Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 24 August 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I indorse to the full the criticisms which have been levelled against the Minister of Trade and Customs because of his absence. I have seen nothing more shameless in my parliamentary experience than his conduct in reference to the business brought before us, and I marvel that honorable members tolerate it. Unfortunately, they have been in an entirely casual mood of late, if not during the whole session.

Mr Page - The honorable member is to blame, because of the way in which, he continually lectures us.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Maranoa is guilty of tedious repetition in repeating what the honorable member for Grey has already said. One cannot but be surprised at the marvellous difference which a change of position makes in the opinions of some honorable member's. Three years ago, when the honorable member for Grey was sitting only a few yards from where he now sits, but on the Opposition side, he fulminated against the Minister until his face was flecked with foam, and now he occupies his time in defending him.

Mr Bamford - Is it in order for the honorable member to admonish the honorable member for Grey for what he did some years ago, seeing that a definite amendment is before the Committee?

The CHAIRMAN - It is not in order.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am merely replying to criticisms passed upon me by the honorable member for Grey, a course which is usually permitted bythose who are actuated by the spirit of fair play, which honorable members opposite are not. No member in this House has criticised the Minister of Trade and Customs with anything like the virulence that has characterized the utterances of the honorable member for Grey. Now that he has changed his place, however, he can find a multitude of reasons why the Minister should be excused for his absence, and why he should be regarded as performing his full duty to the public by travelling through has constituency instead of being in his place in Parliament. Has the honorable member ever known any other Minister to treat his measures in the way that the Minister of Trade and Customs has done?

Mr Poynton - I can point to the case of the leader of the Opposition, who is stumping the constituencies of other honorable members, with a view to injuring them, whilst they are here attending to their duties.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The difference between the position of a private member and that of a Minister of the Crown has already been pointed out by the honorable member for North Sydney. If my honorable friend is not able to appreciate the distinction, there is no use in explaining the grave constitutional difference between the two cases. The Minister is supposed to represent the country in the Executive, whereas the leader of the Opposition primarily represents his constituents.

Mr Wilkinson - He has been endeavouring to persuade the people that the Government does not represent the country.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That question will be put to the test very soon, and I am content to abide by the result of the forthcoming appeal to the country. I join heartily inthe protest that has been made against the constant absences of the Min ister of Trade and Customs - particularly having regard to the cause of his absence. I think that the honorable member for North Sydney unwittingly slandered the Minister now in charge of the Bill. He stated that the Vice-President of the Executive Council could not be expected to be as well acquainted with the measure as is the Minister of Trade and Customs. I take exception to that statement. If there is one thing which specially characterizes the Minister of Trade and Customs it is his absolute ignorance concerning the measures which he brings before the House.

Mr Page - He gets there just the same.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He does; and any one could do so with a solid block like the Labour Party behind him. It is not necessary to explain measures to the members of that party, who simply sit tight, and do as they are required. It is avery simple arrangement, and a most effective guillotine. It has a tendency to sapthe very foundations of our representative institutions, and to abrogate free speech and free discussion. But these are small matters to the labour caucus. I think there is a great deal in the criticisms of the honorable members for Echuca and Gippsland. I think that, before we surrender our right to control the expenditure, we should be informed whether any plan has been devised in connexion with the administration of the Bill. I suppose that the honorable members referred to are speaking out of a fuller knowledge and experience of bounties than is possessed by the representatives of other States. I believe that most of the bounty proposals in Australia, have failed owing to want of technical and practical knowledge.

Mr McColl - Hear, hear; and owing to want of proper supervision.

Mr McLean - Only one of the bounties granted by the Victorian Government - namely the butter bounty - has been of any substantial benefit.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The failure has in many cases been due to the inefficiency of the methods adopted by those who have been engaged in the industry which it was sought to encourage. Therefore we shall probably throw away a large sum of money unless we take steps to insure that the requisite knowledge and experience shall be brought tobear by those who are engaged in raising the products in respect to which the bounties will be payable, and that proper skillshallbeexercisedintheadministra- tion. I think that honorable members are entitled to be informed as to the intentions of the Government, and as to the authority which will control the administration.

Mr McLean - We shall be held responsible to the country

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Exactly. The ignorance that has led to the destruction of so many new enterprises has characterized not only those who have engaged in the undertakings, but those who have had control of the administration. I suppose that it is intended to place the responsibility of administering this measure upon the Customs officials, who, if they are not marvellous men, surely need to be. All kinds of duties are thrown upon them, and they must be men of the greatest experience and widest knowledge in order to effectively perform their part.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They now have charge of the trade of Australia, and it is proposed that they shall also take charge of the agricultural industry.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes; they are to be called upon to instruct agriculturists as to the proper methods of cultivating various tropical products. In regard to some of the products mentioned in. the schedule, we shall before very long be brought into competition with articles produced in such places as Java, where, I believe, they have the best laboratory in the world for the investigation of matters relating to tropical products. Therefore, it will be necessary to equip our agriculturists with the very best technical knowledge. The honorable member for Herbert told us that some of the proposed bounties would be immediately payable, but that probably in other cases no claim would be made for some years. In the event of an extra vote being required in connexion with any given industry. Parliament could always be applied to for an increased sum. If that plan were adopted matters would be brought under the review of the House, which might very well be trusted to deal justly and equitably with any industry. Therefore, I see no reason why we should vote a large sum en bloc, as the Minister of Trade and Customs suggests, nor do I see why we should fix the amount to be spent annually. The proposal now in the Bill might very well be allowed to stand. If, at any moment, an industry reaches such a stage as to entitle those engaged1 in it to claim a bounty, provision can always be made in the Estimates for the sum required, and it is not likely that honorable members will, for one moment, dream of setting aside the contract implied bv the provisions of the Bill.

Suggest corrections