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Wednesday, 8 November 1905

Senator GRAY (New South Wales) - This Bill is perhaps one of the most important that has been introduced into the Federal Parliament. It deals with the export and the import of goods, amounting in value to millions of pounds, and embodies a principle which, so far as I know, has never been observed in any other part of the world. I must confess to a feeling of deep disappointment that the Minister has, as it were, flung this measure at us without the slightest explanation of its full meaning.

Senator Playford - The Bill was prepared by the late Ministry, which the honorable senator supported so strongly.

Senator GRAY - It is the duty of a Minister to show himself master of the details of a measure of the kind, and to place the position fully before honorable senators. As a matter of fact, the Minister, either owing to ignorance or to a lack of belief in the Bill, simply presented it to us in a ten-minute speech, only five of which I heard, having to obtain the balance from HHansard

Senator Playford - The Bill was passed through another place, and surely the honorable senator does not want me to repeat all the arguments?

Senator GRAY - I presume that in matters of this kind the Senate doss not take cognizance of what takes place in the House of Representatives, and it is absolutely necessary that a Minister in charge of a Bill should give ample explanation asto its meaning and effect. Even with my limited parliamentary experience, I may say that I have not hitherto seen important Bills introduced in this way. The Minister who moved the second reading evidently knew very little about the question. When he was asked what he meant by "grading," he informed us that he would divide all the goods contemplated by the Bill into "first-class" and "inferior."

Senator Playford - I never said anything of the sort.

Senator GRAY - I defy the Minister to disprove my statement, which I feel certain will be borne out by the Hansard report.

Senator Playford - I never said that goods should be graded as "inferior."

Senator GRAY - It was in answer to a question put by myself that the Minister gave the explanation ; and that was the only interpretation we had of "grading." This, of all Bills, is, one that ought to have been investigated by a Royal Commission. The ramifications of such a measure can only be properly explained! by business men of experience in different branches of the trade affected.

Senator Staniforth Smith - We might have had an expression of opinion, for instance, from the Butter Commission.

Senator GRAY - I have no doubt that that Commission, like other Commissions, elicited much information, and did a great deal of good. If that Commission was the success which some honorable senators seem to think, it merely affords an additional argument in the favour of the position which I now take up in regard to the Commerce Bill. The Minister of Defence gave us absolutely no information as to the reasons for the introduction of this Bill.

Senator Playford - Ask the late Government.

Senator GRAY - I have nothing to do with the late Government; I am addressing myself to the Minister in charge of this Bill.

Senator Playford - We found the Bill in the pigeon-holes, and thought it a real good thing.

Senator GRAY - A member of the late Government in another place has distinctly repudiated the Bill as it now appears. Does the Minister mean to say that the Bill now before us is the Bill that was found in the pigeon-holes ?

Senator Playford - Yes; to all intents and purposes.

Senator GRAY - An ex-Minister in another place stated that there was in. the pigeon-holes some manuscript bearing on the Bill.

Senator Playford - The Bill was not in manuscript, but in print.

Senator GRAY - At any rate, the ex- Minister in another place states, that the Bill now before us is not the Bill which he says was left by the late Government.

Senator Playford - The Bill we found was a good deal stronger than this Bill, and we toned it down.

Senator GRAY - I do not know that the fact of the Bill having been prepared by the late Government affects the position. If I believe that this Bill will be injurious to the interests of the State which I represent, I should not be asked to accept it simply because it may have been prepared by a previous Government. I think I can account to a certain extent for this Bill being found in the pigeon-hole. I cannot give any Minister of the present Government credit for the business knowledge and experience necessary to the preparation of a measure of the kind ; in any case, the Minister of Defence seems to be claiming credit to the Government for having copied the bad points of a Bill they found, and incorporating still further bad points ku it on their own account. Where has been the public outcry for this Bill ?

Senator Playford - Ask the* previous Government.

Senator GRAY - The Labour Caucus Party have not asked for a measure.

Senator de Largie - To which party does the honorable senator refer?

Senator GRAY - The Labour Party.

Senator de Largie - That is better !

Senator GRAY - The Bill has not been asked for by the commercial, manufacturing, or producing classes^ Who have asked for the measure?

Senator Keating - Dishonest traders have not asked for it.

Senator GRAY - Who are the dishonest traders ? Are they inside or outside of the Commonwealth ? If this measure is intended to make dishonest traders honest, it should be applied to the Inter-State commerce cj Australia. Last week in Sydney it wa-; stated at a meeting of bootmakers that a large proportion of the boots made in New South Wales were branded with other than the true names of the manufacturer - that they bore Victorian1 and other names, or mo name at all, owing to the prejudice which existed against the locally-made; article. Is that not the sort of false description which ought to be stopped?

Senator Playford - The Commonwealth cannot stop that sort of thing.

Senator GRAY - Does the Minister mean to say that this Bill cannot be made to apply to Inter-State commerce?

Senator Playford - Of course it can, but we cannot interfere in the case of articles manufactured and consumed within a State.

Senator GRAY - Can the Bill not be made to apply to manufacturers of boots in New South Wales who dishonestly brand their goods as having been made in Victoria ?

Senator Playford - If those manufacturers exported the goods to Victoria we could interfere.

Senator GRAY - That is what I mean. Boots made in New South Wales, and branded with false names, are exported to other States. Is that not dishonest dealing?

Senator Playford - It is dishonest dealing. The State can deal with that.

Senator GRAY - I say that if the Government are honest they will make this Bill apply to Inter-State commerce as well as to commerce with other countries.

Senator Playford - One thing at a time. We are dealing with the bigger matter first.

Senator GRAY - Simply because the Government dare not do it. They have not the pluck to do it.

Senator Playford - They are a weakkneed lot !

Senator GRAY - There is not the shadow of a doubt about that. That is the truest remark I have heard from the Minister since he took office. This is a Bill which will absolutely limit the natural exchange of goods between the Commonwealth and other countries, and it will affect goods to the value of millions of pounds. It is an autocratic measure, inasmuch as it givespower to the Minister and his officers todecide as to the different classes of goods and their quality. The men who are tocarry out this work should, if it is intended that this Bill shall be thoroughly carried out. be experts, and if they are not. a responsibility will be placed upon themwhich will bring them under the influence of great temptation, and may lead to corruption, such as we have not hithertoknown. I make that statement advisedly. We shall require to have officers stationed in every port to which goods are imported - _ at Townsville, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne,. Hobart, Launceston, Adelaide, and Fremantle.

Senator Pearce - Are there not officersstationed at each of those ports now?

Senator GRAY - We have Customs officers stationed at those ports now ; but surely the Minister will not say that the Government propose to intrust all the important duties imposed on officers under this Bill to Customs-house officers who have no knowledge of the grading of goods or of their quality? He surely does not mean to tei! honorable senators that, in the administration of this Bill, the Government will not have experts stationed at the different portsof the Commonwealth who will be competent to properly gauge the value of poods imported ?

Senator Playford - It is not a question* -f the value of goods, but of the true description of goods.

Senator GRAY - The inspectors under the Bill must be competent to speak .as to at varying qualities of goods. That will be absolutely necessary. I have a word or two to say on the question of grading.

Senator Millen - The Honorary Minister, Mr. Ewing, said that no sane man could call this a " grading " Bill. Two other Ministers differ from him.

Senator GRAY - I am not concerned with what Mr. Ewing has said, but with what has been said by the Minister who has charge of the measure in the Senate. As the honorable senator said very little, it is. possible that I shall be able to get but very little out of him; but he certainly did' commit himself to the statement that under this Bill goods will be graded. I first of all take wool. The wool industry is the largest industry in Australia, and it is: also the most important, in the matter of" value, and by reason of the fact that wool is produced in a very large part of Australia which cannot be utilized for any other industry. I venture to say with respect to wool that there is no other class of goods which has been brought to such a state of perfection by those concerned in its production, sale, and purchase. The industry has been developed in Australia to such' an extent that at the present time, the wool markets of New South Wales are the largest in the known world, and yet we have never had, so far as I know, a single Complaint in regard to the manner in which wool is handled in Australia.

Senator Mulcahy - Does the honorable senator think that this Bill is intended to include wool ?

Senator GRAY - I can only go by what it says.

Senator Mulcahy - But it does not specifically include wool.

Senator GRAY - The Bill includes all materials required in the making of apparel.

Senator Mulcahy - It may be loosely drafted, but does the honorable senator think that it is intended that wool should be included?

Senator GRAY - I cannot really fathom the intention of the Government in the matter.

Senator Mulcahy - Ask the Minister.

Senator GRAY - I shall be very pleased if the Minister will answer the question, but, at the same time, I ask him to do so with a sense of the weight which his reply will have. I do not desire that he should make a reply based on his own opinion solely, but only upon knowledge ascertained from the Minister who introduced the Bill' in another place as to what its provisions will be interpreted to mean. If, with these conditions,, Senator Playford will say that wool is not intended to be included in this Bill, the producers and all who have the handling of the wool will be considerably relieved by the statement. The difficulty is not that under certain conditions and circumstances this Bill might be so administered as to injure the wool industry, but that it will be at the discretion or the caprice of any Minister of Customs to make use of this Bill in order to interfere with the industry. Every bale of wool brought to Sydney or Melbourne has a specific brand upon it. which may be termed a trade mark. The brand indicates not only the quality of the wool, but also the station from which it comes, and in every sense it may be accepted as the trade mark of the owner of the wool. Its value as a trade mark will be seen from the fact that when wool bearing a certain brand is brought into the stores, it is recognised by all buyers, whether French, German, or English, that wool so branded is so consistent in character and quality that perhaps only one bale out of one hundred will be examined. The buyers will take it for granted that wool bearing a certain brand can be so relied upon as to consistency in quality that a whole consignment will be bought on the brand or trade mark alone. It is almost foolish to imagine that such a thing would be done, but under this Bill a Government inspector, at any one of our ports, would be able to delay a ship in order to examine a consignment of wool. The consequence of this might be that the whole ramifications of the shipment of wool might be at the mercy of inspectors under this Bill. The same thing applies to butter, and to every other article of export. The delay of a ship for even a few hours may involve a loss of hundreds of pounds, and if it is to be at the discretion of one of these Government officials to delay a ship in the way referred to, I appeal to honorable senators to say whether such a power will not place very great temptation in the way of those intrusted with it. In connexion with the shipment of butter, honorable senators, must remember that when it is brought .to the stores at the port of shipment it is sometimes kept there for two or three days. During the hot weather the mail steamers will only ship butter after sunset. It may be taken from the stores after 7 o'clock, and shipped up to perhaps 12 o'clock at night. It is loaded as fast as possible, and the steamer leaves on the following day. I ask honorable senators to imagine the power which in these circumstances every one of these officials will have under this Bill. He can demand that he shall be allowed to inspect the goods in the ship, or to stop the butter going on board. The sailing of the vessel or the shipment of the goods will be absolutely at the mercy of a Government official, who, at his own sweet will, may say whether he will pass the goods or not. I. do not say that in ordinary circumstances this kind of thing would be done, but I say that a temptation to do such things is thrown in the way of these officials by the Bill, and that should not be allowed. If we consider again the grading of butter, I may inform honorable senators that last week I had a conversation with the manager of the largest dairy in New South Wales. He gave me some illustrations of the grading of butter. In one case, he told me that he had graded butter as first and second class, and when the returns came in he found that the second-class butter had brought 2s. per case more than that which he had graded1 as first-class. In the grading of butter there are very many things to be considered. The exporters of this article must take into account the varying conditions of the best markets for the article. Salt . butter is required in certain parts of England, whilst in other parts people will not have butter if there is any quantity of salt in it. Cheese?, must be made in certain sizes and of a certain colour for certain parts of England, whilst the same cheese would not sell in other parts. Then, again, in the matter of weight, a cheese weighed in the dairy will weigh so much, and after it has been seasoned for two or three months will weigh so much less. This applies to very many articles, and I might mention soap amongst others. It has been said that the man will make his fortune who makes soap stand upright. What does that mean ? It means that soap made today will weigh so much, that in two months' time it will weigh so much less, and in four months' time so much less again. I can remember the time when my mother used to cut up soap and put it over the door in order that it might lose weight and become hard. How are all these little details in connexion with trade to be dealt with? On the question of grading there is a difference of opinion in New, and perhaps as many are in favour of it as are opposed to it. In Denmark butter is graded, not at the ship's side, but before it leaves the dairy, and it has to go through the Association. The same rule could be applied to New Zealand, because of its compactness. It is 1,500 miles long and 200 miles broad. ft has six shipping ports - Auckland, Wellington, Napier, Lyttleton. Dunedin, and Invercargill - each of which is within fifty miles of the dairies, and therefore the inspection of the butter could easily be carried out. Undoubtedly, the production of butter is the great business of Denmark. The pro ducers have made such headway that their butter brings 5s. or 6s. a cwt. more than the butter from any other country. Like Tasmania, Denmark is a small country with a limited population, but it has one great industry. No country in Europe or elsewhere, not even England, has ever followed Denmark in. its butter administration, simply because the conditions are not favorable. Through the efforts of the Government of Denmark, the industry is a decided success. In Australia, however, the conditions are such as to prevent the inspection of butter at the ship's side.

Senator Playford - It is carried out in this State.

Senator GRAY - I am informed by a butter expert that in this State there is no power which will allow a Customs officer to examine a cargo of butter in the hold of a ship, and, if necessary, stop her from leaving port.' If the Minister will tell me where that power is granted, I shall be pleased to know. If he will take the advice of a man who, if it were practicable, would be only too glad to bring about the proposed change, he will eliminate the reference to the ship, and provide that all inspection shall take place in the stores, and, if he likes, that no butter shall be sent therefrom for shipment unless it bears a brand. But I hold that the branding or grading of butter will do more harm than good. I believe that every large buyer of butter in. England knows more about the quality of the butter which is manufactured in these States than does perhaps any honorable senator. It is his business to study the values of butter. He cannot be taught anything in regard to the purchases which he makes, or the butter which is sent to him to be sold in the ordinary course of business. In the warehouses of Tooley-street almost every kind of butter which is made in America, Canada, and Denmark will be found assorted and valued. If you inspect the books of any one of the large firms in Tooley-street, you will find that the maker, who is of any note in this Commonwealth will have a mark in that book as to the Quality of the butter which he exports, and the value which is attached thereto, subject to market fluctuations. Our producers get far better hints as to the values of butter, and the conditions under which it will have the best sale from the large business firms in Tooley-street, than from the firms on the spot here.

Senator Styles - Is not the competition for our butter restricted when that knowledge is in the hands of only a few firms? We want everybody in England to know its value by grading the butter here.

Senator GRAY - Assuming that the butter is graded in Victoria, what is the value of that grading?

Senator Playford - Nearly all the Victorian butter is graded.

Senator GRAY - Will the Minister state what is the value of that grading in England ?

Senator Playford - lt causes Victorian butter to bring a price close up to that of Danish butter.

Senator GRAY - The value of the butter in the English market has. no relationship to the Government brand. If a. large pastoralist gets known in the market as a man of absolute integrity his brand wiLl be accepted. In the same way, if a dairyman will go to the trouble to see that no butter shall leave his dairy unless it be of a certain quality his butter will be accepted by large buyers in England upon the basis of the private brand which is placed thereon. If all the Victorian butter were exported with only the brand of the Government upon it, I venture to say that that brand would not be worth a snap of the fingers. I have had twenty years' experience of business life in England, and I am in a position to say that the butter which arrives at London, Liverpool, and Glasgow is sent throughout the country not with the brand which it bore as it left here, but as first, or second, or third, or fourth, or fifth class, without reference to the country of production. It is sold just according to its value in the market. The Government brand is of absolutely no value as soon as the shipment arrives in England, although it may be of value here. Victorian butter only gets an increased value over New South Wales butter because the former is of better quality.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that the Government brand is of no value to the wholesale buyer?

Senator GRAY - The Government brand is of no value to the first buyer, because the buyers in England know more about the value of butter than the individual who brands it. They know what they are doing. The butter would also bear the brand of the dairyman, and to that brand a value may be attached by the buyers. It is the same with other conditions of trade. Trade is simply a natural process between the producers, the buyers, and the sellers; they dovetail into each other, and we cannot get away from that fact. Take the question of weights. Why should we pass a measure which will prevent us from competing with other countries for the trade of the East? There are conditions of trade there which may not be quite in accord with what we believe to be absolutely right, although I do not believe that they are half as bad as some of the conditions prevailing in these States. But having regard to the maudlin sentimentality underlying the Bill, I assume that they would excite sufficient suspicion to cause them to be brought within its provisions,. Take the article of glycerine. It is well known in this country that whilst a manufacturer makes bottles to contain so many ounces, glycerine is bought in bulk by weight. Why? Because the retailers want more profit than they could get if the bottles came from the manufacturers labelled as containing so many ounces. In New South Wales, the chemist buys in bulk, and resells in small bottles, for which he charges 6d. each, having to give long credit; but the grocer who gets his supply from the manufacturer sells, a bottle at perhaps 3d. According to the Minister that is not honest. That is exactly what is done in Japan, China, and Singapore. The firms want to buy goods as they wish, not as other persons wish. They think that they know their own business best, but the Government propose "to teach them that it is wrong for them to do as they do. Do Ministers think that business men in the East will buy our goods only on the conditions they choose to lay down ? How are we to compete with the manufacturers who do a large business with these thriving countries, whose people, as they become civilized, gradually need a larger supply of the goods made by the civilized powers ?

Senator Playford - We are not going to stop them from buying our goods.

Senator GRAY - The Bill provides that the goods must be exported under certain conditions. In the East they will not buy glycerine in bulk because they have not the bottles themselves.

Senator Playford - All we say in the Bill is that if a man sells a bottle he must put the true contents thereon.

Senator GRAY - That is just what the business men in the East do not want.

They are absolutely masters of the market. They will say : " If you are going to teach ns how we shall conduct our trade we shall buy from America, or from Canada or England."

Senator Playford - Let them buy the stuff in bulk and do the bottling themselves.

Senator GRAY - In the East, the buyers will not have the stuff in bulk. The Minister knows a good deal about apples, but he does not seem to know that to some Eastern countries the cost of importing, small bottles would come to more than the value of the article which they were intended to contain. In New South Wales, the chemists do not have glycerine bottled, because they wish to sell to the public at their value. In the East, the buyers want the glycerine in bottles, but they do not want the bottler to put on a label saying that the bottle contains 8 or 10 oz.

Senator Styles - Do they want the bottles to contain a less quantity than is represented ?

Senator GRAY - They do not want to give the natives information as to how much the bottle contains. I am not saying that the practice is right. I am only saying that the conditions are there, and that if we are going to do business with these people we must do it under their conditions, and not under ours. I say, with all the strength I can command, that it is absolute hypocrisy for the Ministry to take upon itself the task of teaching people outside Australia what is right and under what conditions, they shall trade, while at the same time they have not the courage to take notice of what is being clone within the Commonwealth. There is ten times more unjustness, so-called - though it may be that the practices referred to are not unjust at all when they are examined - done by manufacturers in these States than the Government could prevent. If it is such a matter of righteousness, that, we should impose conditions on those outside the Commonwealth, I maintain that we should also put our own house in order, and see that those who manufacture in and for the Commonwealth do not do things which we object to other people doing. Again, in regard to the shipping of goods, no one, perhaps, knows better than the Minister in charge of this Bill, who has had considerable experience in the export of fruit, that it is of vital importance that all perishable goods shall be quickly despatched. It is vitally important that no impediment shall be placed in the way of those goods being carried swiftly to their destination. Now, under this Bill, a Minister with a political bias might act in a manner that would not only cause great injustice to the producers, but also to buyers. Honorable senators are aware that in England, as well as elsewhere, there is a great deal of what is called forward buying. Manufactured goods, and other articles are bought, perhaps, six months in advance. Sometimes it is a matter of speculation. If thos.e goods are to be detained at the sweet will of any Customs officer, who may not be an expert, a great deal of injury will be caused. But there is yet another aspect of the question. Whilst it may be easy to administer this Bill as applied to large dairies, how is it going to be applied to small farmers and dairymen ? There are many such men who have risen from the ranks - who began as working men. They are not a bit the worse for that, but rather the better. How are small producers of that kind to be affected in regard to the export of their butter ?

Debate interrupted..

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