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Thursday, 18 August 1960

Mr BURY (Wentworth) .- If we believe in the protection of Australian industry, then, under the circumstances we all envisage, we must agree that it is necessary to do one of two things. It is necessary either to prohibit or restrict imports of the goods concerned or to impose a duty upon them. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) made great play on what the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) had said about the increase in the province of the official at the expense of the Parliament, which the honorable member for Lalor said was progressively forgoing its responsibility. Surely, that is an entirely misleading argument in these circumstances.

The alternative to the imposition of a duty is a direct restriction of imports, imposed quite arbitrarily by an official. That certainly would not be required to be approved by the Parliament. Surely, the imposition of a duty would be a far slighter exercise of official discretion, outside the authority of the Parliament, than is required by the system under which we operate to-day. Although this duty may be regarded from one point of view as a tax, it is also an essential element of protection for industry. Within seven days of the next day of sitting it must come before Parliament for confirmation. If there is a sudden rush of imports, surely it is better to give an official the power to impose a higher duty than otherwise would apply, rather than allow an official, at the stroke of a pen, to impose a complete ban on the imports. For a blunt instrument we substitute a means whereby the importer has some option, and a far greater freedom of operation than he would have in the other case. Surely, far from abrogating parliamentary control, in the real sense and over the whole field that procedure would increase it.

It is all very well to make a play on this point that taxation would be imposed without the consent of Parliament, which would be sought some time after the event. As the Minister and other honorable members have pointed out, this device has been found to be essential by almost every country which relies on tariffs to protect its industries. Certainly, in the United Kingdom, and even more so in the United States of America, where congressmen are fully alive to this issue of officials encroaching upon the rights of the elected representatives of the people, a procedure similar to that which is proposed by this legislation has been found to be necessary. In fact, in the practical world in which we live it is essential. In the United Kingdom these duties are imposed by order-in-council, and are subject to alteration later by the Parliament. The procedure which this bill proposes will be much tighter in its operation than are those in the United Kingdom and the United States.

If you want to impose restrictions and complete bans on imports, you maintain the existing system. But any theory can be pushed to nonsensical lengths. The theory that no taxation should be imposed without the consent of Parliament is a theory which, in circumstances such as those which confront us, clearly must yield to common sense. The greater freedom will come from a measure of this kind, not from the imposition of prohibitive restrictions at the stroke of a pen, as has been the practice.

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