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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Debate resumed from 13th December {vide page 6827), on motion by Sir William Lyne) -

That the Bill be now read the second time.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).A few minutes ago, the Minister told me across the table that he would be glad to present me with a copy of the speech he delivered here yesterday. After having listened to his speech, I have no special desire to be furnished with a copy of it; but I would suggest that when the Minister prepares a lucid explanation of a measure the least he should do is to pay this House the same compliment that he pays the Age. The honorable and learned member for Wannon very properly asked why honorable members cannot be treated with the same consideration and courtesy as the newspaper which is behind the Government. The Age declares very properly that this measure is the most important of the session. It far transcends any other that has been before us. As to its farreaching character, no two opinions can be entertained. Its operation will extend to the uttermost ramifications of trade in the community. If the measure is the most important that has been introduced this session, I venture to suggest that a constitutional outrage has been perpetrated by bringing it before this Chamber after the Appropriation Bill has been assented to by the Governor-General. Whoever heard of the one important legislative enactment of a session being thrown before a Chamber like this, after the Appropriation Bill had been passed by both Houses. I venture to suggest that on the next occasion we are considerate enough to afford the Senate an early opportunity to consider the Appropriation Bill, you, sir, should not allow the Bill to pass out of your hands until the business of this House is concluded. That is the constitutional procedure invariably adopted in other Legislatures of the Empire. We have departed from it in the belief that we should speedily wind up the session by passing such measures as were necessary to complete the ordinary sessional programme. Immediately we surrendered our hold upon the finances, the Government began to introduce measures of infinitely more importance than any that have preceded them. This is an outrage which the House would be quick to punish if it had a proper sense of constitutional dignity. The Government have been guilty of political trickery, and have resorted to a practice which has been adopted for the first time in the history of this Parliament. In these closing hours of the session of a demoralized House, we are whittling away some of our most precious prerogatives and privileges - but no one seems to care. I, at least, shall record my protest against what I conceive to be a violation of the fundamental principles of constitutional Government. I have had to protest on previous occasions against similar action on the part of Ministers, and I shall probably have to raise my voice again and again with increasing fervour, in protest against important' Bills being introduced at this stage. The Minister yesterday, by way of extenuation, stated that the delay in the introduction of the measure, was due to the stonewalling of the Opposition. The answer to the Minister is to be found in the statement of one of his colleagues that the measure had not received its final preparation until two days ago. Therefore, the Minister has been guilty of a piece of effrontery in telling us that the late intro- duction of the measure was due to the action of the Opposition. There is another reply to the Minister, and that is that the greater part of the time of the session has been taken up in the consideration of two measures. The Commerce Bill occupied five weeks, and the honorable member for Bland told us that the Trade Marks Bill had engaged the attention of the House for four weeks. Therefore, nine weeks have been devoted to the consideration of measures which are not nearly so important as that now submitted to us. May I suggest to the Prime Minister, in all seriousness, that the consideration of this Bill should be deferred till the next session? A Bill affecting profoundly - as this does - all the trade and commerce of the Continent, ought not to be rushed through before the people who are most interested in it, who will suffer for whatever faults it may contain, have been afforded an opportunity of looking through if, with a view to making some representations fo the Government as to how their industrial activities will be influenced by it. May I point out that in the case of measures of infinitely less importance, the Government have paid the trading community the compliment of consultation. When the Customs Act was under consideration in this House, the then Minister of Trade and Customs, the right honorable member for Adelaide', confidentially submitted his proposals to the various Chambers of Commerce throughout Australia. Since then, the Trade Marks Bill was held in abeyance for weeks, in order that the trading community might be consulted concerning it, and might have an opportunity of making any representations that they thought fit, as to its possible effects. The same course was pursued in connexion with the Commerce Bill. Yet the measure under consideration - a measure which transcends them all in its importance - is, forsooth, to be pushed through this Chamber in the closing hours of an already too long drawn out session. I say that the Prime Minister will be doing a great injustice to the people of the Commonwealth if he pushes this Bill through in this way, and the least that he can do is to defer its consideration until next session. Another reason why it should not be persisted in at the present time is that it purports to be a Bill to deal with trusts. It is directed against two trusts in particular, which it is alleged are operating outside of Australia to the detriment of the public, by reason of the harvesters which they are sending here to compete with our own manufacturers. Need 1 recall the fact that a Royal Commission is already -in existence whose special duty it is to investigate all matters relating to trade and commerce, and to ascertain how harvesters, and other agricultural implements of local manufacture are being affected by competition from oversea. We are now invited to break in upon the deliberations of that body with this Bill, which, so far as that aspect of the matter is concerned, takes the question entirely and ruthlessly out of its -hands. Why ? Because some enterprising, gentleman outside has declared that he is being injured by the competition referred to. We have been told that the two firms whose methods are impugned, and against whom this legislation is specially directed, have already asked to be allowed to give evidence before the Tariff Commission. Surely the House is not prepared to cut off the heads even of trusts without hearing anything which may be advanced on their sidle? These firms have petitioned this House through a Royal Commission, to be heard in reply to the charges which have been made against them. They declare that they are not indulging in unfair competition.

Mr Deakin - One of the chief objects of the Bill is to enable an official inquiry to be held into the facts.

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