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Wednesday, 22 November 1905

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator certainly ought not to refer to the debate on the Commerce Bill, and he ought not to discuss any question which is not relevant to the subject-matter of this Bill. The subject-matter of this Bill includes the schedule which opens up a discussion on any item of expenditure mentioned therein. I was looking over the questions on the business-paper, and was not listening closely to the honorable senator's remarks, but, generally speaking, the honorable senator must not go beyond the Bill at this stage. Honorable senators have a right to go beyond the subject-matter of an Appropriation Bill on the first reading, but not on the second reading.

Senator PULSFORD - One very important portion of this Bill is that showing the amounts to be appropriated for carrying on the Department of Trade and Customs. I prefaced my remarks by the statement thatI was referring to that Department, and, in connexion therewith, to the valuation of imports.

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that that has anything, to do with the expenditure on the Customs Department ?

Senator PULSFORD - Undoubtedly it has to do with the administration of t he Department, and I take it that I am at liberty to refer to the administration of every Department included in the schedule.

The PRESIDENT - I have no desire to cramp the honorable senator in his speech, but I ask him to refer to the Bill so far as he can.

Senator PULSFORD - I am strictly doing so. I am now debating points which I have brought forward before on similar occasions. It will be obvious to every; honorable senator that the simple statement which I have made, that the amount of fraud or under-valuation of goods that takes place in the Commonwealth is of a very negligible quantity, is proved beyond! question. The Minister who has charge of this Department of Trade and Customs should be very careful how he makes use of any small matter to cast a slur onthe commerce of Australia. I think I shall bein order in referring to the action taken by the Minister in regard to the importation of harvesters. I do not know that steps have ever been taken in any Department which are more calculated to bring discredit on the community than those which have been taken by the Minister of Trade and Customs in connexion with the harvester industry. I have before me the minutes of evidence taken before the Tariff Commission, and I find that something like 2,000 questions were put to gentlemen interested in the manufacture of harvesters in Australia. It has been repeatedly and openly stated that the Massey-Harris Company are still awaiting an opportunity to refute the statements made by Mr. McKay and other persons who have attended before the Tariff Commission. So far, they have been afforded no such opportunity. In these circumstances, one would naturally have thought that the Minister of Trade and Customs would have held his hand. Not only has the honorable gentleman not held his hand, but he has taken steps by which the valuation of imported harvesters has been arbitrarily and extraordinarily raised. The Massey-Harris Company have had to pay a very large sum of money to the Customs Department as a result of the action taken by the Minister. They have paid this money under protest, and are now proceeding against the Minister for a refund of the amount which they claim to have paid in excess. Notwithstanding these facts, we have an agitation of the keenest character, and warmly supported by the Minister of Trade and Customs, for the introduction of abrupt and arbitrary legislation, to affect the valuation of imported harvesters before the firm in question, or. other firms similarly interested, have had an opportunity to state their case to the Tariff Commission, and before the case to which I have referred has been decided by the High Court of Australia. If any steps can discredit a public department, surely they would be such as those I have indicated. In a considerable number of cases of disputed valuations of goods the difficulty has arisen in respect of what are known as proprietary goods, which cannot be bought in the open market, which are the property of separate firms, and therefore represent values which may be varied in different countries and to different people. Consequently there is in the case of such goods the greatest possible room for differences of opinion as to what their true value is. It is a lamentable thing in the circumstances that a Minister of Trade and Customs can be found ready to make use of a difference of opinion in respect of the valuation of such goods on which to found a charge of fraud. I suggest that it would be well if members of Parliament and Ministers also understood a little more than they evidently do of the position of the merchants of Australia. The merchants of Australia regularly advance to the Commonwealth millions of our revenue. The amount is no doubt ultimately paid by the consumers, but the merchants advance the money on importation. I suppose that the majority of imported goods are not consumed for at least four months after they arrive. That means that about onethird of the Customs and Excise revenue of the year is advanced to the Commonwealth by the merchants of Australia. It is probable that not less than £3,000,000 is always under advance to the Commonwealth in this way by the merchants of Australia. This fact should be borne in mind;, and the people who advance this money might well be treated a little more handsomely than they are. Another reason why our merchants should be better treated is that they are really only completing the work of the producers of Australia. It is of very little use for any set of men to produce goods and have them exported if the value for them cannot be imported. It is only when importers bring in goods which the exported goods are sold for that it can be said that the producers reap their reward. For that reason also' I hold that there might be a little more thought given to the importers. I also think that the Minister of Trade and Customs should give the very closest attention to the outcry which his action in regard to imported harvesters has raised in Canada. There seems to be no doubt that his action in fixing an arbitrary valuation on . the imported harvesters has resulted in diverting a considerable amount of the freight ordinarily carried by the Canadian line of steamers through the United States instead of through' Canada. I have here a letter, which was published in> the Sydney newspapers by Mr. Ross, the Canadian Commercial Agent for Victoria and1 other States. He says -

The Vancouver mail, which arrived here on the 10th instant, brought forward official letters from the Canadian Department of Trade and Commerce relative to the decision of the Commonwealth Customs, whereby the cost of railway transportation from the manufacturing centres of Ontario and Quebec, has to be added to the value of goods shipped at Vancouver to Australia. When the letters were written - August 31st - the matter was under departmental consideration, and I can therefore express no opinion in regard to the news cabled from London on the 7th' instant, as in any way reflecting the opinion of the Canadian Government.

The enforcement of the decision of the Australian Customs upon shipments made at Vancouver will result in a practical cessation of imports of Canadian goods from that port, to the injury of the freight-earning power of the subsidized " All Red Route," and further it will be of considerable benefit to the rival San Francisco steamers.

Not long since, the Senate voted a subsidy to the Vancouver line, and it is very strange that we should be voting money to support that line, and should at the same time permit the Minister of Trade and Customs, by means of a simple regulation, to make an arrangement which results in that line losing a large amount of its freight. Mr. Ross goes on to say -

The manufacturing districts of Canada are nearly 3,000 miles distant from the Pacific Coast, and the railway transportation from, say, Montreal to Vancouver, is, on account of the long haul, quite a serious item in making up the amount of the f.o.b. value of goods shipped to Australia.

T do not propose to read any more of Mr. Ross's lengthy letter. Honorable senators will see the point made. The Minister has issued a regulation which requires that the valuation of agricultural implements shipped to Australia shall be taken at the port of shipment, Vancouver, instead of at the market of manufacture, as originally arranged. This means that the amount paid in railway freight from the place of manufacture to the port of shipment must now be added to the value of the goods, and, consequently, increases the sum payable as duty at this end. This increase of cost has a natural tendency to divert shipments of these goods for Australia from the Vancouver line of steamers to vessels leaving New York or Quebec for this part of the world. The speech to which we listened from Senator Playford on Friday afternoon was almost entirely devoted to the subject of Defence. I think we were entitled to expect from the honorable senator a fuller exposition of the finances of Australia. In point of fact, beyond the few bare figures, all of which were more or less known to us, the honorable senator gave us nothing new. As I dealt at some length with the question of Australian finance, in speaking on the Appropriation Bill in September last, I do not propose to go generally into that matter to-day. But, clearly, trie position of our finances is anything but satisfactory, and it might have engaged the attention of the Minister a little more than it did. I fail, however, to understand his reference to the sugar duty when he said -

It is anticipated that there will be an additional falling off in the sugar revenue of about £21,000, owing to the increased production of Australian sugar. Of course, that amount may be increased or decreased, as the result of any action which this Parliament may take in extending the term during which the sugar bounty sholl be operative. If, as has been suggested, the Excise duty is increased to £4 per ton, we shall receive an additional revenue. But whether the Treasurer's estimate is realized will entirely depend upon the legislation which we enact.

I am. quite at a loss to understand what the Minister of Defence means. I know that legislation has been proposed for increasing the Excise duty in the year 1906-7, but no increase of Excise duty in that year could affect the revenue from this source in the current year. I presume that the Minister has made a mistake, and has not been quite aware of the legislation which is being introduced by his colleagues. There are certain matters which the accounts do not make as clear as they should do. In the first place, the Minister told us that the receipts from the special Tariff of Western Australia this year will probably show a further decline of £65.000. I should like honorable senators to notice to what extent the inclusion of the figures for that Tariff has misled us in making a comparison. I would suggest to the Government that the revenue from this source ought not to be included in the ordinary receipts of Australia. This revenue of £'300,000, or thereabouts, was to diminish at the rate of one-fifth per annum, and of course to cease at the end of five years. As the amount has been decreasing year by year during the period, the falling off for the year misleads us. The Minister also informed the Senate that new steps had been taken with regard to cable messages, that the money paid for foreign and cable messages was now being taken into the revenue, and refunded. He pointed out that the refunds for this year would be .£48,000 more than they were last year. The accounts under this head are very indistinct. If £48,000 is received for cable messages, and added to the receipts of the Post and Telegraph Department, why are not the refunds debited to it ? I observe that in the Treasury accounts a total sum of £80,000 is debited as refunds. Obviously, this is altogether wrong. If the Post and Telegraph Department is receiving £50,000 with one hand and paying it out again with the other the amount ought to appear on each side of the account. What course the Government are adopting in the matter is not clear from the accounts, and it certainly ought to be clear. We are liable to mistake the addition which is now being made for an increase of revenue. It may be remembered that two or three weeks ago I asked what amount of rebate or discount the Post and Telegraph Department was allowing to those who bought postage stamps for resale, and I was told that it was £13,920. In the departmental accounts I cannot find any indication of the payment of these moneys. How or out of what item they are paid I do not know. It may be that after the commissions have been deducted the net receipts are given. On this point, the Minister should give us the information when he replies. If the ordinary and proper trade course is not being followed out it should be. and that is to show the gross amount of the sales of postage stamps, and the amounts paid in commissions. There are a number of points on which the Minister should have given us information. We are now approaching the end of the fifth month of the financial year, and we ought to be able to form a fair idea as to the position of the finances at the end of the year. The Minister might well have given ys some information on that point. We might also have expected to receive information as to what was being done in regard to the transferred properties and the transfer of the States debts. These and many other points might well have occupied the attention of the Minister. I listened with considerable surprise to his statement with regard to a secret despatch. It seems that the Colonial Defence Committee, in England, sent out a secret memorandum of their views in regard' to the defence of Australia.

Senator Playford - They have been doing it ever since the Commonwealth was inaugurated, just as they previously did with the States.

Senator PULSFORD - I believe that all the world over communications marked "confidential," are treated entirely as private, and are not made public. On this occasion, the Minister took an extraordinary course. He said that the despatch was a secret one, and that, therefore, he could not publish it. But what did he do? He gave the despatch to his officers, and asked them to write a reply ; he read the reply which they had dictated ; and then he said : " From the character of the reply, you can understand what was in the despatch." That is not quite the sort of thing which we look for from a Minister of the Crown. If a Minister of the Crown cannot be trusted to respect a private communication, then private communications are likely to cease to be sent to Australia.

Senator Playford - That is terrible !

Senator PULSFORD - It is not rubbish at all. Any honorable senator knows very well that if he were to fail to treat as confidential a communication marked " secret " or "confidential," it would show that he could not be trusted with a confidential communication, and then he would cease to be the recipient of such documents. I do not profess to speak with authority on matters of defence. I do not claim to be a military expert, but I have some general ideas on the subject. While the Commonwealth is subscribing with fair liberality towards the cost of naval defence generally, it should also do something for the defence of its own coast. The suggestions made by the Director of Naval Defence are worthy of consideration. I d'o not know that they are exactly what the Commonwealth should adopt, but they are framed on lines which, I think should be followed out. We should have some fair and reasonable protection for our coast line. We ought to have vessels of the torpedo and destroyer type, which would at least warn the fleets of foreign powers to beware. We should keep our Military Forces within moderate bounds. We ought to take care that while the army is a small one, it is efficient ; that it should be capable of working up to its full strength, and so disciplined and officered as to be in a position to render service of a valuable character. I do not know how Australia can take any steps which are more likely to be advantageous in regard to its defence, than by trying to make good neighbours of countries by which it is more or less surrounded. It is very desirable, I think, that it should be on friendly terms with its great neighbours in the East - China and Japan - who should feel that they have at least friends and well-wishers here.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator consider that Australia regards China and Japan as great neighbours?

Senator PULSFORD - I am quite sure that Australia does not think as much of them as it ought to do. As a simple matter of defence, it is desirable that we should be om good terms with those great countries. There is another matter which I should like to bring under the notice of the Senate before concluding. I refer to the case of British New Guinea. I know that there are some even, in the Senate who are inclined to throw blame on the British Empire for not 'having at an earlier date taken steps to annex New Guinea, and who think that if Great Britain had done her duty, we should have forestalled Germany in taking possession of New Guinea and a great many of the islands of the Pacific. There are also some gentlemen who, I believe, are inclined to throw blame on Great Britain for not doing more than she does even to-day. It is partly for those reasons that I wish to direct attention to what took place with respect to New Guinea something like thirty years ago. I shall be able to show that, had Australia exhibited anything like a generous spirit of willingness to bear the expense, seeing that she was to receive the benefits, the whole of New Guinea would now have been under the British flag. In October, 1873, the British Admiralty sent a letter to the Colonial Office intimating that Captain Moresby had hoisted the Union Jack an the eastern portion of New Guinea, and making inquiries on the point. It was also said that, in the year 1849, Lieutenant Yule, of Her Majesty's ship Bramble, had formally taken possession; and also that, even so far back as the year 1793, certain East India traders had taken possession in the name of the British Crown. Upon that the Colonial Office sent circular letters to the Governments of the Australian Colonies, inquiring what were the wishes of Australia, and what could be done. The replies received from Australia generally expressed approval of annexation. In 1895 the Royal Colonial Institute memorialized the Earl of Carnarvon, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, urging him to annex New Guinea. This memorial was signed by several representative Australians amongst others. In June, 1875, Sir Hercules Robinson transmitted to the Earl of Carnarvon a minute by Mr. Robertson - afterwards Sir John Robertson, Premier of New South Wales - advocating the immediate annexation of -

Not only the magnificent island ofNew Guinea, but the islands of New Britain, New Ireland, and the chain of islands to the northeast and east of New Guinea from Bougainville Island to San Christobal, the south-easternmost of the Solomon group, the group of the New Hebrides, including Espiritu Santo, Mallicolo, and Sandwich, with smaller adjoining islands, and the Marshall, Gilbert, and Ellice Islands, to all of which the traffic from the port of Sydney extends.

The minute from Sir John Robertson is very lengthy, and I will not quote from it. In 1875 a public meeting was held in Sydney, which urged the desirableness of the annexation ofNew Guinea, and a deputation waited upon Sir John Robertson to urge that steps should be taken in that direction. In June of the same year, Governor Musgrave, of South Australia, wrote to the Earl of Carnarvon, forwarding a letter from James P. Boucaut, Commissioner of Crown Lands, in which he urged the Secretary of State for the Colonies to take immediate possession of New Guinea. Governor Cairns, of Queensland, on 6th July, 1875, sent to the Earl of Carnarvon an address from the Legislative Council of Queensland, and another from the Legislative Assembly of that State, both urging annexation. In sending the address from the Legislative Assembly, Governor Cairns wrote -

While the Assembly express satisfaction on account of the cession to Great Britain of the Fijian group of islands, and respectfully recommend the annexation of New Guinea, the terms of their address do not, as your Lordship will observe, commit them to anything like an offer to share whatever expenditure would have to be incurred in taking possession of New Guinea.

On nth August of the same year Sir Anthony Musgrave, the Governor of South Australia, writing to the Earl of Carnarvon, said -

I have no reason to suppose the desire of the Legislature that New Guinea and its dependencies should be taken under British protection to be sufficiently strong to induce them to provide for any portion of the expense of such a course.

There was considerable discussion in the newspapers at the time, and the Sydney Morning Herald, in August, 1875, expressed regret at Sir John Robertson's " parsimony " on the subject.

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that that has anything to do with this Bill?

Senator PULSFORD - I think it has something to do withthe amount of money which we are asked to vote on account of British New Guinea.

The PRESIDENT - I confess that I do not see the relation, although the honorable senator may be able to connect his remarks withthe Bill.

Senator PULSFORD - We have to spend a considerable amount of money on British New Guinea. I should like to read the following passage, at any rate. The Earl of Carnarvon wrote to Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor of New South Wales, on 8th December, 1875, as follows: -

The principal reasons which have been advanced for the extension of British sovereignty over New Guinea and other islands of the Pacific may fairly be summed up as follows : -

1.   That their possession would be of value to the Empire generally, and conduce specially to the peace and safety of Australia the development of Australian trade and the prevention of crime throughout the Pacific.

2.   That the establishment of a foreign power in the neighbourhood of Australia would be injurious to British, and more particularly to Australian, interests.

But it is urged that although primarily of importance to Australia, it is as an Imperial question that this annexation should be considered; and I am further led to understand that those Colonies which would derive most advantage, whether in a political or a commercial point of view, from this step are of opinion that no part of its cost should be defrayed from Colonial funds.

There are several other despatches to which I should have liked to refer - despatches from the Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, to the Governors of the Australian Colonies, and from those Colonies to Lord Carnarvon. But I have read sufficient to make it quite clear that the governing reason Why Great Britain did not take upon herself the annexation of New Guinea and of the adjacent islands was that the Australian Colonies took no steps to assist in the expenditure which such annexation would have thrown upon Great Britain, and that the Imperial Government did not think it was justified ir» calling on the British taxpayers to bear the whole cost. It is as well that we in Australia should bear in mind that our parsimony1 in the past has stayed the hand of Great Britain, and that in monetary matters in which the Empire as a whole as concerned, we should now be prepared to take up a more generous attitude than was taken up some thirtyyears ago.

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