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Tuesday, 19 July 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) - The honorable member's pathetic appeal to the House is very remarkable. The honorable member during the elections went all over his constituency praying the electors to sink the fiscal question during this new Parliament. He was a member of a Ministry that gave a solemn assurance to the people of Australia that the one thing needful was that we should hear no more of the fiscal question during the life of this Parliament. But now the honorable member, finding his political fortunes at a very low ebb. is drawing this miserable red herring- across the trail, in the hope of arresting the inevitable development of events. The honorable member " is so well known in his own State that even his tears do not excite the slightest sympathy. The honorable member is simply acting a political part in endeavouring to inflame the House in the discussion of a matter which can at the present time bring no relief to these unfortunate unemployed. I think that if ever there was a question which in fairness should never be made use of for any party purposes, or to serve individual interests, it is the question of these unfortunate people, who, whilst thoroughly willing to work, in many cases have not the slightest chance of getting employment. I agree with an honorable member who spoke a little while ago, although I have not myself had the personal experience which he has had, that there is no sadder spectacle in this world than that of an honest working man, with a large family dependent upon him, who has no capital and no resources, degenerating into a position in which he has to become an object of charity. There is no difference on the part of honorable members in any part of the House in their desire to do all they can to relieve such cases. But I do appeal to _ the House not to offer to these unfortunates a stone instead of bread, by bringing up this question and discussing it here, when we all know that the House is solemnly pledged not to take up the Tariff. It is a crime; it is more than a crime, Mr. Speaker - it is a positive cruelty to the unemployed. I feel confident that the present Government will use every power which they possess to respond to the appeal which has been made to them; and they can feel positively sure - I am quite certain - of the generous support of all men and all parties in this House in their efforts to offer genuine employment at the present time. I do not wish to go into the history of old political disputes. On this question we should stand together as a solid House, and we are, I am sure, only too willing to do all we can to help those who are unfortunately deprived of work. It is no new subject, unfortunately. It has been a subject of anxiety to men in various Governments for many years past.- We pass through vicissitudes from time to time which are almost a mystery to us, when we consider the enormous resources of the country ; and he would be indeed a wonderfully clear-headed man who could single out all the causes which produce these ' unfortunate intervals of slackness of employment.

Mr Crouch - Would the right honorable member go so far as to give Government undertakings only to local contractors?

Mr REID - I really do not know what the honorable and learned member means. It depends upon whether the Government would resign over it or not, I suppose ! But I am glad that the interjection has been made, because it reminds me of a little matter which was referred to by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. I cannot help noticing, and you, Mr. Speaker, must also have noticed, that a number of honorable members in this House seem to have only one source of employment, and that is in digging up ancient records in another part of Australia, to see if they can get something which will discredit me.

Mr Crouch - I had no such intention.

Mr REID - I am not now referring to the honorable and learned member for Corio, but to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports.

Mr Mauger - The matter to which I referred was to the right honorable member's credit.

Mr REID - T was not in the Chamber when the honorable member made his remarks, so I had not an opportunity of forming an opinion ; but I was informed that the statement made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports was that, on some occasion, years ago, there was a contract let in New South Wales,, a Victorian tenderer's offer not being accepted, although his tender was a lower one.

Mr Mauger - What I said was that, in order to give employment to the unemployed in Sydney, the right honorable gentleman had debarred other than New South Wales contractors from taking part in the work.

Mr REID - I understood that it was a public work- a bridge, or something of that sort - which had to be carried out in New South Wales, whoever might be the contractor.

Sir William Lyne - No ; it was a bridge across the Murray.

Mr REID - It was not like an article of manufacture ; it was a public work which had to be done in the country. If it is the case I remember, it involved an expenditure of several thousand pounds, and the difference between the lowest tender and the next one was the paltry sum of £i4> or £15, or £20.


Mr REID - There was a difference of £14 in regard to a work which was estimated to cost some thousands of pounds. The Department knew the second tenderer as a man who had executed large works to the thorough satisfaction of the Government, and they knew nothing about the man whose tender was £14 lower. I do not believe that there is any Minister in the work who, with a difference of only £14. on a work estimated to cost £8,000 or £10,000, would not have selected the tried Government contractor in preference to a stranger.

Mr Mauger - It is a good general policy.

Mr REID - No other man in my position would have done anything else.

Mr Hutchison - I am sorry the right honorable gentleman did not do it more often.

Mr REID - It is a sign that I must be approaching a position of responsibility when I am so uniformly attacked. Nothing is too old with which to endeavour to discredit me. The honorable member for Gwydir brought against me the terrible charge of dogging the foot-steps of the venerable Sir Henry Parkes, in order to deprive him of the leadership of his party.

Mr Webster - When was this?

Mr REID - The charge was made a little time ago, but it only came under my notice a day or two ago. I wish the House to allow me to say that, so far from doing that, I followed Sir Henry Parkes for years.

Mr Webster - The right honorable member is digging up old matters.

Mr SPEAKER - Will the right honorable gentleman connect this with the question under discussion?

Mr REID - Yes, sir, but I cannot connect it until I have finished my statement of the episode. Over and over again I was offered office by Sir Henry Parkes, and I refused it ; but, although I would not take the loaves and fishes which the honorable member accused me of always striving for, although I had never attended a meeting of his party, and did not belong to it, and had many opportunities to do something else, I faithfully supported that venerable statesman, until he retired from the leadership of the party. It was only when he distinctly resigned his position that I became a candidate to succeed him, and I afterwards offered to give up my position if he was ready to take it. I think that no man can have had a more honorable regard for that distinguished statesman, than I had. I had my own ideas, which made it impossible for me to become one of his colleagues, but I never thwarted .him. Of course, at an earlier period, when I belonged to a different party, I was opposed to Sir Henry Parkes; but from 1887, when he raised the free-trade flag - when he advocated a principle in which I believed - he never had a more faithful supporter, or one who gave him less trouble.

Sir William Lyne - If that was so, why did he apply to the right honorable gentleman the story of the cuckoo?

Mr SPEAKER - Has the right honorable gentleman connected the matter with the question under discussion?

Mr REID - No, sir. That concludes the personal remark which I wished to make, and now I propose to connect it with the question before the House. I wish to point out that if some of these honorable members had a little more work to do, they would not indulge in these useless searches for inaccurate information.

Mr. WATSON(Bland- Treasurer).I have no complaint to make against the honorable member for Melbourne Ports for bringing forward this question, because I do not believe that there is any one in the House but must be aware that to-day in all the States - at any rate in the one with which I am acquainted - there is a considerable degree of distress. I am sure that every honorable member 'has the fullest sympathy with the condition of the people affected, and a desire to help them in any way which is possible consistently with the performance of his duty to the taxpayers as a whole. So far as the Tariff is concerned, I do not see that anything is immediately possible in that connexion. As every one knows, I suppose, I have always had a leaning towards the protectionist side of the fiscal question. And- I must say that even if there had been a most enthusiastic majority of protectionists in the House, it was not to be expected that in comparative ignorance of the conditions obtaining throughout Australia they would have succeeded on "a first attempt in framing a Tariff which would have given satisfaction even to themselves. When the natura] conditions were complicated by revenue considerations the difficulties were even greater. Although I am only a moderate protectionist, not being nearly so enthusiastic as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, still I am far from satisfied with the working or the incidence of the Tariff. I admit that it contains grave anomalies, towards whose existence I contributed.

Mr Reid - The honorable gentleman moved, in one case, a reduction from 20 to 15 per cent.

Mr WATSON - I know that. I admit that I contributed towards the existence of some anomalies, notably in the case of free cartridges, and the duty on shot.

Mr Reid - There were others.

Mr WATSON - In other cases I admit I voted for a reduction, and until there was a necessity proved for a higher rate than I was then willing to vote for, I think I was more than justified in taking that stand.

In regard to those of us who are protectionists, and- believe in encouraging local industry, I certainly think that we should walk warily, and have the case proved before taking any action. I am prepared to admit that the system which was initiated by my predecessor should yield valuable results within a comparatively short period. The right honorable member for Balaclava initiated in the Treasury the practice of keeping statistics as to the effect of the Tariff in respect to every one of its 139 articles of importation, and, " so far as can be ascertained, on local manufactures.

Mr Mauger - Will the honorable gentleman make the information available?

Mr WATSON - It is being made available. Although in Victoria there is apparently a considerable falling off in local production in some directions, and a consequent increase in importation in some of the other States, still the officers who are best able to advise in this connexion speak quite monotonously of the falling off in the revenue being due to the increase of local production. That is an encouraging sign, so far as some of the States are concerned.

Mr Reid - If not to the revenue.

Mr WATSON - Of course, from my point of view, the revenue is comparative! y unimportant, unless the sacrifice asked for from the people is too great. So far as the Tariff is concerned, my view is that there should be a steady and persistent inquiry on the part pf, not only the Government, but every honorable member in the House, to see how it is operating, and how far it can be remedied at a later stage, even without attacking the general principle, wherever anomalies are found to exi>t. But at the present time I do not see that 'lie Government can do more than continue the inquiry wherever it is possible to get the particulars, and have them prepared in such a form that they will be reliable.

Mr Mauger - Of course, sympathetica 11 jr.

Mr WATSON - So far as I am concerned, certainly. Concerning supplies to the Departments, the view of the Government is that, conditions being equal, the local supplier should get a preference, and even if it be necessary to spring a small percentage in his favour, I think it should be done. I know that even the right honorable member for East Sydney, when in office in New South Wales strong freetrader as he was - was quite prepared in some cases to spring a small percentile in order to assist or give trie local manufac turers an opportunity of competing with outsiders. In the Post Office, for instance, for which most of our supplies are now required, efforts have been made by the preceding Ministry, as well as by the present one, towards insuring that the local manufacturers should be afforded a reasonable opportunity of tendering. I am sorry to say that so far, in regard to some of these supplies, the reports of the expert officers have not been in favour of the local production.

Mr Mauger - I am afraid that very often the expert officers are prejudiced against the local production.

Mr WATSON - That may be so ; but it is quite possible that through lack of encouragement in the past in regard to particular kinds of supplies, the local productions have not attained that degree of excellence which is necessary for economical working. But I am glad to say that the papers - at which I have only been able to take a hurried glance - show in respect to insulators, for instance, that experiments are still being made by a number of the potters in New South Wales and Victoria, and that they hope to obtain a greater degree of perfection. I am sure that in that hope every one will join. We cordially wish them success. There is another matter in which I think something might be done, even apart from the question of supplies. In regard to the tendering for supplies, Ministers generally are in agreement with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that a preference should be given to the local manufacturers so far as is reasonable, and that, in view of the present distress, the calling for tenders might be expedited. I am glad to have this opportunity of suggesting the possibility of getting an earlier decision on the part of Parliament than has been the case. An Appropriation Act for last year provided for the expenditure of £400,000 odd on new works and buildings; but because of the late period of the financial year at which it was passed, it was discovered that approximately .only £250,000 of that sum could be spent in the time which was available, although in nearly every instance the works were necessary. In the great majority of cases the money will have to be revoted this year. The House can assist the unemployed by helping- me to put through the Appropriation Bill for new works and buildings immediately after the Budget statement has been delivered, without waiting for the general estimates of expenditure to be considered. If that is done, it will enable the Department of Home Affairs to undertake the carrying out of these works and buildings months earlier than would otherwise be the case. It involves no party question, not even the sacrifice of the tradition that Parliament should not lose control over the purse strings and thereby give the Ministry a chance to flout it. Under its interpretation of the Constitution, another place insists that the appropriation for works and buildings should be made in a separate measure, and seeing that that plan has always been followed, I think that all parties might agree to assist the Government to pass that set of Estimates, involving an appropriation of, perhaps, between £200,000 and £400,000 - I do not know yet what the total amount will be. Whatever it may be, it is important that this expenditure should be entered upon at the earliest possible date. I am informed by the Postmaster-General that he has been lately expediting a considerable amount of work in connexion with the renovating and painting of buildings - necessary work which has been in abeyance for some time - in order that it may be taken advantage of at this dull season of the year. During the debate mention has been made of the competition of Chinese furniture makers with white workmen. The Government had the matter brought under their notice by deputations which waited on the Minister of External Affairs, in the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs, some little time ago, and since then have taken it into their consideration. At first sight,there appears to be some difficulty in the way of our dealing with the matter, though it may be found possible to take action under the provision of the Constitution which enables the Federal Parliament to pass legislation relating to trade marks, and we may also be assisted by the trade and commerce provisions. Primarily, however, the question is one for the Governments of the various States. They have undoubtedly the power to interfere.

Mr Mauger - It is a very sad state of affairs.

Mr WATSON - I admit that it is. In some of the towns of New South Wales the Chinese business men have driven, or are driving, white business men out of the field. No doubt the result has been to convert into active opponents of Chinese immigration many persons who at one time thought it a matter which affected only the labouring classes, and was never likely to affect themselves. I have been told that in Melbourne furniture brokers are now finding that the public are inclined to deal directly with the Chinese manufacturers of furniture, in order to save the profits of the middleman.

Mr Lonsdale - Why should they not do so?

Mr WATSON - I do not blame them for doing so. I would as soon buy directly from a Chinaman as buy something he had made from a middleman. The fact that the white middlemen are being dispensed with, however, is drawing the attention of persons able to speak with a louder voice than that which the mere workman can use to the effect of Chinese labour.

Mr Hutchison - In South Australia, Victorian Chinese goods are offered as goods manufactured bv white labour.

Mr WATSON - That may be. It seems to me that, except in a very limited degree, the case is one for action by the Governments of the various States; but it is of sufficient, importance to justify them in taking action. This Government recognise to the full the undoubted distress which exists in several of the large cities of Australia, and, although the opportunities which we have for the legitimate expenditure of money are not so large as those possessed by the Governments of the States, we shall, as soon as circumstances will permit, push on with the construction of all necessary works. The full pinch of poverty is felt at this season of the year, and it is therefore the more important that we should expedite expenditure now, so that relief may be given to deserving sufferers.

Question resolved in the negative.

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