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Tuesday, 7 December 1965

Mr HAWORTH (Isaacs) .- The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has raised the matter of whether an agreement is registrable and has moved an amendment. I oppose the clause which provides a penalty for not registering an agreement under certain conditions. I do this because a certain amount of confusion exists and this would make the application of the clause grossly unfair. The honorable member for Moreton has submitted a proposal which, I think, is infinitely better than the clause as it now stands. Last week I said that I was deeply concerned with the effect that Part V of the Bill would have on the free enterprise business community that we have in Australia today. The removal of Part V, which deals with compulsory registration of agreements, would in no way affect the principles of the Bill and would save the business community a tremendous amount of money and much irritation. I pointed out that whereas this legislation is new to this country, it was not new to New Zealand or to Great Britain and that those countries had found it necessary to vary their legisla tion. In particular New Zealand has found it necessary to vary its legislation. After three years experience the New Zealand Government has removed the provision for compulsory registration. I believe this will happen in Australia if this provision is made law.

I point out that under Part V thousands of unnecessary agreements will have to be made. All these will be lodged in Canberra, causing unnecessary expense and work. Not only written agreements, but also oral agreements will have to be registered. I said last week that I envisaged the registration of implied agreements made by businessmen over a cup of tea. Businessmen will have to rack their brains to remember whether they have made an implied or verbal agreement which they have not registered. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) said that this was a ridiculous argument. It is ridiculous that this kind of thing should happen and I think that this provision in the Bill is particularly stupid. The compulsory registration of these agreements will impose on the business community a tremendous unnecessary expense. Individuals may be fined up to £1,000 if they do not register agreements. This is a ridiculous situation. My argument was supported somewhat last week by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), who, referring to the position in the United Kingdom, said that of 2,300 agreements made in Great Britain, only 1 1 were contested. He said -

If we are going to have a similar experience in Australia, then obviously in the early days of the Tribunal at least there will not be a great deal of work to do.

There may not be a great deal of work for the Tribunal to do but there will be a lot of work for the business community all over Australia. They will have the worry of investigating agreements, including verbal agreements, to see whether they should be registered. Grave doubts exist now as to whether some agreements will have to be registered, but to avoid being fined up to £1,000 they will have to be registered. Not only will the business community be put to the expense of registering agreements but also the taxpayers will be put to the expense of establishing a new department to handle this matter because every horizontal agreement, big and small, in every part of Australia, will have to be registered. These agreements will be dropped on the doorstep of the Commissioner in Canberra because Canberra is to be the repository of these agreements. The agreements will have to be sorted, indexed and filed. A considerable staff will have to be employed to examine the agreements. The remarks of the Minister for Shipping and Transport last week show how unnecessary all this work might be.

Additional to the staff employed on indexing and filing agreements, there will be a staff to investigate industry to ascertain whether any agreements exist which have not been registered. The work involved will be tremendous. Extra staff will be needed to prepare cases and prosecute individuals who fail to furnish the required particulars. Obviously, the Commissioner will want to be available to persons who wish to consult him about agreements and practices. The department concerned will be involved in a considerable amount of work. Further work will be involved in the preparation of information for the Tribunal. I envisage the registration of these agreements creating a tremendous amount of unnecessary work. All that is necessary to rectify this situation is to drop Part V of the Bill. The Commissioner still would be able to call for agreements. He would still be able to investigate an agreement on the objection of any member of the community and he would still be able to operate on his own volition. Even if the whole of Part V of the Bill were dropped, the objectives of the Government on the question of trade practices would not be affected. The honorable member for Moreton has directed the attention of the Committee to the fact that clause 43 deals with the costly prosecutions that the Government will undertake. I object to clause 43, but I see great merit in and prefer the amendment of the honorable member for Moreton.

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