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Monday, 18 December 1911

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) . - I do not intend to occupy much time in discussing this Bill, nor do I propose to join in a diatribe against the Government for their failure to bring it forward earlier. I think that the Ministerial supporters who have blamed the Government so strongly might have achieved some good if their fault finding had not been so belated. No doubt this small measure of Tariff reform will prove useful if it only succeeds in remedying a large number of Tariff anomalies. One could wish that it had been confined to those anomalies, and that we could have been called upon to deal with a comprehensive measure of Tariff reform at a later stage. But I do not think that the Government could have submitted a comprehensive measure of Tariff reform this session. Their hands have been so full of important measures, which they had placed in the forefront of their programme, and to which they were pledged to give effect, that it was absolutely impossible for them to bring forward a comprehensive measure of Tariff reform. Besides, Protection does not appear in the platform of the Political Labour Council. It is true that new Protection does appear there, but it is in so vague and shadowy a form that it seems to have been put there more with a view to avoid giving effect to a policy of Protection than of assisting it. I have always been a Protectionist. Twenty-six years ago, when I entered the Victorian Parliament, the duties which were operative ranged from 5 and 10 to 15 per cent. The last mentioned duty was the limit. Since then I have gone through a good many Tariff battles, and I have always voted for protective duties. When I entered the House of Representatives I was opposed by a large number of Free Traders, and when the first Tariff was under consideration, I, as a Protectionist, had to fight that very able man, the late Mr. Max Hirsch. Representing, as I have always done, a country constituency, I have had to fight hard to get my fiscal doctrine accepted. But prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth we had obtained in Victoria, as the result of a number of revisions, a fairly scientific Tariff - a Tariff which was almost perfect in its incidence, and one which it seemed a great pity that the Commonwealth could not adopt. However, that was impossible, because it was recognised that we must have revenue. As the first Prime Minister, Mr. Barton, put it, he brought forward a Tariff the avowed object of which was to obtain revenue without destruction. In other words, it was to be a revenue Tariff with a protective incidence. I well remember the magnificent fight which the late Mr. Kingston put up on that occasion in an endeavour to get a fair measure of Protection embodied in that Tariff. At the time the House of Representatives was almost equally divided between Free Traders and Protectionists. The Labour party was similarly divided, and, consequently, it was very difficult to secure a protective Tariff. Nearly all the duties upon important items - as will be seen by reference to Hansard -were carried' by one or two votes. At the same time, I have never seen a more magnificent fight than that which Mr. Kingston put up in his endeavour to get his Protectionist views translated into law. I do not think that the reflections which have been cast upon previous Governments as to the character of the Tariff are in any way justified. The matter had necessarily to be one of development. In the first place we had to adopt almost a revenue Tariff,, because no direct taxation could be imposed. With all its glaring delects, the Tariff which we have to-day is not nearly so bad as it might have been, considering the way in which the Parliament was divided on the fiscal question. When that battle was fought we did not get much assistance from outside. The Trades Hall allowed us to fight it as best we could. Since then a Tariff Commission has been appointed, and as the result of an exhaustive inquiry, it obtained very valuable information. But much of that information was cast on one side when it was brought before Parliament. Personally I believe that if we could have adopted the Commission's report in globo we would have had a more satisfactory Tariff than we have to-day. But the money which was spent upon that Commission might have been much more profitably em- ployed in the creation of a permanent Tariff board, which could make the necessary recommendations to Parliament regarding the incidence of various duties, and which could show us how those duties would work. Theentire question must come up for full and free discussion. We need a better classification of items than we have, and we require more information as to the effect of various duties. We need to ascertain whether our Protectionist ideals are being realized, whether the production of articles which are covered by protective duties is increasing, whether we are supplying out own needs at the present time, and whether goods are still being imported from oversea. We also require to learn how far we are using our raw materials in the manufacture of finished articles. We need to ascertain whether the importation of goods which are protected is falling off, and, if not, why not. Further, we require to know whether the conditions of labour are satisfactory, and whether the prices paid by the consumers are all that they should be. These are important phases of this question, and if the Government go into it next session I would like them to appoint a Tariff board, because I hold that manufacturers and others would be much more inclined to give such a body the fullest information in regard to their business than they would be to give it to a political Tariff commission or to officers of our Customs Department. In short, we desire to know whether our protective policy is operating in the way that we desire it to operate. A good many complaints have been made as to the large number of revenue duties contained in the old Tariff. But they could not be avoided. Revenue has all along been required, and no Treasurer will forego sources of revenue without a struggle. Consequently, it' will be very difficult to remove revenue items either from the existing Tariff or any other Tariff that we may frame. At the same time, I am not in' favour of a large number of revenue duties upon articles which can be produced in Australia. Then, again, it must be remembered that we cannot absolutely resort to direct taxation. If we do so, we shall trench very largely upon the domain of the States, and bring about State financial strangulation. We must consider the States. There is nodoubt that some persons desire to embarrass them financially, and that may have been the object of some of the questions which were put to the electors at the recent referenda. But the rejection of the Go.vernment proposals on that occasion is a sufficient answer to those who hold these views. In 'giving effect to a protective policy it is not sufficient to impose duties. If we are to carry on a thorough system of Protection such as I believe we require, and without which no country has ever attained anything like commercial supremacy, we must be loyal to the Commonwealth. We must use Australian goods as far as possible. If our people will do that, we shall have very little difficulty in making our protective policy a successful one. By doing that we shall use our own raw material, find employment for our people, cheapen the cost of production, and encourage, investment in manufactures. We must impart confidence to our investors if we desire our industries to prosper. I have no doubt that at the last election the Labour party won very largely because the people thought that they intended to take up this question. But I do not intend to pursue that phase of the matter any further than to say that the party in question has not carried out the promises which it then made. We have had very many members of the Labour party since declaring that they will not sanction the imposition of any more protective duties unless the extra profits find their way into the pockets of the workers. Senators Givens and E. J. Russell have dealt with that aspect of the question, and consequently there is no need for me to dwell upon it. But the first thing we have to do is to catch our hare - that is to say, get our industries started. With the Wages Boards and Arbitration Court which are now in existence, the workers engaged in our industries ought to have a ready means of securing fair rates of remuneration. But, meanwhile, our imports are growing enormously in volume. The work which our own people should do is being done in foreign lands. During the past ten years our imports have increased, notwithsanding that a decade ago we had a light Tariff operative, by £20,000,000. From the Journal of Commerce, which is a journal that is extremely careful of its statements, I find that in quite a number of items which are covered by protective duties there has been a large increase in our importations. For example, for nine months of the year 1910-11 the importations of apparel and softgoods increased from £11,351,000 to £12,120,000. In the case of boots and shoes, the increase is from £271,000 to £283,000; brushware, from £98,000 to £108,000 ; cement, from £98,000 to £109,000 ; confectionery, from £130,000 to £240,000; cordage and twines, from £454,000 to £55 1 ,000 ; bananas, from £41,000 to £110,000 ; furniture, from £129,000 to £180,000; hats and caps, from £237,000 to £252,000; and pianos, from £236,000 to £331,000. It will be seen what an enormous increase there has been in the case of these very few lines. That simply illustrates what has happened in the case of nearly all the articles which we use. We should stop these importations, and make a large quantity of these goods ourselves. We have had bountiful seasons, and our exports have been very large, which may have had some effect in producing this result. At the same time, an enormous quantity of goods is coming, in which our own people should be making. But there is another reason to account for these enormous importations, and that is that in many places there is a limitation to the work and the output. It is absolutely impossible for a large number of factories to secure the necessary labour. In some cases, I am sorry to say, those who have derived great benefit through Protection have been setting their backs against new people coming here and engaging in the industries. I have questioned many storekeepers in the country as to how they are situated for goods, and they have complained that they cannot get supplied. The wholesale men, they tell me, cannot get the goods from the factories, while the factories assure me that they cannot get hands with which to carry on the work. We cannot expect any system of Protection to be a success unless we can staff our factories to the full extent of their output. This is a matter for very serious consideration. It will militate very strongly against the success of our protective policy unless some alteration is made. Most of the lines I have quoted, and a number of others which we import, are purely natural lines which we should supply ourselves. In the case of a number of these lines, the factories cannot get the hands to increase their output, while in some cases men working in the factories positively object to the importation of new men. We also have a limitation to apprenticeship. We have been supporting Protection all these years in order that our young people might be able to learn various trades, but we find that the apprenticeship is limited. These are all phases of the Tariff question, which call for very earnest consideration, and which, if not inquired into and settled will always militate against the success of the Tariff. Last year, a number of union hatters came out from England with their clearances, and were denied admission into the Felt Hatters Union, and deprived of the opportunity to work. Finally, when the facts became public, and the union, from very shame, admitted the men, it passed a resolution that future tradesmen should be required to pay an admission fee of £20. We cannot hope to carry on a protective policy if that is done. Mr. Beazley, who is chairman of the Denton mills, has complained very bitterly that in spite of the good times which, the workmen enjoyed, they could not get the mills properly staffed, and hence their output is greatly limited. I think that we should have a board clothed with full power and bound to secrecy, so that men might be inclined to extend to it their fullest confidence. We cannot get away from the fact that in a great number of industries the principle of new Protection has been -operating through Wages Boards. I doubt whether any other system would operate better for the benefit of the workers.

Senator McGregor - It is doing well in Tasmania.

Senator McCOLL - The Wages Boards have only just been introduced into that State, but they have been working well elsewhere. Through the establishment of Wages Boards in the various industries the following increases in wages have resulted: - Aerated watermakers, 16 per cent. ; bedsteadmakers, 20 per cent. ; boot and shoemakers, 40 per cent. ; breadbakers, 42 per cent. ; breadcarters, 18 per cent. ; breweries, 32 per cent. ; brickmakers, 16 per cent. ; brushmakers, 65 per cent. ; butchers, 23 per cent. ; candlemakers, 55 per cent. ; card-boxmakers, 27 per cent. ; carpenters, 18 per cent. ; carriage-builders, 8 per cent. ; cigarmakers, 20 per cent. ; clothingmakers, 11 per cent. ; confectioners, 19 per cent. ; drapers, 23 per cent. ; dressmakers, 29 per cent. ; engravers, 26 per cent. ; farriers, 19 per cent, j fellmongers, 22 per cent, mantlemakers, 31 per cent. ; glassworkers, 15 per cent. ; grocers, 37 per cent. ; hairdressers, 34 per cent. ; hay, chaff, and woodmen, 39 per cent. ; iron moulders, 19 per cent. ; jam trade, 12 per cent. ; jewellers, 27 per cent. ; maltsters, 16 per cent. ; millet broom makers, 28 per cent. ; milliners, 26 per cent. ; ovenmakers, 23 per cent. ; painters, 19 per cent. ; pastrycooks, 10 per cent. ; picture-framers, 20 per cent. ; plate glass workers, 39 per cent. ; plumbers, 45 per cent. ; pottery workers, 27 per cent. ; printers, 19 per cent. ; saddlers, 20 per cent. ; shirtmakers, 29 per cent. ; soapmakers, 12 per cent. ; starchmakers, 48 per cent. ; stonecutters, 34 per cent. ; tanners, 21 per cent. ; tinsmiths, 12 per cent, j underclothing makers, 23 per cent. ; waterproof clothing makers, 26 per cent. ; wickerworkers. 53 per cent. ; wireworkers, 14 per cent. ; woodworkers, 43 per cent. ; and woollen mills, 10 per cent. We have had new Protection, to a great extent, since Wages Boards were brought into operation.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Has it kept down the price of machinery for farmers?

Senator McCOLL - I do not know what new Protection is, and I should like the honorable senator, when he speaks, to explain what it is. We require all these matters to be attended to. Wages are good, but there is a very strange anomaly, and that is that, in spite of all our protective duties, the prices of many things were never so high before. That is a matter which a board should inquire into. Whether the manufacturers are getting too large a profit, or what other cause is making prices so high, can only be ascertained by an outside board. There is certainly room for inquiry. I do trust that whether ordered by Parliament or not, the Government will take this step.

Senator Long - There is an item in the cost of living which does not come within the purview of the Tariff.

Senator McCOLL - There are a good many items which contribute towards the increased cost of living. A few years ago the Senate of the United States appointed a body to inquire into the increased cost of living, and after investigating the subject in the United States, Canada, and most of the European countries, it gave ten or eleven different reason's. The increased cost of living, it reported, was not due altogether to the increase in the wages. It pointed out that in twenty or thirty years the appreciation of gold had risen from £60,000,000 to £90, 000,000. It mentioned a number of factors which I have not at the tip of my tongue at the present moment. However, all these things need to be inquired into. It is often stated that the increase in wages has caused the increase in the cost of goods. That is only one factor, and, perhaps, not the largest one. All these are matters which the public should know before they are asked to consent to a higher Customs duty. I, of course, want to see Protection a success; but, if higher duties are imposed, and the prices of goods are still maintained, people will get critical and cautious and ask, " What is the use of having duties that do not protect? What is the use of having duties, and seeing the importations increase by leaps and bounds and work taken away from our people? What is the use of having duties which, so far as we can see, only raise the prices of articles against us and limit production?" We have now a new factor in politics, and that is the introduction of the women, who form a majority, not only in Victoria, but in Australia. They are the ones who really, in a sense, feel the pinch, because they are the treasurers of the household who have to make ends meet. When they find the cost of living increasing, and that the extra amount which their husbands get is more than covered by the increased cost of commodities, they will begin to ask the reason for the increase, and to say, " If that is the result of your Protection, then we are not going to support that policy any longer." I know many men who have always been sound Protectionists, who are beginning to doubt whether under existing conditions Protection is the wisest policy. We do not want that spirit to get into the public mind, and that is why a full inquiry is desirable. I am assured that the women who find that -20s. will only go as far as 15s. did a few years ago, and the men who are thinking as I have mentioned, will do some hard thinking, and if something is not done to put 'the matter clearly before them they will probably do more than think and talk. They will do some act at a not very distant date.

Senator Needham - You admit the increased cost of living?

Senator McCOLL - Yes, that is patent to every one.

Senator Needham - Give us new Protection.

Senator McCOLL - I want to know what it is. In 1905 I travelled over a large portion of the United States, and found a very restive feeling existing there because the cost of living was going up enormously. There was a factor there which we have not here; at any rate, not in any appreciable degree. There is no doubt that the big trusts were a great factor there. At the same time, people were beginning to grumble at the high cost of living, and to complain that they could not make ends meet. During the visit I made, nearly two and a-half years ago, I found that this feeling was still more pronounced, and that it is so is shown by the elections. Mr. Taft secured the Presidency about three years ago by a promise to go into the whole question of duties, to lower some of them, and to make living cheaper. Colorado, which had always gone Republican, turned round and, went Democratic, both at -the election of Governor and at the election of the members of the Houses. In Arizona, which was only admitted as a State last year, elections took place last week, and the people have gone Democratic in regard to. almost every position.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is that the* only question at elections in the United; States ?

Senator McCOLL - I admit that it isnot the only question, but it is a very important one. The Democrats of the United States believe in a revenue Tariff, and the fact that feeling in that country is swinging round in favour of the Democratic party should be a. warning, to us to get upon solid ground that we may command the good will and support of the majority of the people, otherwise we may have a change of policy here, as apparently they are having at the present time in the United States. I believe, from what I have been able to read, that at the next election in the United States there will be elected a Democratic House of Representatives, if not a Democratic Senate, and that the next President will be a Democrat. I do not make theseremarks in criticism of the proposal now before us, but rather as reflections of my. own in considering the question of theTariff. When Tariff proposals are submitted, whether they be high or low, theyafford an opportunity for us to take counsel together, without party feeling, to see how we are getting along, and to enable us tomark out a sound, safe line of policy for the future.

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