Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 19 June 1906

Mr FOWLER (Perth) .- I do not intend to occupy the time of the House very long, but I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without saying that which I think requires to be said in connexion with this measure With every desire to be as friendly to the Government as possible, I must, nevertheless, express my great surprise that a member of it has introduced a Bill of this kind. Not only does it seem to be protection run stark staring mad, but the ordinary safeguards against extravagance on either side of the fiscal issue have been deliberately set aside. When we think things are done that ought not to be done, we appeal to. Parliament in the last resort, but the extraordinary power to take action in this regard is by this Bill to be placed in the hands of a few irresponsible individuals. I must confess that I see a great difficulty in securing disinterested persons to deal with these matters. The members of the Board will have also to deal with some of the most difficult and intricate problems of modern commercial conditions - problems which ought to be threshed out in this Parliament, and not remitted to individuals who/before they approach their consideration, may have adopted a biased view, rendering them totally incapable of coming to that decision that ought to be given in respect of such large and grave issues. I do not wish to go into many details, but one of the very first clauses of the Bill appears to me to be profoundly absurd. Clause 4 provides that -

Any person who wilfully, either as principal or as agent, makes or enters into any contract, or is a member of or engages in any combination to do any act or thing, in relation to trade or commerce with other countries or among the States - (a) in restraint of trade or commerce to the detriment of the public - shall be guilty of an indictable offence. Any person who proposes to do anything in connexion with the trade or commerce of this country - in restraint of trade it is assumed - may be dealt with. If we take these provisions as they stand, I believe that any member of a protectionist association might be prosecuted, or, on the other hand, any member of a free-trade organization might be assumed, in pursuit of bis particular ideas, to be doing something in restraint of trade or commerce.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And so with a trade unionist.

Mr FOWLER - Undoubtedly a trade unionist who might take certain steps which from his point of view appeared legitimate, would be liable, as I read the clause. Another objection to this measure is that it is based almost entirely on certain premises, the correctness of which, adopting even the friendliest attitude towards them, are, to' say the least, very doubtful. It is assumed, for instance, that a commercial trust is necessarily objectionable. My political views and sympathies cause me to take a rather definite stand against organizations of this nature, but still I am careful to discriminate between trusts that operate in an objectionable way, and trusts that are rather beneficent than otherwise to the public. There are undoubtedly organizations that may be called trusts, the only result of whose work has been to reduce to the public the cost of the article which they produce. It may be almost taken for granted that, in the case of certain commercial interests, firms carrying on the same work, can achieve as good, or even better,, results by combining, and at the same time giving the public advantages corresponding with those which they obtain for themselves.

Mr Isaacs - Hear, hear; that is all provided for in the Bill.

Mr FOWLER - If it is, then it is done in a way that is not very apparent to a layman. In the circumstances, it ought to be more plainly provided than it is. Another purely gratuitous assumption is that if, under competition, wages in Australia are reduced the issue is resolved into a matter of wages. Suppose that a certain machine is invented which reduces the cost of an article. The machine is very expensive, and can only be operated where the demand for the article is verylarge. That means that the machine can only be introduced into those countries which have a much larger trade than has Australia at the present time. Assuming that the machine is introduced into America, and results in a certain product which is -sold in Australia being reduced in price. The Australian manufacturer who wants to compete is placed in this position, that he has either to get the new machine or to reduce the wages of his employes. I regret: that I am unable fo go into details of evidence given before the Tariff Commission, but I may say, incidentally, that frequently it has been told that the demand. for a certain class of goods is so limited in Australia that to put in the best and most up-to-date machinery would not be justified. Accordingly, under paragraph a of clause 6 of this Bill, the Australian manufacturer would be compelled to reduce wages and that reduction of wages is assumed as the radical factor in competition with the outsider, whereas the true factor is simply that the man outside was in a position to get up-to-date machinery to do his work, while the local manufacturer was not in that situation. Therefore, I contend that the whole issue is begged, and it is misleading to talk about a reduction in the remuneration of labour necessitating the prohibition of the article imported.

Mr Isaacs - Does the honorable member assume that the Australian industry is one advantageous to be preserved or not?

Mr FOWLER - Again, the honorable and learned member introduces matter which ought to be discussed in relation to ihe evidence submitted before the Tari'ff Commission.

Mr Isaacs - It is a necessary condition in the Bill that the industry ought to be preserved in the interests of all.

Mr FOWLER - The honorable and learned gentleman is, I repeat, introducing, matter which ought to be discussed in connexion with the evidence submitted to the Tariff Commission. It has been represented to that body even by protectionists that the time has not arrived in Australia when certain industries can be successfully carried on under ordinary conditions. That, as I think the honorable and learned gentleman will admit, opens up the very large question as to what is the particular time in the development of an industry when the imposition of the duty which it requires for its prosperity will be justified. Of course, I know that extreme protectionists contend that the duty should be put on in order to bring an industry into existence, but there are not very many of these gentlemen in the House at the present time. I believe the majority of the protectionists in the House contend that only where an industry has a chance of existing under reasonable conditions is the imposition of a dutv justified. So I hold that until the evidence submitted to the Tariff Commission comes down in connexion with te. good man v of the premises upon which this Bill is built it is unfair to the House to bring forward these matters. A suggestion has been made here that in order to prove the justification for the exclusion of certain articles from Australia, all documents necessary to prow- the case against the unfortunate individual who may be trying to get them introduced, shall be available for examination bv the Board which is appointed I should like to know from the Attorney-General, who is at present in charge of this Bill, whether that necessarily means that the documents in possession of- Australian manufacturers of the same articles are also going to be examined. Because, in some cases, in order to prove a case against (he importer it will be very necessary, indeed, to examine the books of his Australian competitor. Here is another illustration of the peculiar methods in which the Bill is drawn. Paragraph / of clause T4 provides that certain penalties sh;i 11 be inflicted -

If the person importing or selling the imported articles directly or indirectly gives to agents or intermediaries disproportionately large reward or remuneration for selling or recommending the goods.

How is this disproportionately large reward going to be proved? In the case of certain industries and also certain imports the House will find on reference to the evidence laid before the Tariff Commission that disproportionate rewards, to all appearances, pertain. In other words, the cost of selling these articles seems to be altogether out of proportion to their value, and yet, no doubt, there is a very good commercial reason for that. Now, if a certain reward is customary in connexion with an Australian-made article, will a similar reward in connexion with the imported article be regarded as disproportionate if it seems out of proportion to the value of the article sold ? I should say that here, again, you have a case in which necessarily the locally-made article and the custom in connexion with the sale thereof will have to be balanced up against the circumstances of the imported article. Apparently no provision for that is made. It seems to me that the importer is to be regarded as a person who is to be hounded into a corner, and then, if he chooses, he can turn round, and make a fight in the best way open to him. That, I would suggest to the Government, is hardly an attitude that might be expected in connexion with the industries anc! the commerce of Australia. I did not think that Ministers were prepared to go so far as to say that all importers are to be regarded in the first place as natural enemies of Australian manufacturers. Again., I think it will be shown in the evidence laid before the Tariff Commission that the importer frequently plays a very important part in the assisting and development of Australian manufactures. If it is intended to treat him in this fashion I can assure Ministers that sometimes they will hit Australian industries pretty hard. The principal reason why I rose was to suggest very earnestly that this is a measure which should not be brought forward until members of Parliament are in possession of at least the greater part of the evidence taken by the Tariff Commission. I can assure honorable members through you, sir, that they will find a considerable amount of evidence submitted by the Commission which will assist them very materially in arriving at a very safe decision with regard to a measure of this kind. I can assure them, on the other hand, that if they proceed with this Bill- without the advantage of seeing that evidence they will be groping in the dark and making mistakes corresponding to that particular action. I would urge the Government to allow the consideration of the Bill to stand over until that evidence is available for the benefit of honorable members. I make this request, not as a fiscal bigot in any sense, or as one who is prepared to always look at the fiscal issue from the same side, but in the interests of good government and safe legislation, lt is a concession to which this Parliament is entitled from the Government in order to save it from committing mistakes, otherwise we shall have a measure which will have to be altered very materially after further evidence is submitted. That, I take it, is. a position which would not be creditable to the Government or to Parliament. I hope, therefore, that what I have urged will receive consideration from those responsible for the Bill.

Suggest corrections