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Thursday, 26 November 1914

Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) (AttorneyGeneral) . - I move -

That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Trading with the Enemy Act 1914.

May I, by leave, expedite our proceedings by explaining the measure at this stage ? The Trading with the Enemy Act was introduced and passed through all its stages in one sitting only a short time ago, but practical experience has proved that its provisions are insufficient for our purposes. The British Parliament has found it necessary to amend the Act on which our Act is based. We have cabled for the full text of that amending legislation. We have not yet received the text of that measure, but the Bill that I wish to introduce has been drafted to cover the ground which, from the remarks of the Imperial Attorney-General, appear to be covered by it. This Bill is so urgently needed that we ask honorable members to allow it to pass through all its stages to-night. The term "enemy subject " is defined in the Bill to include any person, firm, or company whose business is managed or controlled directly or indirectly by, or is subject to, the influence of enemy subjects, or is carried on wholly or mainly for the benefit of or on behalf of enemy subjects, notwithstanding that, if a firm or company, it may be registered or incorporated within the King's Dominions.

Mr Joseph Cook - How can you prove that any person, firm, or company is subject to the influence of an enemy subject? Surely that is a psychological problem !

Mr HUGHES - I admit the difficulty; but it is, unfortunately, a fact that there are in our midst companies which masquerade under the guise of Australian companies, but are controlled and influenced very largely by enemy subjects, existing and carrying on their operations, so far as they are able to do so, for the benefit of enemy subjects. That ought not to be allowed to continue. I am unable now, and the House will not expect me, to give instances in support of my statement; but the facts are within the knowledge of nearly every honorable member. While the question of the Leader of the Opposition may be fairly put, it is not easily answered. It is because of the difficulty of proof that the term "enemy subject " has been given so wide a definition. At this juncture, it should be sufficient that the welfare of the community demands that certain firms and companies, about which there exist doubts as to their being controlled or influenced by enemy subjects, shall be controlled directly by the community through the agency of the Government. I hope to make a statement to-morrow in regard to one company which will amply bear out all that I say to-night, and more; but I cannot make that statement now.

Mr Groom - Which section of the Act is to be amended ?

Mr HUGHES - It is proposed to amend section 2 by inserting at the end of sub-section 1 the following provisions - "Enemy subject" means -

(a)   any person who is an enemy within the meaning of any proclamation by the King or by the GovernorGeneral referred to in sub-section 2 of this section; or

(b)   any person firm or company the business whereof is managed or controlled directly or indirectly by or under the influence of enemy subjects, or is carried on wholly or mainly for the benefit or on behalf of enemy subjects, notwithstanding that the firm or company may be registered or incorporated within the King's Dominions.

That is the chief amendment. Section 7 of the Act provides that -

Where it appears to the Minister of Trade and Customs, in reference to any firm or company -

(a)   That an offence under section threeof this Act has been, or is likely to be, committed in connexion with the trade or business thereof .... the Minister may apply to the High Court for the appointment of a controller.

It is proposed to enlarge the scope of this provision, first, by the definition of "enemy subject"; and, secondly, by giving greater powers to the controller. Under the Act, the powers of the con troller are those of a receiver or manager under the laws relating to bankruptcy or insolvency in force in the State in which the firm or company carries on business. The duty of a receiver or manager is to carry on the business placed in his hands in the interests of the creditors or persons interested. His powers may not go to the extent of discontinuing that business, but it may become the duty of a controller under this Bill to discontinue the business placed in his hands, and it is proposed to enable him to do so. It is further proposed to allow the controller to receive debts due by any person to an enemy subject, or to any person about whose status there is reasonable doubt, or where payment might possibly be against some principle of policy or Statute. The controller is to be empowered to receive money in such cases, and to pay it into a fund where it shall remain until the close of the war, when it may be paid out to the person to whom it shall then appear to be properly due.

Mr Groom - The payment to the controller will be a discharge of the debt, so far as the debtor is concerned ?

Mr HUGHES - Yes. The powers given are very wide, but, as I said when introducing the principal Act, the circumstances demand legislation of this character. I do not think that the Bill goes further than the British legislation, and, in any case, after careful consideration of the position, I am confident that it does not go further than is necessary to deal with present circumstances.

Mr Joseph Cook - Could not the honorable member get leave to introduce the Bill, and allow the House to proceed with the consideration of the next business on the paper until he is able to present it?

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