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Tuesday, 19 July 1904

Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - The motion of- the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, when it was read, did not convey to my mind that the only solution of the difficulty with which all the States are beset is a re-adjustment of the Tariff. I fully realize that a large number of persons are undergoing an experience which has not been common in the States for some time. But that that is due altogether to the oppressive nature of the Tariff, or to its nonprotective character, I am not prepared to admit. I think there are deeper causes than the Federal Tariff for the existence of unemployed in the various States.

Mr Mauger - We do not say that the Tariff is the exclusive cause.

Mr WEBSTER - I do not say that mistakes may not have been made in the framing of the Federal Tariff, so that it may in some cases have a tendency to undermine what, prior to its passing, were flourishing industries. In Victoria many industries were bound to suffer, because the rates of duty by which they are protected at the present time are lower than those which were in force prior to Federation. Therefore, there may be good reasons for appealing to Parliament for a review of particular duties whose action has been proved to be detrimental. I wish, however, to direct, the attention of the Government to the fact that a great deal can be done for the relief of those who are unemployed, by the strict enforcement of the law which prohibits the immigration of aliens. Cheap, inferior labour, such as that of the Chinese, is undermining Australian labour in every branch of industry, not only in our great cities, but in the country towns and districts as well.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - What is the use of. keeping out cheap labour if we admit goods manufactured bv it?

Mr WEBSTER - I have not said that I am prepared to admit the goods of which the honorable member speaks ; but I say that by strictly enforcing the Alien Immigration Act the Government will keep out of the Commonwealth a class of labour which does more than anything else to prevent our own people from getting employment. AVe know that the Government . have been asked to try to induce the Governments of the States to do the right thing by throwing open more valuable land for occupation, to provide for the settlement of their citizens upon that land. If influence could be brought to bear by this Government upon the Governments of the States to expedite the passing of Closer Settlement Bills, we should get at the bedrock of the unemployed trouble.

Mr Batchelor - We cannot do more than utter the pious wish that such legislationmay be passed.

Mr WEBSTER - A pious wish sometimes goes a good way when it is uttered by a sincere Government, and I believe that this Government earnestly desires to do all that is possible for the welfare of the people of the country. I have no desire to raise the fiscal question, because I have not raised it in politics for some years past. But I cannot see any strong reason why those who hold the belief which actuates the honorable member for Melbourne Ports should not discuss the question from the fiscal stand-point.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He told his constituents that he would not do so.

Mr WEBSTER - I do not know that he has made any such statement to his constituents, but I am aware that his fiscal opponents did not hesitate to nail their colours to the mast, and to declare that in the Federal Parliament they would stand or fall by free-trade. Now that they have been beaten, the leader of the party has at once succumbed. He does not seem to think free-trade worth fighting for, although he advocated it for so long. How different is his present attitude from that which he assumed in regard to the Land and Income Tax legislation when he was Premier of New South Wales.

Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member can establish any relation between the legislation of which he speaks and the subject under discussion, he will be in order in referring to it, but not otherwise.

Mr WEBSTER - I referred to the New South Wales Land and Income Tax legislation merely by way of illustration, though I believe that its effect in New South Wales, . as in New Zealand, has been to largely encourage closer settlement. However, I shall not labour the question. Personally I do not see why the fiscal question should not be raised to benefit those connected with industries which are now prejudicially affected by the Tariff. Of course, honorable members opposite have decided to bury the fiscal question, and to declare for fiscal peace, which is quite the reverse of the doctrine which they preached with such energy and determination in New South Wales.

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