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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Mr ROBINSON (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I do not blame the honorable gentleman. But it is hardly fair to expect an honorable member who has obtained possession of the Sherman Act, and the decisions thereunder, about three hours after the speech made by the Minister in moving the second reading of this Bill, to be able to debate these proposals in detail. The consideration of a measure of this kind must extend over not a few hours, but several days. We know that its preparation has occupied several weeks. Its approach has been heralded by paragraphs in the newspapers, and it was only placed in the hands of the printer on Monday or Tuesday last. The Bill was introduced and explained to us only yesterday by the Minister of Trade and Customs, while a memorandum relating to it appeared in. this morning's Age, and the Attorney-General made a speech on it' this afternoon. Is it fair to ask honorable members to pass it absolutely without consideration? In no Parliament of the world would legislation of this kind be brought forward as this has been; and in that opinion I am supported by an excellent article appearing in this evening's Herald, a newspaper which cannot be said to be unfriendly to the present Government, since none has been more eulogistic of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General than it has been. It points out that for the Government to press the Bill through the House at this time would justify charges of indecent haste in dealing with a very important measure, and it shows that if a similar Bill were introduced in the House of Commons, or in any other deliberative assembly, it would be referred to a. Select Committee, in order that its provisions might be thoroughly investigated, and those likely to be affected might be heard. The article goes on to state that. -

It is incumbent on Parliament to look most closely to the means by which it is intended to give effect to the principle, with a view of ensuring, so far as that is possible, (1) that no needless restriction is placed on trade ; (2) that interests affected by the Bill are fairly treated. No opportunity is given for that. Honorable members have not had an opportunity to properly consider the probable effects of the clauses of this measure, or to compare it with similar legislation in other parts of the world. Outside wild-cat Legislatures like that of Arkansas, a measure of this kind would not be similarly treated in any other part of the world. A reason for the introduction of the Bill may be found in the attempt by local manufacturers of harvesters to prevent the importation of such machines from abroad. Material facts are being suppressed, and a skilful selection of misstatements has been made, to induce the public to believe that the total exclusion of foreign-made harvesters is necessary to prevent the destruction of the local industry. But if it is reasonable to prohibit the importation of harvesters, it is equally fair and reasonable to prohibit the importation of all implements used by farmers. We know, from the sworn evidence of those connected with the local manufacture of harvesters, that they desire to absolutely prohibit importations, although they have had to admit that they themselves have combined to keep up prices in Australia. Both Mr. McKay and Mr. James Moore have made that admission. It is further admitted that the effect of the combination was to considerably increase the price of agricultural machinery to the farmers.

Mr Salmon - What was the increase?

Mr ROBINSON - Certain machines made by Martin and Company were being sold at from £60 to£70 each, and the combination increased their price to £81 each. This is the evidence of Mr. Moore, when before the Tariff Commission - question 1 5841 - . . How do you put your case? - Briefly, I claim that a duty should be imposed which would cause the importation of stripperharvesters to be discontinued.

These gentlemen desire to prevent the importationof harvesters altogether, although in May last they could not declare that they were suffering loss because of the importation of foreign-made machines. This is some more of Mr. Moore's evidence - question. 1 5901 a -

Can you say, of your own knowledge, whether other firms are suffering loss from the operation of the Tariff? - None that I know of are 'losing.

Then again - question 161 75 -

Are you getting no more than the same rate of profit now that you did before? - Perhaps a little more.

Not only have the local manufacturers not suffered, but they are doing, better than they were. Why, therefore, should the importation of harvesters be prohibited? Until quite recently, the imported machines were sold at the same price as the locallymanufactured machines. Then a number of local manufacturers, headed by McKay, commenced to agitate for the prohibition of the importation of harvesters, and made a number of misleading statements in the endeavour to blacken their trade rivals. The International Harvester Company of America, thinking that it was not good enough to persist in keeping up prices, chiefly for the benefit of McKay and Co., and be blackguarded by that firm, determined to leave the combine, and' to sell its machines at what it thought to' be a fair profit, allowing McKay and others to shift for themselves. It therefore reduced its price to .£70, which is more than has been charged by some of the local manufacturers for a similar machine, a fact which is conclusive evidence that the operations of the company are not disastrously affecting the local makers. Mr. Moore gave evidence before the Tariff Commission that, in 1902, Martin and Company were selling stripperharvesters at /".6o a machine, and in a previous debate in this Chamber I laid on the table a telegram from a constituent of mine at Murtoa, stating that they had quoted to the Farmers' Union ^70 as the price of a single harvester, with a reduction of 10 per cent, if any farmer, or combination of farmers, took three machines, which would have brought down the price to £6$ each.

Mr Salmon - Delivered at Murtoa?

Mr ROBINSON - No; all these prices are free on truck. We have had a howl of anguish from McKay because his profits will be reduced if harvesters are made cheaper to the farmers ; but he will still continue, to make a good profit, and a much larger amount than any honorable member is ever likely to make. If the present com- petition is allowed to continue, farmers -will be able to get machines during next year for between ^70 and ^75, while prices will go down still lower in the future. Tt has been said that the American manufacturers have pirated an Australian invention ; but, as every one knows, it- is impossible to lawfully use patents which are protected in this country, and McKay's exaggerated statements resolve themselves into this - that the Americans are using time-expired patents. McKay himself, however, does the same, and not a manufacturer in the world could carry on his business if he did not use such patents. Many persons think that, as patentees have had the advantage of the designs of the brains of others, they should not be given a monopoly of any invention, and that view is held by both Socialists and individualists. While I do not agree with it, I admit that any particular patent is merely the culminating result of the efforts of many men, through, perhaps, many centuries. McKay, in the manufacture of his machines, uses timeexpired patents - American, English, and Australian - and, if that is piracy, he is as much guilty of the crime as is the International Harvester Company. The word, however, is an improper one to use in this connexion. Every manufacturer is at liberty to use time-expired patents, and no more blame is attachable to an American firm for doing so than is to be laid to the door of H. V. McKay and Company. I could, if it were relevant, show the House that a certain firm of manufacturers in this city which has been calling out for the prohibition of imported harvesters were once agents for some American machines - disc harrows, I think - and copied those machines so faithfully that certain private marks of the American company were repeated on the copies.

Mr Salmon - Would that be affected by the Bill ?

Mr ROBINSON - No ; but it shows that the charge of piracy should not be made by some of those who utter it so glibly and so frequently. We have been told that, unless the importation of American machines is prohibited, 3,000 men will be thrown out of work here. That statement was made in my electorate by Senator Trenwith, and has been made by various public speakers throughout the suburbs. No statement that has been made is more devoid of truth. It is a gross and wicked exaggeration that has been put before the people, with the object of deluding them. At question 15946, Mr. Moore was asked -

Have you any information as to the wages paid by all thedifferent firms in the industry?

Mr. Moorereplied


If the 3,000 persons employed in the industry, as alleged, that amount would provide for an average annual wage of only ?50. That, on the face of it, is absurd. The 3,000 employes referred to includes every person engaged in the manufacture of agricultural implements, of whatever kind, and only a fraction of the number would be employed solely in the production of harvesters. Yet the public have been told that 3,000 men would be thrown out of employment, unless the importation of foreign harvesters was prohibited. These statements are indicative of the means which have been adopted to inflame the public mind on this question. They exhibit a reckless disregard of the truth. So far from the local industry having been crushed, we find that there is a very considerable export of locallymanufactured harvesters. Recently the Minister was good enough to inform me that over 400 locally-made harvesters had been exported during the current year. I have no doubt that these figures represent a large increase upon the export of a few years ago, and an industry which is capable of assuming such proportions cannot be said to require much spoon-feeding at the hands of the Legislature. There may be reasons why the Americans can produce machines more cheaply than can the local manufacturers, but it must not be forgotten that, inclusive of the Customs duty of ?5 per machine, the cost of bringing a harvester from Toronto to Melbourne amounts to ?20. The local manufacturers enjoy the full benefit of this enormous protection. I have no objection to that, but I am strongly opposed to a man who enjoys a privilege of that kind - a privilege which none of our farmers can have extended to them - seeking to further exploit our producers. The object of this Bill is to exclude all competition, and if that result were brought about, there would be nothing to prevent halfadozen or a dozen firms in Australia from raising their prices as high as they chose. The manufacturers openly state that their object is to. prevent the importation of harvesters. It would be impossible to discuss this question without raising the fiscal issue. My objection to the proposal of the Government lies in thefact that they are proposing to empower the Minister to exercise powers in regard to the imposition of duties and the prohibition of imports which should be left entirely in the hands of Parliament. All the Minister has to do is to go to the Comptroller-General, and say to him, " McKay has been biting my ear, and wants the importation of harvesters prohibited." The Comptroller-General would look into the matter, and decide upon ex parte statements that a prima facie case had been made out. Then the Minister would appoint a Board, of which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports and Mr. McKay might be members, and upon their making their report, the Minister could go to the Cabinet, and with their approval, either prohibit the importation of the harvesters, or subject them to a duty of?25 or?50 per machine. Only a few days ago, honorable members refused to permit the Minister to exercise any such power in regardto the duties on metals and machinery under division VI. a of the Tariff. They decided that the duties should be imposed only by resolution of both Houses, and I amglad to pay that honorable members of the Labour Party took a firm attitude on that question. Customs duties should be increased only by Parliament, acting in the full light of day. If the Bill were passed the only way in which Parliament could override the decision of the Government would be by turning Ministers out of office. There are many reasons, apart from fiscal considerations, which influence honorable members in supporting a Government, and many of them might prefer to submit to what they considered to be an injustice rather than turn a Ministry out of office. If the Bill reaches the Committee stage I trust that we shall take care to provide that no duty shall be increased or prohibition imposed without the consent of Parliament. I would go so far, in the interests of expedition, as to make the action of the Cabinet subject merely to a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Those who are asking our protection should show us that they are prepared to accord some privileges to those in whose interests they profess to be taking action. I should be prepared to support a provision under which no employer who seeks to prohibit competing imports would be able to place himself beyond the control of the Wages Boards. Before a man could come to Parliament and ask for a special privilege, or even before he approached the Minister and asked for a searching inquiry, he should be called upon to show that he was paying the union or standard rate of wage and employing his men for only eight hours daily. Any man who wishes us to prohibit imports which compete with his products should Show that he has clean hands. He should not ask for special advantages at the expense of our producers, the majority of whom are exposed to the competition of the Indian ryots, the Egyptian fellaheen, and the products of the cheap laws of the United States and Canada, unless he can show that he is paying the full union rate of wage. He should" shOw, further, that he is not making an excessive profit. I am sure that honorable members would not agree to the restriction of imports if it were found that the local manufacturers were underpaying their employes, and were at the same time making such profits as would enable them to pay a good rate of wage after making allowance for a fair return on the capital they had invested. I do not object to the manufacturer making even a very good profit, but I have no sympathy with the man who, in spite of the fact that he is making thousands of pounds per annum, squeals as if only a copper stood between him and destitution. Some of the manufacturers have been very glad to obtain the support of honorable members in connexion with contentious proposals such as those embodied in the Trade Marks Bill, but. so far as I am concerned, they will be called upon to give something in return for any privilege they may obtain at our hands in connexion with the exclusion of imports. They will have to show that they are not merely talking with their tongues in their cheeks when thev say that they are prepared to maintain a fair rate of wage. They will have to furnish genuine proof that they are treating their men properly. I should like to refer to the unfair treatment which is meted out to the two different classes of persons against whom the provisions of the Bill are directed. I am one of those who believe that the fact that a man is an importer furnishes no reason why he should not receive fair play. He should be treated with as much consideration as if he were a. manufacturer. I would ask honorable members to contrast the treatment which is meted out to importers, under clause 4. with that which it is proposed to extend to local trusts under clauses 10 and 11. The importers are to have their cases submitted to a political Board, whereas local trusts have to be proceeded against by ordinary methods of prosecution, or the Attorney-General has to take proceedings to obtain an injunction. In a case of prosecution some one will have to stand the racket of instituting proceedings in the Police Court, and if there is a committal! the defendant will have the advantage of appearing before a Judge and jury, and of" having his case conducted by a skilful advocate. He will have his case adjudicated" upon by a judicial tribunal, whereas the importer will be called upon to appear before a political Board appointed bv the Minister. Under certain circumstances, the importer will have no opportunity to do anything, because the case will ' be assumed against him. It is provided in clause 4 -

(r)   Competition shall be deemed to be unfair if -

(a)   under ordinary circumstances of trade it would probably lead to the Australian goods being either withdrawn from the market or sold at a loss unless produced at a lower remuneration for labour. '

That may mean anything. A dozen different meanings may be attached to it. What the "ordinary circumstances of trade" are is a question upon which the seventy-five members of this House would express a dozen different opinions. It is to be decided not by a judicial, but by a political tribunal, which is bound to be of a partisan character. Then subclause 2 provides that competition shall be deemed to be unfair, unless the contrary is proved, if the person importing goods, or selling imported goods, is a commercial trust. How will that provision operate? The kerosene supply of the world is practically obtained from two companies - the Standard Oil Company, and the British Shale Transport and Trading Company. One of these firms is a trust, and the other an enormously wealthy company. Under the operation of the Dibbs Tariff, kerosene used to be manufactured in New South Wales. A duty of 6d. per gallon was imposed upon that article, to assist in the establishment of the industry. Will it be possible under this Bill for a manufacturer who may possibly produce enough kerosene to light the houses in one small suburb of Sydney, to approach the Minister and say: "I cannot carry on operations in the face of the competition of these powerful companies. I therefore ask you

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