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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - The Minister has given us a version of what occurred upon the earlier stages of this Bill. I shall give my own version of what occurred, though I ask the honorable senator to accept my assurance that I quite believe he has not said anything with a desire to mislead any one. A misunderstanding has arisen, which is unfortunate for those who sit on this side of the Chamber. When the Bill was previously before us, the Minister stated that he had two amendments to propose. One of those was' the object of fixing a period which was to mark the termination of the operation of the measure, and the other was to provide for a sliding-scale. When, as he states, protests arose;, the Minister said, "If you will give me the one amendment, I will mot press for the other."

Senator Playford - I said I would leave it to the other House to express its opinion.

Senator MILLEN - That is the point as to which my recollection does not tally with that of the Minister.

Senator Playford - I do not know whether Hansard took it down, but I said what I stated.

Senator MILLEN - I have no recollection of it. When the Minister said, " Give me one amendment, and I will forego the other," I took that to be an intimation that he would be satisfied with; the one amendment, and we readily met him with regard to it. We agreed to the second reading of the Bill, and went into Committee. What position do we find ourselves in now? Having conceded half of the Minister's desire, we now find that he asks us to concede the other half. What position are we in as compared with what we should have been in at the earlier stage of the Bill? The Minister knows as well as I do that this Bill is the natural complement to one with which we have dealt. As the voting was equal, we thought the Government would accept a fair compromise, and we believed that that compromise was effected when we expressed a willingness to accept one of the two amendments. It places the Opposition in an unsatisfactory' position if, having conceded one-half of the request of the Government, we are now confronted with a demand that we shall accept the other half.

Senator Playford - There was no compromise on this Bill at all.

Senator MILLEN - When a Minister gives a clear undertaking, it necessarily carries with it some Ministerial responsibility. If the Minister in the other House had given a promise to abide by an arrangement made with the Opposition, I am sure that the Senate would have been asked to concur in that course. So it ought to be with an undertaking made with us in this Chamber.

Senator Playford - There was no undertaking in this case.

Senator MILLEN - Does the Minister deny that he said, " Give me the one amendment, and I willi forego the other ' ' ?

Senator Playford - I said that I would move such an amendment as would enable the other House to express an opinion.

Senator MILLEN - If the Minister said that I did not hear him, and I do not think that any one on this side of the Chamber did either.

Senator Walker - I did.

Senator MILLEN - If Senator Walker heard that, and was satisfied, he was content with "very little. I do not impugn the Minister's word; it is simply one of those misunderstandings that sometimes will occur. But it is unfortunate for the Opposition that the misunderstanding has arisen. It means that we practically undo all -we did yesterday with regard to the Sugar Bounty Bill.

Senator Playford - No; we inserted a sliding scale in the Bill.

Senator MILLEN - But the effect of that sliding scale is entirely minimized by the introduction of a corresponding sliding scale i» the Excise Bill. The effect of the Sugar Bounty Bill as amended was to say to the sugar-growers in Queensland : " We will give you a bounty on the sugar you produce by white labour at a diminishing rate until it finally disappears." That Bill was passed with' the knowledge that the Excise Bill provided a fixed amount of Excise without a sliding scale. If we now adopt the Government proposal, what happens is this - that whilst in the Bounty Bill we pay less during the tapering-off period, we receive less under this Bill. We might as well have left the two measures unaltered as alter them both in the proportion of the sliding scale set out here. The sugargrowers will get the .same net amount as they would have done if the two Bills had been passed as originally introduced.

Senator Playford - They will get the same amount under the Bounty Bill as was originally proposed by the Government.

Senator MILLEN - - But under this Bill we are now asked to let them off a portion of the Excise. We pay them the same amount of bounty, spread' over a longer period, but we collect a lesser amount of Excise. That means that we are -giving them a larger amount of financial assistance; whereas the object of the Senate was to give them a smaller amount. The Government proposed a certain amount for five years. We gave them the same amount spread over six years. Now the Government comes along "and says, " In addition to giving you that amount, we will deduct less from you under "the Excise Bill."

Senator Playford - Just for two years.

Senator MILLEN - But the point is that if we accept the proposal now made, we give a larger amount of financial assistance to the sugar-growers than would have been done if we passed the two Bills as originally introduced. I am not prepared to make larger payments to the sugar-growers: In the first place, it has not been shown that it is absolutely essential to the sugar industry that the growers should have the measure of assistance that we propose to extend to them, much less that they have a claim for a larger measure of financial assistance. Surely it is incumbent upon those who ask us to make these enlarged payments to show upon what grounds they justify the demand. The Minister may say that the sliding scale in this Bill corresponds with the sliding scale in the Bounty Bill. But under the Bounty Bill we only gave the same amount of bounty as the Government propose to give. "Under this Bill it is proposed to charge a lesser amount of Excise to the sugar growers.

Senator Playford - Our net revenue will be practically the same. It was estimated that in the five years the revenue would be £1,930,000 ; and the net revenue under the new proposal is estimated to be £1, 914,000.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister now says that the revenue was originally estimated at £1,930,000. Yesterday, the figures which he gave were that the revenue would be £2,000,000.

Senator Playford - I may, of course, have made a mistake in the addition.

Senator MILLEN - It makes a considerable difference of £86,000, but I am assuming that the figures which the Minister presented yesterday are correct. Even so, there is a discrepancy between1 the figures now, and the figures he handed to me yesterday. The sum of £2,000,000 was frequently mentioned in the course of the debate, showing that that amount was accepted as correct. If that be so, and the amount to be collected is , £914,000, we are proposing to give , £86,000 to the sugargrowers, principally of Oueensland. I enter my protest against giving the growers any such sum, whichever be the correct figure. Why should the growers be given a bounty over and above what was in the minds of honorable senators whenthey passed the Bill yesterday ? The Ministerhas not advanced a single argument why that should be done. We ought to have some reason given to us for the course proposed, beyond the mere fact that another place has passed an amendment. Why should the public purse be opened still further and a large additional sum granted to those who were generously treated under the first proposal ?

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