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Thursday, 25 September 1902

Mr SAWERS (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should he go to Sydney more than anywhere else? He has faced his own constituents.

Mr REID - May I remind the honorable member that there are promises of a visit, now several months old t . Whilst the first duty of a Minister is to his constituents, that should not debar him from visiting the people of other parts of the country as well.

Mr Sawers - No great English Minister ever went to address an audience in London ; they always say what they have to say to their own constituents.

Mr REID - But a great English Minister who promised to go to London would go there. It is only a small matter, but it emphasizes a fact which I am about to mention, that an immense amount of taxation has been placed upon the people of NewSouth Wales against their will, and in conformity with principles which they consider mischievous and injurious. Taxation is bad enough at any time, but it is doubly objectionable when it proceeds from the adoption of what one considers pernicious principles. That is one of the reasons for the dissatisfaction of the people of New South Wales. There is another reason- which is common to them and to the people of Queensland, and it stands out as an eternal rebuke - I had almost said disgrace - to the Administration. In Queensland and New South Wales we have two great States which contain onehalf of the population of the Commonwealth, and contribute one-half of its revenue. The people of those States have been exposed for months, and even for years past, to a series of bitter and disastrous hardships, and at no time has the outlook been more serious than it is now. The conditions which exist strike at the heart of that settlement on the soil to promote which our statesmen have laboured in the consciousness that it is only by planting the seeds of such settlement that a sound and healthy nation can be produced. The main sources of wealth of these two great communities are exposed to the vicissitudes of drought and famine. The people came in their distress to the Commonwealth Ministry, to endeavour to obtain some slight relief. Their request was replied to by the Acting Prime Minister, in one of those beautiful answers which make him at once the most brilliant and the most unsatisfactory politician in Australia. The poor people who had come hundreds of miles to see him were so impressed with his humanity and tenderness, and desire to help them, that they went back rejoicing. There is nothing more cruel than, when one cannot do a thing, to create false hopes in the minds of those who ask that it shall be done. The clear mind of the Attorney-General knew well whether what was asked for could or could not be granted. The Ministry have refused the prayer of the great distressed industries of New South Wales and Queensland. Day after day, and month after month, the cry of the smallest industry in Bourke-street or Footscray was listened to and championed, when the placing of burdens upon the people of Australia was involved ; and the suffering, distressed, and desperate people upon the plains of Queensland and New South Wales thought, and naturally - thought, that the power which was able to mould a national policy to meet the case of a few individuals would be generous enough to come to the rescue of tens of thousands of struggling families. In the United States of. America, hide-bound as the national policy was by protection, when a terrible calamity overtook Boston, and it was laid in ashes, the Government threw aside their fiscal views, and principles; and tariffs, and allowed the people . of that State to import building, material free. When great calamities come upon a people, there is no longer time for lawyer - like statesmanship. If the laws prevent the giving of relief, statesmen must at such times rise above them. I make these remarks not as a mere idle criticism of a thing - which is done ; I appeal to the Government* in view of the awful sufferings which are still being endured and which are destroying, nob only the wealth of the people of the two States I have named, but the whole fabric of Australian prosperity, to do something to relieve this distress. We are now one family, and the distress of one member of the household should be as keenly felt as that of any other member. A Parliament which could do all that has been done for the protected industries in this State could do something for the unprotected settlers whose wealth is vanishing, and whose sheep and cattle are dying while the Government charge £1 a ton at the Custom-house upon imported hay and chaff. The Minister for Home Affairs, with that imperfect view of political economy which makes him one of the most entertaining speakers upon fiscal questions, when dealing, with this question, produced a little return from the Customhouse, showing what a comparatively small amount has been received from the duties to which I refer, and he used that fact as an argument to prove that the whole thing is a sham.

Sir William Lyne - It is. I know where it originated.

Mr REID - I had nothing to do with it.

Sir William Lyne - I know that : I am not blaming the right honorable member.

Mr REID - I do not always wish to multiply the difficulties of the Government, and therefore I have said very little about the matter until now. But as these conditions still continue, and the sheep and cattle which represent the accumulated fruits of the industry of the men whom we have all desired to encourage and help, are dying throughout -Queensland and New South Wales, the Government should do something. They have missed a great opportunity to make the federal power a beneficent one. If they had responded to the cry for help, the people could have looked upon the Commonwealth as having a heart. Talk not to me about the difficulty of preventing abuses. The Ministry find it easy enough to catch in the smallest mesh the mOst honest traders in the Commonwealth,

A Government which can do what they, do in the way of prosecutions, and the enforcement of pains and penalties, might exercise their ingenuity in devising safeguards under which relief could be afforded to the pastoralists and farmers without imposition.

Mr Salmon - It is better to have Customs prosecutions than to allow secret settlements, as in the past.

Mr REID - I do not deny that, altogether ; but I shall refer to the matter again. The people throughout Australia were told, in the glowing periods of platform orators, that once they entered into union, miserable distinctions between Victorians and Queenslanders would disappear, that they would be one nation, and that the misery and misfortune of any part of the Commonwealth would be felt at its extremities. But at the first time of calamity they find that, although the Commonwealth Government is powerful to tax, it is not ready to help. It might be argued that the people elected this House and the Senate, and therefore no more is to be said about the matter. But we all know that they had to vote more or less blindly at the first elections to this Parliament. At the next elections, they will have an opportunity to exercise a more intelligent vote. The parliamentary machine has been working, Acts have been passed, policies have been established, and we may hope by-and-by to have a more intelligent pronouncement from the electors upon the matters of difference which separate us. Now I wish to leave those matters and turn to the subject which is more immediately before us. I do not apologize to the committee f«r having referred to the question with which I have just been dealing. This is the proper constitutional opportunity for any one in my position to avail himself of, and, therefore, I do not hold myself under any reproach for the fact that I am now only beginning to address myself to the financial administration of the Government. I do not wish to be fulsome - I do not think that people generally find me paying compliments, and, perhaps I do not pay as many as I ought - but I never feel otherwise than in a friendly frame of mind in reference to the work of my right honorable friend the Treasurer. It is a pleasure to be able to feel confidence with reference to everything he has in hand, and, therefore, in regard to the voluminous statements he has made I have no bitter criticism to offer. There are one or two things to which I think ' it ' well to refer ; but they will be matters of importance. In the first place, I think that honorable members on this side of the House are justified in congratulating themselves upon the more or less successful, efforts they made to. reduce the burdens imposed by the Tariff. We were told over and over again that the effect of this vote and that vote would be to upset the financial calculations of the Government. When the tea duty was not passed we were assured" that it would have a most serious effect upon, the finances of the Commonwealth, and of the States ; but in spite of the reductions made, amounting to« £1,000,000, or £1,500,000, the Treasurer told us on Tuesday, that this Tariff, reduced as it was, would give him. something like £600,000 or £700,000 more than he expected. My right honorable friend expected to receive £8,000,000 when he delivered his first Budget, but he has received nearly £8,700,000 gross, 'so. that in. spite of all our reductions of the public burdens, the Tariff has brought into the Treasury £700,000 more than he expected. Considering the information .1 at the disposal of the Government and the imperfect facilities at the command of the Opposition for obtaining information or arriving at opinions, I think we are entitled to take some credit for the fact that more than one member on this side of the Cham-, ber has, against the official calculations, made so faithful a forecast of the results. of the Tariff. We all said that the Tariff was cast on lines that were absolutely reckless as to the revenue it would yield, and now we find, that the Treasurer expects to receive for next year something like £9,000,000.

Sir George Turner - That includes the. Western Australian special Tariff.

Mr REID - I do not wish to include that. The Treasurer expects to receive under this Tariff £8,830,000. My honorable friend made allusion to a remarkable fact, to which he very properly called our attention. He pointed out that if the revenue continued to come in at the same rate as during the first two months of this year, July and August, the Tariff wouldproduce £9,600,000 for the twelve months. I admit that we cannot place too much . reliance upon the experience gained in the first two months of the year, but I think my right honorable friend tried to discount that fact too much. It is a remarkable circumstance that, on the actual receipts for two months, the total for this year would amount to £9,600,000. Prom this it would appear that, after all, the Tariff" is too big, and that too large an amount is being taken out of the pockets of the people. If the surplus could be devoted to the assistance of Queensland and Tasmania, there would' be some sense iri collecting this large amount, but it goes to the State of New South Wales, which, of all others, really ought not to want it. With its enormous revenue New South Wales ' does not want the additional amount which it now receives through the Customs. In 1900 the whole of the States derived from the Customs, including intercolonial duties, £7,760,000. The revenue derived from the Customs last year, without InterState duties, showed an increase upon this amount of £928,000. New South Wales receives from the increase pf Customs duties £1,000,000, but of course she only takes her own money. The Treasurer's Estimate for next year will make a difference of £1,200,000 between the year 1900 with intercolonial duties, and the year 1902-3 without them. Of this New South Wales will receive increased revenue to the extent of £1,500,000 so that we have the spectacle - which I ' admit the Treasurer could not help - of a larger amount than this increased revenue being paid to the one community which has fought against the high Tariff duties, and not to those States whose finances are deranged. I desire to ."ray, with reference to the finances of Queensland and Tasmania, that honorable members will always be ready to support the Treasurer in every conceivable way in dealing with any difficulty that may arise in connexion with them.

Mr Cameron - The right honorable gentleman knocked off the tea duty.

Mr REID - I was just going to remark that there is one method of meeting the difficulty of which I could not approve. I will not impose taxation upon people who do not want money in order to find revenue for those who do. Why should we tax the people of New South Wales to the extent of £1,000,000 more than they ought to be called upon to pay, because some other State wants money 1

Mr Cameron - Why should we reduce the fodder duties, as was desired by the honorable and learned member ?

Mr REID - I do not offer a stone instead of bread.

Mr Cameron - The right honorable gentleman does not offer anything.

Mr REID - I am not in a position to do so, or I might be more popular.

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