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Friday, 23 October 1914

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill does not in itself create any new offences. Most of the matters referred to in the Bill are already illegal at common law, and the desire is to bring them clearly into the form of a Statute, to make the statutory powers clear in regard to the proclamations which are issued from time to time. The Bill is retrospective, going back to the 4th August, the date of the declaration of war, in the case of His Majesty the Kaiser, and to the 12th August in the case of the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. The object is to prevent trading with the enemy in practically all forms, more particularly in regard to those matters in respect of which a proclamation has been issued, not only by the King of- the British Dominions, but also by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth. The Bill may be divided into two parts, the first in regard to what it seeks to prevent, and the second in regard to the powers which it is desired to confer upon the Minister of Trade and Customs. The penalties provided for illegal trading are very heavy, but prosecutions can only be initiated by the Attorney-General. In those cases which are summarily dealt with, fines may be imposed to the extent of £500, or twelve months' imprisonment. In the case of a prosecution upon indictment, a fine of any amount, or imprisonment for not more than seven years, or both, may be imposed. The Bill contains the usual provisions in regard to the confiscation of either goods or money belonging to an individual or firm engaged in trading with the enemy. There are also given under it powers somewhat similar to, but perhaps a little more drastic than, those for which the Australian Industries Preservation Act provides in regard to the right of the ComptrollerGeneral, under a warrant issued by a justice of the peace, to inspect books in order to secure information, to put questions to any person who is in a position to give such information, and to search any premises for any information that he thinks will be usnfnl. Tn a of urgency it will be within the power of the Comptroller-General, by writing under his own hand, to authorize any person to take action immediately, and to dispense with the warrant of a justice of the peace. That procedure is intended to be used only in case of emergency. Clause 8 is one of the most important, and may be thought to be novel to this class of legislation, but it is embodied, I understand, in the Act passed by the British Parliament. It provides that in the event of any firm, company, or corporation being suspected of trading with the enemy, it shall be within the power of the Minister of Trade and Customs, through the Comptroller-General, practically to take possession of the business, trade, or industry concerned. If the carrying on of the industry, business, or trade is essential to the welfare of the Commonwealth, the Minister may put in control a manager, who will have all the power that a receiver has under the Insolvency Act. The clause also declares that the receiver, if authorized by the High Court, shall have power to borrow money for the purpose of continuing the trade or industry. The Court is empowered to make money so borrowed a first charge on the property - a charge having priority to any other debt or charge which may exist upon the business. The Court is given practically a free hand in regard to the costs and charges of any prosecution under the Act, the power being left entirely with it to determine how and by whom they shall be borne. I do not think I need say more, save that a request has been made that the Bill shall be viewed as a particularly urgent one, and that we should, therefore, do everything in our power to facilitate its passing.

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