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Thursday, 7 August 1930

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am sorry that Senator Colebatch, when reading correspondence in connexion with this matter, should have interpolated in his remarks a definite charge of something approaching corruption.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - I read what other people had written.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the honorable senator cannot read statements like that without identifying himself with the views expressed.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - I do identify myself with those views.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am sorry to hear the honorable senator say that. 1 have had experience as a Minister for Trade and Customs and I sympathize very much with the holder of that portfolio, because I have some knowledge of the tremendous difficulties that are associated with any radical change in tariff duties.

Senator Daly - I rise to a point of order. Senator Greene, referring to n statement read by Senator Colebatch, said that the honorable senator had interpolated into his remarks a definite charge of something approaching corruption. Senator Colebatch then interjected that bc had read what other people had written whereupon Senator Greene said, " But the honorable senator cannot read statements like that without identifying himself with the views expressed ". To this Senator Colebatch replied, " I do identify myself with them ". I take exception to the statement of the honorable senator, and ask that he be called upon to withdraw it.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill - Am I to. understand that Senator Colebatch made a charge of corruption against any member of the Government.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - Certainly not. There is no such charge in the statement which' I read. I identify myself with the views expressed in the statement in question, but with nothing else.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whenever a radical change is made in tariff duties, it is impossible to avoid injuring the interests of certain sections of the people. Only a few days ago a new schedule relating to duties on petrol was introduced. To some people that was a gift from Heaven, because they had in store millions of gallons upon which duty had been paid at a lower rate. They have not yet raised their prices, but I venture to say that they will. To other oil interests that did not have large stocks of petrol' the new tariff schedule represented a tremendous loss. All that can be said of them is that they happened to be on the wrong side of the fence when the new duties were imposed. If the people who made these representations to Senator Colebatch had been on the other side of the fence when the new timber duties were imposed they would not have complained.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - The honorable senator is entirely in error. The people who have written to me have stocks of timber, but they say that they decline to be a party to this sort of business.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Much depends upon the size of the timber stocks held by them. We have heard all these, complaints over and over again in connexion with new tariff schedules. But I am assuming that the Minister acted in all good faith. I have no reason to believe otherwise. I am, however, satisfied that, as regards timber duties, if the Archangel Gabriel came down and undertook to prepare a schedule that would please everybody in the timber trade he would fail lamentably. The thing is utterly impossible. I do not care who undertakes the task ; it is quite impossible to prepare a schedule of timber duties without hurting certain sections and without causing trouble.

Senator McLachlan - When the honorable senator was Minister, he did not alter the tariff duties in respect of any particular item a month after a new schedule had been presented.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The timber interests in South Australia have always led the van whenever there has been a row over timber duties. I can well understand why this should be so, because South Australia is- short of local timber. Consequently, any alteration in the duties always causes more trouble in that State than elsewhere in the Commonwealth. We shall have this trouble in connexion with timber duties until the " crack of doom," because of the existence in that business of interests that are absolutely . irreconcilable. The Tariff Board recommended what it considered would be a fair schedule. It may, or it may not, have been satisfactory; but I draw attention to what appears to me to be a glaring anomaly. If honorable senators will look at the schedule which the Tariff Board recommended they will find, in item 29 la, that there is a difference of 6s. 6d. per 100 super, feet between the duties recommended for undressed oregon 12 inches by 6 inches and on the smallest size 7 inches by 2^ inches. In the following item relating to other undressed timber the difference in the duties is only 3s. I do not . think that such a big margin as 6s. 6d. per .100 super, feet has ever been incorporated in a timber schedule before. Clearly, the discrepancy is too great. In such circumstances, that will always happen ; but the Government should have hesitated before adopting one of the recommendations of the Tariff Board and rejecting the other. I do not hold the view that the Government should at all times accept the recommendations of the Tariff Board.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - It must take the responsibility if it does not.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Undoubtedly. Although I was responsible for the introduction of the measure under which the Tariff Board was appointed, I would be the last to suggest that the Government must willy nilly accept its recommendations. I understood Senator Colebatch to say that, so far as he could ascertain, no investigation was conducted prior to the introduction of the 1921 tariff. There was no public investigation as the interstate commission was not then functioning, and the Tariff Board had not been appointed. I spent about eighteen months in personally investigating the tariff schedule then in operation, and it was one of the most strenuous tasks which I have ever undertaken. When I had finally completed my labours, I concluded that the decisions which I had reached in respect to timber were the least satisfactory. I spent many weeks endeavouring to reach a logical basis on which such duties could be fixed; but eventually concluded that there was no real starting point for a scientific investigation.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - Is not the honorable senator amazed at the moderation of the tariff schedule which he introduced?

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was always regarded as the arch priest of high protection; but when I study the schedules introduced by this Government during recent months I wonder sometimes whether in those days I was not really a freetrader. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Parliament seems to be treating tariff schedules, which are of great importance not only to the trading community but to the people generally, in a very lax manner. I am not referring to the method by- which the Government originally decides to give to its policy of fiscal reform, but to the manner in which Parliament deals with the schedules after they are introduced.

Senator Payne - The most unsatisfactory feature is the way in- which the provisions of the Tariff Board Act are disregarded, particularly by this Government.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the' law is ignored, those affected have a legal remedy. Unfortunately, governments have adopted a habit of introducing tariff schedules, and then allowing many months to elapse before considering them. This Government is not the only sinner in that respect. For years past, other Governments have acted in the same way.

Senator Reid - It will be a year before the schedules which have been tabled by this Government can be discussed.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The schedule introduced by a previous Government was not disposed of within a year.

Senator Payne - The honorable senator does not suggest that previous governments have imposed duties regardless of the recommendations of the Tariff Board?

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not aware of the extent to which any government has erred in that respect. When Minister for Customs I realized that it was impossible for me, with the assistance of the departmental officers, to devote sufficient time to the work of recasting the tariff schedule, and it was on my recommendation that a Tariff Board was appointed. As far as possible a full investigation should be made, and representatives of the parties concerned should be heard before any variations are made in customs duties. It is the responsibility of the board to make a recommendation, and the duty of the Minister to come to a decision before any tariff proposal is submitted to Parliament.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill - The honorable senator's time has expired.

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