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Friday, 25 September 1942

Dr EVATT (Barton) (AttorneyGeneral) . - in reply - I thank honorable members on both sides of the House for their reception of this bill, and their suggestions for its improvement. I believe the bill will act as a deterrent, as it is intended to do.

After consideration, I have decided to adopt two of the suggestions which have been put forward. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) suggested that, before a prosecution was launched under this legislation, and before the Attorney-General gave his consent to it, he should be armed with an independent opinion on the facts for and against a prosecution. I appreciate what the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) said about the possibility of delay, hut I believe that a little delay at that point might prevent the perpetration of an injustice. I assure honorable members that, once a prosecution is decided upon, the proceedings will be very swift indeed. This measure will be reserved for clear-cut cases, and for bad cases. I have told the Leader of the Opposition that I propose to accept his suggestion. However, we cannot appoint a statutory committee for this purpose. I undertake to appoint a committee which will be representative of my own department, and of two other departments - probably the Prices Commission, and the department affected by the proposed prosecution. Action will be taken when this committee recommends to the Attorney-General that the case is of sufficient gravity to warrant proceedings under the act. This procedure will, I believe, be a safeguard, and will be of great assistance to me. In all instances the facts will be investigated carefully before proceedings are taken.

The other suggestion which I propose to adopt was put forward in the first place by the Leader of the Opposition, and concurred in by several other speakers, notably the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles). It has to do with the retrospective provisions of the bill. Whilst the proposal of the Government can be justified in principle, there are factors which make the deletion of the retrospective provision advisable. It is not as if persons who committed offences against the regulations prior to the passing of the bill will escape. They can still be dealt with under the National Security Act. If, as I hope, the bill becomes law without delay, magistrates will probably take a more serious view of some offences than would be indicated by the cases that I cited yesterday. In committee, I shall submit an amendment for the purpose of bringing the measure into force from the day on which it receives theRoyal assent.

With suggestions for the control of prices I shall not deal at any length, the Prices Commission has had a most difficult job, and on the whole, it has done good work for Australia. The suggestions of honorable members will receive careful consideration. Of course, the scope of the 'bill is not confined to the prices branch, but extends, for instance, to rationing. Broadly, it relates to all the schemes which control the economic life of this country in these days of restrictions.

Mr Holloway - Will this legislation cover attempts by traders to undercut their competitors?

Dr EVATT - I can imagine cases that may be covered, but I do not propose to express an opinion upon the matter at the moment.

The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) criticized the term " black marketing" in the title of the bill. But the term is not created by the bill; it already exists. It has come into use as the result of actual trading operations. Honorable members will recall that in the last war, the word "profiteering" was coined. When the title of the bill aptly describes the subject of the legislation, I consider that it is quite appropriate.

Mr Paterson - The bill may operate very well, without being operated at all.

Dr EVATT - In that paradoxical sentence the honorable member aptly sums up the principal object of the bill, namely, to prevent black marketing, by deterring persons from engaging in it. In a bad case, the special committee will certainly recommend prosecution, and the culprits will be severely punished. The deterrent effect of the bill will always remain.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 -

This act shallbe deemed to have come into operation on the twentieth day of February, One thousand nine hundred and forty-two, being the date on which the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations came into operation.

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