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Tuesday, 12 August 1902

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - It is quite clear that the present Ministry agree with Dame Nature. When Australia was formed it was evidently intended that nearly the whole of its population should be settled in the coastal districts. The Government have no consideration whatever for the people who are living hundreds of miles back - further out than the little cabbage garden of Victoria. At the present time the freightage upon tinned meats, jams, &c, just doubles the cost of those articles to the people at Cobar. As the last speaker has pointed out, the State Government have recognised the hardship inflicted, and have consented to reduce the railway carriage upon these articles. Many of the butchers in Cobar closed their establishments more than a year ago because they could not obtain beef with which to cany on. The cost of tinned meats has increased, because people are unable to obtain fresh meat at any price. It is all very well to say that Australia supplies her own needs in this connexion, but those who urge that forget that whenever a duty is imposed upon any article there is a tendency to increase its cost. It gives an opportunity to those who are engaged in producing it to combine and to fix their charges accordingly. I know of some instances in which retailers have actually increased the price of goods which are upon the free list. Every housewife has not a Tariff in her pocket, and does not know whether a particular article is or is not dutiable. The proposal to make the duty Id. is very reasonable, and the fact that the present item includes poultry and game forms no reason why these edibles should not be brought within the reach of the people. If the Minister for Trade and

Customs had to live in the back-blocks or in a mining camp he would soon tire of tinned beef, some of which might as well be chips, and be glad to get tinned tongue or alleged poultry similarly preserved. The demand for tinned meats has increased, and will continue for a considerable time, seeing that, owing to the drought, Australia will not for a lengthened period be able to supply the local markets at a reasonable price. Queensland, whence much of the supply comes, suffered serious losses owing to the tick, and then came the drought ; stock cannot be raised in a day. Mutton can be raised much more quickly than beef, and the position in regard to the supply of the latter is very serious. I cannot understand why the Government stand by every item simply because there is a duty; indeed, it seems wonderful that such a Government should provide for any exemptions. The request made is a fair one, in the interests of the very large population who live a long way from the coast, and have to pay high prices for their food.Every person travelling has to carry tinned meat, and it enters largely into consumption, not only in Western Australia, but in the back-blocks of Queensland and New South Wales. To impose a heavy duty on such commodities is a direct tax on people whose condition is very unfortunate, and who ought to receive more consideration than is given to them. It appears to me that the people who live under the best conditions receive most consideration at the hands of the Government, and, in my opinion, the amendment affords a fair compromise.

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