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Friday, 25 September 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- I congratulate the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt-) on the work, of which we have seen some evidence in- recent, sittings of this sessional period, and on the work, of which wo know from the announcements made by him and the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), in connexion with the Statute of Westminster and the proposed referenda bills, to which he has been giving his attention since his return from abroad. This legislation is very necessary. One thing that can create discontent, and maybe disaster, upon the home front is public feeling that some persons in the community are able to make money out of the war effort. There is a well-grounded feeling that some will emerge from this war richer than they were when the war started. The German defeat in the last war was, according to history, due to the economic collapse of Germany on the home front, or, in other words, the collapse of the morale of the German people, as much as to the defeat of the German armies in Prance. Legislation of this sort, if enacted earlier, would possibly have saved Australia from the experience of having cases like that of the Myer Emporium Limited flaunted before this Parliament and the country when the fate of the nation was really hanging in the balance. This firm, as every body knows, was enabled to make huge profits out of the war situation and was obliged to hand back only the amount which it had wrongfully taken from the people - not, of course, to the people from whom it was actually taken, because that would be physically impossible, but to the public at large. The fact that it was made to disgorge that sum gave to the Myer Emporium the very great advantages, to which honorable members have drawn attention, not only over their competitors in Melbourne, but also over their competitors in their particular line of business throughout the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) said that the Myer Emporium received £250,000 worth of cheap advertising. It. could not possibly have got such a good advertisement by paying a like sum for it. I am afraid that this legislation, admirable as it is in its general intent, will not enable this Government to obtain a conviction against the Myer Emporium for anything it did in connexion with wrongfully obtaining that f 250,000.

I hope that the legislation will be administered with care and discrimination. The bill contains a valuable safeguard requiring the approval of the AttorneyGeneral to any prosecution. It could happen, if this legislation were passed without such a provision, that a number of very small people would suffer penalties under the proposed act while the bigger game would escape. That, of course, would not be satisfactory to the general public, nor would it be equitable. As far as the legislation aims at preventing wholesale exploitation of the public it is very good. Insofar as the smaller people are concerned, I hope that the AttorneyGeneral will continue the practice of prosecuting them under the National Security Act, so that the lesser penalties provided under that act will be inflicted for minor offences. The penal clauses of this legislation should be reserved for the wholesale exploitation of the public and for flagrant, deliberate, and continuous attempts to flout the wish of Parliament and the nation that there should be equality of suffering aud deprivation as far as possible. This involves doing without some things, first, in order that the soldiers might be supplied with what they need, and, secondly, in order that as far as possible the community at large might obtain the things necessary to maintain health and sustain life. I hope that there will be little need of prosecution, and that the very fact that the legislation is on the statute-book will be sufficient deterrent to prospective and actual malefactors.

I do not think that the inflation or threatened inflation referred to by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) is the root cause of black marketing. Black marketing, whatever of it there is - and I do not know that it is so very widespread after all - is largely caused by the destruction of small businesses during the rationalization process enforced by the Department of War Organization of Industry. The son all people, feeling that their opportunity for livelihood is vanishing, are prone to save as much as they can from the threatened wreck. I do not think that the average small business man who

Mr.Calwell. has been guilty of overcharging is deliberately anti-social in his outlook. He might feel that his action, after all, could never be so bad as that of the big emporium which was able to rob the community of £250,000 and, by way of penalty, was only required to repay its excess profits.

I hope that householders will not be made subject to this legislation. There was a case in a police court in New South Wales yesterday of a mother of nineteen children 'being charged with stealing. She pleaded in extenuation that she had to try to provide for that large family, that she could not obtain the things she wanted otherwise, and that she had to have recourse to a breach of the law. Though it was a breach of the law, in my opinion it was no moral offence. I do not believe that a person must go without if there is a superfluity of goods in the possession of other people. My views as to the morality of a lot of offences that are legally punishable may be different from those of a lot of other honorable members.

Mr Anthony - Is the honorable member enunciating a new principle of morality? .

Mr CALWELL - No. I think that if a man and his family are starving because he cannot get work, he is entitled to take his needs. The community has no right to starve him or to keep on the statute-book rotten laws which do not give him the right to work. I think that work is an inalienable right and, if the community will not give that right to a man, he is entitled to obtain the necessaries of life by what is legally regarded as theft. This unfortunate mother of nineteen would, if this bill were law in its present form, be liable to be sentenced to three months imprisonment if the act which she committed had been an act against any one of the econmic organization regulations. Of course, in such a case, the Attorney-General would not launch a prosecution; but we should not have on the statute-book a law which says that a person must be punished for an offence and not have the law administered. If she were found guilty, the magistrate would have no alternative but to sentence her to three months' imprisonment. I want to safeguard against situations' such as that and against the possibility of unduly penaliz-ing a housewife, who may have made a wrong statement, when the regulations originally came into foi-ce; for instance that she had a certain- quantity of tea.. If she were, found guilty and this legislation were in force in its present form, she would have to go to gaol for three months. Such a penalty in such circumstances would be an outrage onpublic opinion. I do not. want to see maladministration of justice or laws passed which the public conscience will not agree with. This bill should be passed', but several clauses might be amended. I think that the woman whose- case is now before the court in New South "Wales should be congratulated upon the- fact that she has reared nineteen young Australians at a time when many women much better situated economically have preferred bridge and golf parties and the like to the performance of a natural and national duty.

Unfortunately, the economic regulations of February last are not well understood by the community. I doubt whether the regulations are known to one-tenth of 1 per cent., of the community. It is unfortunate that the divided powers of the Commonwealth Parliament and the State parliaments do not enable this Government to do more by legislation and less by regulation. I hope that the day may not be far distant, when the Commonwealth Parliament will be clothed with far greater powers than it has and that it. will pass legislation rather than the Executive make regulations - of which we have seen,, figuratively,, bucketsful. They cannot be read in their entirety by members of this Parliament who are so busy these days. So many of them, too, are amendments of previous regulations, and honorable members cannot spare the time- to keep tracing back for the original regulations in order to understand the purport of the various changes.

Mr Paterson - And the act as well?

Mr CALWELL - (Mr. Blackburn),, with his legal training,, to advise his clients, how can we laymen make even a guess at the meaning, of some of the complicated regulations which have been issued? I am sure that the Attorney-General, indefatigable- as he is in the discharge of his duties, will listen sympathetically to the appeals of honorable members. As the honorable member for Bourke has said, there is no popular respect for regulations. They are not. treated, in the same way as acts of Parliament, and it is desirable that, as far as possible, their provisions should be made the subject of bills so that honorable members, could move for their amendment, instead of having to take the more drastic action of moving for the disallowance of the- whole statutory rule, as is necessary now.

Mr Jolly - We should have to sit continuously.

Mr CALWELL - I see no evil in that. The United States Congress refused to disperse in 1941 when the President wanted it to do- so. It sat. for eleven and a half months out of twelve, and I believe that it did the American nation a. great benefit by doing so. As the honorable member for Bourke has said, it is much easier to get things done when Parliament, is sitting than when it is not sitting. The British House of Commons sits much more frequently than does this Parliament, and if that can be done in a war zone where there are far greater perils and difficulties than there are here, we could endeavour to emulate that excellent example.

Mr Paterson - Does not the honorable gentleman consider that we have done a lot of continuous sitting this week '(

Mr CALWELL - My remarks arc subject to certain qualifications with regard to this series of sittings. It is not desirable that we should have such long continuous sittings as we have had this week, and it ought to be possible for Parliament to observe reasonable hours, even if that involved an extension of the sessional period by a week or two. I hope some day to see an amendment 01 the Standing Orders to prevent either House of the Parliament from sitting for longer than twelve hours continuously. That would certainly not harm the nation. The difference between this bill and the hill which was introduced by i: previous government, is that its provisions are made retrospective in regard to actual crimes that have been committed against the nation. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr Spender), when he was Minister for the Army, introduced a bill to amend the Defence Act, which made certain act which had not been offences when they were committed two or three years previously, acts of conspiracy and punishable. At that time, the Labour party, under the leadership of the present Attorney-General, endeavoured to amend the bill. Unfortunately, it became law without amendment. That legislation was introduced for the purpose of dealing with two firms in New South Wales which had been accused of anti-social acts. Both firms were prosecuted under the act, but, in spite of the fact that the cases went to the High Court, and then, strangely enough, down to suburban courts, the Government was unsuccessful and the legislation was ineffective. The Attorney-General's proposal to create new penalties for acts which were punishable but which took place prior to the introduction of this bill is inspired by the failure of magistrates to impose adequate penalties under the existing law. He complained with just cause of the attitude of magistrates in lightly penalizing persons who had been guilty of acts which could have had grave consequences to the nation. But there is a weakness i' his case. It is that those firms which have already been convicted, and pun ished with minor penalties, will not besubject to further action by the Commonwealth, whereas those which escaped prosecution for acts committed between February last and the present date wil be unfortunate enough, if they are prosecuted, to incur the higher penalties. We may find that big firms will escape with penalties of £5 or £10, or whatever fine* were imposed on them, whilst smaller people will be sent to gaol for three months. The public conscience would not approve of that, and I do not believe that the Attorney-General desires to brim'; about that state of affairs. We cannot prosecute the Myer Emporium Limited for what it has done, but we can restrict its sales in the future so that it will not be able to get the great number of coupons that it is at present getting as the result of the reduction of prices which it has been compelled to make on account of previous over-charging. It should not be allowed to secure or maintain that advantage over its competitors. That was never contemplated when the Government compelled it to give back to customers, by means of reduced prices, the sum r £250,000 which it had unlawfully received by way of excessive prices. The Prices Commissioner may be able to take some action under existing regulations to give effect to my suggestion. If so. that firm would be prevented from con tinuing to benefit by its misdeeds. The Attorney-General might well accede t' the request made by several honorable members to eliminate the retrospective provision in the bill. The passage of this legislation will emphasize to magistrates the serious view which the Parliament takes of acts which are offences under the Economic Organization Regulations. Therefore, it is logica] to assume that they will take a more serious view of offences which come before them in future. In these circumstances, retrospectivity is not of great importance, and I ask the AttorneyGeneral to agree to the deletion of the clause which gives retrospective effect to the bill. I hope also that the right honorable gentleman will agree to eliminate clause S. This clause is unsatisfactory to me. It states -

Any person who does any act or thing preparatory to the doing of any act or tiling the doing of which would constitute the offence nf black marketing shall bc guilty of the offence of black marketing.

With all due respect to the persons who drafted that clause, I say that it seems to be perilously close to the offence under the Japanese penal code of " harbouring dangerous thoughts ". People should not be prosecuted merely for an attempt to do a thing which will become an offence.

The title of this bill is, "A bill for an act to provide for the prevention of black marketing ". One of the casualties in this war, as in every war, is the English language. In every crisis, we start to murder the language by conjuring up new phrases or concocting words which seem to express the views or emotions of the moment. As the Attorney-General has said, " black marketing " cannot be found in any dictionary. The language is not so poverty stricken, that we have to invent such words and phrases as " blacketeering " and " black marketing ", any more than we had to invent "profiteering " during the war of 1914-18.

Mr Paterson - We have also adopted German words like "blitz" and " strafe ".

Mr CALWELL - That is so. During the last war we borrowed many foreign words. In legislation of this sort, we ought to pay some respect to the purity of the language and not lightly introduce words that are harsh and certainly not euphonious. We might extend the austerity campaign to this matter. I introduced the subject of the treatment of the Myer Emporium Limited in this House before any other honorable member, and it is strange that, at the moment when I was protesting against the failure to impose any penalty on the firm, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) was stating in the Senate the official view as to why the company should not be prosecuted at all. Whether the official view was right or wrong, public opinion did not sand lon it, and this legislation will be more in accord with what the people believe to be the right attitude to adopt towards firms and persons who are guilty of the acts enumerated in the bill. The Attorney-General will find, probably, that there will not be an overwhelming number of prosecutions under this measure because the seriousness of the war situation has now impressed itself upon the people. In my view, what happened immediately after Japan entered the war was not so much the result of criminal intent as of carelessness and a certain amount of justifiable ignorance of the law on the subject. The publicity which the Minister's speech has received in the daily pres3 will cause any who may be contemplating offences to think twice. I hope that in the administration of this measure the authorities will be more concerned about the present than about the past.

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