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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have an idea which I should like to lay before Ministers, in anticipation of their considering the continuance of the sugar bounty. I feel in my own mind that some extension will be granted, and we have to consider that probability. This question is too large for us to settle by means of an informal discussion this afternoon; but I make the Government a present of the suggestion that when they consider the extension of the bounties, as I believe they will, they will bear in mind the desirableness of providing for a tapering bonus which will expire simultaneously with the excise duties. It is certain that if the present bonus is extended for a further period of three or five years, we shall, shortly before its expiration, have honorable members whose constituents are interested asking for a further extension. That has been the history of all legislation connected with the sugar industry in Queensland. Directly the time approaches for the termination of the five or ten years arrangements - whatever they may be - an effort is made to secure a renewal for a further period. I believe in my heart that we should extend the present arrangement in order to assist the sugarplanters over a very troublesome period, but I hope that if the bonus is extended for, say, a further period of five years, provision will be made for a decrease of 20 per cent, each year, so that the bonus will altogether disappear at the end of the period fixed. We shall thus temper the blow to the planters, and also ascertain the effect of the bonus in the same gradual way. We should adopt an arrangement similar to that which has been applied to the Western Australian special Tariff.

Sir John Forrest - The cases are different, because the people of Western Australia have contributed all the duties paid under their special Tariff.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that Western Australia has received very fair treatment indeed, and that it was a good thing, under her peculiar circumstances, to adopt that special method of treatment. We might follow the same principle in the case of the sugar bounties, especially in view of the financial difficulties which Queensland has to face. The honorable member for Hindmarsh asked how it was that a free-trader could consent to the sugar bonuses? I consented to them, but I desire to inform the honorable member that I did so, not as a free-trader, but in order to get rid of the troublesome problem presented by the black labour question. Personally, I have had to pay rather dearly for my support of the bonuses ; but, in order to achieve successful results under the White Australia policy, I am willing to make the still further sacrifice that will be involved by the continuance of the bonus for a little longer. I trust that the Government will adopt mv suggestion, and that the bonus will finally cease at the end of the further period agreed upon. The whole question of the duties on sugar is a very important one indeed, because many of our industries are suffering owing to the high prices which have to be paid for that commodity. I have as much sympathy with the widow whose case was cited by the honorable member for Riverina as has that gentleman himself. But if the facts are as stated I do not see how this Committee could do anything - even if we wished to - except vote her a special sum upon the Estimates as a grant in charity.

Mr Chanter - I do not mind what form the grant takes.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I may inform the honorable member that whilst the Tariff was under consideration I was placed in a very similar position. I was called upon to pay duty to the extent of£114 upon a certain machine. Three days afterwards, the House decided to place this class of machine upon the free list. The result was that my competitors were enabled to import the same machine free of duty.

Mr Chanter - Did not the honorable member pay under protest.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whether I had paid under protest or. not would not have made any difference. The law pro vided that duty should be collected upon these goods until Parliament otherwise decided. Consequently, a protest could have had no effect whatever. I admit that the case which has been cited appears to be one of very grave hardship, but we cannot avoid that. The law must be obeyed by rich and poor alike. I repeat that the only way in which we can deal with the case to which the honorable member for Riverina has directed attention is by way of a charitable grant, and I do not think that the adoption of that course is warranted.

Mr. CHANTER(Riverina).- I must thank the Minister of Trade and Customs for his statement to the Committee, which corroborates the facts as they were communicated to me. He declares that the Department has no record that this amount of duty was paid. I can assure the Committee that it . was paid under protest. When the late Mr. Smith communicated with me, I consulted the highest possible authority in reference to his case, in the person of the right honorable member for Adelaide, who was then Minister of Trade and Customs. He assured me that Mr. Smith would have to pay the amount of the duty under protest. I was not requested to advise him to lodge a written protest. There is no doubt whatever that a protest was lodged, because upon the receipt of my communication the duty was paid, and the portable engine was taken to Mr. Smith's farm at Tareena, in New South Wales. Parliament subsequently decided that this money should not have been collected from him.

Mr McLean - Thousands Of pounds were collected which were not refunded.

Mr CHANTER - Parliament should entertain a more exalted view than that. From a financial stand-point my argumentmay be wrong, but from a moral standpoint it is absolutely sound. If the Government has collected money to which it has no right, that money ought to be refunded.

Mr McLean - In the first instance, Parliament made this engine dutiable.

Mr CHANTER - That, again, is a technicality. Parliamentnever made it dutiable. The Government proposed that a certain duty should be levied upon this machine. Subsequently Parliament declared that no duty should be levied upon it, and in the interim the sum of £34 had been paid under protest.

Mr Hutchison - If the protest had been a written one, a- refund would have been made.

Mr CHANTER - Yes, in that case Mrs. Smith would have had a legal claim. The letter which I have read from the Department lays particular stress upon the fact that no written protest was made. I know, however, that the money was paid under, protest. Surely this Parliament should determine that the equity of the claim should be considered in preference to the technicalities of the law. I repeat that, had a written protest been made, Mrs. Smith could have proceeded against the Government in the High Court - as was done in the Cowan case - and that tribunal would at once have said to the Government, " You must refund this money-" Why should it not be refunded? If the Committee are prepared to recognise the justice of the claim, I have no doubt that we shall be able to devise some means of returning the duty.

Mr McLean - Would the honorable member confine the claim to this case? There are hundreds of similar cases.

Mr CHANTER - If that be so, the amount involved in those cases should be returned. Parliament has no right to withhold money which it has deliberately determined should not have been collected.

Mr McLean - Parliament deliberately decided by section 6 of the Tariff Act that the money paid should be retained by the Treasury.

Mr CHANTER - I am aware of that. But I would point out that the High Court has determined that where a written protest was lodged with the Department the money must be refunded. The only difference between the case of Messrs. Cowan and Company and that of Mr. Smith is that the latter lodged a verbal protest. The Ministry has declared that my statement of the facts is correct, so far as documentary evidence is concerned, but that the Department has no record of any protest having been made to the officer who collected the duty.

Mr McColl - Has he been questioned in regard to the matter?

Mr CHANTER - I do not know. I do not bring this matter forward in an unfriendly spirit to the Government.

Mr McDonald - How much is involved in all these cases? I suppose that the amount cannot be less than ^100,000, because the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has paid between .£30,000 and ^40,000.

Mr Skene - Does the honorable member say that the machine was not dutiable when the money was paid ?

Mr CHANTER - It appeared upon the list of dutiable goods, but Parliament had not then dealt with that particular item. When it did it exempted it from duty.

Mr McLean - I have a short precis of the case in print. Would the honorable member allow me to read it ?

Mr CHANTER - Certainly.

Mr McLEAN - The facts' of this case are as follow :' -

On the 28th October, 1901, C. H. Smith, Wingillie, Tareena, New South Wales, brought from Clutterbuck Bros., Adelaide, South Australia, a portable engine, Value about ^,225. This engine had been in South Australia for about four years, and had been admitted free into that State under the Tariff then in force. Mr. Smith brought the engine into New South Wales, vid Wentworth, and portable engines being then dutiable at- 15 per cent, under the Federal Tariff, duty at that rate became payable on the transfer of the engine. Duty was accordingly demanded by 'the subcollector of Customs, Wentworth, and was collected by him on the 10th December, 1901, the amount paid being ^33 15s. On the 13th December, 1901, portable engines were made free by Parliament. Mr. Smith states that on that account he expected to get a refund; now he makes application therefor. The duty was correctly charged on the engine, and during the Tariff debates an amendment, proposed with the special object of authorizing refunds in cases where duty had been collected on machinery, afterwards made free, was negatived (Hansard 11S82). Submitted for approval that Mr. Chanter be informed that there is no power to make the refund asked for.

That recommendation was approved, the papers bearing the initials of the honorable member for Hume, who was then Minister of Trade and Customs.

Mr. CHANTER(Riverina).- The explanation given by the Minister in- no way conflicts with the facts presented by me to the Committee. One little point made in the precis which the honorable gentleman has read, is that the duty had not been finally passed, but that under section 6 it was collected. The fact remains that it was at no time a duty imposed by this Parliament.

Mr McLean - Section 6 provides that duties so collected shall be retained.

Mr CHANTER - If that be so, why did the High Court order a refund in the case of Cowan and Sons ?

Mr McLean - If that is the case which I have in my mind, the Court ruled that as the duty was deposited only under protest, it was not collected.

Mr CHANTER - That is the whole point. The report read by the Minister makes no reference to the fact that the money was paid under protest. The owner of the engine told me, and his widow corroborates the statement, that, acting on my advice, he paid the money under protest, but did not put that protest in writing. If money deposited under written protest, in respect of a proposed duty which is not ratified, is returnable, surely we should not seek to shelter ourselves under so highly technical a point as this. Whatever our opinions may be, we have to ask ourselves whether an injustice has been done in this case, and if so, we should provide a remedy. If we have so framed our laws as to bind the hands of the Minister, we surely can unloose them.

Mr Skene - Does the officer admit that the money was paid under verbal protest ?

Mr CHANTER - The officer at Wentworth says that the money was paid, but makes no reference to any protest.

Mr Kelly - Had a protest been made, would it not have 'been his duty to make a note of that fact?

Mr CHANTER - If the honorable member had had as - much experience of Customs officers on the border as I have had he would know very well that some of them do not always adhere to the stringent performance of their duty, yet try to do what is right.

Mr Kelly - I am only trying to get a! the facts.

Mr CHANTER - I recognise that, and shall be pleased to give the honorable member all the facts as I understand them. The widow of this man drew my attention to the decision of the High Court in the case of Cowan and Sons, and I once more took the matter in hand, and brought the matter under the notice of the present Minister of Trade and Customs. I showed him the letter written by the applicant for the refund, and told him of everything relating to the case; but he told me, as he has told the Committee, that with him it was not a question of heart, but a question of law, and that he was bound by the law. Had the man paid the money under written protest his widow would have been able to take her case to the Court, and obtain a refund, as in the case of Cowan and Sons.

Mr Kelly - Did the honorable member advise the man, before the payment was made, to pay under protest?

Mr CHANTER - I did, and the report read by the Minister fully corroborates my statement as to dates. I have no desire to unduly occupy the time of the Committee, but I wish honorable members to be seised of the facts, and to assist me to so unloose the hands of the Minister that he will be able to do justice in this case. I am sure that I shall be ready at all times to assist honorable members to have justice done in any similar case.

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