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Thursday, 12 July 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I desire to point out that it is proposed under this clause to give immense powers to a public servant. It is actually intended to place upon the shoulders of the Comptroller-General (he obligation to express an opinion as to whether an industry is advantageous to the Commonwealth, whether, and to what extent, it ought to be affected by competitive enterprise from other parts of the world, and as to how far it ought to be subject to that constant interplay of scientific forces which is silently and gradually revolutionizing our industrial methods. When we were discussing thi? Tariff, a long discussion took place with regard to tanners' machines. It was proposed by the then Minister of Trade and Customs to subject them to a duty of 20 per cent., but I proposed that they should be placed on the free-list. After we had discussed the matter at some length, the Minister promised to obtain a further report on the matter. He sent out an officer - and probably the same man would be called upon to determine questions arising under this clause - to make inquiries, and received a report that whilst our manufacturers were not making the tanners' machines specified in the Tariff, they were turning out others that would answer the same purpose. Here was an officer of high standing, who represented that because a few men were engaged in making obsolete tanners' machines in Melbourne, the whole science of the world, as applied to their manufacture, ought to be kept out of Australia by means of a high Tariff.

Mr Isaacs - That question comes under clause 15 of the Bill.

Mr Mauger - To what machines is the honorable member referring ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking 1 of tanners' machines. It transpired that there was a man in Melbourne who employed about twenty men and boys in the manufacture of these machines, and the report was that they were not as good as those which were imported, but that they would serve the purpose for which they were made.

Mr Mauger - Did the honorable member ever know anything to be manufactured in Australia which was as good as the imported article?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. I think that the honorable member is just about as good as they can make them, except when he goes outside disturbing the peace of the community. I entirely repudiate the suggestion which is contained in his interjection. While we may have our differences of opinion as to what is best for Australia. I claim that honorable members upon this side of the Chamber are just as loyal to the country as is the honorable member himself. They' are equally sincere in their conviction that we ought to do everything in our power, both inside and outside cf Parliament, to make Australia forge ahead, industrially-, socially, and in every way. We mav differ as to the method which should be adopted to achieve our end, but we ought not to impugn each other's motives on !'-<> allimportant question of our 10\,71tv to Australia. I wish to point out to the honorable member that I am now citing concrete crises, and for his especial benefit I do not mind quoting another. We were told in pathetic language during the debate upon the Tariff - indeed the precincts of the House were invaded bv deputations for the purpose - that the strawboard industry would completely collapse unless the old rate of dutv upon strawboard were maintained. That duty, however, was cut down to the extent of 30 or 40 per cent. - I forget which - with the result that the industry is flourishing to-day. When the industry was brought within the reach of the competition of the world, all that happened was that those engaged in it set about re-organizing their machinery. They substituted1 a new machine for an obsolete one, with the result that to-day they are able to produce a strawboard which is equal to any produced in the world.

Mr Crouch - Does the ' honorable member know that the strawboard factory at Geelong is only half employed ?

Mr Mauger - If the honorable member would agree to an increased duty upon that article we should be able to make all the strawboard that is required in Australia.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It occurs tome that there are many industries which are not employed full time. But is that a reason why this Parliament should step in and interfere? The honorable member for Newcastle can tell the Committee that the miners in his electorate are employed only about half time throughout the year. But they do not ask the House to take up their case, and to create more employment for them. If people will overproduce and over-develop an industry - as. is the custom in many branches of manufacture - that is no reason why, in all cases, we should step in and convert a bao* speculation into a good one by means of parliamentary action. Consequently there is nothing in the case which has been cited by mv honorable friend. But here is the fact that we may appoint an officer who will find himself confronted with a verv puzzling duty the moment that he finds our enterprises come into disastrous competition with the better methods and better skill which are employed abroad. I am not now endeavouring to impugn our Australian skill and industrial enterprise. T am simply su^resting that the world is a very wide one, and that inventions are being patented all over the world every day. These inventions necessarily mean the displacement and disorganization of our present day enterprises. I say that we shall put upon this civil servant a very puzzling and conflicting duty if we ask him to say that the importation of any goods will be disastrous to the State if continued, unless we clothe him with the requisite power to take all the steps that he deems should be taken to bring our machinery and methods up to a certain scale of efficiency. In a young country like this, we cannot always expect to attain the same efficiency which characterizes some of the older parts of the world, where it has been attained by reason of the greater demand, and greater markets, with which a particular industry has to do, and up to now, protectionists have always relied on a Tariff to regulate these matters. However, I suppose that it is no use saying any more upon this matter. In another part of the Bill, we have already decided that this officer shall undertake these supreme duties. I entertain the greatest fear that the result will prove anything but satisfactory. My only hope is that such other provisions will be inserted in the measure as will lead to the services of this officer being called into requisition as rarely as possible, in connexion with a matter of such grave importance to the country.

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