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Thursday, 27 October 1904

Debate resumed from 20th October (vide page 5861), on motion by Mr. Batchelor -

That, in the opinion of this House, a Royal Commission should be at once appointed to inquire into and report upon -

r.   The present position of the tobacco trade in relation to the production, manufacture, and distribution of tobacco.

a.   The extent to which it is controlled by a monopolistic combination.

3.   The best method of regulating that trade, whether by nationalization or by anti-trust legislation, or otherwise.

Mr. McLEAN(Gippsland - Minister of Trade and Customs). - I hope that the honorable member for Boothby, who submitted this motion, will consent to allow it to stand1 over for the present. From what I have been able to ascertain, I think that it will be found quite possible to obtain through the Department all the information which the honorable member requires. Even if we cannot obtain all the information, we shall be able to secure sufficient to enable us to see whether there is a prima facie case for the appointment of a Royal Commission. I do not think that we should hastily appoint a Commission which would involve considerable cost, unless we knew that the information we desired to obtain could not be secured by other means.

Mr Batchelor - The Commission need not be a costly one.

Mr McLEAN - I would point out to my honorable friend that in the meantime no hardship will be inflicted on any one. No complaint has been made by the workers in regard to the wages or hours or conditions of labour prevailing in the trade.

Mr Tudor - Complaints have been made.

Mr McLEAN - I have not been able to hear of any in the Department.

Mr Watson - The persons affected do not forward their complaints to the Department.

Mr McLEAN - The honorable member for Boothby in submitting his motion to the (House did not mention any complaint.

Mr Watson - I do not say that the complaints of the workers constitute the main feature of the case, but there are complaints about the wages paid.

Mr McLEAN - They must be very trivial, because officers of my Department, who are familiar with 'the trade, and are constantly in contact with those engaged in it, inform me that they have not heard of any complaints whatever from the workers.

Mr Hutchison - There is a dispute at the present time among those engaged in the trade in South Australia.

Mr McLEAN - I do not say that the honorable member may not have heard of complaints, but the workers have not made any to the officers of the Department.

Mr Mauger - I can assure the Minister that the men are constantly complaining of the low wages paid.

Mr McLEAN - In any case, it will be time enough to proceed with this motion when we find >on looking into the matter that the_ necessary information cannot be obtained by any simpler and less costly means. I am sure that honorable members will agree with me at least to that extent. The Prime Minister has just handed to me a letter that he has received from the firm of Kronheimer Limited, and I think it is well that I should read it, because they appear to be very anxious that a Commission should be appointed. The letter is dated 27th inst., and is addressed to the Prime Minister. It reads as follows : -

The remarks made by the honorable the Minister of Trade and Customs on the proposal to create a Royal Commission to investigate the present condition of the tobacco trade lead us to believe that your Government are reluctant to appoint such a Commission. We, therefore, venture to point out to you that we are entitled to claim public investigation as an act of justice to ourselves. Statements have been made, both inside and outside of Parliament, by gentlemen holding high positions, with regard vo our actions and those of firms connected with us, which statements are as incorrect. as they are injurious to us. We beg respectfully to state that, in common fairness, we should be given an opportunity of refuting these statements before a body authorized to investigate them, such as this Royal Commission would be. We would, therefore, beg of you to accede to the request of Mr. Batchelor that such a Royal Commission be created, in which case we will, of course, most willingly place at its disposal the most, ample and candid information which the public interest may require.

That letter, which was handed to me within the last few minutes, does not evidence any desire to avoid investigation. I have not had time to go into the matter thoroughly, because it is only a week since the motion was last under discussion, and other matters have intervened.

Mr Watson - I suggest that, with the concurrence of the House, the debate be now adjourned, and the Minister be allowed to continue his speech when he is in possession of more information.

Mr McLEAN - I should be glad of an adjournment for a fortnight.

Mr Batchelor - I am willing, to consent to that.

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