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Friday, 6 July 1906

Mr SKENE (Grampians) . - I think that this clause is practically the mainspring of the Bill. Had it not been for the harvester matters receiving so very much prominence, very probably we should not have seen a Bill of this kind 'for a good many years. I feel that I can speak with a certain amount of freedom, because when the question of harvesters was before the House, I took considerable interest in the discussion, and did all I could to assist the local manufacturers in receiving a larger amount of protection than was proposed in the Tariff. I did sofor two reasons. In the first place, the harvester was an Australian invention, and the inventor had not been able to receive anything like a comprehensive patent. In the second place, I foresaw the difficulty which has arisen in regard to the matter of invoicing. At that time my proposal was that there should be a fixed duty of £10. It would have been carried here, I believe, but for the fact that at the last moment some one converted the honorable member for Maranoa.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member for Wimmera.

Mr SKENE - And the honorable member for Maranoa also. I 'feel quite sure, however, that we shall be found voting together on this occasion. We need concern ourselves very little about the matter of the harvesters if there is anything in the statement of the Minister of Trade and Customs. He has told us that he practically broke down the combine by raising the ad valorem duty from£5 to £8 2s. 6d. I am quite sure that the farmers of Victoria would not object to a fixed duty of £10

Mr Page - Would that protect the harvester ?

Mr SKENE - I think that it would protect the harvester amply. At that time Mr. McKay, who is not a constituent of mine, and whom I only knew as having in troduced this machinery, came to me, and asked for a fixed duty of £15. I pointed out to him that he was asking for too much, and the reason why I had fixed upon a duty of£10. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo had moved to have a fixed duty of £15. I could not support that duty, because it seemed to me to be too high. I thought that if the manufacturers of harvesters received a fixed duty equal to 12½ per cent. upon the selling price, they would get a very fair protection indeed, and, accordingly, I moved in that direction. The position was that the duty was to have the effect of steadying the market here; at any rate, for our local harvesters. Butwe had no sooner passed the Tariff in that respect than they joined the combine. I suppose that they would have taken that step even if they had got the higher duty. IT the Minister can say that by raising the duty to £8 2s. 6d. he has broken down the combine, of what use is this Bill? I believe that a great deal could be done in that particular way. I wish to refer to some remarks made by the honorable and learned member for Angas the other night with regard to a conference of farmers, held in Melbourne, some time ago. He referred to some evidence given by Mr. Osborne, the secretary. I saw that gentleman on the subject at the time of the meeting. He simply gave evidence to show that he was secretary to a conference, which represented so many agricultural bodies. The meeting did not receive the attention which it would otherwise have got, for the reason that practically two meetings had been called for that evening in the same room - a meeting of dairy people as well as the meeting of the conference. There were also persons sent there who were interested in the harvester combine, and who did their best ina quiet way to render the meeting of very little value. The value of that meeting to me. however, was that it was presided over by a gentleman from my electorate, Councillor Reseigh, of St. Arnaud Shire Council, who is one of the most consistent protectionists whom I know. He and I are very intimate personal friends, but I do not suppose that I received his vote. Both there and before he said that the agitation was being carried to such an extent that he had not only spoken against it in the district, but had come down to preside over that meeting. That was enough to show me that a reaction had taken place. Those connected with the harvesters had

Australian Industries[6 July, 1906.] Preservation Bill. 11 13 been asking for a fixed duty of £25. They started here by asking for a fixed duty of £15. Some of us were willing to give a fixed duty of £10, and we almost succeeded in our purpose. But then they reverted to the original proposal, or rather improved upon it. When I left the room some of the harvester men came to me and began to explain the matter. I told them that there was hardly a farmer in the country who was not under the impression that they were getting a fixed duty of£25. Several farmers said that the harvester people had done themselves great harm throughout the country, so much so that a farmer told me the other day that he would never buy art implement of the kind from them. What has been the result of this harvester disturbance - for it has disturbed the position amongst the farmers very strongly?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a. political whirlwind.

Mr SKENE - Quite so. I feel that had it not been for this harvester business we should not have seen this Bill at the present time. If any combine can be broken up by means of a duty, as the Minister has said, why not adopt that means now? If I thought that there was a combine here which was detrimental to the interests of the public and to our industries, I certainly would support the imposition of a duty to break it up.

Mr Isaacs - Has the honorable member read the report of the Tobacco Monopoly Commission?

Mr SKENE - The alleged tobacco monopoly, the honorable member means.

Mr Kelly - The Commission say that it is not a monopoly, that it is only a partial monopoly.

Mr Isaacs - Well, 99 per cent. is pretty close up, anyhow.

Mr Kelly - But it is said to be only 50 per cent. I will get the report and read it for the honorable member's information.

Mr SKENE - The other day I reminded the Minister of Trade and Customs that in the Governor-General's speech the term " alleged monopoly " is used. The existence of a monopoly in the tobacco industry has not yet been proven. Even if it does exist - and I am not aware that it does - it has yet to be proven that it is not a beneficial monopoly.

Mr Mauger - It is cheapening the price of labour.

Mr Robinson - That is not correct. In New South Wales the wages have been fixed by the Arbitration Court, and they' have been increased, as the honorable member knows.

Mr Mauger - It is being done now.

Mr SKENE - I am very much surprised at the pertinacity with which the Government are pushing on with the Bill. It is not as if arguments had come from only this side. We have had arguments against the Bill from the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, the honorable member for Perth, and the honorable member for Grey, who have shown Ministers what a very dangerous position we may drift into, and how little consideration has been given to this legislation. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne seemed to lay very great stress upon the fact that criminal proceedings may be taken and people landed . in gaol. The terrors of gaol would very soon, I think, cease to exist, because people are not imprisoned merely to punish, but also in order to deter others! from offending. If we treat people as has very often been done in this country in connexion with false statutory declarations, and so forth, the imprisonment will have no effect at all, because gaol will become what Mr. Bent has called a club. The argument of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports seems to have fallen very flat. The honorable member, we know, is very strong and pertinacious in his opinions, but he ought to pause in the face of the facts laid before us by the honorable member for Mernda and others.

Mr Mauger - Where is the opposition in the face of division lists showing majorities of from seventeen to twenty votes ?

Mr SKENE - A division list does net always indicate what honorable members' real opinions are, because of party considerations.

Mr Isaacs - What does indicate a man's real thought? Is it what he says or what he does?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That does not affect the argument that the Bill has been criticised.

Mr SKENE - A division list does not always indicate distinctly individual opinions. Honorable members, I believe, voted for the second reading of the Bill in order that the provisions might be threshed out in Committee, and the discussion in 11 14 Australian Industries [REPRESENTATIVES.] Preservation Bill.

Committee has disclosed so many faults that I am astonished the measure should be proceeded with.

Mr Fowler - The honorable member thinks criticism is more effective than a division list?

Mr SKENE - I think it is.

Mr Page - Is the honorable member in order in reflecting on divisions taken in this Chamber?

The CHAIRMAN - I do not understand the honorable member for Grampians to be reflecting on any division.

Mr Page - What else is the honorable member doing?

Mr SKENE - I did not introduce this questionof the divisions, and I am afraid that we have drifted into the discussion of the rather abstract question as to whether divisions are an indication of honorable members' opinions. However, I suppose it is of no use appealing to a Government, who have a strong majority perfectly willing to do their bidding.

Mr Page - The honorable member flogged us once, and we do not forget it.

Mr SKENE - That interjection quite bears out my argument, and I shall not say anything further on the subject.

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