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Friday, 6 July 1906

The CHAIRMAN - Order !

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I appeal to you, sir, to take some notice of the honorable gentleman's remarks.For the last three days he has done nothing but interject impertinent remarks.

The CHAIRMAN - I am sure the honorable member will withdraw the remark.

Mr Watson - I was unaware until now that it is out of order to ask an honorable member a question like that. If the honorable member considers the question offensive, I shall certainly withdraw it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not consider the question offensive, but I take the inconsistency of it as constituting an offence. I am sorry that I should have to discuss these matters, but there is. a conspiracy of silence in the Labour corner.

Mr Watson - I have spoken four or five times.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No matter what aspect this Bill bears, fiscal or non-fiscal, honorable members of the Labour Party are solid for it the whole time.

Mr Watson - That is not a fact.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - With one or two exceptions. It is time for somebody to speak when we find the honorable member for Broken Hill going solid for protection. The man who of all others in this House has taunted protectionists on every occasion, is now voting solidly upon every fiscal aspect of this measure.

Mr Thomas - Why does the honorable member turn on me?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not turning on the honorable member. I should not say a word on the subject, but for the fact that, feeling himself secure in the solid support behind him, the honorable member's leader is becoming impudent. Honorable members are aware that one of the troubles of those engaged in the fruitgrowing industry in New South Wales, and I suppose also in most of the other States, is that a great proportion of the fruit crop ripens at about the same time. As a consequence, the market is immediately glutted, prices fall to zero, and the whole industry is disorganized. It is one of the constant aims and ideals of the fruit-grower to so control his market as to secure a fair price for his crop, and from time to time co-operative enterprises are entered into for that purpose. Does not this constitute a monopoly in restraint of trade? Possibly the purchaser of fruit would say that it is to the detriment of the public also. Here we have a product, the market for which is regulated by a process of combination or monopolization, if honorable members please, for what I consider a very wise and proper purpose. Unless some such course is adopted, much of the fruit must go to the rubbish tip, or be sold without any profitable return. Though the action taken may be held to be to the detriment of the public, as a matter of fact, it is not ultimately detrimental, because, if the supply of fruit were at once exhausted, a demand would be set up for fruit which must be supplied from other quarters, and it is then that the detriment to the public would come in as exemplified by the increased price which they would be called upon to pay, by reason of scarcity. I hold that the regulation and control of the fruit industry in the way I have described is quite legitimate, but it corresponds in every particular to what is indictable under this provision, when it takes place on any large scale, and might be dealt with accordingly. The. clause reads -

1.   Any person who wilfully monopolizes or attempts to monopolize or combines or conspires with any other person to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce with other countries or among the States, with the design of controlling, to the detriment of the public, the supply or price of any merchandise or commodity, is guilty of an indictable offence.

All this shows the need for exempting the primary industries from the operation of a Bill of this kind, as was proposed by the honorable member for Echuca. It is not intended to deal with small matters of voluntary co-operation, and the Committee made a great mistake when it declined' to exclude from its operation these innocent fair and legitimate enterprises of the country, as to which there can be no monopoly in the large sense of the word, but which might, nevertheless, be brought under this Bill, by reason of the width of its provisions, and the scope of its intent. What I have described might happen in the apple industry in Tasmania, and wherever there is a glutted market for fruit or produce of any kind, and the attempt is made upon reasonable and fair co-operative lines to control the market, so as to procure a fair return for the enterprise expended in the industry. I say that as to all these matters of voluntary concern, this Bill should leave them free and unrestricted, particularly where corners of the kind cannot be established to the lasting detriment of the public. I, therefore, hope the Attorney-General, before the consideration of the measure is completed, will place some limitation upon the scope of its operations, and will try to make its provisions more fair. There is another matter connected with the penalties attaching to offences under this clause. Sub-clause 2 provides that -

Every contract made or entered into in contravention of this section shall be absolutely illegal and void. "This question was raised the other night, and I do not intend to pursue it now, but I do think that even here the AttorneyGeneral might consider an amendment which would prevent ordinary legitimate practices entered into by innocent persons from being penalized under this provision, to the detriment of their businesses and enterprises. If a contract is to be cut into at harvest time in connexion with the suppi v of some agricultural implements the innocent are going to be made to suffer as well as the guilty. I do not think that is the intention of honorable members, or of those who introduced this legislation, but that must be the effect of the measure unless it is altered.

Mr Isaacs - It does not touch any innocent contract at all.

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