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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

Mr CHANTER (Riverina) - I desire to bring under the notice of the Committee a case which I deem ro be a very hard one. I have indicated to the Minister my intention to refer to this matter, so that he will doubtless be prepared with full information regarding it. It will be remembered that in connexion with the Customs Tariff Act, the duties were collected from the time that the Tariff was laid on the table, and that the regulations provided that under certain circumstances, refunds of duty should be made in cases where goods were made the subject of imposts which Parliament afterwards declined to ratify. One of my constituents, a man named Smith, resident at Tareena. on the border of New South Wales and South Australia, had a portable engine, which he had taken from New South Wales into South Australia for the purpose of doing some threshing, or something of that kind. When he wished to return to his home in New South Wales, he was stopped on the border,and a demand was made for the payment of the duty imposed upon that class of goods under the Tariff, as it was first presented to the House. He demurred to this, and placed himself in communication with me. I brought the matter under the attention of the then Minister, and I was informed that the duty should be paid under protest. I am advised that that course was taken. The matter remained in abeyance for a considerable time, and' Mr. Smith died. I have a letter from his widow, which I shall read, which states that the duty was paid under protest as suggested, but has not yet been refunded. An action was recently brought against the Customs Department by a firm in Melbourne, and the High Court decided that the duty which had been paid bv the firm in respect to goods which were afterwards placed on the free list should be refunded. That, to my mind, was a case very similar to the one of which I have been speaking. Duty was demanded upon articles which Parliament afterwards declared should be exempt, and the money was paid under protest. In that case the High Court decided that the duty should be refunded. Under somewhat similar circumstances another gentleman, who is engaged in the iron industry in New South Wales, imported some iron or steel rails . from Victoria. Parliament subsequently decided that no duty should be levied upon these articles. He repeatedly applied for a refund of the amount paid by him as duty upon them, but his applications were of no avail, and finally he decided to sue the Government to recover it. In this connexion the honorable member for Hume recently. put the following question to the Minister of Trade and Customs: -

Can the Minister give the House any information regarding a claim made by Mr. Sandford for a refund of duty on steel rails paid some time ago? The matter was afterwards taken into court. I wish to know if the Government have withdrawn their defence, and if they are now prepared to pay the claim? If so, will theMinister lay the papers on the Table? I do not ask the question in any hostile spirit, but if the Government have done what I think they have done, I wish the papers to be made public, so that my action, and that of some of my colleagues, in reference to the matter may be disclosed.

To that question the Minister made the following reply : -

The matter came under my notice a little time ago, as one which had been partly dealt with by my predecessors. On making inquiries, I found that the equities of the case were with Mr. Sandford, and I therefore sent instructions to Sydney not to enter a defence.

In one case legal proceedings were taken, and the decision of the Court was obtained ; in the other, proceedings were threatened, and in reply to a question by the honorable member for Hume, the Minister intimated that he had given instructions to withdraw the defence. In both of these cases a protest had been lodged against the collection of the duty. I am informed that effect was given to the instructions supplied to me by the Department, and transmitted by me to the persons interested. Upon the 1st September I received the following letter : -

I am enclosing you cuttings from the Adelaide Advertiser of August 18 and 19 referring to Customs dispute, and also letter received from you re portable engine brought into New South Wales in November, 1901. Could you kindly let me know if, in view of this judgment, I am entitled to a refund of the duty paid on the engine ? Under the N ew South Wales Tariff the engine would have been free, and also under the Tariff authorized by the Federal Parliament; but as it came in while the Draft Tariff was in force, we had to pay - under protest - nearly£34.

Mr Groom - Was the money accepted bv the Department under protest?

Mr.CHANTER.- I cannot say; but I am informed that it was paid under protest. The letter continues -

Had my husband lived, he meant to have written to you sooner, so I should be pleased. if you would let me know what you think about it. Trusting I am not troubling you too much. - I am, yours faithfully,

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