Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 22 November 1905

Senator PULSFORD (New South Wales) - In debating the Appropriation Bill, I desire to place in the forefront the subject of Customs administration. Honorable senators must be more or less aware that there is something very like an attempt to throw discredit on commerce, be- cause of certain small occurrences, and that, almost of a certainty, there is at the back of all this some political intention. I desire, therefore, to cite a few facts in regard to the general position of our commerce, and the alleged undervaluation of goods. A week ago I asked in the Senate for a return showing the total importation of goods subject to ad valorem duties for the last four years, and the total amount in regard to which charges of under-valuation or fraud had been made. I was then told that a return would be presented, but that its preparation would take some time. A few days afterwards I communicated with the Comptroller-General of Customs by telephone, and was informed that the return was not ready, and that I could not be supplied even with the approximate figures. Under the circumstances, I put myself to considerable trouble, with the result that I have here Figures showing that the total imports of goods subject to ad valorem duties in 1904 amounted in value to £17,000,000. I am not aware whether the. imports last year were over or under the average for the period in regard to which I desired information, but I am content to take £60,000,000, or an average of £1 5,000,000 a year, as representing the total imports for four years. And I think I am well within the mark when I say that the total value of goods of which under- valuations have been made, or in connexion with which charges of fraud have been alleged, db not exceed ,£500,000 within that period. According to the figures which I have prepared, in every £1,000,000 worth of goods subject to ad valorem duties imported -into Australia in that period, £991,670 worth were admittedly correctly valued, leaving a balance of only some £8,000 odd in regard to which allegations of un'der-valuation or fraud were made. These figures put a very different complexion on the position of our commerce and the honesty of our merchants from that which' is sought to be cas? on them by persons who seek to discredit the latter. Then, again, a large quantity of our imports is subject to specific duties, and, taking these together with the imports subject to ad valorem duties. I estimate that the total, in the period I have mentioned, represents about £100,000,000. Thus, allowing for £500,000 worth in regard to which allegations of fraud were made, we find that in every £1,000,000 worth of imports, no less than £995,000 worth has been correctly passed at the Customs, and only £5,000 worth more or less inaccurately valued.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - There is not always an intentional wrong.

Senator PULSFORD - As the honorable senator says, there is not always an intentional wrong ; and I think that the position disclosed by the figures I have quoted is very satisfactory. It may be said that there is a large amount of undervaluation of which no notice can be taken, because it is not always discovered; but to that I have a very simple answer. Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics, and other authorities, give the imports and exports of the whole world; and, from page 660 of the work just mentioned, I find that in the year 1896 the value of the world's imports exceeded the world's exports by £256,000,000, notwithstanding the fact that a large quantity of goods are lost at sea, and, of course, do not arrive to be included in the returns. Imports are naturally more valuable than exports, because the former include freight; and we find throughout the world that the value on arrival is immensely higher than that on departure. That indicates at once that the margin of possible error or fraud is very small.

Senator Guthrie - Is there not another explanation of that?

Senator PULSFORD - On page 129 of the same work, it is shown that in twentysix years the world's imports were valued at £3,367,000,000 in excess of the world's exports, or an average of £120,000,000 or £I3°;000>°°o worth every year. That, again, I suggest, indicates the untruth of the inference that there is any general under-valuation, or attempt to defraud the Customs. I may point out that there is a great difficulty in the way of the perpetration of such frauds. The bulk of our import business is in the hands of large firms ; under such circumstances, the invoices pass through many hands, the knowledge of value is shared by many people, and it would not be safe, even if the principals desired, to seriously attempt to defraud the public. On this point, I should like to quote some remarks made by Senator Keating, when we were discussing the Commerce Bill. Senator Keating on that occasion said -

The development of trade operations, not only in England and Australia, but all over the world, has, for some time, disclosed great scandals. I have here the last number of the National Review, which contains an article by Dr. Adderley, a Bishop of the Established Church of England, on the subject of " Clergy and Commercial Morality."

From that article, Senator Keating made the following quotation : -

The greatest indictment of modern commerce came from Mr. Herbert Spencer in his " Morals of Trade," an essay published in pamphlet form.

I should like to tell honorable senators that Herbert Spencer himself, in that very work, The Morals of Trade, has a sentence which confirms all that I am now contending. Herbert Spencer said -

While the great and direct frauds have 'been diminishing, the small and indirect frauds have been increasing alike in variety and in number.

That quotation is used in an article written by two reverend gentlemen, and published in the July number of the Economic Review. In the course of that article the authors say : -

Taking a broad view of all the information obtained, whether verbal or written, we are at once struck by a very real distinction between large and small traders, or between principals and their subordinate agents. This distinction of course is by no means absolute. But, speaking generally, the men who transact business to a fairly large extent, or who enjoy a practical monopoly as owning a well established trade with an assured amount of custom, are more or less distinguishable from those who occupy various positions in the descending scale. Obviously, the former would be less likelyto be tempted to indulge in tricks of trade or to condescend to petty meannesses.

Senator Pearce - Is Senator Pulsford in order, on the second reading of the Appropriation Bill, in discussing the question of the commercial morality of Australia, or of other countries? The honorable senator is referring to the debate on the Commerce Bill.

Suggest corrections