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Wednesday, 11 July 1906

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) . - The turn which the debate has taken ought to be satisfactory to the Minister of Trade and Customs, because in the past he has been very loud in expressing his views in favour of preferential trade. Preferential trade with Great Britain is a great policy that is worthy of realization. The honorable member for North Sydney has been very wise in proposing the amendment before the Committee. The Bill, without such an amendment in it, would certainly have the effect of shutting out the manufactures of Great Britain, because it says that, if those manufactures would probably lead to Australian goods being either withdrawn from the market, or sold at a loss, or produced at a lower remuneration for labour, they may be excluded. We cannot read those words without recalling to mind the addresses delivered throughout England by Mr. Chamberlain about two years ago. He stumped Great Britain advocating preferential trade. Mr. Chamberlain then pointed out that the manufactures forming the secondary industries of Great Britain should be transferred to the dependencies of the Empire, amongst which he especially mentioned Australasia, laying special stress upon the States forming the Commonwealth. He pointed out that the loss of trade to Great Britain per annum was something like ,£45,000,000; and that, while that might be accounted for to some extent by the lower cost of production, owing to improved machinery, there were, nevertheless, in the manufacturing centres of Great Britain 166,000 operatives out of employment. He appealed to the statesmen of the Dependencies of the Empire, and said, ' ' Will you not do something for us at Home?" The large-hearted Minister of Trade and Customs, who then sat in the shades of Opposition, came down to this House with a motion in favour of preferential trade. What has become of that motion? What has become of his ardour for trade with Great Britain ? What has he to say now, when he has an opportunity to bring forward legisl'ation that would1 accomplish preferential trade1? What has he to say in excuse for himself ? The honorable member for North Sydneyhas done the Commonwealth much service bv giving the Minister an opportunity to redeem a lost laurel ; for it did seem that he had been shuffled into a place in the Ministry which prevented him from bringing forward his cherished proposal. The amendment proposes to grant preferential trade to Great Britain by saying that an embargo shall not be levied upon the goods of that country - the products of the traders, merchants, and artisans of England, who are paying 15s. per head for n navy for the protection of Australia and of Australian trade, as against is. per head that we in Australia are paying under the Naval Agreement. Mr. Chamberlain said that in twenty years, the time when effective legislation could be passed to give effect to the idea of preferential trade would have passed. Is not the Minister of Trade and Customs going to take any action ? Is he not going to follow the example of the late Mr. Seddon in saying that, whilst we legislate against dumping and the sending .of surplus products from foreign countries, produced by people who have no interest in British artisans, we will give a preference in favour of Great Britain? These are fair stipulations to make. They are similar to the proposals of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in Canada, when he said - " Great Britain has given us the advantageof trading with foreign countries under the most favoured nation clause of treaties entered into by her, an advantage which we could not have obtained for ourselves." These are great advantages, which could not have been obtained1 but for the prestige and power of Great Britain. Can we not be friendly? Can we not say to our kith and kin that we will place them on equal terms with our own workmen under this Bill, and give the latter the one advantage which Mr. Chamberlain said might be given. Mr. Chamberlain urged that the Tariff which now exists might continue against the foreigner, but that lower duties should operate against the British manufacturer and exporter, so that the latter might be able to command that part of the trade . which is so dear to Great Britain. The Minister of Trade and Customs has spoken of the importation of metals and machinery, and Mr. Chamberlain referred to tin-plate ware and ironmongery ; and these embrace about £7,000,000 worth of trade. In the famous speech which Mr. Chamberlain delivered at Glasgow, and repeated in other parts of Scotland and in England, he stated that the trade with the Colonial Empire represented£40,000, 000, and urged that it ought to be made greater for the good of the Empire. The Minister of Trade and Customs, trading on the sentiment that was then abroad, came down with a proposition that appealed to the supporters of the Government of the right honorable member for East Sydney, who was then Prime Minister. The subject of preferential trade was, in that session, discussed by honorable members, including; myself, or. the Address-in-Reply : and a full-dress debate would have taken place, but for the tabling of the motion referred to by the Minister of Trade and Customs. Did the Minister, after the general election, table that motion for the purpose of blocking discussion? We were then at liberty to show at length the advantage which Australia would derive by the adoption of preferential trade with Great Britain ; but the Minister of Trade and Customs brought flown his motion, and did not withdraw it at a time when, otherwise, the Question might have been- discussed. When the hon orable gentleman had an opportunity to get in the front place of a Ministry, with the emoluments of office, he followed the protectionist methods he had observed in the State of New South Wales. As soon as he became a member of the Government he said nothing about protection to the manufacturer, though when in the shades of Opposition he, in order to get party support, could talk of nothing else. I wish to know why the Minister of Trade and Customs has changed his viewson preferential trade, and I invite him to make a statement on the question. Why has his ardour cooled ? Has he ceased to be the Imperial representative he formerly thought himself to be in Australia? Is he not now sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, in the person of Mr. Chamberlain ? It would appear that both the Minister of Trade and Customs and the Treasurer think very little indeed, of preferential trade, so long as they can enjoy the benefits of office.

Sir John Forrest - No, no.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Those honorable gentlemen shake their sides with laughter at the manner in which they have gulled the public, and scooped the pool. They have sat at the feet of Mr. Chamberlain, and prated of preferential trade throughout the Commonwealth; and they are now expected to "toe the mark," and show that they are worthy of the position of Australian statesmen.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member is against preferential trade, is he not?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - If the Treasurer were oftener in his place in the House he would know what I am in favour of.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member's leader is against preferential trade.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The right honorable member for East Sydney is not against preferential trade.

Sir William Lyne - Yes, he is.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The right honorable member for East Sydney is well able to speak for himself, and does not require that I should speak for him. As a member of the Opposition, however, I may say that the right honorable member for East Sydney is in favour of a preferential trade which will remove the barrier as against the Britisher, and raise it as against the foreigner. That is the preferential trade we desire - a real preferential trade with Great Britain. What do the Treasurer and the Minister for Trade and Customs offer? They offer to give a preference by leaving the duties as they are against the mother country, and raising them as against foreign nations. What advantage would that be to Australia? What advantage would that be to the 166,000 unemployed men in England, of whom Mr. Chamberlain spoke? When the Treasurer was in England as a representative of the Colonial Empire - when he was acting as the representative of the Australian Defence Department - Mr. Chamberlain declared

Sir John Forrest - I was not there as a member of the Conference.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I find I am correct in my assertion that the Treasurer was then in England, because I remember reading of his delivering an address there on defence matters. The honorable gentleman was in England with Sir Edmund Barton, and I suppose that, as a member of the Cabinet, he knew that the latter was party to a promise made to Mr. Chamberlain that, on his return to Australia, the best would be done to promote preferential trade between Australia and the mother country. The late Mr. Seddon made a similar promise, and, true to his word as a Colonial statesman, he introduced the necessary legislation. But what do we find the representatives of the Government doing? The Minister of Trade and Customs sits at the table here, and, with the Treasurer, shakes with laughter when I speak of their sitting at the feet of their Gamaliel, Mr. Chamberlain, who stumped his country in favour of preferential trade.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. Mauger). - Will the- honorable member connect his remarks with the question under discussion ?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The Acting Chairman is evidently not aware of the words of the amendment, which proposes that the clause shall not affect goods "imported from and the product of the United Kingdom." Does that not mean preferential trade? Is the amendment not designed to give preference to British goods ? Does the amendment not mean the insertion in the Bill of, practically, the words used in the New Zealand Act, which 'gives a real preference? That is the connexion of my remarks with the Question before the Chair. Why would the Minister of Trade and Customs not assist a policy which offered a preference to our staple productsin Great Britain, and a preferential "market for British manufactures to certain foreign imports"? That is the proposal that was made to the Minister of Trade and Customs long ago, by the unionist Government in Great Britain, in order that the manufacturers of England might get their raw material at the lowest possible price. Mr. Chamberlain dealt at length with that phase of the question, but took an opposite view from that of the present Prime Minister of Australia, who seeks, by means of this Bill, to increase the cost of raw material to manufacturers, as pointed out by the deputationists to the Minister of Trade and Customs last week. I invite the Minister to step out with the flag of preferential trade under which he stumped the country. Many free-traders at the general election, in their desire for preferential trade, were prepared to stand behind the Government then in power, rather than behind their natural leaders, whom they had followed for many years. When, however, the Minister of Trade and Customs had gained their adherence to the policy that was so fluently advocated by the present Prime Minister, he " went back" on them, and put the proposal under the table. Such action is worthy only of the Minister of Trade and Customs, who is only a trickster in politics - an opportunist who seeks to serve his own ends.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN .(Mr. Mauger). - Order ! The honorable member must not use such terms in regard to the Minister of Trade and Customs.

Sir William Lyne - Had it been any other honorable member, I might have taken some notice of the remarks.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN.- The honorable member for Robertson must withdraw the word " trickster," which is quiteout of order.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I withdraw the word. The Minister of Trade and Customs has done many acts which in private would cause honorable members to refer tothem as trickery ; but we cannot conceiveof a Minister of the Crown, or an honorable member of this House, representing a constituency in the great State of New South Wales, with a true sense of his responsibilities, tricking the people who follow him.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN.- The honorable member must not follow that line of argument which is not pertinent to the- amendment under discussion, and is distinctly unparliamentary. The honorable member must not speak of another honorable member as a "trickster."

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I have withdrawn the word "trickster," as unparliamentary, but I say that, if outside-

The ACTING CHAIRMAN.- The honorable member must not evade a withdrawal by repeating the unparliamentary words in an indirect way.

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