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Thursday, 2 August 1906
Page: 2287

Mr REID (East Sydney) . - I think that we can fairly congratulate the honorable member for North Sydney and the honorable member for Moira upon the very valuable observations which they have addressed to the House in regard to this measure. It is rather a serious matter for me, now that I have come down to the House, to find so -few members present. When I was away, I had an id* that every one else was rushing here to perform his legislative duties. I think that the silliest thing that any one can. do is to travel hundreds of miles to Melbourne upon the pretence that he is doing so for the purpose of discharging his parliamentary duties, and then not to come into this Chamber. When I was away in Queensland, I had a very good excuse for not being here, but now that I am here, I am sorry to find that half of those members who have been abusing me for being absent are not visible themselves, although they are within reach of this Chamber.

Mr Hughes - They do not realize that the right honorable gentleman is back, or they would be here.

Mr REID - I do not know whether that is so. But I think that when honorable members travel hundreds of miles on the pretence of attending to their parliamentary duties, thev ought to be in the Chamber when a Bill of such importance as this is under discussion. This measure seems to have its melancholy side, after all. I cannot help remembering the gigantic measure that the Minister of Trade and Customs had in hand in reference to the establishment by means of a bonus of the great national iron industry, which was to give employment to hundreds of thousands .of men in the foundries of Australia. I have not heard anything of late about that great industry, and there is no doubt that it is the greatest of all national industries. The Minister of Trade and Customs used to tell us night after night that if we would only vote £250,000 of Federal money we could establish a mammoth iron industry that would employ hundreds of thousands of artisans. But now we are brought down to flax and cocoa.

Sir William Lyne - Will the right honorable gentleman support the iron bonus?.

Mr REID - I do not say that I will, because what I have said has proved to be correct. By a very successful business arrangement arrived at between Mr. Sandford and the Government of New South Wales, a commencement has been made in the establishment of the great iron industry, without the expenditure of £250,000 out of the pockets of the Federal taxpayer. The amount proposed to be spent under the measure now before us appears, at first sight, to be very moderate, but it really amounts, in the aggregate, to somethink like £309,000.

Sir William Lyne - £500,000 altogether.

Mr REID - The total amount would be £500,000 if the bounties were in every case to be payable over a period of ten years. In some cases, however, the period is limited to five years, and in others to eight years. Although I have just arrived from Queensland, I am in a position.. to correct the Minister to the extent of £190,000. I propose te help to find this £309,000 by not knocking down the postal rates as the Government propose. The Government propose to throw away £300,000 of public money bv introducing the penny postage system, and I propose to save that amount for the purpose of giving cordial support to this Bill, and finding the money for the payment of the bounties. That is something like economy in the management of public business. I think that the speeches that have been delivered this evening show how Ministers are absolutely groping in the dark in connexion with this project. A child could propose to spend money in order to bring about certain results, but grown-up men generally submit some precise scheme based on scientific information when they propose to conduct definite industrial experiments. I have in my hands a mysterious document, headed " General Statement," and bearing the imprint of the Acting Government Printer for Victoria, which does not seem to have been the creation of any one genius in the Customs Department. It seems to have been evolved by the Minister, the Comptroller-General, and all the other officers of the Department, and gives very valuable information collected from Year Books and similar documents in regard to the number of fish caught in distant seas, and so on. This document merely contains information that could, at a cost of £,io, be gathered by any person from publications such as I have indicated. Yet, i* is solemnly put forward as a statesmanlike warrant for the project upon which we are now invited to embark. If this is an electioneering placard, it is not half a bad one. We are told that bv means of the measure before us we shall be able to lay the foundation of eight or ten promising industries - industries that will contribute greatly to the future prosperity of the country. No doubt when the Minister of Trade and Customs gives his personal guarantee that these enterprises will flourish, a large number of persons will come forward and show their anxiety to lay the foundation of various national industries ranging from cocoa to pandanus. Some of the articles mentioned in the Bill are known only to some antiquaries. There is one point about the proposal which I like. It does attempt to do something to direct Australian enterprise into the channels of agricultural development. It is about time that the public men of Australia in both the States and Federal Parliaments began to recognise that the current of population in Australia is steadily and disastrously setting in from the country to the towns. This has been going on for many years. Our Continent has an area of 3,000,000 square miles, anr! our population numbers 4,000,000, men, women, and children. Yet more than onethird of the whole of our population is crowded into an area of about 200 square miles.

Mr Webster - That is the outcome of the free-trade policy.

Mr REID - The worst case is that of Victoria, which has known nothing of freetrade for twenty years.

Mr Webster -r-Her case is not the worst in proportion to her population.

Mr Mauger - It is more closely settled than is New South Wales.

Mr REID - Of course it is. Probably that is why 120,000 persons had to clear out from it during the past ten years. The same trouble exists in New South Wales and South Australia - indeed, in every State in Australia. We have an overcrowded population in the capital cities, and instead of a current of settlers flowing from the towns into the country, there is a steady current from the country into the towns.

Mir. Mauger. - That is the case all over the world.

Mr REID - It is a misfortune wherever it happens, but it is particularly a misfortune in the case of a young country like Australia, with its enormous possibilities. We ought to feel - even if we make mistakes in our endeavours to open up new fields of enterprise - that the object is a thoroughly good one, and so far as this Bill aims at that object, I have no criticism to offer upon it. As the honorableand learned member for Northern Melbourne has pointed out, there is all the difference in the world between encouraging industries by means of bounties and encouraging "them by means of protective duties. When we offer a bounty we know how much we are voting, and the period over which it is to extend. Further we do not interfere with the ordinary market value of the commodities and their price to the consumer. The proper source of the burdens of national policy is the national exchequer, and not the particular person who is encouraging industries by purchasing the products which they manufacture. I have not the hostility to projects of this kind that I entertain to protective duties. With reference to chicory, that article furnishes ait illustration of the wisdom with which the Commonwealth is governed. I have no doubt that in the little compilation which I hold in mv hand there was at one time a beautiful paragraph about chicory. Probably it was stated that the payment of £2,500 annually for eight years would enable us to establish an industry which flourishes in other countries - that of the production of chicory. No doubt the experts put into this Bill a solemn proposal to include chicory, when, as a matter of fact, all the chicory which is consumed in Australia has for years past been produced locally. A similar mistake was made in the Manufactures Encouragement Bill in connexion with the production of zinc. In that measure it was proposed to expend £12,500 by way of bounty to encourage the production of spelter, when, as a matter of fact, the wealthy Broken Hill Proprietary Company had already solved the problem, without the aid of a bonus, and was actually engaged in exporting zinc. If we had passed that measure, the richest proprietary company in Australia would have been presented with £12,500 for doing something which it had accomplished years before. Now we find that the item of chicory has been eliminated from the Government proposals, although we are still confronted with pandanus and some other articles. I throw the responsibility of these proposals upon the Government. Their object is a good one, and if we can only establish onethird of the industries enumerated in the Bill by the payment of the bounties proposed, the measure will be worth all the trouble and the expense which it will involve. But I seriously doubt the success of these experiments, arid that is where W: should obtain some advantage from the establishment of an agricultural bureau, such as exists in the United States. At the present time the Minister of Trade and Customs is our agricultural bureau. He is the gentleman who works out all abstract questions in reference to the different climates and soils of Australia, from the Northern Territory downwards. My hope is that the cotton industry, which is one of the greatest industries in the -world, will be established by the proposed expenditure of £4,500 per annum. If the Minister can establish the industry for that amount, he ought to have a monument erected to him in every part of Australia - a monument of clay. If he can establish the great cotton industry in Australia by means of this small expenditure, there will be no bounds to the admiration and gratitude we shall feel for him. We shall forgive him not only pandanus and sisal fibre, but many other things, if he can only establish this industry. In his political movements he is already a large manufacturer of sweetened condensed milk. But I do not object to that. The practical point is, has the Minister the remotest idea of any spot in Australia where any one of the plants specified in the Bill will take a healthy root? I will guarantee that he has not. The paper by virtueof which we are asked to agree to this Bill is published by Mr. J. Kemp, the ActingGovernment Printer of Victoria. That is the authority we have for all these schemes, the Minister of Trade and Customs,, backed up by Mr. Kemp, the ActingGovernment Printer. However, I recognise that it is useless to protest against the proposals which are embodied in the measure. Doubtless they have all been submitted to the caucus. What I do like about the Bill is that it recognises one of the great wants of Australia, at the present time, and that it makes an endeavour to attract enterprise, industry, and settlement from the towns into the country. The honorable member for Moira has pointed out that one of the gravest evils from which we suffer is that enormous estates, held by a few individuals, make national development impossible. But we cannot pull down the rails! of those estates and subdivide them. We have no more authority to deal with the land problem in the States than the honorable member and myself have to subdivide a large estate whenever we come across it. The honorable member for Gwydir interjected some time ago that we ought to impose a Federal land tax. That is the one panacea which is now offered by the Labour Party. I wish to point out that we have no more right to impose a Federal land tax for the purpose of bursting up large estates than we have to close up the public schools of Australia.

Mr Hughes - I rise to a point of order. I wish to know if the right honorable member is in order, upon the second reading of this Bill, in discussing the incidence of a Federal land tax, or our power to levy such an impost?

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