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Tuesday, 26 July 1921

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) . - I think the suggestion made by the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) is a good one. I therefore move -

That in paragraph h of sub-clause 1 the words, " any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the Tariff, and in particular " be left out.

I have no desire to limit the discussion by dealing at once with the whole ques-; tion, but, as a matter of fact, I desire to secure the elimination of the whole of paragraph h of sub-clause 1. My reasons are twofold. In the first place, I think the retention of such a provision is of no use from a legal point of view, and that whatever pious hopes we may have that we shall be able to deal with the profiteer, we shall never really catchhim; My second reason is that I object to the harassing of manufacturers and others by these methods. The best way to deal with the profiteer is to encourage competition. Where there is sufficient competition there is no profiteering. If the Tariff is so shaped that it will create a monopoly, and, therefore, profiteers-

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Which it must do.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - As it may do; let us alter the Tariff and deal with the profiteer in that way. If it is desired to deal with the profiteer-

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - We all said on the hustings at the last general election that we would kill, the profiteer.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - We all told the electors that we had not the power to deal with him, and yet with the object of destroying the profiteer we are proceeding in paragraph h to set up machinery which must be entirely ineffective. We asked the electors to agree to an amendment of the Constitution giving us the necessary power to deal with the profiteer. We said that this foul fiend was rampaging over Australia, and that we desired to destroy him ; but that, in order that we might do so, the electors -themselves must agree to give us the necessary power. That is what the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) told the electors, and what we repeated all over Australia. Many people became very eloquent as they held up this bogy, which they then proceeded to knock down, and I think that in that way they got a lot of votes. The electors, in their wisdom, decided not to give the Parliament the power to deal with the profiteer, and we have not the power to-day to deal with him. In 1911, under the Royal Commissions Act, letters patent were issued to a Commission to inquire into the sugar industry. The Commission, acting under the powers conferred on it, called before it certain witnesses - directors and other officials of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. These officials refused to give the information that was demanded of them. It was in 1912 that the issue arose, and, after several appeals, the case went to the Privy Council, which decided that the Federal Parliament had not the authority to vest a Royal Commission with the powers of inquiry claimed in this case. We are now endeavouring to establish the same machinery for the same purpose, although the highest legal authority has already decided that no such power exists under the Constitution of Australia. The original Royal Commissions Act, which, I think, was passed in 1902, purported to give certain powers of inquiry to Royal Commissions to whom letters patent were issued.' That original Act was not as wide in its terms as the Constitution permitted, and finally, in 1912, in order to get over the difficulty ;hat had arisen with the Colonial Sugar Defining Company, Parliament passed an amending Bill enabling Royal Commissions to make inquiry into and report upon matters specified in the letters patent, and which related to or were connected with " the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth," or any public purpose, or any power of the Commonwealth. There the exact wording of section 51 of the Constitution was followed. The powers vested in Royal Commissions under that Act were as wide as could possibly be granted under the Constitution, but the Privy Council decided that there was not the necessary authority under the Constitution to grant those powers of inquiry. In this case we are either proposing to give to this Board the whole power to make inquiries that is granted us under the Constitution or something less. We can grant no greater power than the Constitution itself gives.

Senator Payne - Does the honorable senator say that the Constitution does not give lis the power of inquiry 1

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I say deliberately that the power to inquire into profiteering still .remains with the States, and not with the Commonwealth. We must not forget that this is a Federation of sovereign States. Sovereign powers were vested in all the States, and they in turn surrendered a portion of their powers to the Commonwealth. Any power that is not set out in the Commonwealth Constitution is still retained by the States. The Commonwealth Constitution, as I understand it, does not give to the Federal Parliament the power to deal with profiteering. That position seemed to be clearly understood on the occasion of the last general election. If we had this power why did we ask the electors to amend the Constitution ?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In order that we might have more ample powers.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - And the people of the Commonwealth turned down the proposed amendments of the

Constitution. Senator Guthrie, who is a very conscientious man, promised the electors, as he has so often told us, that he would do his utmost to destroy the profiteer. That being so,- he naturally desires to support any proposition purporting to deal with profiteering. Ministers may be honestly desirous of doing the same thing, but I do not believe in political " eyewash." Since" I do not consider that these powers will be effective, I do not believe in putting them in the Bill. There are many directions in which the Board within the limits imposed by this Committee can carry out very useful work.

Senator Crawford - Does the honorable senator think that the deletion of the paragraph providing for the exercise of these powers would make any difference?

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