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Thursday, 3 December 1959


Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- 1 think it is disgraceful that on the last day of the sittings of this Parliament, just before a recess which will no doubt extend for some three or four months, the Government should take the action it took to-day to curtail the right of members to ask questions of Ministers about matters of great concern to the people of this country. I can understand the anxiety of the Government to get into recess. I could see the acting Prime Minister watching the clock anxiously until he got the opportunity to ask that further questions be put on the notice-paper, knowing that three or four months would have to elapse before any honorable members were able to ask questions again in this House.

I propose, in the limited time at my disposal, to direct attention to an extraordinary decision of the Government which has been conveyed to me. I regret that, in addition to Ministers refusing to answer questions, the moment that the motion to adjourn the House was moved there was an immediate and almost complete exodus of Ministers from the chamber. They have become so contemptuous of public opinion in this country, so arrogant and so selfsatisfied, that they feel there is no necessity for them to answer any inquiry that is made of them, either directly by the Opposition, or indirectly by any one else in this country to-day.

I want to direct attention to a matter in respect of which the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has given me a most extraordinary reply. It concerns a matter which I raised in this Parliament before, and in order to refresh the memories of honorable members I shall briefly relate the facts. These concern the activities of a firm named Charles F. Hawkins Proprietary Limited, warehousemen and manufacturers, 134-136 Flinders-lane, Melbourne. This firm has been in business for approximately 30 years. It manufactures a product called " Doctor " flannel undershirts, among other products. Under the conditions imposed by the suppliers of flannel, Messrs. Kelsall and Kemp (Tasmania) Limited, the manufactured article was to be marketed at a reasonable wholesale selling price. But some time ago an organization was formed by five other Melbourne warehouses engaged in the same kind of business. These people evidently exercise a great deal of influence on the Government. That can be readily understood when I read the names of the companies. They are Paterson Laing & Bruce Limited, Sargood Gardiner Limited, Richard Allen and Sons Proprietary Limited, D. & W. Murray (Australia) Limited, and Robert Reid & Company Limited. The firm of Charles F. Hawkins Proprietary Limited refused to join the association that was formed by those companies. Shortly after the association was formed, the members decided that there ought to be a 10 per cent, increase in the price charged for this product. Charles F. Hawkins Proprietary Limited regarded this as an inappropriate time to make any increase, because the price of wool had actually fallen. The firm refused to join in this agreement to exploit the Australian community. The association then approached the supplier of the raw material and threatened that its members would withdraw their custom unless Kelsall and Kemp refused to supply Charles F. Hawkins Proprietary Limited. Supplies to that firm were discontinued.

It appeared to me that this was a distinct case of restraint of interstate trade. 1 took the matter up, first, with the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) but I was unable to get very far with him. On 14th August, 195S, Charles F. Hawkins Pro prietary Limited received the following advice from Kelsall and Kemp: -

Several of our other shirt flannel customers have indicated their intention of closing their accounts if we supplied your firm with this flannel, and we have no alternative but to accept the position. The position is not of our seeking, but we feel that there is nothing we can do in the matter.

All these facts were conveyed to the Attorney-General in a letter dated 5th June, 1959, and the Minister replied on 19th June in these terms -

There is no provision of the Commonwealth law under which any action could be taken. This is not surprising, as the whole of the activities to which you call attention have taken place in the State of Victoria, and if there is any restraint of trade involved, it is a restraint of intra-state trade in respect of which the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to legislate.

I again wrote to the Attorney-General on 6th July, and on 14th July I received the following reply: -

I did not assume that the whole of the business activities of Chas. Hawkins Pty. Ltd. were limited to the State of Victoria. I did assume that when it purchased its supplies of flannel it did so in Victoria, t also assumed that any arrangement that may have been made between the company's competitors was made in Victoria with a view to affecting the purchase of flannel by the company in Victoria. The Australian Industries Preservation Act covers arrangements made in relation to interstate trade. I concluded that the Victorian purchase of flannel by the company would not be part of interstate trade, and that it would not become part of it merely because at a later stage the company's products made from that flannel would be sold into other States.

On 30th September, in the debate on the motion to adjourn this House, I again referred to this matter, and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), in a contribution which he made to the debate, said -

A Victorian manufacturer has sought supplies from a Tasmanian producer and the Tasmanian producer has answered the Victorian manufacturer that other Victorian manufacturers will cease to buy his produce if he supplies this Victorian manufacturer. That surely puts a new complexion on the matter; there is interstate trade.

The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) later interjected and said -

Has this been put in writing yet?

The Attorney-General then said -

No, of course I have not got it in writing. This has only recently been thought up.

The fact is that I conveyed this information to the Attorney-General in my letter of 5 th June, and I repeated it in a letter on 6th October. I was amazed to receive a letter from the Attorney-General, dated 19th October, giving the Minister's latest opinion. I had advised the AttorneyGeneral of the fact that a request had been made to the producers of the material in Tasmania by a manufacturer in Victoria, and that the producers in Tasmania had advised the manufacturer that they could not supply because others of their customers had declared that they would withdraw their custom if the Victorian manufacturer was supplied. The AttorneyGeneral then gave this amazing decision -

You have formed an opinion that the material which you have in hand undoubtedly makes it clear that a restraint on interstate trade has occurred. I regret that on the material you submit I do not share this confident opinion.

Let me put the position to the House. A firm operating in Victoria, manufacturing a product marketed throughout Australia, obtains its supplies of raw material from Tasmania. Those supplies are interrupted by a combination of a number of its trade competitors. If ever there was a restraint of interstate trade, surely this constitutes one. But the Attorney-General says no.

What is lacking? Is there a defect in the legislation of this Parliament, or does this Parliament lack constitutional power to deal with such a matter? If the Parliament has not the constitutional power to deal with this question, the sooner we amend the Constitution tha better. But I am of opinion that if power is lacking this Parliament can remedy the position with appropriate legislation. This Government can put the situation right if it wants to do so. It may be argued, as it has been by the Attorney-General, that it is a matter for Chas. F. Hawkins Proprietary Limited to take action if it feels that its rights are being infringed. But I am not concerned only with the manufacturer. I am concerned about the Australian public, the consumers of the product. If, by this combination of commercial interests, the company is being compelled to charge a higher price, I think this Government has an obligation, as protector of the public's rights, to intervene and see that some action is taken to put the matter right.

As I have said before, I do not expect this Government to take any action, because it is a government of big business, and these warehousemen who have combined against Chas. F. Hawkins Proprietary Limited are the great powers in the retail and wholesale trade of this country. They are putting the screws on and dictating the policy of the Government. I merely bring the matter to notice, so that it will be further evidence of the fact, which has often been alleged by Opposition members, that this Government represents only the powerful commercial and banking interests in Australia.







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