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Friday, 9 August 1912

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) . - I wish briefly to give a general support to this Bill. ' From the Opposition we have had a good deal of talk about panic and drastic legislation. I am prepared to admit that this measure is very drastic, but I believe it to be absolutely necessary. I am not quite sure that we have not very nearly reached the panic stage, demanding legislation of this kind, in view of the modern developments of industry. I was looking over some statistics this morning which might justify that opinion. I find that the average wage paid to males employed in the whole of the factories of Victoria is £102 per year. Eliminating youths and young men from fourteen to twenty years of age, the average wage earned in Victorian factories by adult males, most of whom are married men, is from ,£110 to £112 per year. I say that, in such circumstances, and remembering that the cost of living has increased by about 25 per cent., it is not too much to say that we are up against a condition of things which excuses panic and justifies panic legislation. If we are to legislate effectively with respect to modern industries, we must ascertain the facts connected with them chiefly by means of inquiries made by Royal Commissions. I assume that the object of appointing the Sugar Commission was to have an inquiry into the general working of the sugar industry, that we might be in a better position to legislate with respect to the sugar bonus and the conditions which should apply to millers, growers, and workers generally in the industry. This Bill is not intended specially to deal with a particular case. It will be necessary for us in the future to appoint many Royal Commissions to inquire into the conditions of industries. Royal Commissions, in the past, may have been very successful in securing all the information they were appointed to obtain, but the conditions prevailing in trades and industries, ten or twenty years ago in Australia cannot be compared with the complex conditions, of industries which it is necessary to inquire into to-day. In days gone by, most industries were not so organized that it would* have been profitable to those conducting them to pay a considerable amount of money in. fines in order to hold up the proceedings of a Royal Commission. But to-day certain industries have become so concentrated in the hands of a few persons that it pays, them to defy the law for the purpose of securing delay, because, in the meantime, they are levying a heavy toll upon thepeople.

Senator Millen - Why do not the Government put the Anti-Trust Act in operation then?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am not an authority upon the law ; but I understand that most persons agree that there are limitations to that Act, and that it can be applied only to a few industries.

Senator St Ledger - So far as it has. been tried, it has proved fairly effective.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I need not quote the opinion of the Attorney -General of the late Deakin Administration to the effect that there are only three or four industries to which it can be specifically applied. I am not aware that the sugar industry is one of them.

Senator Millen - Mr. Glynn said that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was not a combine, whereas the honorable senator declares that it is. If it is, the law is applicable to it.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am not aware that I have made the statement which the honorable senator attributes to me, although I do believe that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is a combine. If it is not, why should its representatives have any reluctance to give evidence before a Royal Commission?

Senator St Ledger - I have heard it culled a monopoly.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Whether it has reached the monopoly stage or not, the fact remains that the cost of living has increased to such an extent that it is undoubtedly the biggest question before Australia to-day. Most honorable senators affirm that the increased cost of living is the result of the operation of trusts and combines. In any case, we require to arm Royal Commissions with the most drastic powers to enable them to ascertain the exact cause of the present high cost of livings so that this Parliament may be able adequately to legislate upon that subject. Recently, although the law has been vindicated, it has been conclusively proved that existing legislation is not sufficient to prevent exasperating delays in the conduct of a. Commission's inquiries - delays which are not in the best interests of the community. I shall support the Bill ; and I trust that when it becomes law it will secure for us that information which is so necessary to enable us to frame legislation which we shall require to enact in the near future.

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