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Tuesday, 26 July 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I do not propose to set up my opinion as a layman against that of Senator DrakeBrockman, Avho has Avide legal knowledge, but I should like it to be made clear whether the powers enumerated, in this clause can be in any way compared Avith the powers whichwere sought some time ago in the proposed amendments of the Constitution.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - Those powers were much wider.

Senator PAYNE - The powers asked for at the referendum bad no limitation as regards trade and commerce. The clause provides that the Minister shall refer certain specified matters to the Board for inquiry and report. We are not asked to consent to that proposal in order that we may curtail trade or fix prices. We are asked to give power to the Minister to refer those matters to the Board so that the Minister may be informed, from the inquiries made by the Board, whether the protection afforded by the Tariff has been abused ot respected by the manufacturers. That is the point on which I stand. The four inquiries that may be made under the clause are as follow : -

1.   Whether the manuf acturer is charging unnecessarily high prices "for his good's.

That means unnecessarily high prices for his goods, taking into consideration the Tariff which protects him.

2.   Whether the manufacturer is acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public.

That would mean the storing up of goods so as to limit the output to the consuming public in order' to keep the price up, at the same time having the advantage of the high Protective duty given by Parliament.

3.   Whether the manufacturer . is acting in a manner which results in unnecessarily high prices being charged tq the consumer for his goods.

All these points have an intimate connexion with the protection which is afforded to the manufacturer under the Tariff.

4.   Whether the manufacturer is refusing to sell to any person goods to the value of £50 at current market rates.

I have given notice of -an amendment to the fourth sub-paragraph, which I want to modify and make applicable to the class of people that it Avas intended to cover when drafted. With all respect to the draftsman, I must say it Avas drafted very faultily indeed. With these ideas in my mind, I cannot agreewith Senator Drake-Brockman that we can treat the clause in the way that he suggests on the ground that it has been ruled by the Privy Council that Ave have no power to interfere with trade or commerce in the States. The Minister is not asking for power to ' interfere with trade or commerce. He asks for power to refer to the Board for inquiry and report anything which is happening under the protection afforded by Parliament in the Tariff to certain industries - anything unfair to the community in whose interests that Protective Tariff Avas imposed.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman.- That is quite true, but you do not get over the constitutional difficulty.

Senator PAYNE - I cannot see where any constitutional difficulty can be involved. The constitutional difficulty to which the honorable senator referredwas in connexion with the interference with trade- within the States.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - It was nob. It was the endeavour to inquire into the undertakings of an Australian company.

Senator PAYNE - For what purpose?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - That does not matter.

Senator PAYNE - Any Court would take into consideration the purpose for which an inquiry was instituted.

Senator Crawford - It was a question of the power of a Royal Commission to compel a witness to give certain evidence.

Senator PAYNE - In dealing with the Bill at this juncture, we are the highest Court in the land. If we feel that it will not be fair to the people of Australia to impose Protective duties without having legislative provision to insure that undue advantage will not be taken of the Tariff, we are entitled to pass a clause of this kind, and to leave the High Court to settle any disputes that may arise.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - Apart from the desire to deal with the profiteer, is it possible to do so?

Senator PAYNE - I believe there is a possibility of doing a great deal in that direction. Surely there is a possibility of making inquiry to ascertain whether, through the protection that the Tariff affords, any manufacturer is charging unnecessarily high prices to the consumer for the goods he makes.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Which they are doing every day, and we all know it.

Senator PAYNE - I do not say that all are doing it, but some have been doing it for a long time. I shall produce, later, a piece of evidence which will prove what I say in regard to some of them, at all events. If the Tariff Board finds, from evidence obtained-

Senator Drake-Brockman - How are they going to compel that evidence to be given ?

Senator PAYNE - There may be no power to compel the manufacturer to give evidence ; but I take it that the Board will have no difficulty in obtaining all the evidence necessary to prove such a case if it exists. If it is found that unnecessarily high prices are being charged, simply because we, in our liberality, have highly protected the particular industry concerned, all that the Tariff Board can do is to report to the Minister. If theMinister recommends to Parliament an amendment of the Tariff so as to take away a portion of the protection which has been afforded to that industry, surely that is a reasonable, and, in fact, the only, course to pursue ? As regards action in restraint of trade, it may be possible for people who have, no scruples - probably they form a very small minority - so to act in restraint of trade as to prevent the necessary quantity of a particular commodity being distributed amongst the people in order to keep the price at a high level.

Senator Wilson - What if a man held his crop of apples for a profit?

Senator PAYNE - The honorable senator should know that no man would hold a perishable crop for any length of time.

Senator Wilson - What if he held his crop of wheat?

Senator PAYNE - Is there a high Protective duty on wheat ? There may be many ways in which a manufacturer can operate to cause unnecessarily high prices to be charged to the consumer for his goods. The last sub-paragraph, regarding refusal to sell to any person goods to the value of £50 at current market rates, is most important. . It was included, I take it, with the object of insuring that the consumer should be able to obtain his goods at reasonable prices; that is, reasonable compared with the cost of manufacture. It is a wise provision; but I cannot agree to its present wording. Its only object must be to enable any person bonâ fide engaged in business to obtain his supplies direct from the manufacturer. In the majority of cases retailers are obtaining their supplies direct from the manufacturer in Australia to-day. In fact, in the great majority of cases any bonâ fide retailer can obtain from the majority of manufacturers the goods he requires if he will take them in wholesale quantities, but, unfortunately, there is a section of manufacturers who have barred and locked the door.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is not the honorable senator anticipating his own amendment?

Senator PAYNE - No. I am speaking in support of the retention of the four sub-paragraphs I have enumerated. The amendment would cut them all out.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not necessarily.

Senator PAYNE - I apologize if I have transgressed. I have said enough to show that I am not convinced of the wisdom of the amendment, I shall be only too happy to listen to anything further that can be said in favour of it, but at present I cannot support it.

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