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Tuesday, 6 August 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) .- Irevert to the amendment. It might be a good thing if, when debating such matters, honorablemembers were to refrain from indulging in sentiment, which does not affect the issue. We have heard more than one speech on coal by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). He usually induces such a tense atmosphere that every member on this side of the chamber is almost impelled to burst into tears, but he does not add very much to the debate. I am reminded of Micawber who, having an account to pay, gave his IOUand said, " Thank God, that is settled." That is about the equivalent of the honorable member's approach to this bill. He has said, in effect, "Here are the powers; the problem is now settled ". I have already pointed out that for a long time substantial powers have been vested in the Coal Commissioner. During that period, the honorable member for Hunter has been given every facility, at the expense of this country, to act as liaison between the coal-miners and the Government. All that I can say is, that his liaison has not caused much progress to be made. It is abouttime we devoted ourselves to the business before the committee. The proposal is that paragraph g of sub-clause 2 shall be amended so as to give the right of appeal to an independent tribunal to the person whose prices have been fixed, whose values havebeen determined, or whose profits have been limited by the board.. I have not, during the whole of this debate said one word in criticism of the coal-miners. I have endeavoured to deal with the matter on the basis of a problem that has to be tackled, and have sought to draw attention to what, in my view, are important matters. This, I believe, is an important matter. On more than one occasion, we have heard it said that the Government proposed, with the coming of peace, to abandon as quickly as possible, unnecessary regulations. I have already conceded the necessity to give wide powers to the proposed board. But I have resisted, and I still resist, giving to any board, during a time of peace, wide powers which impinge on the rights or interests of individuals, without giving also to those individuals the right of appeal. That is the principle for which I stand. It seems to me to permit of very clear enunciation. Is every problem to be approached from the standpoint merely of what power is to be given to the Government or to a board, or' is there to be a corollary approach, namely, how do the problems or the .exercise of the powers bear on the community? I agree that every exercise of a power by a Government should not involve the payment of compensation to an individual; because, in some sense, every power affects every individual. But when it is conceded, as it is in connexion with this bill, that the right of employment is an interest that must be protected, what differentiation can there be in principle between tho position of an individual so affected, and that of a person whose money is invested in a company? Is the latter not also affected, and should he not have the right of appeal? In a similar category is the person whose property has been acquired. I must refer to such a case, in order to give expression . to the principle. Such a person is . usually given the right to have the amount of compensation determined by a court, if agreement cannot be arrived at. I am not seeking to do that, here. All that I propose is that to the Government shall be left the matter of providing for an appeal, under conditions which it regards as fair, to a board of its own appointing. In other words, I am not attempting to lay down any- more than the principle that, in the circumstances envisaged by the exercise of the powers conferred by the bill, there ought to be the-'right of appeal. When I last spoke, I mentioned a case with which I am acquainted. There are many other cases that I could cite if time permitted. The

Prices Commissioner, whose good faith I do not challenge in any way, determined that a company had been blackmarketing. It was proved, and he admitted twelve months later, that his decision was entirely wrong. He could do nothing to repair the damage that had been done to the company, because he had no power to pay compensation, his power, being confined to the fixing of prices. The company had no recourse except to the Government. I know, because I had some association with the matter, that the Munitions department, when approached, said, " That is too bad. . You supplied goods, at the fixed prices. .Although we know that the prices were wrongly fixed, none the less no compensation is payable to you by the Government". The point that I make is that by this particular power, as anyone who reads it will acknowledge, most complete authority is given to deal with any aspect of industry. Profits can be fixed. Indeed, it has been said that if you fix the profits of an industry you, in effect, determine its economy and its management. I am not concerned about a company, as such. It has been said that a company has *' neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned". But I am concerned about something that seems to escape the attention of members of this, chamber too frequently, namely, that companies are artificial entities, composed of human beings, who have money invested in them. On more than ohe occasion, I have had to deal with small estates. Most of the shareholdings are small. The individuals have no rights except those that they can express through the company; and if you strike at the company without giving to it the right of compensation, or the right of appeal against what is conceived to be unjust, "you strike at the shareholders. This matter does not partake of party politics. I believe that the Minister would seek to give the remedy that is sought. It may be that he cannot commit himself at the mo.ment. All' that I is that the amendment shall be considered. Refusal to consider it will necessitate a division. If the Minister undertakes to have' it considered before the bill is disposed of by the Senate, I shall be satisfied. I believe it ,to be of first-class importance that, in time of peace, no power, shall be so exercised as to cause substantial loss to the properties or liberties of individuals, without the right of appeal to an independent tribunal being given. That is the basis of the whole of my argument, and I hope that it commends itself to the committee.

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