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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2346

Senator O'CHEE (7.02 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

It would be foolish of me to think I could address a document of 172 pages length in five minutes, which is the time available to me this evening.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—Have a go.

Senator O'CHEE —However, I shall have a go, Mr Acting Deputy President, in addressing two issues that arise from this document, which is a report of the Law Reform Commission in relation to the Trade Practices Act. The first matter I wish to raise is the Hilmer report because honourable senators and others would be aware that that report sought to inquire into whether certain statutory corporations and government business enterprises should be subject to the Trade Practices Commission.

  This is a pressing issue in the bush where the National Party of Australia sees a grave threat to statutory marketing arrangements from one end of this country to the other. Being a senator from Queensland, as is Senator Boswell, I am very concerned that nothing be done which would seek to erode the sole export power of the Queensland Sugar Corporation.

Senator Boswell —And the Wheat Board.

Senator O'CHEE —And the Wheat Board, of course; but the Queensland Sugar Corporation has particular interest for Queensland because it yields a five per cent additional benefit to our sugar producers over what they would get on an open market. In other words, the complete deregulation of the export powers of the Queensland Sugar Corporation would lead to a loss to sugar producers, not a gain. One must ask who receives the benefit if the total income of Australian sugar producers is reduced by five per cent.

  Contrary to popular belief in this area, the benefit does not flow to consumers. The benefit flows to the overseas processors who purchase the raw sugar, process it and sell it back to this country. Not the slightest bit of benefit would be passed on to the consumer. When we consider issues of competition policy, particularly in relation to statutory marketing arrangements, we in the National Party say that these issues must be looked at with an eye to the national interest and where the national interest is best served by the current arrangements.

  Even if they bestow a monopoly, it is appropriate that those arrangements be allowed to continue because any erosion of those arrangements is not to the benefit of the consumer but to the detriment of the producer and the export interests of this country. I need not remind any honourable senator that this country currently has a current account deficit of some $18 billion, or $1 1/2 billion a month, and anything of a legislative nature which will exacerbate this problem is definitely not in the interests of all Australians.

  The other matter which I wish to briefly address—and I know that my Senate colleague Senator Boswell, the Leader of the National Party in the Senate, has long had an interest in this—is in relation to the cost of bringing actions under the Trade Practices Act. At page 41 of the report, the Law Reform Commission identifies particular cost barriers experienced by business, especially small businesses which seek to take advantage of the Trade Practices Act. If I may read very briefly from the report, it states:

  Business operators, especially small businesses, seeking remedies under the TPA, either as consumers of goods or services provided by other businesses or as competitors protecting their commercial interests, often encounter problems in addition to those outlined above.

That refers to the problems being experienced by private litigants. A number of those are listed: for example, the need to lodge security for damages when seeking an injunction; and the difficulty of the corporation having to be legally represented. It points out that it is open to consideration as to whether the Trade Practices Commission should play a bigger role in helping small business to enforce the Trade Practices Act. When the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs looked at these issues, Senator Boswell was foremost in ensuring that changes were made to the benefit of small business.

Senator Boswell —Thank God we did!

Senator O'CHEE —And thank goodness that did happen, as Senator Boswell interjects. Obviously this is an issue that will have to be thrashed out in much greater depth. It would be remiss of me to allow this report to be tabled without drawing attention to those two issues. I know Senator Boswell wishes to address this report at a later date and is in fact preparing a major work on it, so I shall at this point in time seek leave to continue my remarks.

  Leave granted; debate adjourned.