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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I am pleased to say that the honorable senator who preceded me has saved me the trouble of advancing a number of arguments. I agree with almost every word said by Senator Millen, who has, in my opinion, demolished Senator Drake most completely. Senator Drake did not keep closely to the clause, but dealt with the Bill in a general way. He started with a false assumption that if a complaint were made against a shipment of goods, as destroying an Australian industry, prohibition would be brought about. It does not necessarily follow that prohibition would result from any such complaint, but, on that false assumption, Senator Drake was led on to a false conclusion regarding the little industry of coffee-growing in Queensland. If the honorable senator will look at clause 22, he will see that the determination, when published, will have the effect of a proclamation under the Customs Act 1901, " prohibiting the importation of the goods either absolutely or subject to those conditions or restrictions or limitations as the case may be." It is not necessary, therefore, to prohibit the importation of goods in every case ; and the small industry of coffee-growing in Queensland will not be affected by the Bill. That industry has a protective duty of something like 3d. per lb., and such prohibition as the honorable senator alluded to would be most stupid, because it would mean that the great majority of people in Australia would not be able to use coffee.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [10.20].- I am also very glad that the third Minister in the Senate has so lucidly expounded the views of himself and his colleagues on the subject; but I think we have drifted a little from, what was said by Senator Drake. The first criticism of that . honorable senator was that the ComptrollerGeneral can only act on a complaint as against a specific importer of specific goods. According to clause 19, when the ComptrollerGeneral receives a complaint, and has reason to believe that any person, either singly or in combination, is importing goods with intent to destroy or injure an Australian industry, he has to deal with a specific importation bv a specific person, who may be a company. That complaint may be made in Melbourne, while another importer in Adelaide would be importing the same goods, in regard to which no complaint had there been made, and which, therefore, would not be subject to prohibition. Senator Drake points out that such a state of things is not intended by the Bill. Senator Millen was under the impression that this position could be remedied bv sub-clause 2 of clause 21, and subclause 4 of the same clause ; but I think the honorable senator will see that that is not so.

The Justice, in inquiring into the matter, and determining the question under subclause 5 of clause 19, may, of course, inquire as to such goods and matters as are material to the question of whether the particular shipment interferes with an industry ; he cannot under that complaint inquire whether other shipments have been admitted without complaint in Adelaide or any other port of the Commonwealth. Therefore, under the clause as now framed, there might be prohibition ofa shipment in Melbourne with the risk of confiscation, while whole shipments of the same goods were being admitted in other States, from which they might be poured into Victoria.

Senator Pearce - I think the amendment of which I have given notice would meet that case.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - If so, I shall be very glad. I merely wish to emphasize what Senator Drake said, and to point out that this is a matter which ought to be remedied. But the more one discusses the Bill the more one sees how absurd, complex, and useless it proves to be. If the position be as Senator Drake understands it, it is certainly very serious and vicious to place an instrument on the statutebook which might be made the means of crushing a struggling industry for the benefit of a large and established industry. Senator Millen drew attention to the fact that a large industry, with up-to-date machinery and management, might be willing to stand by and see the small industry crushed out by importations, before making any complaint of injury. That would be a very unfair position. Then a burden too heavy to be borne is placed on the ComptrollerGeneral when he is asked to say whether an industry is advantageous to the Commonwealth, having regard to the efficiency of management, the processes, plant, and machinery. If that means: anything it means that if the plant is not up-to-date the industry will not be worth preserving. I agree with Senator Millen that clause 18 does not really bear that meaning, at any rate in regard to the first part, because if it were so it would be necessary to read the word "industries" as "businesses." It is not "businesses," but "industries," as Senator Millen has pointed out, that are dealt with. Just think what the clause is, considered along with the antecedent clause. According to the interpretation, " industries " does not include industries in which the majority of the workers do not receive adequate remuneration, or are subject to unfair terms or conditions of labour or employment. I make no complaint, but this might have the effect of preventing an industry receiving the benefit of the Bill and protection against dumping, at the behest of the workers engaged in if. I am not complaining of that. It is only another way pf expressing the principle of preference to unionists. But what I complain of is that it is left to the Comptroller-General to put the law in motion. The Comptroller-General has to be satisfied whether there is an adequate remuneration for labour and whether proper conditions are being, observed in the industry. In order to find that out, he has to make an independent investigation, and he may declare that remuneration to be inade┬╗quate which perhaps the Wages Boards and the Conciliation and Arbitration Courts of the States have declared to be adequate. He is not to be bound by their decisions. We are setting up a new and independent tribunal which may declare that the decisions of these Boards and Courts do not provide for an adequate remuneration.

Senator Playford - He is not very likely to do it though.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Is the Comptroller-General to have a free hand or to be shackled ? If he is to have a free hand, what is there in this Bill to compel him to recognise the decisions of Wages Boards and Arbitration Courts?

Senator Givens - He will take their decisions as a guide.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - He may. But no one can deny that we are setting up an antagonistic tribunal.

Senator Mulcahy - And taking away the functions of the States.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I do not wish to follow up what is called the bogy of States rights, though Senator Mulcahy is quite right in his interjection. Why should we give a Commonwealth officer power to reverse decisions arrived at by States Wages Boards and Arbitration Courts ?

Senator Playford - All that the Justice or the Comptroller-General can do is to say that the wages paid in an industry are not sufficient, and he may thereupon refuse to grant relief under this Bill.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That is exactly what may happen.

Senator Playford - But the decisions of Wages Boards have nothing to do with dumping. The Comptroller-General has.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The Government in this Bill has provided that industries are to be protected against dumping, and before the dumping; clauses are put into operation the ComptrollerGeneral has to be of opinion that the remuneration of the workers and their conditions of labour are satisfactory. My point is that these matters are settled in the States by proper tribunals. Why should we enable a Commonwealth officer to say that a particular industry in South Australia shall not be protected against dumping because the wages are not adequate, althougha State Arbitration Court may say that they are? Is that a right thing to do? Is that what the Senate, which is supposed to protect the rights of the States, ought to do? I agree that what is meant by the Bill is an industry and not merely a business here and there. It is not merely an industry in a particular State that is referred to. Unless it can be shown that in anindustry the majority of the workers all over Australia are receiving adequate remuneration, and that that industry all over Australia is in the opinion of the ComptrollerGeneral advantageous to the Commonwealth, there is no protection against dumping for it. Is not that ridiculous? I know that it is hopeless to tryto amend the Bill. But this point is well worthy of the consideration of the Minister and his colleagues. I say that in all seriousness, and I hope that between now and to-morrow they will see whether they cannot change the phraseology so as, at any rate, to make the Bill attain the purposes desired in a really sensible and effective way.

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