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Wednesday, 13 August 1902

Mr THOMAS (Barrier) - The honorable and learned member for Bendigo is extremely anxious that the mining industry should pay a tax on its machinery. On one occasion he asked that a machine to cut soap should be admitted free. Does not the same principle apply in one case as in the other? On another occasion the honorable member for Melbourne Ports asked that a machine to make glass bottles should be put on the free list. The miner or the agriculturist is just as important as the man who makes soap or the man who makes glass bottles, and if, by the logic of those honorable members, it is necessary in the interest of these manufacturers that their machinery should come in free, why not allow the miner to have his machinery free ? The honorable and learned member for Bendigo used the argument that it did not pay the manufacturers to make the machinery for these two industries.

Sir John Quick -Because there is not sufficient demand for it, while there isa sufficient demand for mining machinery.

Mr THOMAS - All we have to do, then, is to impose a duty, and the article will be made here. Soon after the House first met we were all invited by the Melbourne manufacturers to visit their establishments. I accepted the invitation, and I assert that a man cannot visit a manufactory of any size in this city without finding that the indispensable machinery has been imported. Even rice cannot be cleaned here without using imported machinery. The head of the firm of Robert Harper and Co. is, I suppose, a good business man. In his manufactory we saw an abandoned Melbourne boiler, side by side with Huddersfield boilers. I asked him why he used foreign articles, subject to duty.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - We make as good boilers here as can be made anywhere. The abandoned Melbourne boiler may have been worn out.

Mr THOMAS - Why was it not replaced with a locally-made boiler ? Thinking that the information might be of some advantageto Mr. Harper, I mentioned that the honorable members for Bendigo and Melbourne Ports would tell him that he could get boilers made here, and that it was onlyprejudice which made him use an imported boiler. I said to him - " Those two honorable members assert that you can obtain cheaper and better boilers from local manufacturers, and that it is only prejudice that causes people to go elsewhere for such goods." He did not take my advice. As a business man, it paid him to import his machinery, notwithstanding that he had to pay £1,500 duty upon it. He told me that he paid the duty and did not grumble. I replied - "But you want a duty on rice to make up for it." Mr. Harper informed me that he paid £1,500 duty on two boilers and some other machinery which I saw, and that statement was made in the presence of the honorable member for Darling and several others. In the same establishment we saw machinery which had been imported from Hungary being used to separate rice. It is true that, in some parts of the Commonwealth, excellent machinery is manufactured. Our mining companies use locallymade machinery whenever they can do so, and there is an advantage in doing so. If I were a director or a manager of a company I should obtain locally-made machinery - even if I had to pay a slightly increased price for it in the absence of any duty - provided that it was as good as any I could import, for the reason that there is an advantage in being able to supervise its manufacture, and to see that everything is correct.

Mr.Kingston. - The honorable member's patriotism would induce him to accept a . 15 per cent. duty ?

Mr THOMAS - No, I object to any such compulsory increase in price. Those who use machinery should be given an absolutely free hand. The honorable member for Moira said that a duty of 15 per cent. on agricultural machinery had a protective incidence, whilst a duty of 10 per cent. would be only a revenue-producing one. My opinion is that a duty of 15 per cent. on mining machinery is not of a protective character. Its imposition will not cause all machinery required in Australia to be obtained from local manufacturers. The mere existence of such a duty would not cause some men to have their orders carried out here. The engineers are asking for duties ranging from 30 to 35 per cent.

Mr Mauger - No, from 20 to 25 per cent.

Mr THOMAS - When this matter was before us on a former occasion, I, in company with other honorable members, received a communication from the engineers of Melbourne, urging that duties ranging from 30 to 35 per cent. should be imposed. Is' it wise to tax mining machinery to the extent of 15 per cent. solely for revenue purposes? If it is desired to get at the mining companies they can be reached by means of an income tax. I admit that while we have power under the Constitution to impose such a tax, we are not likely to use that power ; but if, for example, the Commonwealth obtained £10,000 a year less from Broken Hill companies in respect of the duty on mining machinery, the Government of New South Wales would be able to impose upon them an increased income tax. At the present time they pay an income tax of only 2½ per cent.,a rate which as applied to mining companies is, in my opinion, rather low.What has taken place under this Tariff? Since its introduction one company in Broken Hill has been required to pay £6,800 by way of duty on machinery and other things. That company is now importing electrical and other machinery, which, it is asserted, cannot be obtained here, and upon which they will have to pay within the next few days about £1,000 by way of duty. During the last twelve months 1,700 men have had to leave Broken Hill owing to the lack of employment. I admit that that want of employment is not due mainly to this Tariff. It has been caused to a large extent by the reduction in the price of lead ; but is it wise for. us to tax a company to the extent of £6,800 in ten months, and thus make it more difficult for it to carry on operations ? The company to which I refer has made during the ten months in question a profit of £70,000, and the £6,800 paid by them by way of customs duties is equivalent to about 10 per cent. upon that sum.In urging the committee to allow the mining companies to obtain their machinery as cheaply as possible, I do not ask that all taxation on machinery should be remitted, althoughI should willingly vote, as I, have done, against every item of taxation. If the mining companies can obtain better work in Bendigo than elsewhere, let them do so. We have heard a great deal about a battery made in Bendigo ; but, although the Broken Hill market has been free for years to the manufacturers of machinery in that city, how much machinery have they sent there ? Is it due to blind prejudice, like that displayed by Harper and Co. - who preferred to pay £1,500 in duty rather than have their machinery locally made - that so little machinery has been obtainedfrom Bendigo by the mining companies in Broken Hill? All the indispensable machinery used in the hat, boot, rice-cleaning, and many other manufactories in Victoria, has been imported. Iventure to say that without that machinery not one of those manufactories would carry on.

Mr Poynton - The manufacturers are all free-traders so far as their machinery is concerned.

Mr THOMAS - That is so. I do not care much whether soap-cutting or glass- bottle-making machinery is allowed to come in free or not, although I should vote to make it free: but I think it is of the utmost importance that the duty on mining machinery should be removed. Upon the same grounds as those on which the honorable and learned member for Bendigo was prepared to vote against the duty on soapcutting machinery, I am ready to vote to make mining machinery free.

Sir WILLIAMMcMILLAN (Wentworth). - The desire of the Opposition is that the duty shall be fixed at 10 per cent., but I think that an arrangement ought to be made so that, if the Government succeed, an amendment may be moved that the duty be fixed at 1 2½ per cent.

Mr Kingston - Why not move to that effect now ?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - How can I do so?

Sir George Turner - There is nothing to prevent it.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - If the motion is negatived the duty will remain at 10 per cent., and surely we should be able to move, after the division has been taken, that the duty be fixed at 12½ per cent. ?

The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. McDonald). - I would advise the honorable member to move to amend the motion by omitting the word " not." If that amendment is carried the duty will stand at 10 per cent. ; if it is defeated it will be open to the honorable member to move that the motion be amended by the addition of the words - " but that the duty be 12½ per cent."

Amendment (by Sir William McMillan) proposed -

That the motion be amended by the omission of the word " not."

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