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Thursday, 4 August 1904


That, in the opinion of this House, the existing

Customs Tariff is unscientific in its operation and mischievous in its effects; and that, with a special view to the promotion of the agricultural and manufacturing industries and the more settled employment of all classes of workers, a readjustment of its incidence on some of its leading lines is highly desirable.

In submitting the motion to the consideration of honorable members, I desire, in the first place, to draw attention to the declaration which it contains as to the unscientific and mischievous character of the Australian Tariff. That declaration I propose to prove by the submission of evidence which I trust will convince the most exacting, while I shall, at the same time, point the way to corroborative facts which earnest inquirers may easily discover for themselves. But before doing so, I wish, for a moment or two, to recall some of the most noteworthy circumstances under which the first Tariff was framed. When the members of the first Federal Parliament assembled, most of us were unknown to each other. We had each been used to the particular business methods of the State from which we came, and were inclined to regard with more or less suspicion those adopted by the other States, while mutual concession was almost entirely absent. Some honorable members represented a State which had practically no Customs Tariff, others represented States whose Customs duties were said to be very low, while the Tariff of the State' a constituency of which I have the honour to represent was declared to be a high Tariff. Thus we had a House composed of free-traders, revenuetariffists, and protectionists, each and all jealous of the other, and each striving to impress upon the Tariff their particular views. The result has been what might have been expected, namely, dissatisfaction to every one concerned. We had free-traders asking for revenue only. Then there were farmers' representatives who were quite content that duties of 60, 70, or 80 per cent, should be imposed upon the products from their districts, whilst they were willing to give the manufacturers of the implements used by their constituents the benefit of only 10 or 12 \ per cent, duties. We had labour representatives who advocated a White Australia policy, and objected to the introduction of contract labour, but who were at the same time quite prepared to agree to, and, indeed, helped to bring about, conditions which permitted of the introduction of the products of black labour and sweated workmen. "Under these circumstances, I think I am correct in saying that the Tariff ultimately became a thing of shreds and patches, which no one was willing to father, or disposed to speak of with anything like pride. The effect of whittling away what little protection we had by the combined operations of the labour free-traders on the one side, and of the ardent free-traders on the other, who forgot, if they ever sought to keep, the compact, " revenue without destruction," has been to bring about a most unsatisfactory condition of affairs. The farmers' representatives, who thought that they would help their constituents by imposing high duties upon the products grown in their district, whilst cutting down the duties upon the implements they used, have succeeded only in injuring the home market. The advocates of a White Australia, who were opposed to the introduction of contract labour, have failed to provide work for those whose interests they sought to advance, because, as I think I shall prove, the result of their policy has been to provide additional employment for Japanese, Javanese, and other foreigners, whom we should least desire to support. The motion affirms that the Tariff is unscientific in its operation. I say that advisedly, because when the Tariff was under consideration, we did several things which, in my judg ment, tended to make it unscientific. For instance, we attempted to levy duties in accordance with the ultimate use to which imports were to be put.- An article which might be used as a medicine was admitted free of duty ; whereas, if it .could also be used as a food, one rate of duty was imposed, and, if it could be used commercially, a different rate, was levied. The duties were not fixed according to the essential character of the articles, but in the manner described, and the result has been chaos. Then we imposed duties upon raw material, as well as upon finished products. If the duties had been placed upon raw materials such as could be produced here, our action might have been justified, but in many instances imposts were levied upon raw materials which had to be obtained from abroad. By also imposing duties upon the finished articles, we placed our manufacturers at a double disadvantage. In that way, also, Ave helped to make the Tariff unscientific. Then, again, we levied what might be termed sentimental duties; and I might mention, as an instance, the action taken in regard to spirits. Some honorable members thought that it did not matter very much whether we imported the spirits we used, or produced them locally. The industry was one in which no one took any great pride, and moreover it was pointed out that some of the persons engaged in it were making large fortunes at the expense of the consumers. We whittled away the protection that had previously been enjoyed by the distillers, with the result that their business has been most detrimentally affected. If we had reduced the consumption of intoxicants, improved the moral tone of the people, provided further employment for our own citizens, or cheapened the article to the consumer, the . action taken might have been justified. But no good result has followed, whilst the industry has been practically ruined, and a number of men have been thrown out of employment, the business of making spirits for our own consumption has gone by the board, and nearly all we use are imported. As a further instance of the unscientific character of the Tariff, I would point to the very large number of decisions ' which have been given by various Ministers in connexion with its administration from its inception up to a few weeks ago. These decisions run into hundreds, and even thousands. In such a small matter as bags, in regard to which almost any .one would think the administration would be very simple, no less than sixty decisions have been given ; in respect to bicycles, eighty ; and in connexion with drugs, with which I admit it would probably be a little more difficult to deal, 150 decisions. In the case of oils, nearly 200 decisions have been recorded, and so on ad infinitum. As a matter of fact, three Ministers have registered over 2,000 separate decisions in connexion with the Tariff, and I do not know that I could deduce any stronger proof of its unscientific character. Of these decisions, many are in conflict, and help to aggravate the troubles of our merchants, and the worries of the shipping clerks. We were told that the Tariff was so simple that anyone could understand it, whereas it has required the combined efforts of three Ministers to make it plain.

Mr Fuller - Does not that show the absurdity of the whole business5

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Yes, that is what I am endeavouring to demonstrate. I have also affirmed that the Tariff is mischievous in its operation, and I propose to prove that assertion' in two ways. I shall not weary honorable members with any more figures than are necessary, but I desire to direct attention to the facts connected with six or seven cases in which industries have been injuriously affected by the Tariff. One firm, engaged in making axles, which in 1899 employed sixteen men, now has only five hands in its factory. That, I admit, is a very small industry, but still the reduction has been very large comparatively. Another firm which manufactures springs for vehicles had fifty men employed in 1899, as compared with only sixteen at present. Then, again, a firm which makes machinery connected with the leather trade, had sixty men employed, as contrasted with only twenty to-day. I have already referred to the distilling business. Messrs. Joshua Brothers have published some figures which show that prior to the introduction of the Tariff they employed seventy-two hands, to whom they paid £8,000 per annum in wages ; whereas to-day they can find work for only twenty-seven hands, who receive in wages ,£2,300 per annum. The Geelong tanners have issued a circular in which they state that in 1899 they employed 500 hands.

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