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Friday, 25 September 1942

Mr MARWICK (Swan) . - I support the general principles that are embodied in the bill, with the reservation made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) in regard to the appointment of a committee, and the objection to the legislation being made retrospective to February. The majority of the offences will relate to rationed goods, because no goods were rationed last February. During February, March and April, traders generally were in a most uncertain state of mind. They did not know exactly what limitation was to be placed on the profits that they could earn; nor did the

Prices Commissioner and his staff. Government utterances led them to believe that their profits were to he limited to 4 per cent., and that they would merely be receiving agents for the Taxation Commissioner in. respect of all profits in excess of that rate.

The bill implements some of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Profits, of which I arn a member. That committee made its first report in October last. It then mentioned the difficulty which the Prices Commissioner and his staff were experiencing. That was due in no small measure to the neglect of this Parliament to enact legislation giving effective control over prices. The Prices Branch has been functioning under regulations that have been amended almost every week. I learned from my work on the committee that the Prices Commissioner and hi3 staff were called upon to educate traders, merchants, manufacturers, and the public as to what was expected of them. I agree with the honorable members for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) and Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), that statutory enactments should be substituted for many of the regulations in order that the people may understand what is required of them. Tin; honorable member for Bourke said that price fixation had been one of the ridiculous failures of our wartime legislation. I am not quite sure what he meant. I regard it as one of the outstanding administrative departments operating under war-time legislation. 1 wish that some of the other war-time administrations were half as efficient and effective as the Prices Commissioner and his staff have been in carrying out the enormous task assigned to them. Members of the committee found that, they had the confidence of practically all the people with whom they were dealing. 1 believe that that state of mind still prevails throughout Australia. The commission has been remarkably efficient in preventing prices from rising. By reason of our policy, the task has been made much more difficult, because money has been poured into circulation and there has been a mad clamour to purchase goods in short supply. Members of the staff are well trained, and are not allowed to operate outside until they are thoroughly competent. The staff consists mostly of qualified accountants, and each, man is becoming a specialist in the particular branch that he has to investigate. As a member of the Joint Committee on Profits, I place on record my appreciation of the wonderful service they are rendering to this country.

I welcome this legislation, because it will deal with the wholesale profiteer and racketeer. I sincerely hope that those convicted of minor offences will be dealt with as they are at present. Because he fails to understand the regulations, a man may easily, though unconsciously, commit a breach of them. If there has been any failure of the administration, it would be entirely wrong to lay it to the account of officers of the Prices Branch. Rather should it be directed to those members of the judiciary who have dealt with prosecutions, because of the trivial fines they have imposed for what has been regarded as a serious offence. The statement of the penalties in this legislation will act as a deterrent such as has not existed in the past because of the leniency of police magistrates. I am pleased that the Attorney-General is prepared to accept the recommendations of the Leader of the Opposition.

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