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Thursday, 5 July 1906

Mr ISAACS (Indi) (Attorney-General) - It is a mistake to say that under this clause a man has only to be charged with an offence, when he will have to prove his innocence. That is not what the Bill says at all. It will have to be proved, first of all, that there is. a combination, and that it is a combination of a particular kind. That will be a very' difficult thing, to start with, in the case of a commercial trust. Then it will have to be proved affirmatively that the competition complained of will destroy or injure an Australian industry; and, further, that such combination is engaged in the destruction or injury of an Australian industry, with intent. Finally, it will have to be shown that the industry is one which ought to be preserved, and that the individuals engaged in the industry concerned, are being attacked by the defendant - a huge body - a commercial trust -a combination of persons who have associated together for the purpose of crushing or injuring it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -But in the mean time, while these things are being proved, the business of the accused will be held up.

Mr ISAACS - That question is immaterial to the present issue. Perhaps the honorable member will allow me to keep to the point upon which I am engaged. Having proved all those things affirmatively, all we say is that, where a single individual is being attacked unfairly by a huge trust-

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The trust need not be huge.

Mr ISAACS - It would be huge in comparison with a single trader. If the trust is engaged in endeavouring with intent to injure or destroy an industry, we say that the defendant must show that the competition is fair. To start with, we say that it is not fair that individuals should have to meet the attacks of huge combinations. That in itself is repugnant to ordinary British fair play. Where a little man is attacked by a big man - and by the big man here I mean a trust - and attacked with the design of crushing him, orinjuring him - intent of which has to be proved by the prosecution - we simply say, " Well, we do not say that your competition is necessarily unfair, but we do say that the time has arrived when you, as a huge combination, should show that you are acting fairly."

Mr Poynton - Would it be considered unfair competition if the big trust employed machinery which was up to date, and was competing against obsolete machinery ?

Mr ISAACS - No, it would not.

Mr Poynton - That is generally the case when a big. man is fighting a little one in business.

Mr ISAACS - I have prepared and printed an amendment embodying a suggestion made by the honorable member for North Sydney, to insert in this clause the following words: -

In determining whether the competition is fair, gard shall be had to the efficiency of the management, the plant, and the machinery employed or adopted in relation to the Australian industry affected by the competition.

I think that will meet the view of the honorable member for Grey.

Mr Poynton - Hear, hear.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister has omitted the word "processes."

Mr ISAACS -I have no objection to put that in. We say to the Australian industry : " Whatever you do, get the best machinery you can, employ the best men you can, have the most up-to-date appliances " ; and if, notwithstanding that, the Australian industry cannot live, in face of the attack made on it, without reducing the remuneration for labour, we say that that shall be deemed to be unfair competition. We also say that if, notwithstanding that the best methods are employed, and the plant is brought up to date, the competition complained of would actually disorganize and injure an industry, which ought to be preserved in the interests of the producers, workers, and consumers alike, then those who are injuring it ought to be called upon to show that their competition is not unfair. I do not think there is anything wrong or un-British in that. We do not want to shut out fair competition. There is nothing in -this Bill to impede fair competition. But we have Australian industries, and we hope to have more. We seek to preserve those industries which are of advantage to the Commonwealth gene- ; rally, which are not hot-house industries, : and which, looking at the interests of producers, workers, and consumers alike, ought 1 to be preserved. If they are confronted with fair competition, they must take their chance. But they ought not to be subject to attack from unfair competition. We impose the obligation upon the prosecution to prove affirmatively the injury, the intent to do that injury, the character of the industry that is attacked - namely, that it is one that ought to be preserved in the interests of all ; and then, we say, in the case of an ordinary competitor, " You have to prove from the beginning that the competition is unfair." But if there is an aggregation of capital we say to it, " You have to prove that your competition is fair." I do not think that there is anything harsh or un-British in that. It meets even the test that the honorable member for Wannon has put. It would be impossible, in the case of a huge trust, to prove that its methods of competition were unfair. Its ramifications might extend in directions where we could not follow it. It is quite different from an ordinary single trader, whose business operations we can" predicate pretty well. If we have a huge concern to deal with, it is time, when we have proved all these things affirmatively, to say, " You now have to show thatyou are dealing fairly : ifyou are,you are free, notwithstanding all the injuryyou are doing." We propose to provide by the amendment which I have indicated, that the trust is not to be considered to be actinc: unfairly if the Australian industry which is being injured has not adopted efficient machinery and plant, and modern processes. I think we shall have gone far enough when we have done that.

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