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Wednesday, 14 October 1964

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) . - I refer first to Division No. 115 - Administrative - and ask the Minister whether provision is made for the administrative costs involved in the staff of the AttorneyGeneral's Department handling the introduction of the restrictive trade practices legislation in the year 1964-65. The delay in the introduction of this legislation is a matter of great concern, particularly to the people of Tasmania, where the need for such legislation is so apparent. At the present time in Tasmania an inquiry is taking place into prices. Some of the practices that obtain in business today have to be seen to be believed. We find that in practically every field of endeavour because of the practices being carried on, the consumer is being immortally fleeced by trade organisations.

I now want to refer to Division No. 128 -Commonwealth Police Force. One particular matter that came out of the inquiry 1 have mentioned was that a small Hobart knitwear retailer was boycotted by Melbourne manufacturers. An honorable senator from Tasmania who sits on the Government side considered that this was so unfair that he sought the aid of the Commonwealth Police force. The police interviewed the Melbourne manufacturers and pointed out that they were unfairly treating the knitwear retailer. As a result of the police intervention, supplies of knitwear were made available to the retailer. T think that the honorable senator showed great initiative in trying to get justice for a person in a particular case.

It is most interesting to observe that the activities of the Commonwealth Police Force can be extended into such a field. Through police intervention, manufacturers can be reminded of their moral obligation to the community and to the small retailer in particular, and informed that such practices are frowned upon by the Commonwealth Government and the community. The police are in a position to advise these people that it is better if an agreement is reached.

Senator Wright - That was hardly the basis. It was that the Commonwealth police have a duty to administer Commonwealth law; and it was in respect of the Australian Industries Preservation Act that the situation referred to by the honorable senator was revealed.

Senator O'BYRNE - That is a most interesting aspect. The Government already has power under the Australian Industries Preservation Act. This is the first occasion on which 1 have heard of the power being exercised. I refer to an article in the Hobart "Mercury" of 2nd October 1964, in which it is stated -

A boycott of a small Hobart knitwear shop by two Melbourne manufacturers had been lifted after intervention by Commonwealth Police, the State Prices Inquiry was told yesterday.

One firm had honoured the agreement to lift the boycott, but the other had not done so fully.

Mr. M.C. Boucher, proprietor of Pastels* a knitwear shop in Collins Street, Hobart, gave evidence before the Prices Inquiry. He said - . . a woman representative of G. P. FitzGerald and Co. Ltd. had " put a gun at the head " of a Hobart manufacturer's agent to prevent the supply of knitwear to Pastels.

Mr. Bouchersaid that the agent, Mr. D. Lowe, had told him supplies would have to be slopped. " FitzGeralds said they would boycott the firms supplying me, " Mr Boucher said.

He said the representative of FitzGeralds was a Miss Card.

Mr. Bouchersaid it was through Senator Wright that the " boycott " was lifted. He had approached the Commonwealth Police.

Two Commonwealth police officers visited two Melbourne knitwear supply firms, who agreed to supply the shop.

The supplies concerned were two national lines of knitwear, Heathermoores and Crestknit.

That is all I know of the proceedings before the Prices Inquiry, but it does illustrate that, through the exercise of the powers that are already vested in the Commonwealth, more can be done to stem this ever growing tide of restrictive trade practices, price fixing and the like.

Another example of these practices related to king size packets of soap powder. It was sheer blatant dishonesty for manufacturers to have a king size packet of soap' powder with '* lOd. off" printed on it. In a particular store there were packets of soap powder with a content of 35i ounces and immediately alongside them were king size packets with " lOd. off" printed on them, with a content of 31 ounces, both being sold for the same price. Owing to a change in merchandising, two consignments of packets of soap powder, one with a content of 351 ounces and the other 31 ounces were in the store at the same time and no attempt was made to inform the public that there was a difference of 4i ounces in the contents of the packets. The lOd. off was only a gimmick anyway. The price was raised by 10d., and then it was taken off. The point is that the people were not getting value.

Until the restrictive trade practices legislation is introduced, there must be a moral responsibility on the Attorney-General's Department to do something about this matter, particularly in view of the revelations that are coming to the notice of the public as a result of the inquiry in our little State of Tasmania. I believe that we in Tasmania are pious Toms compared with those in the business jungle in the capital cities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney.

Senator Wright - It would be an offence in every State to label and sell a 31 ounce packet as a 35i ounce packet. You do not want restrictive trade practices legislation to make that an offence.

Senator O'BYRNE - No, but there does not seem to be anyone responsible for seeing that this is policed.

Senator Wright - The Chief Secretary's Department in each State does that.

Senator O'BYRNE - They know about it now, but they cannot open a packet.

Senator Wright - They can buy a packet any day they wish, take it away and weigh it.

Senator O'BYRNE - At any rate, it was not divulged until the prices inquiry had examined the matter.

Senator Wright - If you go on and be fair you will see that the storekeeper gave evidence that that particular consignment had been overlooked by his staff for one day.

Senator O'BYRNE - It is a little like the practice in some shops of giving the wrong change. When this is brought to the notice of the shopkeeper, he says: "I am sorry ", and that is the end of it. What I want to stress in raising this matter is that unless the Commonwealth Government gives the necessary guidance, and if one person gets away with these small degrees of dishonesty, then dishonesty will become the rule rather than the exception. This will have a cumulative effect which will stimulate the ever increasing price spiral and undermine the whole national economic fabric.

The Government is opposed to price control but eventually it will have to face the necessity to introduce Commonwealth legislation to provide a measure of price control, just as it has to face the necessity to introduce legislation relating to restrictive trade practices. Many present day business men will have to be disciplined. Our nation will suffer great disadvantages if restrictive trade practices are allowed to continue unhindered.

The fact that the Commonwealth Police Force was able to intervene on this occasion raises the point that the Australian Industry Preservation Act should be implemented more effectively until such times as the restrictive trade practices legislation is introduced - irrespective of the reasons for the delay in its introduction, whether they be political or mechanical. The Commonwealth Government has an instrumentality under its control, the Commonwealth Police Force, which obviously by its actions, was able to settle a very ticklish problem involving an unfair imposition on a small trader, lt actually got to the nub of the problem of what can be classified as business immorality throughout the nation.

As I said earlier, if this is happening in Tasmania, and was brought to the surface only as a result of the prices inquiry, to what extent must it be gathering momentum in other States. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance - that when the need arises the Government will use the Commonwealth Police Force to try to stem this very ugly tide which is rising and undermining our whole national economic fabric.

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