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Tuesday, 26 July 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I think' there is a good deal in the aspect of the case which the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) has put beforeus. Rightly or wrongly, constitutionally and legally or otherwise, some of the provisions in this Bill, even if they are only pious aspirations, should remain in connexion with attempted inquiries, at all - events, into the incidence of very high duties when they operate harshly against the consumer through the manufacturer, who thereby, perhaps, obtains a monopoly.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Does not paragraph d of sub-clause 1 give all the power necessary ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Probably it does. If carried out rightly it would probably give all the power which the words the honorable senator seeks to strike out gives; to that extent it is a repetition.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Just so.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But I do not see very much to object to in paragraph h, and sub-paragraphs i, ii, and iii. While referring to these, I should like to say a word or two on the amendment moved by Senator Earle, an amendment which raises the whole question of how far it is desirable for this Parliament to go in the direction of grandmotherly legislation, which tries to follow everything from the manufacturer to the man, woman, or child who eats, wears, or uses the manufactured article.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Protection is grandmotherly legislation !

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I disagree with that interjection; Protection is for the purpose, primarily, of giving work to our own people by taking it out of the hands of foreigners. But I am not going to support or approve of any legislation in the direction of further price-fixing. The amendment of Senator Earle, in effect, seeks to follow the goods from the manufacturer to the wholesaler or distributer, and to do so from Cape York to the Leeuwin. I think the manufacturer may fairly say, if he is treating distributers in a reasonable way, " I am not my brother's keeper." Neither do I think it legal or constitutional in any shape or form for this Parliament to interfere with the retail trade of the Commonwealth. It may be of interest to honorable senators to have an illustration of what may go on if we' approve of any grandmotherly legislation by means of this clause.

Senator Bolton - Can the honorable senator tell us what goes on now?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; I can give an illustration of what went on quite recently in the much-lauded but very ineffective State Profiteering Court of New South "Wales.. A little while ago that Court met, not for the first time, in nil the regalia at its disposal, Avith Judge, counsel, attendants, and so forth. On that particular morning the first case was one in which a firm was charged with having bought boots at 3s. 6d. a pair and resold them at 5s. lid., thereby allegedly making Sd. more profit that it was entitled to. These were children's boots, with white uppers, apparently, a fancy line. There was a solicitor and a leading barrister of the junior Bar retained for the defence, while the departmental officers, or so-called "Profiteering Inspectors," with another leading barrister of the junior Bar, appeared for the Crown - and all about boots which were alleged to have been sold at an extra profit of 8d. Toward? the end of the hearing a witness, who had been hurried over from Melbourne at the la3t minute, was called, and deposed that he sold these particular boots to the Sydney firm at 3s. 6d. a pair. In cross-examination, however, he went on to say that the boots formed part of an assigned estate, and that their value to the manufacturers at the time was 4s. 7d. On that evidence it immediately became apparent to the Court, and the learned counsel on both sides, that the Sydney firm had sold the boots at 5d. a pair under, instead of 8d. over the market price. The President of the Court, in the circumstances, decided that justice would be met by adjourning the case sine die, and the Department might, in view of the evidence disclosed, institute an inquiry into what was a fair profit for boot retailers to make. The result was that two barristers were engaged for two days, probably at £20 per day- that is £80 - and the solicitors' and other legal costs, which are usually approximate to those of the barristers, would be another £80, so that it cost £160 to obtain the information that a retailer had sold boots at 5d. per pair below, instead of Sd. above, the proper price as was alleged. I may quote another illustration of what is going on in this much-boosted Labour Government Profiteering Court to show tha ludicrous position which legislation that some honorable senators support would lead to. An inquiry was held into a trade association which had already been twice inquired into, and in connexion with which no action had hitherto been taken. The President of the Court expressed the opinion that there was no charge against the trade association, but that the inquiry _ was merely to ascertain whether ils activities were contrary to the public interest. The association was originally represented by its honorary secretary, who was a business man engaged in the trade. The ' New South Wales Government secured the services of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), with a junior barrister to assist him, and when the secretary of the trade association saw these legal luminaries arrayed against him he asked for an adjournment to obtain legal assistance, as he felt overawed by the talent confronting him. The case lasted three days, and the President of the Court then said that he would submit bis report to the New South Wales Government. Although the inquiry was held several months ago, the report has not yet been made public, as presumably the President of the Court found that the operations of the association were quite legitimate. But this decision was arrived at only after three inquiries had been made into the operations of this organization. The cost to the Crown may be summarized approximately in this way : One King's Counsel, £50 for the first day, with two refreshers each at £30, making £110, and the juniors, who would receive, say, a total of £50.

Senator Drake-Brockman - They would get two-thirds of the amount received by the seniors.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am glad to have the correction. In addition to the expenses incurred by the Crown, the apparent harmless association was mulct to the extent of £60 in barristers' fees, and probably a similar amount for solicitors' expenses.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - Notwithstanding that, the honorable senator is opposing my amendment.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If a similar inquiry were conducted under this provision, say, into the boot trade,' it would probably cost £1,000, and the resultswould be about as valuable as those I have mentioned.

Senator Drake-Brockman - We are endeavouring to create more difficulties by passing this provision.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I can agree with the honorable senator to some extent; but this Parliament has the power to conduct Tariff investigations, irrespective of decisions of the Privy Council and the High Court, or of the provisions of the Constitution. We can deal with Tariff duties up or down at our discretion, and Parliament should be informed if unfair advantage is being taken by those whom it is framed to protect. The clause may, as Senator Drake-Brockman suggests, be merely a pious aspiration; but we have the power to constitute a Board, or a Court of Inquiry, which will be effective. If the Board commenced an inquiry in connexion with the incidence of high Tariff rates, and those who are protected refused to answer questions submitted, they would incur the risk of Parliament reducing the duties, and thus effectively controlling their profits within Australia. That would, at all events, have a moral effect, and would assist in carrying out the intentions of the clause.

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