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Wednesday, 27 June 1906

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) . - During my remarks last evening, I had occasion to refer to the report of the Tariff Commission on metals and machinery, which was likely to be presented at an early date, and also to the injury which would be done to the manufacturing community by the introduction of this Bill. I find that to-day a deputation waited on the Minister and advised what I stated here last night. I was loath, however, to speak to the amendment of the honorable member for Dalley until I had read the report of the proceedings in connexion with the deputation, which was composed of employers, manufacturers, and traders.

Sir William Lyne - What ! Traitors ?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - That is what the deputation made out the position to be, namely, that under the Bill a trader is regarded as a traitor. Indeed, the deputation went so far as to say that at the Customs House traders are regarded as rogues and criminals. I am surprised to find a Minister so ready to turn the word " trader " into " traitor."

Sir William Lyne - I thought the honorable member used the word " traitor."

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I usually speak rather distinctly, and I am deliberate enough.

Sir William Lyne - And I am not deaf.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - So far from being deaf, the Minister is, I think, rather keen. But he had it on his mind that the deputation was composed' of rogues, criminals, and traitors, because he was inclined to take them to task for the reason that they regard this measure as panic legislation. In fact, the Minister was irritated.

Sir William Lyne - I was not.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It seems to me, from reading the newspaper report, that the Minister was irritated by the protestations of the men of business, who waited upon him as the friends of the policy which he advocates.

Sir William Lyne - That is a short report in the newspapers. The deputation was friendly all the time.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It was, indeed; and it advised the Minister not to push on with this panic legislation, which would have the effect, as I pointed out in my speech last night, of injuring the manufacture of boots and shoes in our midst. In that speech I dealt at some length with this particular industry ; and from the newspaper report I see that Mr. Harkness, a member of the, deputation, pointed out that it is impossible for the manufacturer' of boots and shoes to continue in the trade unless he deals with the trust in America, which is able to supply more advantageously than can any other firm the wares that he requires.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member will not talk like that when I read a part of the agreement.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The Minister knows that that was a statement made bv a member of the deputation.

Sir William Lyne - Yes; but when I read a part of the agreement, which I intend to do, the honorable member will not talk in that way.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - All I am concerned with is the statement made bv a competent authority, one of the prominent men representative of the trade of Melbourne and suburbs. Indeed, I think the deputation went so far as to declare that they represented everv part of the Commonwealth. They told the Minister that this is panic legislation, and asked1 him to have it investigated by a Select Committee. They stated, too, that they would be prepared to satisfy such a Committee that their industries would be ruined under the provisions of the Bill the Minister is endeavouring to force on Parliament. There has not been one request for this measure at this particular moment; and all that is asked now is that it shall be held in abeyance until the Tariff Commission has furnished a report which it is believed will substantiate all that was said by the deputation who met the Minister in friendly interview to-day. This representative deputation contended that to call this an Anti-Trust Bill is to present a bitter pill with a sugar coating - that it is nothing of the kind. In their opinion it will reduce the honest trader to ruin, and cause him to be regarded at the Customs House as a rogue and vagabond, or, as the Minister says, a " traitor." Another member of the deputation, Mr. Knowles, who is a softgoods merchant dealing in imported goods, declared that he is afraid to go abroad to purchase at a low rate, because if he returns and sells goods at a figure below that at which they are ordinarily sold, he will be liable to imprisonment under the Bill.

Mr Page - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports says that the honorable member is talking "tommy-rot."

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports would not dare tell the gentlemen who met the Minister to-day that they talked " tommY-rot.'

Mr Mauger - Yes, I would.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member for Melbourne Forts, who is a member of the Protectionist Association, would not dare to use such an expression in the face of that deputation, which was composed of men of substance, who have their all embarked in industrial manufactures, and who, in the aggregate, have tens of thousands of employes.

Mr Wilks - And they are the men who keep the Protectionists' Association going.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - They are, I believe, members of the Protectionist Association. These men say that this panic legislation will have the effect of injuring their business, crippling commerce, and throwing men out of employment. In all probability many of them have already made similar statements to the Tariff Commission, which has been sitting so long and taking evidence in all quarters. The deputation merely asked the Minister to do what we, as members of Parliament, now request, namely, to withhold the passing of the measure until we have considered the evidence taken by the Tariff Commission. That Commission consists of reputable gentlemen representing each party in the House, who have devoted their time for over a year to taking evidence from one end of Australia to the other. The Commission has not hesitated to interview anybody who could furnish valuable information, and the honorable member for Bendigo, who is Chairman of the Commission, stated this afternoon that several of the reports on metals and machinery are ready for presentation - that one or two others are in the hands of the typewriters, and that in the course of a few days, the evidence will be placed before Parliament. The deputation said to the Minister, " Take our suggestion as one coming from friends; we are manufacturers' representative of the whole Commonwealth, and we say that this is panic legislation which will injure industries, jeoparize every honest trader, and throw men out of employment." Mr. Haigh, another member of the deputation, said that traders are afraid to go to the Customs House, because they aire looked upon suspiciously - that every act of an honest merchant to-day is regarded as the act of an undesirable citizen, who is seeking to rob his neighours and the Customs, and who has no interest in the welfare of his country - who is a traitor to his country, as the Minister himself stated, when I used the word "trader."

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member knows 1 never did anything of the kind ; T merely asked the honorable member if he used the word " traitor."

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Of course, if the Minister says that he withdrew the remark

Sir William Lyne - I did not make any remark.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I will not take second place to any man in the House. If I use the word " trader," I mean "trader," andi not "traitor." The latter word was in the mind of the Minister, and men who have put their money into Australian industries are treated as traitors. These are men who employ tens of thou- sands in every department of manufacture, and who are prepared to compete with all parts of the world; and they asked the Minister not to proceed with this panic legislation, which causes them to be treated as rogues and vagabonds at the Customs House. The representations of the deputation were not without their effect. on the Minister, because, in his parting salute, he said he would call for a report as to whether industries are being injured - a report as' to whether-

Sir William Lyne - Is the honorable member sure?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I made a note from the press report. The Minister said that he would have further information brought before him. Was the Minister humbugging the deputation? Is the Minister going, to rush forward at railway speed and have a report when the Bill has been passed into law?

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is humbugging his constituents.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I protest against this class of legislation. I do not know that I should have been on my feet now had I not found that the gentlemen who composed this deputation confirm every Statement I made as to the likely ruin to industries under the provisions of this Bill. I treated in detail the question of the raw material required in the manufacure of boots and' shoes, and of leather itself, in our midst ; one industry depends on another. The Minister is laughing up his sleeve, simply because he thinks he may " gull " a few people in his electorate by being able to state that he has passed legislation which bears the name of " antitrust."

Mr SPEAKER - The attitude of the Minister of Trade and Customs is not the question under discussion at the present time.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - With all deference to you, sir, I am now dealing with the amendment, which declares that the Bill should be withdrawn until we have the report of the Tariff Commission on metals and machinery, and I am showing that, at an outside deputation, evidence was brought forward that, according to the press report, convinced the Minister that it was necessary he should have that information.

Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member discusses that phase of the question he will be in order.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The Minister of Trade and Customs took the deputation into his confidence, and said that it was his intention to amend the Bill so as to have a jury of several citizens to sit with the Judge.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will see that the Question of whether there shall be a Judge or Judge and jury, has no relation whatever to the question of postponing the Bill until the presentation of the report of the Tariff Commission on metals and machinery. It is not expected that the Tariff Commission will deal with that phase of the question. The honorable member will please confine himself to the amendment.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I have to thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad to be called to order, because it is in that way I have been made an authority on the Standing Orders. I do not wish to labour that part of the Minister's reply, but I must say that the honorable gentleman is trifling with this Parliament. He has admitted that there is necessity, because of the grave representations made to him by the deputation, for calling on his officers for a report.

Sir William Lyne - I never said anything of the kind.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The Minister is reported in the press to have done so.

Sir William Lyne - I do not think so.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - What is more, the Minister denies having lectured those gentlemen because they represented that the Bill would do injury to their industries. However, we have the evidence of the press report as to what the Minister did say. Whether that report be correct or not, the Minister is trifling with this Parliament and the country in forcing on the - Bill' at a time when the' Chairman of the Tariff Commission has in view the completion of reports which will enable Parliament to discuss the Bill on its merits. If it be shown by the reports of the Tariff Commission that drastic legislation such as this is necessary in the interests of manufacturer, producer, and consumer, then Parliament will deal with the measure in that light.- But the Minister takes to himself some credit for having brought forward a Bill more drastic than any similar legislation in the world -a Bill which goes to the length of prohibiting the importation from abroad of goods coming into competition with local manufactures. The Minister's duty to the country is to withdraw the measure, in order to give the representatives of the people an opportunity to prime themselves with the information which will be supplied by the Tariff Commission's reports, so that we may legislate in the interests of all concerned, and the Commonwealth may progress under wise and good laws. I hope that the honorable gentleman will carry out the promise which he made to the deputation which waited upon him to-day. I gather from the answer which he gave to that deputation that it is his intention to move amendments on the lines suggested by me last night, whereby certain trusts will come under the operation of Part II. of the Bill, and other trusts under" the operation of Part III., the dumping clauses being entirely abandoned.

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