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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- in reply- I do not believe that the suggestions I have made were ever considered by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt).

Senator Collings - I assure the honorable senator that they were considered by the Attorney-General. I can show him the evidence.

Senator SPICER - I sent a letter to the Attorney-General on this matter on the 9th March. That would be about the time when he must have been leaving for the United States of America. I have not received a reply to that letter. When

I inquired yesterday at the AttorneyGeneral's office as to what was the reply, I was informed that the letter had been sent to the Administration. In other words, a decision had not been got from the Attorney-General. The only reply I received in the matter was in consultation with the . Secretary to Ministers in the Senate, who informed me that my proposal had 'been considered, and had been rejected.

After listening to the debate, it seems to me that most honorable senators, were they to express themselves freely, are of opinion that there should at least be some form of appeal. The need for it could not be better illustrated than by reference to the case which Senator Sampson cited. A judge of a county court has decided that leases are not contracts for the purpose of these regulations. Some people seem to be a little surprised at that decision;but I am not surprised at it. Under the regulations as they now stand, that is, with no right of appeal or co-ordinating authority of any kind, the position is that although that county court judge decided to refuse relief to Mr. X on the ground that the contract does not come within the regulations, we may get a decision to-morrow from a police magistrate, or another county court judge, giving relief under a lease. That shows how ridiculous is a system of this kind which provides no form of appeal likely to establish uniformity in the principles to be applied. That is why I am most concernedabout these regulations. Reference has been made to Neon Signs {Australasia) Limited. It seems to be assumed that the only problem is to decide how much relief is to be given to the person who is in possession of a sign. If applications involving that company are to be dealt with singly, we must face up to the situation that we are merely passing on the problem to somebody else. There is a loss in connexion with these particular things which is attributable to the war, but that loss is being carried not only , by the people who rent the signs, but also by the people who supply them.

Senator Collings - The company itself can be an applicant under these regulations..

Senator SPICER - Let us consider that proposition. A single case involving less than £200 is brought before a police magistrate. In considering what relief he shall give in that one case, he is to consider the effects of the relief tobe granted to, say, 3,000 other people who have contracts with Neon Signs (Australasia) Limited. No magistrate can do that. That is why I appeal in respect of the Neon signs company for a single tribunal at least which would be able to look at that company's position as a whole. Let us suppose that a police magistrate said to every person who rents these signs, "You are completely freed of your liability under your contract." That would create an entirely new set of problems. It would throw a tremendous liability on the shareholders of the company, and would involve them in a tremendous loss, I suppose that we shall then anticipate that the company in itsturn will come along to the tribunal to be relieved of other contracts, because it cannot meet its commitments as the result of the decisions of magistrates in individual cases. Thus the thing becomes a snowball. In such cases as that relating to the neon signs where thousands of parties have a contract with one other contractor, applications for relief could be referred to a single tribunal, and the whole relationship between the customers on the one hand and the supplier on the other could then be looked at as a whole and some general principles applied.

Senator Collings - The company can apply for relief under these application.'.

Senator SPICER - It is not so easy as that. Let us assume that Mrs. X applies to a police magistrate for relief in respect of a neon sign which is exhibited outside her sweetshop. She claims that it is costing her so much a month, whereas she is not able to get any benefit from it. Neon Signs (Australasia) Limited then asks the police magistrate, in dealing with this particular application, to consider the ramifications of all its contracts. Is the company to take such action in every case? Is the magistrate to consider the ramifications of all the company's contracts in deciding what relief he shall give to Mrs. X? Must he also consider all the other contracts in respect of which other police magistrates and judges may have given relief? Must he guess the kind of relief which has been given to those other applicants?

Senator Cameron - Cannot the honorable senator imagine that circumstances may vary in different cases?

Senator SPICER - Yes; but I also imagine that a tribunal which deals with all the contracts of one company, like theNeon Signs (Australasia) Limited, will be available to lay down a general principle application to all cases, and will thus be enabled to see at a glance the whole of the operations of the company in relation to its customers, and to see in advance what is going to be the effect of its decision on the customers and on the company. I do not think that any single police magistrate can possibly be in a position to do that. In order to do so, he will be obliged to engage in a long investigation in respect of every application brought before him.

I am very disappointed at the attitude adopted by the Government in relation to this matter. When I see a regulation which I believe is capable of improvement, as I think this one is, I regard it as my duty to direct attention to the nature of the alterations which might be made. I agree that that is a matter of opinion; but I do not think that an opinion expressed off-hand and which does not involve a detailed consideration of the whole of the circumstances amounts to a proper consideration of a problem of this kind. The Government is thoroughly careless in introducing regulations dealing with matters of this kind. The history of the last few weeks is such that the Government could scarcely expect appreciation of any one in this community who understands what it is doing. But for the intervention of the Opposition one set of regulations introduced by this Government would have ruined thousands of people in this country. Unfortunately, the operation of those regulations in the course of about ten days ruined thousands of people who cannot recover their loss under the regulations even in their amended form. The position is much the same in respect of these regulations. We are told that, they have not yet been tested. Regulation 76 was tested for only ten days, and the Government was not even game to table it in Parliament. It appointed a joint committee to examine the regulation. That is an indication of the recklessness of the Government in the introduction of regulations. The conduct of its members in this chamber tonight is another example of its recklessness in these matters. One honorable senator said, " You have not allowed the regulations to be tested". The point is that we cannot allow a thing like this to be tested without creating the damage.

Senator Collings - We should create bigger damage if the regulations were not tested.

Senator SPICER - No. The only suggestions which have been made by honorable senators on this side have been made for the purpose, not of destroying, but improving these regulations, and for the purpose of avoiding the very difficulties which are likely to create real damage in the community. It is possible for men of reason to see where dangers lie; and it is possible to devise ways by which some of these dangers can be avoided. That is all I have suggested to-night. But the Government says, " No, we have made these regulations, and they must stand. We shall allow them to be tested." Thousands of cases, perhaps, will be decided according to no principle at all, because no principle will exist. They will be decided according to the particular whim of a particular tribunal with no principle to guide it as to how it should reach its decision. I repeat that I am greatly disappointed at the attitude of the Government towards these regulations. It could well have appointed a committee of the Senate, or a joint committee of both Houses, to consider the propositions I have made. I still commend those propositions to the Government. I am not bound by any one of them in particular ; but they are worthy of consideration. I believe that before long, perhaps, we may yet see some of those proposals inserted in these regulations The sooner that is clone, the better it will be from the point of view of the administration of these regulations.

Question resolved in the negative.

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