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Wednesday, 19 October 1904

Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) - I am sorry that an interjection which I made while the honorable member for Coolgardie was speaking should have ruffled his usually placid bearing. I had thought that I enjoyed the privilege of his friendship prior to this debate, and I am sorry that that friendship should have been interrupted so tempestuously this afternoon. With regard to the point at issue, I believe that there is a certain degree of misapprehension, and I have risen solely with the object of endeavouring to remove it. When I made inquiry into the matter,I was informed that imported goods supplied under contract to the Commonwealth Government did not pay any duty, and that local manufacturers, in competing for Government contracts, are therefore at a disadvantage under which they do not labour when tendering for private contracts. In other words, if a man tenders to supply imported materials to a private firm in the city, he is called upon to pay a certain duty in respect of those goods, but if he tenders for the supply of imported articles say to the Post and Telegraph Department, those articles, according to my information, do not bear duty. The Barton Government, or the Deakin Administration, fixed about 15 per cent, as representing the average duty paid under the Tariff. That, at least, is the information which was given to me by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports.

Mr Mauger - That is the way in which the matter was represented to me.

Mr ROBINSON - I have obtained information from other sources that that is so. If my information be correct-

Mr Fisher - Will the honorable and learned member tell the House where he obtained that information?

Mr ROBINSON - The first to give me this information was the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who is the secretary of the Protectionist Association of Victoria, and a personal friend of my own of long standing. If the facts, as stated by me, are correct, they place a somewhat different complexion upon this matter. At the same time, I think that the granting of preference should not be indiscriminate, and that it requires' to be carefully watched. I agree with the honorable member for Wide Bay that it is possible that such a power might be grossly abused. Information ought to be given to both Houses of the Parliament, as soon as it is proposed to grant any preference. If that were done, I, personally, should be satisfied, and I think it would meet the objections entertained by most honorable members. As to the charge that the Government has refused to give information, I do not think that it was levelled seriously by the honorable member who made it, or taken seriously by the House. When the present Government met the Parliament, my honorable friends in the Opposition corner fired political pom-poms at them, their desire being to make a great noise, and to worry them as much as possible. It was not expected that the Government would answer the same question time and again.

Mr Crouch - They have not answered this question.

Mr ROBINSON - I think that their answer is sufficient for persons of average intelligence. This discussion will have done some good, if it leads to the House being informed whenever preference is being granted. If that course be followed we shall have to thank the honorable member for Coolgardie, and the present PostmasterGeneral, for their efforts in this direction.

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