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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 1422

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - I am glad to hear that the Opposition is not opposing this Bill. It seems a very proper alteration to the Act. The amendments really seek to improve the administrative machine that controls the way goods enter Australia. I understand that this Bill is particularly aimed at the support value side of Imports, particularly chemicals. In many cases I have been critical of support values as a method of protection. I think they have bidden the amount of effective protection that has been given. If we are to have a support values method of arriving at a duty, then it is proper that this method should be well administered. The proposed amend ment to the Act gives the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) power that he ought to have in this rather technical and very competitive field. I agree with the general comment by the honourable member for Lalor that this Bill extends the power of the Minister for Customs and Excise. I have nothing but praise for the way the Minister for Customs and Excise is presently administering his Department, but we should not ignore the fact that the Minister for Customs and Excise has surprising power. As the honourable member for Lalor has said, the action he can take can be much more effective than Tariff Board recommendations. The Minister can, by actions of his departmental officers, extend or contract the area of protection in a quite surprising way. As the honourable member for Lalor again quite properly said, this power is very important in the by-law area.

I have always hoped that one day we would have a system of reporting to Parliament the effects of the operation of the by-law system. I know that if the system was not well administered by a competent Minister through customs officers who were indeed above reproach there would be very easy opportunities for shady dealing. I am not suggesting that this is happening; I know that it is not. But a tremendous area of administrative authority is available to the Minister for Customs and Excise. I am not saying that this is wrong but I think there should be a system for reporting to this Parliament the effect of by-laws, what industries are being adversely affected and what individuals have been adversely affected. If we do not have access to this information it means that we have an administrative machine working away competently, often in a dedicated way, but making decisions which are not reported to the Parliament. I am always hoping that the Minister for Customs and Excise will be able to evolve a method of reporting to this House on the operations of this very important sector of his Department.

This Bill deals with the valuation of goods for duty. How can we value the goods that are subject to duty? I would like to make one other suggestion to the Minister while this matter is open for discussion. I have received many representations that it would streamline administration on the customs agents' side as well as on the Department's side if we could adopt the practice of valuing goods to the nearest dollar. I know that there are some legal barriers to this. I have raised this matter previously with the Minister for Customs and Excise. I had hoped that when this Act was being opened up in this way the Department would have a close look at whether we could adopt the practice of valuing goods to the nearest dollar. I understand that this practice would save a great deal of administrative effort by both the Department and the customs agents.

Another proposition put to me on one occasion by a very responsible citizen is that we should adopt the practice of valuing our imported goods on the basis of cost of insurance and freight - a c.i.f. system - as against the present system of valuing them on the basis of cost free on board. My reply to this citizen was to the effect that I did not think the Brussels system allowed for this, but after making some cursory inquiries I understand that this c.i.f. system of valuation is the one practised in many of the other countries that are signatories to the Brussels Convention. I would like the Minister and his Department to look at the possible effects of changing from an f.o.b. system of valuing to a c.i.f. system. A ci.f. system would mean that the very considerable increases in the cost of freight would be taken into account in valuing goods. It would alter the protection in some ways, in some cases increasing it and in some cases decreasing it. I understand that if we adopted such a system it would bring us on all fours with the Brussels system.

I was interested in a complaint by the honourable member for Lalor that suggestions that he has made in other debates have not received the attention of the columnists in the way that he had hoped. I must admit that I am not surprised at that. I have a morbid and breathless interest in the subject of tariffs, as I think you will agree, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have followed or tried to follow every word that the honourable member for Lalor has spoken about tariffs. My difficulty, and perhaps the difficulty of the political experts, is in being unable to understand what he is talking about. I have been literally so uncertain about where the honourable member for Lalor really stands on this question of how to operate a wise protective system that 1 have given up trying to understand what he is talking about. This may be the problem that the political commentators have.

The honourable member for Lalor suggested in his speech today that there should be a method of price control for protected industries. There are obvious very grave difficulties in implementing price control. It is not much good putting forward a proposition if it cannot be carried out. The honourable member would know, of course, that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to introduce price control. But ignoring that, I would have thought that the proper way to hold prices down in protected industries is to lower the tariff wall a little. This is the most effective way I know. I again instance the protection which is available to the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. In many cases it does not avail itself of that protection, but if the protection was not available BHP would be deterred from raising prices for its products in the way that it does for fear of losing business to the manufacturers of imported goods.

I think that this is the proper way to work a protective system: Duties on such' items as iron and steel should be examined by the Tariff Board, and if after inquiry by the Tariff Board they are found not to be necessary, as indeed BHP is proud to claim they are not in most cases, they should be reduced so that competition can have a bearing on the price that BHP charges for its iron and steel products. This is an effective way of operating a protective system. It is an additional way of using the tariff instrument. However the honourable member for Lalor says that he favours fixing prices following protection being granted to an industry. All I say on that is that there is not constitutional power for the Commonwealth to fix prices. Even if there were, I think the better method would be to look at the rate of duty rather than the price level. Generally I am glad that both the Opposition and this side of the House support the amendment to the Act, which I think is quite a proper one.

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