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Tuesday, 25 October 1904

Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - After the very interesting address of the honorable member for Darwin I do not think it will be necessary for me to speak at any great length this evening. I wish to make a few observations upon the turn which events have taken since we assembled this afternoon. When we met we were under the impression that the Prime Minister had stated publicly how far he was prepared to go in the direction of having an inquiry made into the position of certain trades which are affected by the Tariff. But, in his speech this afternoon, he came down step by step from the position of merely asserting that he was prepared to grant a Commission of a moon-raking character, which would have no termination, and met the honorable and learned member for Indi with a statement implying that he is prepared to grant a Commission, not composed wholly of Members of Parliament, but composed partly of members of the two Houses, and partly of business men, and to have progress reports presented from time to time. He said that if the progress reports became public property, it followed, as a natural consequence that they must come into the House for discussion. He stopped there, and that is the point where he ceases to be effective. He is willing to give us the opportunity of discovering what industries are affected by the Tariff as indicated by various speakers, but when it comes to the point of giving relief to them he stops short.

Mr Reid - I stop short of considering a report until it comes into existence.

Mr WEBSTER - The honorable member for Parramatta, who is sincere, states deliberately that if a report were made by such a Commission, and it presented certain conditions which required the attention of the House, the Government, constituted as it is, could not intervene without contravening every principle which its members have enunciated. He was merely stating a truism when he said that if the report indicated that certain industries should be given a further modicum of protection, the Government, in view of its pledges to the country, could not, without violating its principles, give effect to it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is pledged not to re-open the Tariff.

Mr WEBSTER - Where is the logic or effectiveness of the professions of the Prime Minister when he is prepared to carry the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Indi into effect right up to the point where effectiveness is assured, but is not prepared to take a course which would be absolutely beneficial to the industries concerned ? I believe that his statement is only intended to kill time, to defeat the objects which the honorable and learned member for Indi has in view. I do not suggest for a moment that what the honorable and learned member has indicated will be found to exist exactly as he has stated. With the honorable member for Hume, I believe that from the figures which the Treasurer has. been tabulating as to the effect of the Tariff on certain industries, he could practically tell us what industries are being materially or otherwise affected thereby. Why should we have a roving commission when we have sufficient facts to indicate what industries are suffering ? Speaking from a practical stand-point, I maintain that it will be found that the industries are suffering, not so much because of the Tariff as from the effects of the late droughts. In 1902, in the agricultural centres of New South Wales, and largely in those of Victoria, there was practically no harvest to reap, and, therefore, there was no demand for harvesting machinery. The operation of the law of supply and demand necessarily led to a slump in the production and sale of these machines. Let us be fair, and try to ascertain if we can the real cause for the anomalies which are represented as being the outcome of the Tariff.- There is another factor at work, and it is one which I have always expected would practically interfere with the working of the Tariff between the States. When the Prime Minister was opposing the acceptance of the. Commonwealth Bill at the first referendum, I was asked whether I thought that it would give a Constitution which would be acceptable to the people of, not only this generation, but generations to come. I replied, " from the constitutional stand-point, no;" but when I was asked by men in New South Wales how it would affect them commercially, I answered, "(Commercially, you should vote for the Bill to a man, simply because it will afford to your country an opportunity for developing its resources." We find that by reason of her coal seams New South Wales has all the advantages which will tend to make her the manufacturing centre of Australia. By degrees industries must naturally drift towards the coal seams, or to those centres where articles can be most economically produced. That factor is operating to-day. The other day I was speaking to Mr. Coghlan on this aspect of the operations of the Tariff, and he agreed that, to a very large extent, Victoria is being left in the .rear, because under a uniform Tariff the industries of New South Wales have now, for the first time, an equal opportunity of proving whether they can be successfully conducted While that extension is going on there we are in this difficult position that we cannot trace exactly .how the Tariff is operating in Victoria. This State has no statistical records as to the production of this year, or the increase or decrease in her production since the alteration of the Tariff, and therefore we shall have to rely on the information which we can obtain from the Federal Treasurer. I do not altogether object to the appointment of a Commission, if effect is to be given to its recommendations. The Prime Minister has promised to incur the large expenditure which the investigations of a Commission would entail, and I ask him to tell us further that he will give effect to its recommendations, and thus resuscitate some of the industries which his action and that of his supporters have so nearly strangled. He has admitted to-night that he refused to grant sufficient protection to industries which he was told would be destroyed by a reduction in the then existing Customs duties.

Mr Reid - When I am handed the report of the Commission, I shall be prepared to say what I intend to do. What I ask for is more daylight.

Mr WEBSTER - I am afraid that it is impossible to get any binding promise from the Prime ' Minister. I, of course, sympathize with him because of his unfortunate position. With four Ministers at one end of the see-saw and four at the other, it would take very little to upset the equilibrium of the Government,

Mr Kennedy - The Prime Minister requires all the honorable member's sympathy.

Mr WEBSTER - He certainly requires sympathy for the manner in which he has been spoken to by his supporters, and for the words uttered by the honorable member for Wilmot. The right honorable gentle- . man, however, chose to remain in office under the stigma attached to his action by the utterances of the honorable member for Wilmot, rather than follow the example of the constitutional giants who have preceded him, and resign his position.

Mr Wilson - Did not the Opposition want the vote of the honorable member for Wilmot very badly?

Mr WEBSTER - During the noconfidence debate the honorable member for Wilmot was asked to play billiards by supporters of the Government more often than at "any other time since he entered this Parliament, and that was' not done in order to beat him at the game. Some honorable members opposite were continually in his company. I do not say that it was because' they wanted his vote.

Mr Reid - -When will the next motion of censure be moved?

Mr WEBSTER - Possibly on Thursday next, in connexion with the preferential trade proposals. I am not going to stop until the people have an opportunity to say whether a Government so constituted as this is should hold office.

Mr Wilson - The honorable member is most anxious to get to the people.

Mr WEBSTER - I am not afraid of going to the people.

Mr Reid - No one is, so long as there is no crisis.

Mr WEBSTER - The right honorable gentleman, at any rate, has exhibited no desire to go to the people. The words of the honorable_ member for Wilmot, when he stated that he voted for the shandygaff,joblot party on the Government benches, rather than for the Opposition, because the Labour Party is organized, whilst the others are not, are burning in his breast.

Mr Reid - We believe in majority rule.

Mr WEBSTER - So do I. I obtained my position in public life by majority rule. The right honorable member, however, carries majority rule into effect only when it suits him to do so. He did not support, majority rule in regard- to the first Federal Constitution Bill referendum when he required a certain minimum vote to be given in favour of the Bill.

Mr Reid - That was not my proposal.

Mr WEBSTER - The right honorable gentleman was Premier at the time, and. therefore must take the responsibility. That instance shows that when majority rule would not suit him he is not a supporter of it.

Mr Reid - I was entirely opposed to the

Bill, and had it made much better than it was previously.- If I had not done so, we should not have had Federation.

Mr WEBSTER - The Prime Minister wishes us to believe that he is sincere in the expression of his desire to give relief to industries to which more protection is necessary, and has said that when the report of the Commission is presented action will be taken upon it. . But one of his supporters, who understands the position more accurately than any other member on that side, says that it will be impossible for them to make any change without proving traitors to their principles. If that is so, the whole thing is a farce. The Prime Minister might, at least, give us his assurance that when the report is presented, he will do something to relieve the sufferings of those whose employment is being affected by the Tariff.

Mr. REID(East Sydney - Minister of External Affairs). - I trust that honorable members will be prepared to assist the Government in bringing the debate to a conclusion to-morrow.

Mr Watson - I shall do my best to bring about that result.

Progress reported.

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