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Wednesday, 25 May 1977

Mr Antony Whitlam (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The amendment effected by clause 24 is relatively minor, but honourable members can be thankful that we have a section of the Act left to amend. This Government proposed to repeal section 49 of the Act in the December legislative proposals. The fact that it is not now proposed to do so is due solely to the efforts of the Opposition and the lobbying efforts of some of the small business organisations outside the Parliament. How shameful it was that in that defence of section 49 and in that defence of the price discrimination laws of this country we were not assisted by one Government member in the debate earlier this year. Not one Government member was prepared to come forward and say that the very thin reasoning of the Swanson Committee was not good enough to do away with a provision which had been in force for a little more than 2 years and which the Trade Practices Commission itself, in commenting on the Swanson Committee report recommendations, indicated had not been given enough trial.

Honourable members on this side of the chamber are aware of the difficulties in working out price discrimination laws, but they have advantages in the relatively medium term in restructuring the Australian economy on a more soundly competitive basis. What we on this side of the chamber stood opposed to was the suggestion that suppliers ought to stand over small businessmen or to supply bigger organisations on a basis that was not available to small businesses such as the corner store. How often do we hear about small business from Government members? Yet, when Government members have the chance to stand up for small business and defend it, when they have the chance to defend small businessmen who work in their businesses and who risk their capital, Government members are curiously silent. A thread that runs through the whole of this Bill is the assumption that big business is to be cosseted and looked after at every turn. When it came to the small business organisation, it was not to be given the protection of the law.

The law which was erected relatively recently to defend the small business organisation from the predatory acts and the discriminatory behaviour of big business was to be repealed. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) has had second thoughts about it. I should like to recall to him the words that he threw back at us in February about what an obstruction this had been to the development of price flexibility in the Australian economy. He has had to eat those words. In his very brief and very limited speech in introducing this Bill he said -

Mr McVEIGH (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - You will be made to eat crow.

Mr Antony Whitlam (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable member for Darling Downs is notorious in this chamber for standing up for cartels and for opposing the interests of small businessmen throughout Australia. I remember that the same guffawing from the same quarters joined the weak defence of the proposal to repeal section 49. Now that it has been saved, I should like to say that it has been saved because of the efforts of the Opposition. The Minister would do well to reflect on the fact that this proposition has been saved because of the efforts of the Opposition. We are delighted to see that it remains in the Act. The amendments are minor, but they will ensure at least that the provision remains and that it works. As I said, that is largely as a result of the efforts of the Opposition, particularly the efforts of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young).

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