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Wednesday, 24 October 1973

The PRESIDENT - Order ! There is no substance in the point of order for the simple reason that Senator Greenwood has moved an amendment that the Bill be made an order of the day for the first day of sitting in 1974. He is adducing the reasons why the Bill should be postponed.

Senator GREENWOOD -There are at the present time on the register of the Commissioner of Trade Practices some 12,000 to 13,000 agreements. I think it is commonly acknowledged that of those agreements some 2,000 to 3,000 are of a particular character. They were the subject matter of the strengthening legislation which the previous Government introduced last year and which has been abandoned by the present Government. Of course, if there were an element of genuineness in what Senator Murphy said about the need to have immediate action, he could have adopted that legislation right at the commencement of this year because it had been prepared.

But there are these agreements. Of course, they would come within the purview of this new legislation. So would thousands of other agreements and practices which are not comprehended by the present legislation. How the Commission is to be expected to deal with all those matters in 4 months defies my understanding and raises enormous doubts in the minds of those persons who are affected by the legislation and who will have to conduct their businesses having regard to those provisions. They will need to have regard to the provisions which state that if a person is in breach of them he will be liable to incur a fine of up to $250,000. On the introduction of legislation of that character, with a penalty of that size, imposable not by the standard applied when a person is charged with a parking offence but that which is applied on the standard of the ordinary balance of probabilities in relation to civil offences, there is no doubt that people want to put their submissions in to the Attorney-General. I believe that he has an obligation to give people time to do so and to give consideration to such submissions when they are raised.

There are so many matters which one could instance as to why people need the time and as to why the Parliament should be given the opportunity to consider the implications of the provisions of the Bill. For example, there exists in each of the States legislation of 80 to 90 years antiquity which is called the Sale of Goods Act or the Goods Act. Those pieces of legislation contain provisions under which a body of law has been built up. Under this legislation which Senator Murphy is proposing there are similar but different proposals which are introduced as Commonwealth law and which apply only to companies. Problems arise when dealing with companies, partnerships or individuals. One may believe that there is a common code which applies, but will find to his injury or disadvantage that that it is not the case. It is so capable of being a source of conflict, doubt and problems that I do not believe that Senator Murphy has really considered what must be the impact upon the business community at large, the community which wants to take advantage of making submissions about the provisions in his legislation when they see the difficulties which the legislation is creating.

There is another area of doubt. Under the existing legislation the co-operation of business was sought by inducing companies to hand over to the Commissioner of Trade Practices agreements into which they had entered on the basis that if the agreements were with the Commissioner they would be kept secret. They would become a matter of public knowledge only if the parties to the agreement were challenged by the Commissioner as being agreements which were against the public interest. Then, the parties to such an agreement would have the option of deciding whether they wanted to challenge the Commissioner's opinion, and therefore their agreements would become open or, of desisting in the practice, the public interest being served in that way. But under this legislation, it apf irs that all those agreements will be able to be used as the basis for these quasi-criminal prosecutions which the legislation envisages. I imagine that many people would want to protest to see whether that could not be changed. These are areas in which the legislation is important and to which time for consideration ought to be given.

Senator Murphydoes not do credit to his objectives in this area or to his legislation, nor does he do credit to the Opposition, when he states that the only thing we have to be concerned about is protecting the community. We are all concerned about ensuring that the community is advantaged by the legislation which we pass and that where there is evil and mischief we can legislate effectively against it. But we must recognise that in this area we are an interdependent community. Consumers will not be advantaged if producers take fright at legislation and effectively withdraw from that area of competition, production and innovation which is so vital for our type of ongoing society. These are risks which we must recognise are inherent in the present legislation. It has been a fact of life in regard to trade practices legislation which I think the community has come to recognise that, if significant changes are advanced in legislation, time will be provided for those affected in the community to examine the changes. That has been the practice which has existed over the past 10 years.

I remind the Senate that the first positive statement on trade practices was made by Sir Garfield Barwick on 30 November 1962. New comprehensive legislation which is still the basis of our legislation today was introduced on 19

May 1965. The government of the day said that time would be allowed for persons to digest the legislation, for submissions to be made and for members of Parliament to examine its provisions. The debate on the legislation was not resumed until 24 November of the same year. In 1972 the then government gave a clear indication that it was proposing changes to the legislation. A comprehensive statement of intention was made to the Parliament on 24 May. An opportunity was provided for persons to look at the changes and to make their submissions. Legislation to give effect to that intention, after consideration of submissions received and the further reflection which time had permitted, was introduced into the Parliament last October. The intention was not to enact the Bill into law by racing it through the Parliament but to give people an opportunity to consider it.

I have heard so often that it is a tragedy when Parliament abuses itself when legislation is introduced one week and pushed through in double quick time simply because the Government has the numbers in order to have it passed. The practice has been criticised by persons who have some feel and appreciation of the parliamentary process and by those who believe that there should be opportunity for legislation to be considered and to be justified if it is to be good legislation and effective in its objectives. We have heard about white papers, green papers and all the other paraphernalia which ought to give background to legislation when it is introduced. But we have not heard a word about such papers from the present Government with regard to the present legislation. The host of provisions which are styled 'consumer protection provisions' are not justified by any words of explanation. There has been no documentation to indicate what type of offences or activities have been engaged in. These are things that we would expect to see. No wonder persons are concerned because of the impact which the legislation will have upon them. I believe that it is regrettable that Senator Murphy should have chosen the introduction of this Bill as the occasion upon which he would simply try to steamroller something through the Parliament without giving adequate time for debate.

In conclusion, I say that we recognise this measure will stand over for 2 months of parliamentary sitting time and for an effective 4 months in all, on the assumption that Parliament meets some time next February. But I want to say quite positively that the Opposition is as committed to effective trade practices legislation as is this Government. However, we believe that trade practices legislation must be introduced which acknowledges that there are some practices which, generally speaking, are against the public interest but which may in particular circumstances be consistent with the public interest. We also believe that there should be a wider range in the types of activities covered by trade practices than I believe is covered by Senator Murphy's legislation. This is all for the future. The Opposition's action does not represent a rejection of this Bill. It is simply a deferring of consideration of the Bill so that it can be debated in the light of greater knowledge in February of next year. All I hope is that the Attorney-General will use the time to acknowledge the submissions which will be made and to consider them because we have a common objective, namely, to make effective legislation work.

The PRESIDENT - I call Senator Brown.

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