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Tuesday, 27 October 1970

Mr STEWART (Lang) - The House is being asked to validate tariff proposals which were introduced some time ago. Tariff Proposals No. 11 were introduced on 22nd May 1970; Tariff Proposals No. 12 were introduced on 11th June 1970; Tariff Proposals Nos 14 to 18 were introduced on 25th August 1970; Tariff Proposals No. 19 were introduced on 16th September 1970; Tariff Proposals No. 20 were introduced on 22nd October 1970; and then there are the proposals which were introduced today. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) made a speech in relation to each of those tariff proposals which were introduced. For instance, when introducing Tariff Proposals No. 12 he said that the Government intended to adopt the recommendations by the Tariff Board in its interim report under the inquiry on plastic products, etc., in relation to alginic acid and its derivatives. He went on to outline the proposals which had been recommended by the Tariff Board and accepted by the Government. When introducing Tariff Proposals Nos 14 to 18 the Minister said:

The Customs Tariff Proposals which I have just tabled relate' to proposed amendments to the Customs Tariff 1966-1970. Customs Tariff Proposals

Nos 14 to 18 (J970) formally place before Parliament the tariff changes made by 'Gazette' notices and published in the 'Gazettes' of 2nd and 6th July and 3rd and 4lh August while the Parliament was in recess.

Then he went on to outline the products which were affected by the tariff proposals. My research indicates to me that in most of these amendments to the Customs Tariff there were decreases in the amount of tariff charged. In introducing Tariff Proposals No. 19 the Minister said that the Government intended to implement the acceptance of the Tariff Board's report on pencils, crayons and chalks. The preferential tariff for ordinary lead pencils . was increased by 2i per cent. The Minister said:

This represents an increase of 2i per cent general tariff, 5 per cent preferential tariff of the value of loose pencils but in relation to boxed goods and cheap pencils duties will be somewhat reduced. Tariff protection is reduced on school chalks by 274 per cent or more of their value. Other goods, such as crayons and slate pencils, wilt now be admitted at non-protective rates of duty of 7i per cent general tariff, free preferential tariff.

The Minister also referred in his speech to preferential treatment being given to imports from New Zealand. When introducing Tariff Proposals No. 20 on 22nd October last, which dealt with vinyl acetate and cellulose acetate flake, the Minister said that the duties which were being introduced represented a reduction of 10 per cent under both the general and the preferential tariff. He said that they would come into effect on 1st December 1970. In introducing the tariff proposals relating to the Tariff Board's report on nitrogenous fertilisers today the Minister said that the Government had accepted the Tariff Board's recommendations.

The Board recommended that the duties on ammonium chloride should be reduced to 7J per cent general tariff, with free preferential tariff. So in most of the customs tariff proposals which we are now being asked to validate there has been a reduction in the tariff that is presently being charged.

The Bill that we are now asked to pass through the House will allow the Government to make decisions on tariffs while the Parliament is in recess, and I understand that it is necessary for the Government only to give notice of reductions or increases in tariff in the 'Gazette'. This will be the procedure followed between the end of this week and perhaps the middle of February 1971 or even later. The Parliament is being asked to give an open cheque to the Government for its tariff policy. There is some criticism of the Government's tariff policy and of the policy being adopted , by the Tariff Board.

I am beginning to wonder . whether the refusal of this Government to face up to the controversy on tariff policy, which it has dodged for 3 years now, is not a back door approach to establishing a pool of unemployed. There are so many in the Government who see such a pool as wholly essential to industrial peace and control of inflation. But they cannot come out openly, and for purely political purposes they have to present themselves as great supporters of full employment. However, we know that they still see great value in a pool of unemployed, and it may be that the Tariff Board has unwittingly presented them with a great opening. Perhaps what the Gorton Government wants to do is see the Tariff Board's policy put into practice, but without coming out in public and agreeing with it and without saying that the Government will adopt the Board's policy.

The manoeuvre is quite obvious. For 3 years now the Government has been pretending that the Tariff Board has not produced a new policy. The Government covers it over by saying such things as 'lt is good for the Board to improve the quality of its advice*. Then at the same time the Government keeps saying to manufacturers that they should not be concerned, because the Government's tariff policy is unchanged, and the Government will take the final decisions. How can the Government take its own decisions when Tariff Board reports do not give the information necessary in taking a decision? We know that the Government gets no more from the Tariff Board than the report which is made available to honourable members and to the public generally. We are asked in this Parliament to decide on the tariff changes that come out of these reports. We can no more make our own decisions than the Government can. For so long as Tariff Board reports do not give the information needed to make an assessment of the recommendations, the Parliament, like the Government, is stuck with the recommendations. For so long as reports of that kind are accepted by the Government, anything the Tariff Board says will be adopted by the Government because it has no alternative. The question is whether it really and honestly wants any alternative.

The Government has not got access to the Tariff Board's papers. It cannot get the workings and the arithmetic that led to the recommendations. If the Government wanted to make a decision different from the Tariff Board's recommendation it would either have to rework the entire case itself or make a guess. I do not believe that there is in the Department of Trade and Industry a unit that could rework the case. Even if there were, it would not have all the information that the Tariff Board has. These are the plain facts of the matter. The Government should stop talking in circles about its tariff policy being unchanged, or about making its own decision. The Government should stop claiming even that, it has a tariff policy until such time as it tells us, in words we can understand, just what the policy is.

This is what the presidents of 15 national manufacturing associations said publicly on 24th September last about the Government's tariff policy:-

Industry today is confused and uncertain as to Government protection policy, and as to the circumstances under which protection might be expected. It is now meaningless for the Government to say that its tariff policy is that economic and efficient industry will be protected, and that the Government will make its own decisions after viewing a report from the Tariff Board.

Tariff Board reports do not give a full explanation of all of the circumstances on which the recommendations are based. They are rarely sufficiently comprehensive to enable an assessment to be made - either by the Government, or industry or anyone else - of the soundness of the recommendations. The Government's decision usually is expressed merely in terms that it has accepted the recommendations.

Later they went on to say -

Protection policy and industrial development policy are matters for determination at the highest Government and economic adviser level, and the Presidents call on the. Government to resume its responsibilities in those areas.

How can this Government, in the face of that condemnation by people representing the whole of manufacturing industry, go on pretending that it has a tariff policy and that it takes the decisions. The people who said what I have quoted were not people of no consequence, but leaders of manufacturing industry. Let us have a look at some of them. The include: the President, Aluminium Development Council, the President, Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, the President, Australian Chemical Industry Council, the President, Australian Electrical Manufacturers' Association, the President, Australian Industries Development Association, the President, Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers, the President, Heavy Engineering Manufacturers' Association, the President, Metal Trades Industry Association and the President, The Textile Council of Australia, among others. There they were 15 presidents representing without question the whole of manufacturing industry in Australia, telling the Government that what it keeps saying about tariff policy is meaningless, and that it should resume its responsibilities to make decisions on tariff policy.

But the Government still keeps saying those things, and the Deputy Prime Minister even as late as last week in Adelaide went over the whole worn-out story that Government tariff policy has not changed and that it will make its own decisions.

Even this Government is not silly enough to continue to go on like this in the face of statements such as the one the manufacturers made. So there is some important reason behind this facade, and the reason seems to be that it wants the Tariff Board's policy to be put into practice because it wants a pool of unemployed. It sees most of the problems that face it now, and that it is not capable of handling, solved by the simple expedient of a pool of unemployed. The Tariff Board's policy will lead to the pool of unemployed. Not enough people are concerned about where that policy is taking us, because of the conditions of today. More people should start thinking beyond next weekend, and start asking just what that policy could do to them and their jobs.

Too many people have fallen for the smart statement of the economists that tariff protection is no longer important in maintaining full employment. What they fail to see is that there- is some truth in that for so long as we retain the sort of protection we now have. But start to dismantle it, to considerably reduce it to the point where there is no alternative employment offering, and the smart economist's theory leads the way to rolling unemployment. The Tariff Board in its annual report for 1970 included a table - table 4, appendix 2 on page 32 - that is the master chart for tariff reduction and industry destruction. The last column of that table lists the degree to which a great range of industries are, on the Tariff Board's workings, receiving protection over the 50 per cent effective rate limit set by the Board. And here let us be clear that this does not mean a duty of 50 per cent. It means 50 per cent as the result of a formula worked out by the Board. The actual duty could be 15 per cent, 20 per cent, 30 per cent or 40 per cent. It becomes 50 per cent effective rate according to a formula worked out in the back room of the Tariff Board and which no one can check.

Mr Chipp - 1 rise, Mr Deputy Speaker, to take a point of order with 2 prongs - one on principle and one on practice. The point of order on principle is that this is a Customs Tariff Validation Bill. As the honourable member for Lang knows full well, the Parliament will have a full opportunity to debate this Bill in February next or when Parliament resumes. By tradition, validation Bills have been allowed to go through during the dying hours of a Parliament without debate. I had a gentleman's agreement with certain members of the Opposition that this Bill would go through tonight without debate. Members on this side of the House have so acquiesced. They have said that they will not debate it. I understand that the honourable member for Lang - this both surprises me and disappoints me, knowing him as T do - did not submit his name to his Whip or to the member of the front bench on bis side of the House who has control of this Bill. He is making now a highly political speech, not on the matter before the House at this moment. That is my point of order on principle.

The point of order on practice which I make is that I tabled certain proposals that are the subject of this Customs Tariff Validation Bill. This Bill has nothing whatsoever to do with the general matters of policy that the honourable member is debating now in a highly political context, including the Tariff Board's annual report, the question of the 50 per cent protection, or whatever. I submit that for your consideration.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! In regard to the first point of order taken by the Minister for Customs and Excise, the Chair has no control over any arrangements that might be made privately between the Whips-

Mr Chipp - But members have, Sir.

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