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Friday, 15 December 1911

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I intend to follow the excellent example set by those who have spoken to this motion, and to be very brief. 1, as a Protectionist, must confess to a feeling of very great disappointment at the Government's introduction of this Bill at this time. I emphasize both expressions - " this Bill " and " this time." In relation to the Bill, I say that the modicum of Protection which is being extended to the industries of the Commonwealth is ludicrously absurd in its smallness, and, with regard to the time, I say that it is asking members of Parlia ment to approach the consideration of one of their most important duties under circumstances and conditions which do not enable them to act with a proper sense of responsibility.

Senator St Ledger - That is why the Government brought in the Bill in this way.

Senator Blakey - Nothing of the kind ; it is not.

Senator Millen - Does Senator Blakey know why they brought it in ?

Senator Blakey - I know that the reason is different from the motive which is attributed by Senator St. Ledger.

Senator KEATING - I venture to say that it is hardly within the competence of anybody outside the Cabinet to assign a good and adequate reason for the introduction of the measure at this particular period of the session. Everybody knew that the session must necessarily be a very short one, perhaps the shortest in the history of this Parliament. Seeing that we met so late in the year, and that it was announced that we were to rise before Christmas, a very large programme of work had been indicated for us in the GovernorGeneral's Speech, and until quite recently there was not the slightest indication on the surface of things to show that the Minister of Trade and Customs intended to introduce a schedule amending the Tariff. I might go even further than that, and say, though I am not in a position to quote the particular times and the particular references, that it had been given out - if not by the Government in circumstances which,, at any rate, called for a denial on their part if it had not been correctly given out - that there was no intention on their part to alter the Tariff in the direction of extending Protection unless they had enabled this Parliament to insist on. conditions which would make that Protection of the new Protectionist character. I believe it was generally understood that,, until some alteration of the Constitution took place, those manufacturers who desired increased Protection were doomed to disappointment. Yet now, at the tail end of the session, and with the Estimates unconsidered, this schedule has been tabled'. Necessarily, it has had to be rushed' through another place, just as it will haveto be rushed through here. I suppose that if we examine the hundred odd items which are contained in it, we shall find" that not 25 per cent, of them have the slightest protective incidence.

Senator de Largie - What does Senator Symon say to that?

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - I say that this Bill is a farce.

Senator KEATING - I am speaking for myself, and I have no hesitation in affirming that not 25 per cent, of the duties which this schedule seeks to impose have a protective incidence. Out of that number there are not half-a-dozen which are of any practical consequence. If we are to have a revision of the Tariff in a Protectionist direction, why should it be limited to half-a-dozen industries in the Commonwealth? Do the Government intend to plead that they have not received replies to the invitation which they issued to our manufacturers?

Senator de Largie - Is that not a very good plea?

Senator KEATING - It is not. If Protection is the settled policy of the country, it is the bounden duty of the Government to inform themselves of where protective duties will have a beneficial effect. They have no right to wait till they can obtain that information from individuals who are associated with various industries. But if the Government put forward the plea which I have mentioned, I say that information has been supplied to them in regard to industries other than Victorian industries - information as to where a protective policy would exert a beneficial influence - but I look in vain in this schedule for any evidence that they have given consideration to it. At any rate, there has been nothing like an organized and systematic attempt made to ascertain where the old Tariff has failed to give expression to a protective policy. In other words, the proposals contained in this Bill are a sop which has been thrown out by the Government to their Protectionist supporters, with a view to conveying the impression that they are bent, upon Tariff reform. I challenge the assertion, if it comes from the Government, that they have made any serious effort to alter the Tariff in a Protectionist direction. To ask the Senate or the other branch of the Legislature, clogged as they are with, other business, the consideration of which is of the gravest importance, to deal with alterations of the Tariff at this late hour of the session, is absolutely farcical. As has been pointed cut by honorable senators who have preceded me, even, if we had a whole session before us, such as we .had in 1907-8, the revision of the Tariff would be a most dif ficult task to undertake. In that year, we were fortified by the report of the Tariff Commission, whose exhaustive inquiries had extended over many months, by the recommendations which it had made, and by the evidence upon which those recommendations were based. On that occasion, the precincts of this Parliament were thronged with persons who were interested in the maintenance, the reduction, or the increase of duties. That being so, it was only to be expected that when this measure was under consideration the Parliamentary Buildings would be similarly thronged by representatives of the commercial and trading community. I have even been asked by persons in my own State whether it would be an advantage for them to come to Melbourne in order that they might make their own representations in respect of Tariff alterations. They are just as much affected by some of the items in this Bill as are the manufacturers and traders who are resident in Melbourne. The same remark is applicable to the other States. But, in such circumstances, how is it. possible for us to give anything like fair consideration to the items of this schedule? For that reason I am disappointed that the Government have introduced the Bill at the present juncture. But, apart from the particular period at which it has been submitted, I say that, in considering this schedule, we are following a precedent which, in the early history of the Commonwealth, we recognised that it would be very undesirable to follow in the future. That is to say. we have already placed upon our statute-book a comprehensive Tariff, and that Tariff is being amended year after year. We have amended the principal Act by the Act of 1907-8, we have amended it by the Act of last year, and now we are asked- to consider still further amendments. Amongst the commercial and trading community the confusion and uncertainty which will be introduced by a succession of amendments of this character are hardly possible to estimate. By no stretch of imagination can it be contended that the schedule to this Bill represents the be-all and end-all of the requirements of the people and of the Government. It surely cannot be pretended that there are no other items in respect of which protective duties should not be imposed or increased. Are we then, in 1912, to be confronted with still another Tariff schedule? If so, will not the entire community be disturbed in the interim? Cannot we frame a comprehensive Tariff which will embrace all that is good in the old Tariff, and all that is necessary to supplement it? But I feel certain that it will be impossible for Parliament to adopt that course, unless it is first fortified by the recommendations of a body in the nature of a board or of a commission, which will be competent to investigate the incidence of our Tariff. So far as the items in this Bill are concerned, I do not now intend to deal with them. I shall content myself at this juncture with registering my objection ito the mode of procedure that has been adopted by the Government and to the mature of the Tariff amendment generally. In Committee, I shall offer some observations upon certain items of the schedule, and I hope then to be as brief in my remarks as I have been in addressing myself to the motion for the first reading of this Bill.

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