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Tuesday, 3 July 1906

Mr ISAACS (Indi) (Attorney-General) . - I hope that the amendment will not be accepted. When we are legislating, in the interests of the whole community, as we assert that we are, we ought to make no exceptions. As I said at an earlier period this evening, we should not make rules for combinations of farmers different from those which would apply to combinations of boot manufacturers. The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Echuca would injure the farmers, because it would permit of a few big farmers com:bining against the smaller farmers. The honorable member, in effect, says, " I am going to look after the big farmers!, but not after the small farmers."

Mr McColl - That is very unfair.

Mr ISAACS - It is not unfair, and I shall show the Committee what the amend ment would mean. The provision would apply to clause 4. If a combination of big farmers united together, and surrendered their individual powers of voting, under an agreement by which a majority could coerce a minority, with the object of crushing out other farmers, why should we countenance any such nefarious enterprise, and fail to protect those who are innocent?

Mr McCay - Does the AttorneyGeneral say that the amendment would prevent clause 4 from applying to a combination of farmers ?

Mr ISAACS - I say that it would not prevent clause 4 from applying, but it would prevent the Bill from applying to a combination of farmers in the same way that it would apply to any other combination under like circumstances. That is what I say.

Mr McCay - That is not what the AttorneyGeneral did say.

Mr ISAACS - If there were a combination of harvester makers against other harvester makers, the very fact that it was a combination designed to crush industry would be taken as prima facie evidence that it was acting unfairly. But, according to the amendment of the honorable member, if a few big, farmers united and put their capital together with the design of crushing out other farmers, it must not be presumed that they were acting unfairly. I' say that it ought to be presumed. Any combination formed with the idea of crushing out Australian industry should have placed upon it the burden of proof that it was acting fairly. The parties would not be called upon to prove their innocence. The prosecution would have to prove that the combination had been formed with the design of crushing out an Australian industry. And when that had been shown, in addition to the fact that there was a combination, would it not be very little to ask that the combination should be called upon to justify the competition ? That is all that the combine would have to do. All the other facts would have to be proved against them affirmatively, and it is utterly wrong to say that the burden of proving innocence would be placed upon the defendants. If it is once proved that a combination has been formed, and that the members of it have surrendered their own personal opinions and discretion to a trust, we contend that the prima facie infer- ence is that the competition is unfair. If that is a wrong principle to lay down, paragraph a of clause 6 should be struck out altogether. I shall not complain if the majority of the Committee are against us in that matter. If the principle is wrong, it is equally improper to apply it to harvester or tobacco combinations; or to combinations of farmers. . It is either right or wrong. I can foresee that great combinations might be formed in the primary industries which would be so powerful that they could monopolize the product of an industry and reduce the price which would be obtainable by the single-banded farmer. If the principle is wrong, it should not be applied at all. I represent a great many farmers, and as far as I know thev do not wish to stand before the Australian community in a position different from that occupied by any other section. They do not want anything but fair play. They certainly do not desire that other persons shall be punished for acts which, if performed by them, would not draw down any penalty.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta) £9.52]. - May I respectfully suggest that there is a very great distinction between men "engaged in the primary industries and those engaged in secondary industries. There is all the difference " in the world between a man who is growing grain, or cabbages, or potatoes, or fruit, away in the country, and one who is manufacturing harvesters on a big scale in the city. The supply of harvesters could be controlled in such a way as to bring about a monopoly, but milk or butter production could not be cornered.

Sir William Lyne - Yes, they could, indeed.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I say that they could not. So long as individuals own little plots of land, and grow grain or other produce, they cannot be prevented from coming into the market, or making their livelihood. There are no such possibilities in the way of restraint of trade or commerce to the detriment of the public in connexion with the primary industries as exist in the secondary industries.

Mr Watson - It may not be as easy, but it can be done.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Anything is possible ; but we have to consider some of the probabilities of the case. In order to arrive at a proper conclusion, we must consult the experience of the- past. The honorable member for Bland has told us that, although the Arbitration Act in New Zealand was intended to apply to every farmer, not a single agriculturist has up to the present had 'anything to do with the Court. Is not that the best possible proof that there was no necessity to bring them within the operation of the Act?

Mr Watson - Not at all. It is quite possible that the fact that they have been brought within the scope of the Act has rendered it unnecessary to appeal to the Court.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is easy to string any number of possibilities together, but we have to deal with probabilities. This is not the final law on the whole question. Suppose that a corner were formed with a view of creating a monopoly in connexion with any of the producing interests. Would it not be possible for us 10 pass a law to apply preventive measures? The honorable member is willing that those engaged in the primary industries shall be exposed to the risk of being dragged to the law courts and having thrown upon them the onus of showing that they are not acting illegally in growing their grain.

Mr Carpenter - That is utter nonsense..

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is all very well for the honorable member to say that. He is the most self-satisfied man in the Chamber, and does nothing but interject. A measure of this kind aimed at the great industrial monopolies which, can be controlled to the detriment of the community should not be stretched to the extent of dragging in all the primary industries. The Attorney-General stated that the Government purposely made the Bill wide. They are making it wide with a vengeance. I should like to know why the agricultural population should be 'exempt from the operations of the Arbitration ' Act, and not be placed beyond1 the application of this much more drastic legislation. This is a matter of controlling not merely the conditions of employment, but also the prices of commodities. The measure goes right down to the foundations of our industrial enterprises, and there are a. thousand more reasons why the farming population should be exempted from itsprovisions than could be urged in favour of placing them beyond the scope of our arbitration laws. The great outstanding fact in favour of the farmer is that the product of Jus enterprise cannot be monopolized in the same way as the products of secondary industries. We cannot bring about a corner in the growing of wheat or the production of milk, butter, or cheese. The products of the secondary industries can be readily cornered, because of the scale upon which they must be manufactured.

Mr Watson - There is a corner in apples in Tasmania, and there was a comer in maize in Sydney.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the maize corner operate now. I believe that it did not succeed?

Mr Watson - Oh, yes., it did.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am otherwise informed.

Mr Watson - It succeeded for a considerable time.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But it does not exist now. Are we to busy ourselves in passing Acts to meet any possibilities that may occur in our ordinary industrial life? The whole thing is preposterous. If an evil exists, by all means let us apply our legislation to it, but do not let us pass measures, such as that before us, embracing the whole of the operations of the community in the primary as well as the secondary industries. We should not make a drag-net of our legislation on the off-chance that we may collar a man and punish him. We seem to be setting ourselves up as a kind df industrial inquisition. We are going about seeking whom we may devour - trying to find some one whom we can drag within the reach of our legislation. I contend that we are prostituting the powers conferred upon us by the Constitution, and entirely ignoring the spirit in which it was framed. I trust that the honorable member will persevere with his amendment.

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