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Wednesday, 3 October 1906

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Both honorable senators are out of order.

Senator Playford - I never made such a statement as Senator Millen has alleged. Of course, I withdraw the observation about his remark being an invention, but there must be a misunderstanding. I referred to clause 4 in my speech on the second reading.

Senator MILLEN - I was under the impression, and Hansard, sooner or later, will confirm what I say, that the Minister made the statement which I have alleged. I am content to submit my recollection to that test. Seeing that the clause is absolutely novel, so far as Australia is concerned, and seeing that we have an amendment before the Chair which is vital to it, the Committee has a right to expect from the Minister the common courtesy of an expression of opinion regarding it.

Senator Playford - I spoke on the' clause oh the motion for the second reading, and pointed out that it was recommended by the Tariff Commission.

Senator MILLEN - The clause is inserted ostensibly to give an advantage to the farming community of Australia in return for the increased measure of protection given to the manufacturers of harvesters. But it will not secure that the manufacturers will sell to the farmers their implements according to the scale of charges here laid down. A more futile attempt to impose upon the credulity of the people of this country has never been perpetrated. The clause is put forward as evidence of the bond fides of the supporters of the Bill, and of their desire to shelter the consumer from any extortion which the manufacturer mav feel disposed to exercise towards him. But what happens? When Senator Symon moves .an amendment which will give effect to that provision, the Minister refuses it, though without it the clause must be inoperative.

The clause reads -

If the Governor-General is satisfied that the cash prices at which stripper-harvesters and drills manufactured in Australia are sold exceeds the prices hereunder "set out, he may by proclamation reduce the rate of duty specified in the schedule -

Senator Symonhas very pertinently raised the question of whether only one harvester or all harvesters are to be sold at those prices. What is to prevent a number of manufacturers; from combining to establish a small factory and turning out a certain number of machines at the scheduled prices, whilst others - secure from foreign competition - are demanding a higher price for their harvesters?

Senator Playford - We should hear of it very quickly.

Senator MILLEN - I venture to say that if anybody approached the GovernorGeneral and said, " Mr. McKay and other manufacturers are selling machines above the scheduled prices, and we ask you to issue a proclamation reducing the Customs duties," perfervid appeals would be immediately made in the press to maintain the existing duties in order to protect the one or two small factories which were selling the machines at the scheduled prices.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator is reflecting on the next Parliament.

Senator MILLEN - I will reflect upon this Parliament if it will help the Minister. If half the manufacturers were charging the scheduled prices for their machines, and the other half were selling at higher prices, would the Governor-General issue a proclamation reducing the duty?

Senator Playford - Of course he would.

Senator MILLEN - Then a more unjust act could never be perpetrated. If he issued his proclamation, an absolute injustice would be done to those manufacturers who were selling in accordance with the terms of the Bill. It will not be possible to hold the scales of justice evenly unless we adopt some amendment like that submitted by Senator Symon. But what Senator Trenwith is fighting for is a clause through which it will be easy for Mr. McKay and the larger manufacturers to drive the proverbial coach and four.

Senator Col Neild - Senator Trenwith is "on the job."

Senator Trenwith - I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether the ex pression used by Senator Neild is one that ought to be employed ? He has referred to the whole business in an offensive way as a " job." I object to such a reference to myself.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - I think that the interjection is a very usual one, but no doubt, if Senator Trenwith takes exception to it, Senator Neild will withdraw it.

Senator Col Neild - I did not use the expression offensively, but in the most commonplace way. I merely meant to convey that Senator Trenwith was "on the job" to get the Bill through. I did not for a moment suggest that he was connected with the ugly surroundings of this proposal in any shape or form.

Senator MILLEN - I contend that upon this clause the Committee are entitled to some information from the Minister. If he is determined! that he will offer no information concerning the conditions under which the Governor-General will be advised to issue his proclamation I can only assume that he accepts my version of the matter that the clause is merely intended as a placard, and that practical effect cannot be given to it. If practical effect could be given to it, there would be no objection on the part of the Minister to explain how. He can only remain silent for the best of all reasons, namely, that he recognises that it is impossible to say what would happen under any set of conditions that are likely to arise. It is quite obvious that unless the manufacturers agree to sell at the prices mentioned in this schedule the clause cannot be put into operation. If they do so agree, they will be- liable to a prosecution under the Australian Industries Preservation Act for having entered into a combination for the purpose of fixing prices.

Senator Mulcahy - If that Act be of any value whatever this clause is absolutely unnecessary.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - But Senator Millen' s point is that we are now asked to enact something which will force the manufacturers to combine.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly. In view of the utterances of Senator Trenwith and of the declaration of policy by the Minister, one would have expected that the former would have been the first to hail with pleasure the amendment of Senator Symon, which would give effect to a genuine proposal to protect the producers against the unjust exactions of the manufacturers.

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