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Wednesday, 3 October 1906

Senator DRAKE (Queensland) .- I was curious to know how this Bill would strike the critical mind of Senator Symon. So far as I know, there is no precedent for it. The point I intended to take when we got into Committee was that it is not a Taxation Bill within the meaning of the Constitution. It is true that it is in the form of a Taxation Bill, but I take it that in deciding whether it is such a. Bill or not. the well-known rule will be followed of looking past the form to the substance. A tax is a. general levy made on the " population in order to raise revenue for governmental purposes. An Excise tax is particularly a tax upon the consumer. As the origin of the word shows, it is something that is " cut off," something taken from an article that is consumed, and has, therefore, to be paid by the consumer. The process which a Go,vernment adopts in order to obtain it is to put its hands on the goods which are to be the subject of Excise as near the source of manufacture as possible, and to hold them in bond until the Excise is paid. This is called an Excise Duties Bill, but when we examine it we find that there is attached 10 it a schedule of so-called Excise duties which are not to be imposed except on certain contingencies which may depend upon the will of an individual Minister. I that that does not constitute an Excise duty. If we read the measure, disregarding its title and form, this is a Bill to impose certain labour conditions upon persons engaged in certain industries with a penalty provided for a breach of those conditions, and the penalty is to be measured by the number of machines turned out at a certain rate. It seems clear that this is not an. Excise Bill, for the reason that the penalties proposed are not Excise duties. The man who manufactures these articles is to be allowed to sell them without paying any duty, and they will go into consumption all over Australia, and perhaps abroad. Then some dispute arises between him and his workmen as to whether the workmen are receiving fair conditions and wages. They make a complaint, and if they enlist the sympathies of some newspaper, the complaint will probably be heard by the Government. Some inquiry might be made, and the Government might then decide that the machines were not made according to the labour conditions prescribed. What would follow then? If the Bill means anything, I presume that what would follow would be that the Government would impose the penalty upon the manufacturer. But that is not levying an Excise duty. This is not an Excise Bill, but a measure which constitutes an offence, and provides a penalty for a breach of the offence in this form. The Government are trying, under this Bill, to do something which thev have not the power to do under the Constitution. If they have not the power to do it under the Constitution directly, and in an open and above-board manner, they certainly cannot do what they propose in the form of an Excise Bill. What they could do under this Bill, if it were in order, would be to regulate the conditions under which manufactories shall be conducted in any State. They are interfering in a trading and industrial matter within a State. It has been shown over and over again that that is what the Government are always trying to do, and what thev cannot do under the Constitution. We have power under the Constitution to deal with trade and commerce between the States, and with foreign countries, but we have not the power to interfere with trade and commerce within a State. That is what the Government are always trying to do, and it is what they are trying to do here. They are asking Parliament, in the form of an Excise Bill, to impose conditions of manufacture in a factory within a State, and possibly with respect to goods which will be consumed in that State only. We have no power to do that. They propose, if the conditions prescribed are not complied with, to levy the socalled Excise duties, after the goods have gone into consumption. That will not be levying an Excise duty, but exacting a penalty from certain manufacturers for a breach of conditions of labour laid down in this Bill. I say that if the .measure came to us in that form it would not be a Taxation Bill, and we could, therefore, amend it. The objection would be patent on the face of it that it proposed' to exceed the powers given to the Parliament under the Constitution. What I propose to do in order to test the matter, because I think it is one on which your ruling, Mr. President, can be obtained-

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator will recollect that I have always refused to give a ruling as to the construction of the Constitution.

Senator DRAKE - There is an exception in cases where it is necessary to decide a point in order to fix the proceedings of the Senate. I might mention now that I think the proper way to test the matter will be to move in Committee an amendment instead of a request. If it is not a Taxation Bill we can move an amendment. I propose to adopt that course, and we shall then, probably, obtain the benefit of your ruling on the point. If you decide that it is a Taxation Bill, I suppose we could not get any further ruling on the point, but what I propose to do then is to move a request for the omission of the whole of the proviso in clause 2, on the ground that it exceeds our powers under the Constitution. This is a very difficult matter with which to deal, and, as I do not desire to take up very much time, I feel that I can do little .more than define my position in regard to it. In 1903, less than three years ago, I was proclaiming to the electors of Australia a policv of fiscal peace, which I explained to mean that there would be a period in the existence of this Parliament during which the Tariff would not be disturbed. That did not cover small alterations of the Tariff such as the removal of. hardships and anomalies, and I made the further exception that I should always be in favour of preferential trade. But it was understood at the time that the Government, of which I was a member, had adopted a policy which would prevent the making of any considerable change in the Tariff in the direction of giving increased protection during the currency of this Parliament. It seems to me that nothing that has since taken place between political parties can alter what was practically a compact between Federal politicians and the electors of Australia. I have not created the present situation. It has been forced upon me. I am in the position of having to vote upon a measure brought before the Senate, and I should, therefore, like to be able to consider it upon its merits.

Senator Col Neild - Would not the honorable senator like a quorum ? [Quorum formed.]

Senator DRAKE - Soon after the last Government took office an inquiry was started in one of the Melbourne newspapers with regard to the condition of industries, and more particularly to those in Victoria, and under the heading, "The Strangled Industries," 'articles appeared from; day to day, reciting the condition of industries round about Melbourne, and describing the parlous state to which they had been reduced by competition with importations. Politicians were exhorted to do something at once in order to rescue these " strangled industries" from complete destruction. Tt was not only large industries that were considered at the time. A number of interesting accounts appeared of what might be called the smaller industries. A great number of them put in a claim for increased protection, and the understanding was that if anything were done, this great newspaper would certainly support the small industries in an endeavour to obtain the protection thev were asking for. It is curious to note. and. to say the least, it is thought provoking, that the bitter cry of "the strangled industries^" of which we hear'd so .much, has materialized into n demand for increased protection for two industries only. which, of all the industries in Australia, have the least claim to such assistance. The time of this Parliament has been occupied during the present session with p demand for increased protection for the distilling industries. It has been clearly shown that no increased protection for that industry is needed.. It has been shown that under the Tariff the distillation of spirits has more than doubled in less than five years, the only difference being that the centre of activity has shifted from the south to the more northern States. Another demand has been made for increased protection for the harvester industry, and we had it from Sena- tor Trenwith last night that those concerned in that industry do not claim increased protection, because their operations are not remunerative. They conduct a very large business, and, as Senator Trenwith has said, a- most lucrative business. Yet they are asking for more protection. We. had this session a measure called the Anti-Trust Bill, which we were led to understand would do all that was needed, because, if necessary, the Minister of Trade and Customs could prohibit importation. It took a long time to pass that highlycontentious measure, and last night- Senator Trenwith said he doubted whether it would be efficacious, because, in his opinion, the importers would find some way of getting round its provisions. Consequently we have, at the instance of the stripper-harvester industry, another Bill of a highly contentious character. It is one which I think should not be brought on at this late stage of the Parliament. Anyone who attempted to read the voluminous evidence taken by the Tariff Commission must come to the conclusion that if we who possess no special information on the subject are to give a considered judgment, we ought to have any amount of time available. But instead of time for reflection being allowed, this very highly contentious and, in many respects, novel legislation, is brought forward at a time when the Parliament is practically demoralized.

Senator Col Neild - It is actually demoralized.

Senator DRAKE - One might just as well talk to a row of lamp posts as talk to the members of the Senate. The Parliament is thoroughly demoralized. The end of the session is approaching; a general election is pending ; in the classic language of a representative in another place, " the other bloke is on the job " : in fact, we are trying to make a pretence of considering legislation at a time when it is absolutely impossible for us to give that close scrutiny which it seems to require.

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