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Wednesday, 11 May 1960

Mr OSBORNE (Evans) (Minister for Air) . - The Opposition supports these tariff amendments. I thank the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) for his assistance in this matter. It did not take him very long to say that the Opposition supports the proposals. The rest of his two speeches was taken up with a criticism of the Tariff Board for delays in presenting its reports and of the Government for not giving effect to its recommendations. While his criticism may have some substance, his case was greatly over-stated, as I hope to show.

Mr Ward - What is the cause of the delays?

Mr OSBORNE - I shall tell the honorable member. The Tariff Board is an independent advisory body and must conduct its own inquiries, hear evidence, make recommendations and take its own time. By its very nature, it must be independent. Having taken evidence, it must consider it and compose its recommendations. When it has drawn up its reports, it must submit them to the Government, then because the Tariff Board is an independent advisory body, the Government is under a necessary obligation to consult its own advisors and to consider the board's reports in the light of their advice. Then, of course, the reports have to be tabled and acted on in the House. All these things take time.

This matter was discussed as lately as 4th May in the House, and the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), under whose administration the Tariff Board comes, made some observation in answer to a question. The Minister reminded the House that the Tariff Board had been obliged to deal with a very large volume of work in recent times - much larger than ever in the past. It had also dealt with some inquiries which were all-embracing in their scope. In particular, it had recently concluded its work on a reference made to it by the Minister for Trade himself concerning principles of most-favoured-nation tariff treatment. This involved the consideration of not fewer than 278 tariff items. This matter is now out of the way, and the Minister for Trade said -

I am assured now that, as from the commencement of the next financial year, except m quite rare instances the Tariff Board will be equipped to hear and to reach a conclusion, within six or eight months, and in many instances less than that, on any matter referred to it.

The honorable member for Lalor has greatly over-stated the position. He has gone through the list of matters which were the subject of Tariff Board reports, which have resulted in the tariff changes now being passed into law. The honorable member drew a picture of Australian manufacturing industries anxiously waiting for protective tariffs and being denied them by the delays of the Tariff Board. The honorable member overlooks the fact that, in most of these cases, there was no increase in duties or the duties were reduced.

Mr Pollard - That is not correct.

Mr OSBORNE - Well, at least it applies to quite a large number of cases. In connexion with weighing machines, I-beam axle assemblies, air-operated dental units, carpenters' planes of wood and mosquito repellants the duties were reduced. In shipbuilding, about which the honorable member had a great deal to say, there was no effective change in the rate of duty and there was no change in the duty on carpenters' planes of metal. I do not want to make an issue of this matter but I think the honorable member's statement of the position was exaggerated. The Government realizes the need for expedition in dealing with changes of duty, and as I have said, the Minister for Trade made it clear on 4th May in this House that the Government has it very much in the mind, but the position is not nearly so bad as the honorable member for Lalor suggested.

Motions agreed to.

Resolutions reported.

Standing Orders suspended; resolutions adopted.

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