last night I paired and left the Chamber, under the impression that a vote would be taken before the adjournment. I had no time to look at the newspaper this morning, and I came here believing that the question had been settled. It was only upon entering the Chamber that I learned of the understanding to which reference has been made, and but for that arrangement I should have confined my remarks strictly to the item before the Chair. The arguments applied to vegetables used as fodder will apply to the next two items, and I think the arrangement is an excellent one to save time. I referred to the experience of farmers in Victoria some years ago only to show honorable members that, in the light of our past experience, we were justified in assuming that if the duty were abolished the farmers would not grow sufficient fodder to make provision for future dry seasons. Perhaps in five years out of six the farmer derives no actual benefit from protection, because we produce sufficient for our own consumption. It is in years of drought, when our own production is slightly below our requirements, and when he has to compete to some extent against outside competitors, that he obtains a benefit from it. My honorable friends opposite do not object to protection, provided that it does not increase by one penny the price of the article taxed, ' and as long as it will induce the farmer to grow sufficient to keep produce cheap to the consuming public. But the very moment the farmer is likely to obtain any benefit by reason of higher prices,' they advocate the abolition of the duty and unrestricted competition on the part of the outside world. Nothing could be more unfair or unjust than to enter into a deliberate compact with the producers of the Commonwealth to put an Act on the statute-book securing the local market to them up to a certain limit specified in that Act, and then to abolish the duties the moment they are likely to obtain any benefit.

Mr F E McLEAN (LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES) - To what Act does the honorable member refer 1

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - To the existing State Acts protecting the productions of the farmers in the protected States. Those Acts have been confirmed by this branch of the Legislature of the Commonwealth, and on the faith of them our farmers have been cultivating their lands. The cry for the remission of these duties does not come from most of the States iu which the farmers have been protected.

Mr Brown - For the very good reason that they have not experienced a drought.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - My honorable friend knows that in all the States there are some areas which even in years of drought are exempt from the severity of the visitation. During any dry season that we have experienced, the farmers in New South Wales could have produced sufficient for local requirements if they had had received sufficient encouragement. But, like the Victorian farmers prior to the imposition of protective duties here, they did not feel justified in entering upon the work. They knew that in years of plenty prices would naturally be low, and if they thought that in the years of drought and scarcity they would obtain no better returns for their small supplies, they would not be so foolish as to enter upon these undertakings. What is demanded can be done, and done much more effectively, through the States Governments, and we contend they are the proper authorities to deal with this matter. Therefore I hope that honorable members, before casting a vote against the farmers, will consider the injustice of depriving them of the slightly increased prices obtainable at the present time for their produce. Those prices are not very excessive in the various centres of population, although no doubt they are materially increased, owing to the cost of carriage and other charges, by the time that the produce reaches the unfortunate pastoralists in the interior. We have known prices to be infinitely higher. I have seen £1 a bushel paid for wheat.

Mr Thomson - The honorable member has known wheat to be imported when it . was not available here.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The honorable member for North Sydney wishes to see it imported once more. I do not. I do not know of an industry which is so eminently suited to our conditions as is the production of wheat.

Sir William McMillan - Are not present rates, which are double the normal prices of produce, sufficient to leave a profit?

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - They are substantially higher, but nothing like double.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member says that these duties will reduce prices.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I say that perhaps in five years out of six they will reduce them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Therefore they cannot be a good thing for the farmers.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - If my honorable friend could sell a commodity at a small profit, a moderate price would pay him provided that he was assured of a market.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How can the farmer be assured of a market when the honorable member says that internal competition brings down his prices 1

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - He is prepared to compete with local competitors who produce under circumstances precisely similar to those which surround him. I shall now state what he is not prepared to do. Supposing that we had a year of drought, in 'which the yield was, perhaps, 50 per cent, less than usual, and that New Zealand, the Argentine, or California, with an exceptionally good season, had considerably above a normal yield, their surplus would be sold at whatever price could be got. That is the competition which the farmer is not prepared to meet.

Mr Thomson - The honorable member says let them starve here, rather than that they should take that surplus ?

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I am not one of those who contend that universal protection is necessarily good. There are conditions in which free-trade is preferable to protection, and conditions in which protection is preferable to free-trade. There are industries which are not so suited to our conditions as to justify a policy of protection, while there are other industries which are well suited to our conditions of life, to our soil, and to our climate, and which, I think,' it is worth while to protect, if protection secures a permanent and uniform reduction in price, except in Abnormal seasons. This is an industry which we all admit to be admirably suited to our conditions, and I submit that for the sake of getting an ample supply in five seasons out of six, it is worth while to pay a little more for the product during the sixth season, in order to secure to the consuming public the benefit of uniformly moderate prices. While I am sure it is the earnest desire of every honorable member, no matter on which side he sits, to afford relief in the best possible way to people who are suffering from drought, I hold that to reduce the cost of fodder to the large consumers in the various cities of the Commonwealth, at the expense of the farmer who was induced on the faith of an Act of Parliament to cultivate his land, is not a fair or just way to give that relief. The fair way is to give the relief directly to the people who are suffering from the effects of the drought. I hope that honorable members will give due consideration to the two points I have submitted. I contend that the interests of both the farmers and the pastoralists can be served by giving relief to the pastoralists directly, but without giving relief to large consumers in the various cities and large centres of population throughout the Commonwealth.

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