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Tuesday, 7 December 1965

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (AttorneyGeneral) (12:38 PM) - I have listened to the debate on this question with interest because it is a matter to which much consideration has been given. I assure the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) in particular that very close consideration was given to it. I shall deal with the matters in the order that the honorable member for Swan brought them up. He asked first what was the ramification of a registered agreement. First and foremost, a registered agreement is not an ad hoc agreement as is the agreement referred to in paragraph (a) of sub-clause (4.). As a registered agreement normally has relation to price, it would have been registered with the Tribunal, and, of course, once it is registered with the Tribunal it would not be an ad hoc agreement but would be a standing agreement and would constitute a defence unless and until the Tribunal had ruled that it was contrary to the public interest. While it was not so ruled, it would be a defence to a prosecution and there would be no difficulty involved.

The next point raised by the honorable member was in relation to the supply of goods outside Australia by the tenderers. This also is an exemption. The honorable gentleman asked why it is not dealt with in clause 87. I think the answer is that it was found desirable to deal with it directly at that point of time. The next point raised by the honorable gentleman was in relation to joint tendering by unrelated companies neither of which feels capable of tendering for the whole job. The honorable member cited building as an example. I think I should put it to the honorable member that when somebody calls for tenders they are not new to that field. They know the general field in which they are calling tenders. They would know that in order to get tenders which were truly competitive over a range they may require to permit people to join in a joint enterprise so that they can tender. In that case it would be open for two people who could not otherwise tender to tender jointly and it would be a matter for the tenderer himself to decide when calling for the tenders. That person would not be inexperienced in what he could expect. Alternatively, if two or more unrelated companies felt they would like to tender but could not tender for the whole of the work they would come together and would seek the consent of the person calling tenders and it would be up to that person to decide whether or not he would agree to the submission of joint tenders. Closely considered, I think this is a reasonable and proper provision.

The suggestion made by the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan), which has the purpose of restricting competition, like the amendment moved by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) is to put the matter in the Commonwealth Industrial Court, a true judicial court. The other suggestion would be to vest in that judicial body a responsibility to make a determination in relation to economic matters as to whether or not they were against the public interest. It would be quite inappropriate to put that responsibility there. But that is only one point. The major point is this: I think that the broad range of people accept the proposition that collusive tendering cannot be consistent with the public interest in any circumstances.

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