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Tuesday, 19 June 1906

Mr ISAACS (Indi) (Attorney-General) . - I should like to say at the outset that I do not complain at all about the criticism which the honorable members of the Opposition have thought fit to urge with regard to this measure. I quite acknowledge that it is a Bill of very great importance. In fact, the undertaking of the Prime Minister last session - an undertaking which he has faithfully kept - that this should be the first measure to be introduced during the present session, is sufficient evidence of the opinion of the Government that it is of great importance. Its scope and meaning are, I think, truly indicated by its title. It is " for the preservation, of Australian industries, and for the suppression of destructive monopolies."

Mr Wilks - It is a bit fiscal, then?

Mr ISAACS - It is a Bill which, I think, ought to be supported by every honorable member, whatever .his fiscal opinions may be, so long as he believes in the development of this country. I will show the House why I express that opinion. If we have any desire to make this country what I think it may well become - perhaps not in the immediate future, but it can commence now - a great manufacturing country, a country that can hold its many millions of people as other continents do, a country that can have diversity of occupation and diversity of employment, with a population not confined to the margin of the Continent, but spreading far over its interior - then I say that it is necessary to see that its manufacturing industries and its natural resources, which may easily be turned into secondary sources of production, are not stifled, perhaps in the very first years of the Commonwealth, by the power of numbers and the power of aggregated wealth wrongly used to the repression of honest individual effort properly directed. I will call upon my honorable friends, who are very strong in the support of individual liberty, to join with the Government in passing this Bill, which is for the maintenance of true individual liberty. The measure has points of difference as compared with that which the Government 'presented last session. It is wider in its scope. It is not, however, different in its intention. Its intention now is, as it then was, to protect Australian industries, and. to repress commercial trusts. It is now wider, but, I say, of the same import. It more effectively carries out the intention embodied in the Bill of last year. I will now do what I did last session - endeavour to put before the House, as clearly as I can, the purport and meaning of the various parts of the Bill. The preliminary part contains a short interpretation clause, which applies to the whole Bill. It applies to Part II., relating to monopolies,, and to Part III., relating to dumping. It defines the term " commercial trusts," with which honorable members' are fully acquainted ; it defines " lower remuneration for labour," and it defines " person." When we come to clause 4, which is the first of a series of clauses extending to clause 11, dealing ;with the repression, of monopolies, we find provisions which are partly framed under the trade and commerce section of the Constitution, and partly framed under the corporation section. Whatever the Federal Parliament has power over, whether it be with regard to subjectmatter, or with regard to any particular person, it has full power over. When it has power over trade and commerce with foreign countries, and among the States, it has full power over that subject-matter, no matter what person, individuals, or corporations are carrying on that trade and commerce ; and when it has power over corporations, it has, I take it, full power over the operations of those corporations, whether thev are carrying on Inter-State trade, foreign trade, or trade within a State. So that we have endeavoured in this portion of the Bill to cope with monopolies, if they relate to Inter-State and1 foreign trade, and whether they are carried on by individuals or corporations ; and we have endeavoured to cope with monopolies even within a State when carried on by corporations. But we cannot deal - the Constitution does not give us power to deal - with monopolies, carried on purely within a State by individuals only. I take it, however, that1 it is a very small portion which is left uncovered. It must, if dealt with at all, be dealt with by the States; but it is a small thing in comparison with the larger issue, that an individual should have a monopoly within a State the operation of which does not extend beyond the limits of that State. We have gone as far as we can in regard to the nature of the matters with which we are dealing.

Mr Watson - Does the AttorneyGeneral regard as a corporation a single company that is not acting in conjunction with other companies ?

Mr ISAACS - Certainly. An ordinary trading company registered under a trading company's Act would be a corporation.

Mr Watson - Our power would apply notwithstanding that the company did not operate outside the borders of one State ?

Mr ISAACS - Yes, because we have full power to deal with corporations.

Mr Glynn - Is that a power under our Constitution ?

Mr ISAACS - Yes, under section 51, sub-section xx., we have power to legislate with regard to foreign corporations and trading and financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth.

Mr Glynn - I very much doubt whether that covers this particular Bill, though. It does not in the United States.

Mr ISAACS - The Federal Government has not such a power in the United States. It is because we have that power that we can make the additional provisions in this Bill, and I take it that if they had such a power the United States Government would be free from many of the difficulties that now confront them in their legislation.

Mr Glynn - I take it that the AttorneyGeneral has only discovered that power since last year.

Mir. ISAACS. By no means; but it is since then that we have decided to use it.

Mr Glynn - It was a discovery in extremis, I think.

Mr ISAACS - It was no new discovery at all. I was asked last year by the honorable member for Kennedy whether the Bill would apply to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and I replied that it would not, but that a few words could be introduced to make if apply.

Mr Glynn - I do not think that the Attorney-General indicated last year that those powers were in the Constitution.

Mr ISAACS - I can assure the honorable and learned member that I did, and he will find my statement in Hansard. I said that a very few words could make the Bill apply to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. In the United States the sole! power depends upon the trade and commerce section, but as I have said, there is a power in our Constitution to deal with corporations - foreign corporations and trading and financial corporations - formed within the Commonwealth; and I take it that we can deal with those corporations in regard to any of their operations. I have explained so far the nature of the ground that we intend to cover, and now I will poin't out how we propose to deal with it.

Mr Harper - Would the AttorneyGeneral mind explaining what is the position of an individual within a State? Is he to be restricted?

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