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Tuesday, 7 December 1965

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) . - I believe that nothing illustrates the difference between the Government and the Opposition as much as do the approaches to this clause. The Government, very rightly, objects to the proposition put forward by the Opposition. The Government may not have seen the implications of the clauses in this Part of the Bill, but at least its intentions are good. The Opposition really wants a police state. The Opposition believes-

Mr Snedden - This is not relevant.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I point out to the honorable member for Mackellar that this is the third occasion on which the Chair has suggested to him that remarks along these lines are not relevant to the Bill.

Mr WENTWORTH - Very good, Mr. Chairman. I refer now to the differences between the British and Australian practices. I believe that this matter is very relevant to the amendment that is before us and shows further the oppressive nature of the amendment. Under the British legislation, if two or three traders, or a group of traders, come together in a trivial and ephemeral agreement and do not register it, no offence is committed. It may be that the agreement cannot be enforced or becomes unlawful if attention is directed to it, but that is irrelevant in regard to trivial and ephemeral agreements.

Under this legislation, as it stands, if a few traders come together, as they do every day, and make an agreement between themselves about prices - perhaps the agreement is to last for only two or three days - they are guilty of an offence if they do not register that agreement. Perhaps the AttorneyGeneral has not realised the great difference between the British and Australian practices in that regard. In the British practice there is no real impediment to these trivial and ephemeral agreements. No offence is committed if they are not registered. It may be that by failure to register they become unenforceable. That is probably true. But does that matter? The people who are party to them are not affected.

Under this legislation, as it stands and according to the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) which seeks to strengthen it, groups of small business people who come together to make these trivial and ephemeral agreements - thousands of these agreements are made everyday in Australia - will be guilty of an offence if 'they do not register their agreements. That offence carries the severe penalty that is set out in clause 43, which we have just passed and could carry the even more severe penalty that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wants. As I have said, these ephemeral agreements are quite common. Most small businessmen and most small shopkeepers enter into them very frequently - in fact, many times a year each.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr WENTWORTH - Mr. Chairman,I should like to continue to put the arguments stating why I oppose the Opposition's proposed amendment, which will exaggerate penalties. It is, I think, obvious that the Government does not intend fierce penalties to be exacted for nominal offences. But nevertheless I believe that we should not write into this Bill any provision under which fierce penalties could be imposed for nominal offences. It will be seen that under the terms of clause 43 as it has just been passed there will be no defence of good faith available and even the most trivial nominal offence will be subject to the heavy penalties already provided for and the even heavier penalties proposed in this amendment. Let us suppose that we have two women at a church fete selling tomatoes from rival stalls and one says to the other: " What are you selling tomatoes at?" The other stall holder may reply that she is selling at ls. 6d. per lb. The first woman may say: " I proposed to sell at ls. 3d. per lb. but I shall bring my price up to yours ". Technically, this would be an offence to which there would be no defence under the terms of this measure.

Mr Killen - It would be subject to a fine of £1,000.

Mr WENTWORTH - The persons involved would be liable to a fine of £1,000 for committing this technical offence. Nobody supposes that there will be, under the administration of this Government, a fine of £1,000. But we know what the Labour Government in New South Wales did to small shopkeepers. If there is a change of administration, this kind of provision could be very dangerous in the hands of a bureaucracy. So I suggest, Sir, that we should have another look at the matter. I hope that the Government will look at the whole matter again when the measure is brought before the Senate, because the present proposal is wrong in principle. I voted against this sort of thing earlier today and I am convinced that I voted correctly. It is wrong in principle to provide a heavy penalty for a nominal offence that cannot be avoided. In this respect, the Bill now before us differs from the British practice. I cannot emphasise this sufficiently to my friend, the AttorneyGeneral. Under British practice entering into these trivial, ephemeral, day to day agreements does not constitute an offence. Under the United Kingdom act a practice can be made unlawful and parties to an agreement can be made to discontinue it. But by the very nature of things, most of the short term, ephemeral, day to day agreements about which we are talking are not such as are likely to be declared unlawful at some future date. They will evaporate by next Wednesday, shall I say, in any event. So the British measure is a commonsense one. It does not provide even a nominal penalty for these small, technical, trivial violations.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Lucock).Order! I suggest that the honorable member is now dealing with subject matter really relating to clause 43, which has already been agreed to by the Committee, whereas the amendment proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition relates to continuing failure to register rather than specifically to penalties.

Mr WENTWORTH - What I am dealing with, Sir, is the fiercely increased penalty that the proposed new clause will, impose. This is the aspect of the proposed amendment to which I am directing my attention and with which I am dealing in stating my reasons for opposing it. I am afraid that behind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's proposal there is a whole philosophy of bureaucracy. Earlier today, Sir, you appeared to think that I should not have used the phrase " police state ". I would not use such a phrase if you ruled it out of order. However, in my view that phrase rightly describes the kind of thing that the Opposition is striving for, rather wilfully, because it loves bureaucracy. Opposition members are Socialists. The Government, I think, has fallen in some respects unwittingly into the error of supporting bureaucratic practices without understanding them. I ask that we reconsider this vital question of the protection of the small man who enters into a trivial, ephemeral, day to day agreement which would be in violation of the Bill and which would incur even heavier penalties for continuing violation as proposed in the amendment. I believe that we should stick firmly to the principle that we should not put into the hands of a bureaucracy that we cannot control, even though we believe that it will not exercise such power, the power to impose these savage penalties on little people.

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