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Tuesday, 19 June 1906

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - So far to-day, the Opposition have been conducting the discussion. It occurs to me that those who take an interest in a. measure of this kind ought to be those who profess to take under their wing and under their charge outside the House all matters relating to industries and industrial life, and who want to take a verv short cut to bring about an industrial Elysium. One would think that these honorable gentlemen inside this Chamber would at least pretend to make some study of a Bill of this kind, and take some part in a thorough discussion of its provisions.

Mr Ronald - A thorough discussion !

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I admit that when it comes to a thorough discussion of any question, we do not look in the direction of the honorable member. I have had no time in which to collect my papers, so as to be able to address myself to this question as I should like to do ; and it was only when the debate seemed to be on the point of collapsing that I rose to continue it. 1 am labouring under some disadvantage, as I have outside the House some information which I wish to use. However, as there appears to be no possibility of getting it, I must proceed. In the first place. I join with those, honorable members in the Chamber who have made a protest against proceeding with this Bill until the Tariff Commission shall have reported on metals and machinery. At the close 0 last session there was a tacit understanding in the House that that should be done. It was anticipated that the Tariff Commission would be able to report during the recess and the understanding was that this matter should be left over, not only because of the lateness of the time when it was introduced here, but because that body was sitting and collecting evidence concerning some of the industries at which this Bill is particularly directed. It was well known, in fact, that the genesis of the Bill had to do with the importation of harvesters. That matter has, I believe, been fought out before the Tariff Commission, and if it has not already reported it is now in a position to do so, with a full knowledge of how importation bears upon the question of agricultural machinery production here. Since the Governor-General appointed that Commission, especially to investigate the doings of the harvester trust and every other trust, both here and elsewhere, which has controlled, or controls, the importation of metals and machinery in any shape or form; since my honorable friends took that responsibility, thev have no moral right, in ray judgment, to proceed with the discussion of this measure pending the receipt of a report from that body. I do not understand the marvellous celerity which the Government is displaying in bringing this matter before the House.

Mr Kennedy - It was stated last session when the Bill was abandoned that it would be the first measure of this session.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I know that, but where is the foundation or justification for such a statement. The justification is not apparent from any figures which have been presented1 to us. One of the things

I asked the Minister to do the other day was to supply some figures concerning the importation of these harvesters, and the importations which the Bill is intended specially to meet. He professed to reply to my request for information, but what was the nature of his, reply? It is true that he gave some figures, but they did not touch the point I raised, as they merely related to ordinary importations into the country. Thev were such figures as we have been accustomed to be deluged with when we have been considering any matter relating to the Tariff. What I wish to have, and what I think the House ought to be in possession of, is a. statement showing whence the danger arises from the operations of foreign trusts. This Bill is supposed to be intended to meet some menace to Australian industries and workmen. Where are the evidences of that menace? Surely they can be tabulated in figures ; surely we can be shown that these importations are on the increase if they are increasing. But all the figures submitted, so far, by the Minister, show that in the last two or three years there has been an actual decrease in the importation of metals and machinery. From £8,000,000 in 1903, the importation of these articles went down to a little, over £6,000,000 last year. These figures do not show that any other menace has arisen than that to which we have been subjected iii past times. There is nothing fresh to show that these foreign corporations are crushing out Australian makers of implements and workmen, to indicate that anything special has arisen to warrant drastic legislation of this kind. With regard to harvesters, instead of giving the figures for several years as the Minister did in the case of metals and machinery, he simplyquoted the imports for last year only. These figures. I submit, disclose nothing that is alarming even in connexion with the matter of harvesters. The honorable gentleman showed that last year we imported £85,000 worth of harvesters. How are we to see what that has to do particularly with the maintenance of Australian industries? Why does .not the Minister give us the figures for a period of six or seven years, so that we could make a comparison with a view to seeing whether a menace has arisen which the Government purport to meet bv means of this Bill.

Mr Kennedy - Six years ago there were no importations of harvesters.

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