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Wednesday, 3 October 1906

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has spoken.

Senator MILLEN - I tried yesterday to point out the errors and iniquities of the Bill, and I now wish to speak to the amendment.

The PRESIDENT - Yes, I suppose so.

Senator MILLEN - The amendment presents the business in an entirely new light. It really forces us to look all round, and inquire whether or not there is any urgency in connexion with this Bill. I am forced to pause and ask myself whether we are not riding rough-shod over the rights of the electors. In 1903 the members of 'the present Government, or the majority of them, asked the electors to sanction their policy, which was practically that of fiscal peace. By the introduction of this Bill and others, they are unquestionably . violating the pledges which secured their return.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator ought to have taken that point on the Spirits Bill.

Senator MILLEN - I intend to refer to that Bill directly. .

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Especially as this Bill is not to give relief to an injured industry. That, I think, was the exception made.

Senator MILLEN - Yes ; but at the present time I want, if the Government have any lingering regard for their own pledges, to show them that having solicited the votes of the electors in support of their policy of fiscal peace, there was no justification for introducing, and still less justification for proceeding with, this Bill, and 'many others, including the Spirits Bill. If, in the course of their interrupted occupancy of the Treasury bench, the Government have seen any reason why they should depart from that policy, and at this juncture to attempt to impose a higher range of protective duties to increase the barriers which stand between the electors and the surplus products of other countries, then they ought not to attempt to pass the Bill now, but, by postponing its consideration until after the general elections, give the electors an opportunity of saying whether they approve of this proceeding or not. If the Senate recognises, as I am sure it does, that it stands here to reflect the wishes of the electors, and as far as possible to give effect to them, there is only one way in which that can be done, and that is by as far as possible legislating according to the desires which the constituencies have expressed. What evidence have we that the electors want this Bill? There is absolutely none. If the Government occupy their position by virtue of anything, it may be said to do so by reason of the fact that in 1903 the electors supported their appeal to the constituencies. That appeal I repeat was one for strength to adhere to their policy of fiscal peace. The Bill violates the. policy, and, therefore, the proper thing for the Senate to do is to lay it aside until the electors have had an opportunity of saying whether or not they approve of this measure, and others of a similar character, or whether they wish that their mandate of three years ago shall still be adhered to; in other words, whether we, with the exception of remedying anomalies, are to maintain the present range of protectionist duties, or whether Parliament is to continue to raise them. My second objection to the immediate passage of this Bill is derived from a consideration of the notice-paper of each House. Honorable senators will recognise, if the Government have failed to do so, that by protracting the session, we are doing an injustice on the one hand to certain senators and the members of the other House, and to candidates, and on the other hand to the electors, if we deprive them of reasonable opportunities of listening to the views of candidates and so determining how they shall vote. The notice-paper of the Senate includes, in addition to this Bill, the Excise Tariff (Agricultural Machinery) Bill, Customs Tariff (British Preference) Bill, Bounties Bill, and Appropriation Bill.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - We ought to be on the Appropriation Bill now.

Senator MILLEN - It ought to have been submitted to the Senate some weeks ago. My object in referring to the notice paper is to show the deplorable position in which the Government, by their mismanagement of parliamentary affairs, are thrusting the States House. If the measures I have mentioned were introduced at any other period of the session, and not now when we are working under pressure in order to conclude our labours as speedily as possible, they would have provided sufficient material to engage our attention for four or five weeks. Take, for instance, the Customs Tariff (British Preference) Bill. Is it a light matter thata deliberative body should be asked to pass that measure, as Senator. Playford suggested yesterday, by merely voting on it?

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - To affirm a great principle.

Senator MILLEN - According to the Minister of Defence the details are a mere nothing. A measure like that involves first of all a great underlying principle, secondly, a multiplicity of details, and, thirdly, some very obnoxious provisions. Surely we should be afforded a reasonable and fair opportunity for discussion? How can we do that if the Government will persist in adhering to all the measures on the notice-paper? They ought to select those measures which they regard as imperative from their point of view, and candidly state that the other measures will be held over. One Bill which, I submit, could reasonably be allowed to stand over is the Bill now before the Senate. If we are to do anything more than make a pretence of legislating there is enough business on the notice-paper to occupy the time of the Senate for four or five weeks.

Senator Col Neild - Does the honorable senator remember that when it was proposed to alter the days of meeting, and I suggested that the time allowed for private business should be given up, my suggestion was howled at. It is private senators' time now that is occupied wastefully.

Senator MiLLEN - Yes, I remember; and I sympathized with my honorable friend, because it was distinctly wrong for any one to howl in the Chamber, and, secondly, because his admirable suggestion was so suggestive of common sense that I think it ought to have been appreciated. F rom different Ministers, we have had assurance after assurance that ample opportunity would be afforded to the Senate to duly discuss the Estimates.

Senator Clemons - Including the Minister of Defence.

Senator MILLEN - I believe that the Minister of Defence has given that assurance to the Senate on two or three occasions. What is the position? If any credence can be attached to newspaper reports of his utterances, I find that the Prime Minister, 'always optimistic, was full of hope that the session would close at the end of this week.

Senator Clemons - No ; at the end of last week. The 28th September was named.

Senator MILLEN - Well, I am speaking of a hope more recently uttered. I know that Mr. Deakin has many hopes; in fact, they change with each passing day. Suppose that he had any idea of realizing his most recent hope, what chance is to be given to the Senate to deal with the Appropriation Bill? But, suppose that it is anticipated that the session will close next week. I do not know whether the Minister of Defence ignores what is taking place here, but if he ventures to entertain that hope, will that afford full and ample opportunity to the Senate to consider the measures I have mentioned, and also the Estimates?

Senator Playford - Can we not finish what we have on the notice-paper?

Senator MILLEN - We could finish it all to-day, but does the honorable senator regard his duty to his constituents so lightly that he would ask the Senate to pass those important measures? If so, what becomes of his admission to us that three days is not too long a period of time to ask for the discussion of the Estimates ?

Senator Playford - I have never said a word about whether it is too long or too short.

Senator MILLEN - I ask the Minister now if he regards three days as too long a period in which this, the co-ordinate branch of the Legislature, shall have an opportunity to discuss the Estimates?

Senator Playford - Not if honorable senators want to speak.

Senator MILLEN - I venture to say that if the honorable senator were a trustee or a director of a large financial concern, and he deputed to the heads of the branches the consideration of the expenditure of such a large sum, with all the matters of policy involved, as is represented by the Estimates, he would consider it rather cavalier treatment if it were disposed of in a short space of time.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The best thing is to introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution, and take away the co-equal power of the Senate in regard to money Bills.

Senator MILLEN - At the rate at which we are proceeding, it will not be necessary to appeal to the electors for such an amendment, because under the auspices of different Governments we are rapidly drifting into that position by the practice which is growing up. We are amending the Constitution in an unconstitutional way, that is without authority from the electors, by a shameful neglect of the obligations imposed upon us, not merely by our pledges to the electors, but by the Constitution itself. Whilst we are absolutely jammed for time, we still have the Government responsible for the fact that time is being given to private business. Of its importance, I say nothing. But seeing that there is no possible chance of a single Bill in the name of a private senator being passed, it becomes a wanton act on the part of the Government to sanction a continuance of its consideration when public business of great urgency and importance is waiting to be considered. The Bills I have mentioned do not exhaust by any means the demand which the Government propose to make upon the time of the Senate. There are still twelve measures on the notice-paper of the House of Representatives. Last night four additional measures were introduced. How the Government can assume for a moment that there is the slightest chance of carrying all those measures into law passes my comprehension ? I can only assume that they do not believe for a moment that they can be passed. The notice-paper of the other House includes the Excise Tariff (Sugar) Amendment Bill, the Pacific. Island Labourers Bill, the Post and Telegraph Bill, the Patents Bill, the Public Service Telegraph Messengers Bill, the Electoral Bill', the Copyright Bill, the Life Assurance Bill, the Postal Rates Bill, and the Preferential Ballot Bill. Some of these measures, are of major importance, but it is quite evident that some of them are, comparatively speaking, insignificant. I submit to the Government that the correct and businesslike method would have been for them to jettison measures which were not of immediate urgency - and I include the measure we are now discussing amongst the number - and to proceed with those which by reason of their character or the circumstances surrounding them, it was imperative that Parliament should pass before the prorogation. But instead, the Government insists on carrying on with all this dead cargo on board. I can understand any Government having -some hesitancy about discarding its measures. But this Government has had no hesitancy about discarding the promises made in the Governor-General's speech at the commencement of the session

The PRESIDENT - I do not think that the honorable senator should allude to promises which he says have not been fulfilled. They have nothing to do with, the present state of business

Senator MILLEN - I admit at once that it would open up an endless avenue of talk to consider the unfulfilled promisesof the present Government. I will allude to one matter which certainly ought to be dealt with before the session closes, but which it will be impossible to discus.s if the Government insists upon proceeding: with all the measures to which I have referred. 1 allude to the question of defence. I know of no more important subject, and' none that is more urgent than the present condition of defence in Australia. Yet beyond a skeleton scheme which the PrimeMinister has outlined in another place we have no information before us,. One would have thought that the Minister of Defence would be the one member of the Cabinet who would insist that the Senate should have an opportunity to discuss that question, and, it- may be, to offer some suggestions that would perfect the yet unfolded scheme. I mention these matters as reasons which, to me, are strong and urgent why the Government ought immediately to accept the suggestion of my honorable friend, Senator Neild, and determine at once what measures it is necessary to deal with before the session closes. On the occasion of the last dissolution, the general1 elections were held in the middle of December. It was recognised then, at any rate in a State with the climatic conditions; of New South Wales, that the farming population was distinctly handicapped. - On the one hand, they were faced with material loss if they suspended harvesting operations, and, on the other hand, they had to sacrifice their votes. Not only was that a loss to themselves, but, if we believe in the principle, of the vote at all, it was a loss to the whole country, in being deprived of an expression of opinion from a class of people who, otherwise, would have had an opportunity to exercise the franchise. The Government has frequently promised that on the present occasion the elections would be held earlier. But, owing to the mismanagement in the conduct of public business, it is doubtful whether the elections can be held before the middle of December. Indeed, if the Government adheres to its present policy. I venture to say that they will not be held before Christmas. Is that desirable? Is it fair to members of the Senate, who are desirous of getting away, and have a right to be afforded a reasonable time in which 4o meet their constituents, to deprive them of that, opportunity ? I turn to the Bill itself in order to see whether it suggests any reasons for urgency. Is there anything in what the Minister has frequently referred to as the report of the Tariff Commission to suggest that the matter is one which must be dealt with immediately? I prefer to speak of the document simply as the report which, by reason of its length sind redundancy, occupies the greatest bulk.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator must understand that he must speak to the amendment. He has already spoken to the Bill.

Senator MILLEN - What I wish to do now is to ascertain from the report of the protectionist members of the Tariff Commission whether there is really any urgency about this matter. I have looked through it to see whether there is a line in it te* justify the contention that the Bill is one that ought to be dealt with before Parliament prorogues, but I have absolutelyfailed to find one. I venture to say that if the four protectionist members of the Commission had seen, any ground for urgency they would have set it forth. I ignore the report of the free-trade members for the purpose of this argument, and go to the source of what ought to be the Ministerial inspiration. I admit that the greatest claim for immediate treatment would arise if it were shown that the hands engaged in the industry were suffering, or were being diminished, that their livelihood was threatened, that the industry was being undermined, or was in any way in a worse position than at a previous period, which could be compared with the present. But the report suggests no such grounds for urgency. Turning to page 8, I find that the hands employed in the industry in the Commonwealth have increased from 1,580 in 1899 to 2,799 in I905; that is an increase of about 75 per cent, in seven years. That does not suggest anything in the conditions, which, from a labour point of view, appeals for immediate relief. If it were shown that the imports were rapidly increasing and threatening the industry, I should say the matter was urgent, and that we should, at whatever inconvenience to ourselves, proceed to give relief. But the figures disclose no danger which imposes upon us any obligation to pass legislation for the relief of a threatened industry. I find that the value of agricultural implements and machinery imported during the seven years increased from ,£280,000 to £329,000, excluding odd figures. I have not worked out the percentage, but it is a substantial increase ; and it is the more gratifying to note that in the two years, 1904-5, the imports decreased by no less than 57 per cent. I anticipate an objection that in the previous two or three years there was a substantial increase of imports. That, however, was due to the phenomenal harvest, and to the absolute inability of the local manufacturers to turn out machinery to the extent required ; and, when that rush, passed away, imports again declined. Is there, in the face of the figures, any reason why we should depart from the sound constitutional and parliamentary practice of appealing to the electors for a mandate on legislation of this kind? Do the facts disclose any crisis? Certainly not. I can quite understand that honorable senators, charged as they are ' more particularly with the protection of States interests, may regard this matter not entirely from a Commonwealth stand-point, but from the point of view of the respective States they represent. It may be interesting, therefore, to see whether there is anything in the conditions of this "industry in any individual State to make it imperative to immediately pass this Bill. I find that in Victoria the importations of agricultural implements and machinery increased in the seven years by 6 per cent. When we allow for the increased population, and also the large extension of farming operations, that appears to be no more than a normal rate; certainly there is nothing to occasion alarm. That there has been a big expansion of the demand for agricultural implements is obvious from the fact that, whilst the imports have increased by 6 per cent., the hands employed in the Victorian factories alone have increased from 1.100 to 1,600. or by 46 per cent. And there is the still more pleasing feature that the exports of this class of goods from Victoria have increased in the same period by 70 per cent. All these figures show that the industry is abundantly sound and profitable. In South Australia, while the figures may not be quite so reassuring, they still show nothing to create any uneasiness. The imports into that State increased in the period mentioned from £29,000 to £44,000, or by 50 per cent.

SenatorClemons. - I think there ought to be a quorum. [Quorum formed.]

Senator MILLEN - While the imports increased in South Australia by 50 per cent., the number of hands employed in the industry increased by nearly 300 per cent. Under the circumstances, we may presume that the increased importation was owing to the fact that the local manufacturers were not able to meet the demand. Then I pointed out that in South Australia there was also an increase of exports from £38,000 to nearly £51,000, or by 30 per cent. It appears to me that no industry in Australia could show better results during the period under review. If I were asked to select a particular trade in which there is marked prosperity, I do not think I could point to one which exhibits such conclusive and satisfactory proof of soundness as that with which we are now dealing. New South Wales is popularly supposed to somewhat lag behind in the matter of manufactures, and, therefore, it might be supposed that her factories have not been quite so well-equipped or up-to-date as those which have been longer established in Victoria. For that reason we might expect the figures not to be quite so pleasing; but I find that the imports of agricultural implements and machinery into that State fell in the period under review from £102,000 to £86,000, equalling about 2 per cent. Along with this diminution in imports, the hands employed in the local industry increased by 100 per cent., while the exports of agricultural machinery multiplied ten times, or by 1,000 per cent. Can any one conclude from these figures that this industry requires immediate legislative relief? In Queensland the imports increased more rapidly and to a greater extent than in any other State. The increase was from £23,000 to £88,000, or by 60 per cent. while the exports increased by 37 per cent. I admit that the figures appear extraordinary ; but the explanation is that the totals are small, and that there is really no established industry in the sense as understood in Victoria. Under the circumstances, I think we may safely dismiss Queensland, and, for the same reasons, Tasmania, from our consideration. I should like to say however, that the value of agricultural implements imported into Tasmania fell from £9,277 to £4,726, or by 50 per cent. All these figures deal with imports oversea, and exclude goods transferred from one State to another. " We can only conclude that Tasmania has been purchasing from Victoria and other mainland States goods previously obtained from foreign countries. I challenge any one to show in all the figures I have quoted any urgency or danger to justify the devotion to this Bill of time which is imperatively needed in order to deal with other matters on the business-paper. I take great exception to some of the statements made by the protectionist members of the Tariff Commission. It is stated by them that the claim that imports have increased is " too well founded." There is absolutely no justification for that statement. Not only has there been no increase in the imports, but, as the figures I have quoted show, an absolute diminution. The total imports in 1903 were valued at £280,195.Inthatyearno harvesters were imported, and that figure consequently represents the total value of the imports of agricultural implements and machinery exclusive of harvesters. In 1905 the total value of imports of agricultural machinery including harvesters was £329,000. If we deduct the value of the harvesters imported, the value of agricultural machinery other than harvesters imported in that year was £244,000, showing that in three years the value of the imports ' of agricultural implements other than harvesters was reduced by£35,000, or a reduction of 13 per cent. In view of that, I venture to say that the statement in the report of the Commission is absolutely misleading. I am content to assume that it is due to a mere oversight. It is difficult to assume that, but one must do so, or accept a very uncomplimentary alternative. I would ask the Minister of Defence to say whether there is anything connected with this industry which makes it important that this measure should be proceeded with at once. I admit that such a measure might be important, but we must consider its relative importance as compared with the other matters to which I have referred. If the Minister declares that he intends - if he can, of course - to keep Parliament together until the whole of the business is dealt with, I shall have nothing more to say. The honorable senator is too old a parliamentarian to make a statement of that kind. The alternative is that the Government must discard, postpone, or throw overboard, if honorable senators please, certain of these proposals, and I say that it is bes.t, in the interests of the Senate and. of the Government themselves, that they should do that at once, rather than wait until a greater number of senators have found it necessary to travel to their electorates, -and the Senate, by reason of diminished numbers, is less qualified to perform its legislative work. It is better that the Minister should make his selection to-day than next week. I believe that this Bill is not here with the sanction of the electors, but that it is here in violation of Ministerial election pledges, and presumably on the strength of a report signed by the protectionist members of the Tariff Commission, which offers no suggestion of urgency in the matter, but which, on the contrary, shows that its consideration might be postponed until after the next elections without detriment to the industry or to the country at large. When these considerations are viewed with a knowledge of the other business on the pa]:>er, it becomes evident that it is a wanton act for the Government to press forward these measures which are not urgent, whilst we have business yet to deal with, which is vastly more important to the country, and which, so far as the finances are concerned, is more important to the proper status of the Senate.

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