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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2912


Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - The Government has moved an amendment to clause 18 of the Bill involving an addition of 3 subclauses. The need for these amendments, I believe, is a reflection of the hasty, ill-thought out manner in which the legislation was drafted and now the Treasurer (Mr Crean) finds that the Prices Justification Bill as it presently stands is essentially unworkable. The proposed Tribunal would be liable to examine prices for a whole range of retail products and would have legal force to prevent retailers from increasing their prices for a period of 21 days.

The amendments as designed give the Chairman of the Tribunal power to exempt a specified company, or companies included in a specified class of companies, from the requirement to notify the Tribunal of proposed price increases. This amendment would seem to overcome some of the more obvious machinery defects of the Bill, although I suspect that it is still inherently defective. The companies referred to in the amendment are those which have a turnover exceeding $20m a year. Therefore the amendment is seen essentially as an incomplete answer to the Opposition's objections to the machinery defects of the legislation. In my previous speech on the Bill I pointed out the absurdity of the requirement that individual items handled by significant companies should be individually subjected to price examination by the Tribunal. This amendment is an incomplete answer to the objections I raised in my speech at the second reading stage. The Government is obviously intent on setting up the Tribunal as soon as possible. There is no need to emphasise the fact that its terms of reference will make it almost unworkable. I believe that the basic concept of the Tribunal is quite naive and nothing more than a rubber stamping operation.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Luchetti) - Order! The Chair has been rather tolerant about the scope of the discussion on the amendment which is before the Committee.


Mr ANTHONY - Thank you, Mr Chairman. I will not oppose this amendment on the assumption that any improvement at all will help the measure before the House. However, it does not go nearly far enough in trying to overcome some of the grave anomalies it contains. I do not know how a large company that has a multitude of operations involving the pricing of the products it sells and possible increases in handling charges can have all such matters referred to a prices justification tribunal. It is so clumsy and cumbersome that it makes the operation almost impossible. The problems confronting the Tribunal in the practical application of its functions are probably but a faint and inadequate indication of the problems which will confront it in carrying out its terms of reference.

However, my major misgivings relate to the discretionary power given to the chairman of the Tribunal in the proposed amendment. On the one hand the Tribunal is required by legislation to investigate companies in respect of price movements; on the other hand it is now given discretionary authority to exempt specified companies from the requirements of the legislation. It could be that at this stage this is the only practical way by which the Government can escape the consequences of the ill considered legislation but the legal implications are, to say the least, quite disquieting. I think it would be a useful safeguard if the Treasurer were to give his approval when it was required to allow exemption to a particular company. I do not believe that the Tribunal should have absolute discretionary power to select which companies will be examined. I believe the power ought to rest in the hands of the Treasurer as a form of safeguard against any form of prejudice or abuse of power.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported; report adopted.







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