Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 3 October 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - As I stated when speaking on the second reading, I am entirely in accord with the object sought to be achieved by clause 4, which, briefly stated, is to safeguard the interests of purchasers of agricultural implements, who, being prevented for the sake of the local manufacturers from obtaining machines from abroad, are compelled to purchase in this market. The difference of opinion amongst honorable senators is not, I think, as to the object of the clause, but as to the method by which it is sought to make it effective. The Tariff Commissioners evidently had in mind the same end as that of the framers of the clause, though they suggest a different way of arriving at it. In the three provisos which are set out on page 34 of their report, while recommending the remission or suspension of duties, if prices are raised above those ruling in Australia during 1905, they foresaw the possibility of pernicious influence being exercised if the decision of the matter were left to a Minister, and therefore proposed that the Governor-General should act in pursuance of a joint address by the Senate and the House of Representatives,. No doubt they thought that the determination of Parliament, whatever might be its wisdom, would at least be come to in the full light of publicity, and would, therefore, be free from suspicion of malign influence. The clause, however, leaves the matter entirely in the hands of the Governor-General, which means the Administration of the day, and, in practice, the Minister of Trade and Customs, while we sometimes find that a Minister, instead of being the master, is the slave of his officers. Protests have frequently been made in this Chamber against legislation whose effect is to give to an Administration or a Minister the power to make laws. This is another instance of such legislation. Whilst professing to make a law, we are leaving it to a Minister to do so. That is one of the objectionable features of the clause. It may be contended, with some force, that nobody is less qualified than is a House of Parliament to give a judicial decision, and, no doubt, an objection to the proposals of the Commissioners is that Members of Parliament would vote on this question in accordance with the fiscal opinions whose expression secured their election. The alternative, however, is to leave the matter to a Minister, who may be very impressionable, and largely sympathetic, with the result that he may be disposed to take action, or to refrain from doing so, without closely examining the statements put before him by interested manufacturers. Experience has shown that, when undue power is left in the hands of a Minister, the door is opened, if not to corruption, to the operation of malign influence. It is not long since the present Minister of Trade and Customs took action in regard to the importation of harvesters, for which he was very strongly censured. He arbitrarily increased the valuation put upon imported machines for Customs purposes, and, for some mysterious reason, explainable only by the fact that the largest local manufacturers of similar machines had had an interview with him, did so without having followed the customary practice of the Department in addressing to the importers concerned a letter asking them to show cause why such action should not be taken. A little later, when the aggrieved importers sought redress at law, and moved for the appointment of a Commission to take evidence in Canada as to the actual cost price ofthe machines made there, the Government resisted that, and thus violated our ideas of. equity and fair play. It requires no great effort of the imagination to conceive that, under certain circumstances, and with certain individuals in a position of power, the worst elements of corruption such as has been associated with Tariff changes in America might assert themselves here, though I hope that that will never happen. Still, if we leave it absolutely to the Minister to say when the protection of the Customs laws shall be given or withheld, scandal must inevitably occur. Regarding both the proposition of the Tariff Commission and the provisions in the Bill as objectionable, I am sorry that the Government have not kept back the measure until they could formulate a workable scheme. As we are very near the end of the session, and much important business remains to be transacted, it may be impossible to do so now ; but I urge the seriousness of this matter, and I hope that Ministers will, with a view to properly securing the benefits aimed at, pay considerable attention to the objections which I have outlined.

Suggest corrections