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Thursday, 18 August 1960

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Minister for Trade) .- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has indicated opposition to this clause. As he correctly said this clause is the essence of the measure. This is the clause which will enable the minister, on the advice of a deputy chairman of the Tariff Board, to impose a temporary duty. I put it to the committee that to defeat this provision - leaving the bill otherwise intact, of course - would be to leave Australian industry without any means of quick protection in an emergency-

Mr Pollard - That does not happen to be true. It will take this man up to thirty days to make his report, but a quantitative import restriction can be imposed within a few hours. Is that true or not?

Mr McEWEN - If the honorable member will allow me to finish my sentence

Mr Pollard - I wanted to say that at the appropriate moment.

Mr McEWEN - I take up the sentence at the point where I was interrupted. To extract this provision would be to leave the Government without adequate capacity to impose a temporary duty for the protection of Australian industry and with no power except to impose import restrictions.

Mr Pollard - That is better.

Mr McEWEN - I said that in my second-reading speech. 1 am not seeking 10 misrepresent the honorable member for Lalor. He is entitled to his point of view. The Australian Labour Party, in following a tactical line and opposing the Government automatically, does not comprehend that it is not practicable to apply quantitative import restrictions effectively or equitably unless you have information about those who have been importing, how much they have been importing and what they have been importing. If you have that knowledge, then you can, with a kind of rough justice - I have used that term in the Parliament before to-day - decide what quantitative restrictions will be put on a particular item. You can, with rough justice, say what people will be allowed to import. You can say, "This is how much they will be allowed to import, and here are the licences that will permit them to do so ". The granting of licences means that the importation must be authorized before the goods can be purchased, or before there is any safety in importers making purchases.

What we are talking about is the state of affairs in which goods have been purchased are flowing into the country, are on the water, or are on the wharfs overseas awaiting shipment to Australia. At some point of time it is realized that there is grave danger to an Australian industry. When that is known, at a late pointof time, you cannot really impose with any equity import restrictions on an item, except in the rare cases that I described in my second-reading speech. I said then that in a case where there are only two or three purchasers in Australia, as in the case of certain raw materials, we can call the handful of importers into a room, as we have done more than once, and say: " We cannot allow so much of this item to come in. Let us discuss what we can do with equity to protect the Australian producer and. with fairness to all the Australian importers, make an arrangement." We have done that on a number of occasions. I said that if that could be done and done fairly, especially in relation to a raw material, then it is the best thing to do in the interests of the general public, because the economy is not. then loaded with a duty..

In my second-reading speech I stated that this course would still be followed when action could be taken in time and with equity, but I added that it would be only in rare cases that it could be done. Textiles provide an example. I can think of a multitude of other items in respect of which there is an almost infinite number, an unknown number, of importers. One cannot suddenly draw down the blind of quantitative restriction with any degree of fairness at all. . When I first considered this matter; it seemed to me that if: we preserved the structure of import; licensing so that, without restriction, everyone would have . to get a licence before he could import, we wouldhave a; structure of knowledge that would enable us to useimport licensing for this purpose. It was pointed out to me -andI clearly comprehend it now - that licenceswithout restriction do not really give us a basis. There was a time in the history of this country when people who obtained licences to import, during a period when there were no restrictions, found that, by filling theirdrawers with licences, they put themselves into a position where they could get a bigger quota when restrictions finally were imposed. If we had a system of licensing without restriction, who could read the mind of a man when he said, " I want a licence to import this item " ? You cannot read a man's mind. He would get a licence. The very fact that he gets an excessive quantity of licences will produce a fear in the minds of those engaged in an Australian industry - an unwarranted fear - that it is going to be overwhelmed by imports, and perhaps action will be taken when it is not needed.

So, it is not practicable to operate import restrictions as a normal device to protect Australian industry. I am not misrepresenting the honorable member for Lalor by saying that he suggests that procedure as the normal, regular replacement of customs tariff. " I know he does not suggest that. He was a member of the Government which entered into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947. That Government pledged, and we have adopted the pledge, that import licensing would not be used as the normal means of protecting Australian industry, and it has not been so used, except, under Article XIX., in temporary and exceptional circumstances.. It is not an appropriate substitute. I assure the honorable member for Lalor and his colleagues that it is not a manageable substitute, nor could it be a fair substitute, for what is proposed.

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