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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - There is no doubt that this case is one of a class which excites the sympathy of honorable members, but the difficulty which confronts us is that we must act, not as our sympathies would dictate, but as the law requires. If we do not do so, where shall we draw the line?

Mr Hutchison -At proof.

Mr KENNEDY - Is there a merchant in Melbourne who was not called upon, under exactly similar conditions, to pay duties on goods ? Did not the House clearly decide that no refund was to be made in such circumstances? It was said that the duty was passed on by the merchant to the consumers of the goods, and that, if he were granted a refund, he would merely put the money in his own pocket.

Mr Hutchison - But a merchant who had paid duty under these conditions, might have obtained a decision of the High Court in his favour.

Mr KENNEDY - If he had made a written protest he could have done so, and put the money in his own pocket.

Mr McLean - This would affect every case where Parliament either abolished or reduced a duty, as first proposed.

Mr KENNEDY - Quite so. It is peculiar that in this case the money was paid only three days prior to the duty being dealt with by this House. Equally hard cases have been brought under my notice by some of my own constituents. I know of no less than four different individuals interested in threshing plants and portable engines, who were similarly situated. When the duty on machinery was under consideration, traction engines were being imported, and it was necessary, to at once put them into use. The duty imposed on these engines was not ratified, but in order that they might obtain delivery and put them into use, three of these persons found themselves called upon to pay the duty before the matter had been finally dealt with. Those who were purchasing machines from agents naturally inquired from me what course they should follow to protect themselves. To make sure of my ground, I made inquiries from the Minister of Trade and Customs, who informed me that, in order to obtain delivery of the machines, they would have to pay the duty, but that if they thought fit they might pay it under protest. He meant of course, that the protest should be made in writing. But I went, further than that. Three of these gentlemen, for business reasons, found themselves compelled to pay the duty. In one instance, where it was not absolutely necessary to use the engine straight away, they followed my advice, and waited until Parliament had determined the duty, and thus escaped scot free. The others who had paid the duty were refused a refund.

Mr Hutchison - Had they not made a protest?

Mr KENNEDY - They had made a protest similar to that made in the case under discussion.In one instance, a protest in writing had been lodged through an agent, but, unfortunately, he had not made it as an agent. In another case a newspaper proprietor intended to import a printing machine, which was dutiable under the draft Tariff, but thought it wiser to leave the matter in the hands of agents until Parliament had finished with the Tariff, and thus was able to get it in without paying duty. The case under discussion may be a hard one, but scores of similar cases have been brought under my notice, and if a refund were made in the one instance, why should it not be made in every instance? Honorable members seem to have overlooked the fact that in many cases the article on which duty was paid has since changed hands.

Mr Chanter - The duty should be refunded only to the original importer.

Mr KENNEDY - In many cases the original importer has sold the article on which he paid duty to another, and thus recouped what he originally spent. Would it be fair to make a refund to a man in that position? Much as I sympathize with those concerned in the case brought under our notice by the honorable member for Riverina, I feel that it would be dangerous for the Minister to make a refund in any case, except in accordance with the conditions which have been clearly laid down. If an attempt is made to remedy one particular hardship, the gates will be opened to a flood of applications for similiar treatment in other instances which cannot be resisted. I wish to direct the attention of the Minister to another matter which was brought directly under the notice of his predecessor by a deputation from those engaged in the distillation of wine for spirit for fortification purposes. I do not wish him to give an answer at once, but I should like him to note the facts for further inquiry. Prior to the passing of the Federal Tariff, two of the States had an excise duty of 6d. per gallon on spirit distilled from wine for fortification purposes ; but the then Minister of Trade and Customs induced Parliament to make the Commonwealth rate is., in order to obtain a sum sufficient to cover the expense of supervision. Twelve or eighteen months after the Act was passed, the Minister was applied to for a reduction of the rate, but the deputation making the request was informed that sufficient time had not elapsed to enable it to be determined with any degree of accuracy whether the duties received covered the expense of supervision. The Act has now, however, been in operation for a considerable time, and I understand that an estimate is being prepared of the cost of supervision. I ask the Minister, therefore, to inquire at his leisure into the whole subject, so that he may be in a position later on to tell us whether, in his opinion, the present rate is necessary to meet the cost of supervision. I do not wish it to be inferred that an application for a reduction of the rate will be made, if it is shown that it only just meets the cost of supervision ; but seeing that it was made higher than the rate formerly prevailing in two of the States, in order to cover that cost, those engaged in the industry are entitled to know that the Commonwealth is not making a profit out of it.

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