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Friday, 25 September 1942

Mr JOLLY (Lilley) .- I approve of the general principles of the bill. That there is not sufficient power under the present law to impose a check on breaches of price control regulations and black marketing is recognized. Nevertheless, it is the duty of this Parliament to examine very carefully the provisions of this measure. I have listened with considerable interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn). 1 support some of the views he has expressed. As a matter of fact, if the provisions of clause 3, which dennes black marketing, and clause 4, which relates to offences, were literally applied, the whole of the trading community would be upset.

Dr Evatt - 'What does the honorable member mean by "literally"?

Mr JOLLY - If they were applied whenever there was a breach of any of the various provisions of clause 3. That would be an impossibility.

Dr Evatt - There is no difficulty in understanding what is meant.

Mr JOLLY - The honorable member for Bourke has very clearly stated that it has been impossible for people to know exactly what the regulations contain. Regulations are issued on a wholesale scale. After all, this legislation is to apply not only to the big companies but also to small businesses, and these latter are not in touch with the regulations that are issued from time to time. One of the most serious features of the bill is that the act is to operate retrospectively to February last. A little calm reflection must convince the Attorney-General that that is not altogether a fair proposal. Some time ago the Government issued a regulation which stated that certain action was to be taken in connexion with the control of prices, and fixed a date at the end of February. Subsequently another regulation was issued, which informed the trading community that on and after the 1st July, 1942, the rate of profit was to be fixed at 4 per cent.

Dr Evatt - This bill does not affect that.

Mr JOLLY - I am not saying that it does. What I am concerned about is the unfairness of the provision that the act shall operate retrospectively to February.

Mr Martens - It will not affect anybody who is honest.

Mr JOLLY - It will affect some persons who had no intention to commit a breach of the prices regulations.

In addition to the penalties set out - to which I offer no objection - there will be forfeiture of the goods in respect of which a prosecution has been launched. Many of the directors of companies, particularly the smaller concerns, do not take an active part in the conduct of the business.

Dr Evatt - Those who do not will not be affected.

Mr JOLLY - They will have to prove that they had no knowledge of the offence and did not take any part in the commission of it.

Dr Evatt - They will have to prove, first, that they are not directly active in connexion with the business. Only those actively concerned in the management of the business will be affected. These will have to show that they had no knowledge of what was done, and took reasonable care to prevent it from happening. That is a very reasonable provision.

Mr JOLLY - That is satisfactory. However enthusiastic we may be in regard to certain legislation, we would be very unwise to rush it through without giving it our consideration. It is the duty of Parliament to examine the details of measures of thi? sort. The bill provides for the posting of notices outside the business premises of persons or companies convicted of an offence. Certain premises are occupied by more than one class of business. Who the guilty party was, will have to be made very clear; because it would be unfair to other persons carrying on business in the same premises if there were merely a general notice intimating that a conviction had been recorded for the offence of black marketing. I take it that the notice, would make it very clear who was the guilty party.

As the honorable member for Bourke pointed out, one of the greatest difficulties in connexion with price fixation in places remote from Canberra is the time involved in obtaining decisions. I realize the difficulties encountered by the price-fixing authorities, and I suggest that it might assist matters if more authority were delegated to the Deputy Prices Commissioners in the capital cities. This would be appreciated by the public, and would, in the end. be of great assistance to the department itself. I trust that the AttorneyGeneral will see his way clear to accept the suggestions of the Leader of the Opposition.

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