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Thursday, 29 May 1969

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) - The Customs Tariff Bill before the Senate amends the Customs Tariff Act in relation to lawnmowers, sorbitol, band saw blades and certain stainless steel products which form the subject of a Tariff Board and special authority reports. These arrangements came into effect as from 28th February for the lawnmowers, as from 7th March for the sorbitol and band saw blades and as from 30th April for the stainless steel products. We are more or less holding a post-mortem on the action of the Government. Even though the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott) is in this chamber these matters came to the Senate rather belatedly. I think that quite a strong protest is warranted when matters such as these have been dealt with by proxy by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) who represents the Minister for Customs and Excise in another place, but of course the rules governing the conduct of the two Houses require that the legislation be introduced in the other place. I believe that the procedure should be reviewed and more time given to the consideration of these quite important matters.

The Minister for Customs and Excise has said that, in accordance with the current approach to the introduction of Bills of this nature, he will not detail the changes because publicity has already been given in the Hansard report of the debate in the

House of Representatives. I think the Minister should pay the Senate and those people who wish to follow its proceedings the compliment of allowing them to read in the reports of the debates in this Senate the background of the subjects in which they are interested. This trend towards incorporating second reading speeches and referring to debates in another place is breaking down to quite an extent the autonomy of the Senate. We should have thorough discussions to establish the background information on these matters, even though they are looked on as routine matters. Matters relating to tariff policy should be debated by both Houses.

It appears from the report on lawn mowers that the Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement operates to Australia's disadvantage. My view is that the reciprocity between Australia and New Zealand shoul'd be such as to assist the New Zealand economy by allowing New Zealand to sell us goods as suits its economy, wilh Australia having similar opportunities in the other direction. The advantages and disadvantages of this Agreement have been canvassed at length. The report refers to cylindrical and flat rotary mowers. Under the Agreement the New Zealand manufacturers are exporting to Australia mowers assembled in that country but with imported engines. New Zealand manufacturers can purchase engines on very highly competitive markets such as that in Japan. I did not have to mention Japan in particular; New Zealand can purchase from any country that manufactures the types of engines with which these lawn mowers are equipped. The engines come into New Zealand duty free and then come on to the Australian market in very strong competition with the Australian product. I do not think the spirit of the Agreement ever contemplated that this type of transaction should be tolerated.

The recommendations of the Tariff Board and the Bill1 provide for a phasing out period of 4 years. The first reduction, to 22i%, operated as from 1st January this year; in 1970 the reduction is to 15%; from January 1971 the reduction is to 7i%; and after January 1972 no protective tariff will apply. In that interim period of 4 years there will be a phasing out. The New Zealand manufacturer, a competitor with the Australian manufacturer, gains quite a con siderable advantage by importing engines from outside the free trade area and by assembling the components in the locally manufactured basic mower framework for export to Australia. The report states that the Australian manufacturer lags behind the New Zealand manufacturer in regard to administrative costs, distribution, marketing and selling costs. The difference in operative costs is not very great. It is most interesting to note the retail prices of Australian and New Zealand mowers of similar variety. In most Australian States the Australian Victa Imperial, the 1.6-in cylindrical1 mower, retails at $222. In New Zealand the same type of mower, the 16-in cylindrical mower, retails at $139. The Australian price for an 18-in rotary mower is $128. The New Zealand price is $91. There is a difference of ยง48 between the two types of mowers in New Zealand but the difference in Australia is $94. Somewhere along the line the retail1 cost lo the consumer here becomes very high. In Australia the price differential between the two types of mowers is 73% and in New Zealand it is 53%.

The Tariff Board report stated that the New Zealand manufacturers gained an advantage in the Australian market following the devaluation of the $NZt towards the end of 1967, but consequent upon devaluation higher prices have been incurred for certain imported materials and costs have increased. As these and other costs circulate through the New Zealand economy the former cost relationship between industries in Austrafia and New Zealand could be largely restored. During the course of the debate in another place reference was made to a previous Tariff Board report in 1966.

Sitting suspended from 6 HU 8 p.m.

Senator O'BYRNE - Another amendment relates to sorbitol. Evidently this is a derivative of sugar and quite substantial protection is given to it. It is so involved with the home price of sugar that the Australian people are being asked to continue to pay a very big subsidy to the sugar industry. This industry is so complicated and involved that we have to go along with the very high level of protection that it is given. The Special Advisory Authority has recommended protection for band saw blades. Reference is made in the Tariff

Board report to stainless steel products. Not much detail is known of these commodities. I hope that in future when amendments to the Customs Tariff Act are proposed all of the background particulars will be readily available. As I said earlier, the fact that consideration of these matters is held up until the last part of a parliamentary session has the result that senators are not allowed to give the fullest consideration to these quite important aspects of our economy.

Senator Greenwood - Why is that? This is a matter that does not require the actual Bill.

Senator O'BYRNE - I feel that it has become a habit of senior public servants to give the minimum time for their particular pieces of legislation to be examined. They have learned over the years that the Parliament disciplines itself as to time. It announces that we have a specific time for rising. They know that we plan to sit until 28th May or until a date in October. I have before me a programme which shows that, we sat for a month from Tuesday. 25th February, when we had one piece of legislation, the Patents Bill, before us. That has only just got off the stocks tonight. We sat until Thursday of that week until we got the Quarantine Bill, which was passed in one day. The next week we got the Wine Grapes Charges Bill and the Excise Tariff Bill. The latter stayed on the stocks for nearly a month although it could have been moved off in one day. This is the type of thing that is going on. In the first month of this sessional period we passed only three Bills.

Senator Maunsell - The Opposition had urgency motions.

Senator O'BYRNE - There was no other business to be done. This is the point that I am making. It has become a habit in the Public Service in the main to take advantage of the forms of the Parliament, knowing that we discipline ourselves to rise at a certain set time. Senior public servants know very well 'that senators do not like to sit late at night or to have all-nighters, as the public servants have been able to educate the House of Representatives to do. We like to have a sensible time for sitting.

Senator Maunsell - What are we discussing now?

Senator O'BYRNE - We are discussing legislation coming in in the last hours of the session.

Senator Greenwood - What is the Opposition doing to stop it?

Senator O'BYRNE - We cannot do anything. Honourable senators opposite ought to be able to put some sort of a brake on it.

Senator Branson - The Opposition has the numbers for urgency motions.

Senator O'BYRNE - They are part of the parliamentary process. If we want extra time we should plan for an extra week's sitting.

Senator Young - Wc did.

Senator O'BYRNE - No, you did not. I think we should sit for another week. I certainly record my protest against this increasing practice of legislation being pushed in to us in bulk. Fifty Bills have been put before the Senate in the last week, which is absolutely ridiculous. It is a travesty of the Parliament. On that very friendly note let me say that I wish this legislation a speedy passage.

Debate (on motion by Senator Anderson) adjourned.

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