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THE CUSTOMS TARIFF., Issue 7997, 28 August 1889
THE CUSTOMS TARIFF.
m ■ ■ THE PREMIER INTERVIEWED. [From Our Parliamentary Reporter.j WELLINGTON, August 27. An interview took place in the Cabinet room of Parliament Buildings this afternoon between the Premier and a number of gentlemen representing the Chambers of Commerce of the colony. The deputation consisted of Messrs E. W. Mills, J. Duthie, J. Duncan, and N. Reid (Wellington); Mr E. Withy, M.H.R., and Mr J. Ross (Saripod, Son, and Ewen), representing Auckland ; Mr Allen, M.H.R., representing Duncdin. Mr J. Heaton put in appearance as the interview proceeded, and soon made it plain that he represented his own interest, and had nothing to do with the Chamber of Commerce, for which ho manifested the utmos-t eontemp\ Mr H. S. M'Kellar, Secretary of Customs, was also present. Mr Mills, who acted as spokesm n, e.Uled the attention of the Premier to the clause in the circular litely issued by the Customs Department, the effect of which the deputation considered to be both vexatious and uDJust. The objectionable part of the clause in question read as follows : " The Commissioner is of opinion that the plea of ' mistake' cannot be allowed, and that, as an apparently accidental omission, inadvertence, or non - compliance with the laws and regulations, if undiscovered, results Jo lobs to the revenue, release from penalty and forfeiture in the discovered cases must be conditional upon the payment of a fine in addition to the amount of duty payable." He (Mr Mills) proceeded to say that the deputation thought the authority now held by the Collectors of Customs was sufficient to meet the requirements of the case. The officials admitted that the Tariff was exceedingly difficult to interpret, and the errors that had occurred as yet were of a, minimum nature. When applied to for advice as to the interpretation of the Tariff, the officials themselves were often unable to give it, so it was not to be M'ondered &t that merchants and their clerks were not able to m*ike proper entries in the first iostance when passing good?. la all his (Mr Mills's) experience of thirty-five or thirty-§e\Qn years in business he had never rr.ofc with a tariff that had caused so much trouble. That being so it was not reasonable that, because a miatake was made, the importer should be called upon to write long explan.ft.toyy letter* to the department, and submit to long delays. Apart from exceptional oases where fraud was atte-npted with the object of avoiding payment of the proper duty, the collectors should have power to settle difficulties rather than have to refer in every instance to a higher authority. Evevy month since the Tariff came into operation, and sometimes twice a month, it had been necessary to issue a schedule of explanations and deci sions. When that was so it was patent that commercial men and their clerks were liable to fall into without any desire. *'j defraud the revenup. The Premier said ha found that a large number of merchants took no notice of decisions, but would go on as they had been yjCMtoflMrl to da. In one port he found it thrown into his teeth that goods which were being charged for there were free in other parts of the colony. If there were to besix interpretations of the Tariff in different parts of the oolony such anomalies were bound to oocur. Though desirous of allow ing the Tariff to work as easily as possible, ho could not agree to allow a complicated tariff to be interpreted separately by six or seven men. The circular In question only related to p.Sen&es against the Tariff, not to mere errors. Mr Withy quoted a suggestion ma.d«i by the Auckland Chamber: that aa expert should be appointed for eaoh port, to rjecid* knotty poinj?, ,3 V? 14 h * could not agree to hat, nor.couW ■> hj various collcofcor* .aecide for bim. Here Mr J. Heaton bounded into the roam laden with a huge file of invoices and men orinda. The Premier, in answer to members of the deputation, referred to the mistakes that had led to the Cnristchurch prosecution, md said that whenever an error occurred it was attributed to an "unfortunate mistake." Whenever nn obvious mistake happened the department took no action, but whentvir "nmething happened which in the opinion if the Commissioner was a ' mistake," to r.he disadvantage of revenue, the importer must either pay a fine or contest the case in Court, whichever he preferred. Certiii l liou3es were always making " mistakes,'' tud of such a character that the revenue It st by them. He took power to deal wi'h probable wrongdoing, and of course he overlooked reil mistakes. Mr Heaton, who had sioi.l quietly by foi some minutes, here stepped forward melodramatically, deposited his heap of papers on the table, and, addressing the Premier formally as "Sir Hany Atkinson, the Premier of New Zealand, sir," proceeded to unfold his own grievance. It appeared from his explanation that when passing an e> try for two bales of paper oa behalf of one of hj jlients he was advistd by a Customs jlerk that if he passed it as printing paper and it proved to be wrapping papei it would be all right. Subsequently th consignment turned out to be wrapping paper, and he had to write a letter of expla-
nation to the department asking to be pardoned for a mistake. He complained that this was humiliating to him, as an experienced Customs agent and former steamboat purser, especially as he had only carried out the directions of the official; in fact, it was altogether insulting to require him to do so. Under the Tariff it was quite impossible to avoid errors. Mr Allen asked whether the Premier could see his way to withdraw the circular, as desired by the Dunedin Chamber. The Premier said he could not see his way to do that. Mr Ross pointed out that the difficulty arose from the fact that different firms at Home applied different trade names to the same goods. The Premier said in that case the coisignee would be treated in the same way aa Mr Heaton was. Mr Heaton: Where are we to go to for in* formation if ire are in donbt ? The Premier: Go to the Customs officer, or strictly speaking to your solicitor. Ev> ry man, especially a Customs agent such as you are, is supposed to know the law. If he does not, he has to suffer for it But this is a complicated law, and we hare to administer it as lightly as possible. Mr Heaton asked whether, if when passing an entry one was in doubt as to its contents, it was sufficient to write against it in red ink " examined for the importei',* information." Would that be enough to protect the importer from liability ? The Premier: I think so, without the least doubt. Mr Duthie (mayor of Wellington) thought the circular was as involved as an Act of Parliament. The Premier (laughing): We nvght almost say as a borough by-law.—(General laughter.) I admit it is a just charge, of course. In concluding the interview, the Premier promised to carefully consider the circular, with a view to removing any ambiguity, which appeared to have alarmed the deputation lest some further departure was about to be made. All he wanted to do was to collect the duties fairly, and to treat all alike. The deputation then w't'idrew.
THE CUSTOMS TARIFF., Issue 7997, 28 August 1889
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