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Friday, 31 August 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - As we are likely to adjourn a few minutes before the usual hour, and I shall not therefore unnecessarily detain any one, I take advantage of the opportunity to refer to a matter with which I dealt at an earlier hour this morning. I wish to ask the Minister of Defence if, before Tuesday, next, he will seriously consider the question of giving the Tariff Commission some instructions, on behalf of the Government, as to their future work and conduct. I wish to put before the Senate the position in which the members of the Tariff Commission are placed. As every one knows, we have had a very hard task to get through, and, without going into detail, I may say that we have had to work almost continuously for eighteen months. We now find ourselves in this position : that, in the closing days of a busy session of this Parliament, it is possibly necessary and desirable that we should bring forward fresh reports for the consideration of Parliament. If we could get any intimation from the Ministry, on whom rests a responsibility which, I think, they should not shirk, the members of the Tariff Commission would do their utmost, in spite of the extra pressure which must necessarily be put on six of them who are members of Parliament, to present further reports for the consideration of Parliament.

Senator Playford - Does the honorable and learned senator not think that Sir John Quick, the chairman of the Commission, might ask these questions in another place, where they could be answered by the Prime Minister? The honorable senator is asking me questions which, as a subordinate member of the Ministry, he cannot expect me to answer.

Senator CLEMONS - I said at the outset that I took the opportunity of asking these questions, or of bringing these matters under the notice of the honorable senator to-day, so that he might have an opportunity of discussing them with the rest of the Cabinet before- giving an answer to them on Tuesday.

Senator Playford - I did not understand that.

Senator CLEMONS - The members of the Tariff Commission who are also members of Parliament have much to do during the remainder of the session; but whatever demands may be made upon their time they are prepared, if it is desirable, and if Parliament will have an opportunity to consider their work, to do what they can in order to submit further reports. I think I speak for every member of the Commission, although I have no authority from them to do so, when I say that the Tariff Commission: consider that, having in view the fact that the session is likely to close at the end of next month, or shortly afterwards, and having regard to the public business' to be submitted for the consideration of Parliament, the Government should say distinctly that they cannot undertake to ask Parliament to do more than a certain amount of work. If they would do that, the Tariff Commission would be relieved of their responsibility of doing work which really is beyond the Ordinary capacity of men at the present time in giving attention to public business in Parliament as well as to the presentation of these reports. If Ministers would say that certain reports would be submitted for the consideration of Parliament, .the members of the Tariff Commission would do their utmost, even though -they should have to work on Saturday and Sunday to present further reports. That would be done by them, irrespective of the party views which they may hold, but they feel that they should not be called upon at this time todo work which might, and probably will, be pf no immediate value ; that is to say, to prepare and send. in. reports which Ministers recognise cannot possibly be submitted to Parliament for consideration this session. This matter was referred to last night bv Senator Higgs, and that should be sufficient to prove that what I say has no party bearing whatever. It is simply a request made practically by six members of the Commonwealth Parliament that Ministers should undertake a responsibility which no one on either side will blame them for accepting. I hope that on Tuesday next Senator Playford will be in a position to give the information desired. I trust that in what I have said I have put the position in which the members of the Tariff Commission find themselves at the present time clearly and precisely.

Senator Playford - I think that the matter should form the subject of a written communication between the Tariff Commission and the Government.

Senator CLEMONS - I prefer to put the position publicly on the floor of the Senate.

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