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Wednesday, 24 October 1973
Page: 1413

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - I move:

That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.

I do not anticipate that it will be dealt with in a formal fashion, but may I indicate my reasons for moving this motion? The Senate is dealing with a most important piece of legislation- the Trade Practices Bill- which incorporates provisions intended to prevent the operation of those restrictive practices which have been operating in the community for many decades and which it is generally agreed should be curbed as far as it is within the power of the Parliament to curb them. There is no doubt about the necessity to introduce provisions to deal with restrictive practices.

I do not want to go into all the details of the Bill. I simply indicate shortly that the Bill deals in a comprehensive way with those practices which have been injuring the community and which have led to private price fixing, to contracts, combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade, to monopolisation, exclusive dealing, price discrimination, anti-competitive mergers and conduct which is recognised all round the world as being against the proper operation of the economy. These practices were dealt with by Sir Garfield Barwick when he was AttorneyGeneral. He is now Chief Justice of the High Court.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I rise to order, Mr Deputy President. A vote has just been carried to postpone debate on this Bill and the Minister is debating the Bill.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse)- The point of order is sustained to the extent that Senator Murphy may not debate the substance of the Bill. He can indicate the reason why he wants the resumption of the debate brought on at some particular time.

Senator MURPHY - Yes. I was proposing to do that. The reason why this Bill should be dealt with is that the Bill is necessary. There is an evil, in the old sense, which the law ought to remedy. That evil is the operation of widespread restrictive practices in this community. I do not think there is any doubt about that. The reports of the Commissioner for Trade Practices illustrate that those practices exist and are widespread. Thousands of such agreements and arrangements and widespread practices are operating which are exacerbating the inflation in the community and leading to inefficiency. This has been going on and it ought to be stopped.

There is no doubt that it is necessary to deal with those practices. There is no doubt also that the present laws are ineffective. The present laws are simply not good enough. This was conceded last year when the previous Government said that it wanted to bring in proposals and indicated the substance of those proposals. One can go through the speeches and see it was made apparent that the laws were unworkable. Does anyone doubt that laws to deal with restrictive practices should be introduced as speedily as possible? That is the reason why this Bill ought to be dealt with without delay. There is no doubt about this. On 24 May 1972 the then Attorney-General said:

The greatest menace confronting the Australian economy today is inflation.

He went on to deal with the necessity for altering the trade practices laws. The Bill deals not only with that menace, but also with measures to protect the consumers in this community.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order ! Senator Murphy, I think that you are transgressing my ruling in extending the reasons to sound very suspiciously like a second reading speech. I trust that you will try to confine your remarks to the matter before the Chair.

Senator MURPHY -Mr Deputy President,I will endeavour to observe your ruling. My understanding always has been that one is entitled to show the reason why a measure should be proceeded with now rather than later. I was merely proposing to deal shortly with the provisions of the Bill which it is proposed to defer, in order to show why the Bill should be proceeded with now. That is the way in which I intended to proceed, and I understand that it was in conformity with your ruling. There are operating in this community a number of practices over and above what are called restrictive trade practices, which are to the detriment of the consumer, and they ought to be dealt with by laws as soon as possible. There ought to be operating throughout Australia laws against fraud, deception and the abrogation of the rights of consumers. There is a necessity to stop misleading or deceptive conduct in commerce, false representation, the deceptive offering of prizes in connection with promotion of goods and services, and misleading conduct to which the Industrial Property Convention and the International Convention apply. There is a necessity to stop bait advertising, referral selling, accepting of payment without intending to supply an order. There is a necessity to stop misleading statements about home operated business; to stop coercion at the place of residence; to stop pyramid selling; to stop supplying products that do not comply with safety standards; to stop supplying products without disclosing information required by product information standards; and to stop what is called inertia selling. In all these respects and others there is a necessity for protection of the consumers.

These matters have been discussed over Australia and in other parts of the world I suppose for so long that it is obvious not only to those in business and to the legislator but also to the ordinary householder and his wife and every consumer that there ought to be laws against these practices. The people of this community are begging for laws against them and for proper administration in order to protect them from what they know and everybody knows is wrong. This matter has been debated over and over throughout the nation. I suppose that on no subject is there more clarity than on the realisation that what we really need is the laws and the administration of those laws. These laws have been drawn up after lengthy discussions and the examination of advice from elsewhere. But now it is proposed to stall and delay this Bill. Why is this happening? Who is going to profit from it? Those who will profit will be the people who support the Opposition- those who are carrying on these practices; those who are injuring the consumer. Every day that the passage of this Bill is delayed means more profit to those who are engaging in restrictive practices and rackets. It is clear from where the pressure has come and it is clear that that is the reason why the Opposition has wilted and agreed to the pressure to delay these laws for as long as they can delay them because I do not think there is any doubt that ultimately laws such as these are going to be passed by the Parliament as a result of the public demanding the passage of such laws.

It is suggested that maybe there is no reason to protect the consumer and no reason to stop such practices. Let me read to honourable senators the view of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is a body the previous Government joined. In December 1971 this body made a number of recommendations to the governments of member countries. It stated: that they should properly take steps, within the framework of their existing legislation (i) to apply their restrictive business practices legislation with great vigilance against the detrimental effects especially (a) of price-fixing and market-sharing agreements, (b) of monopolistic and oligopolistic practices affecting prices, and (c) of restrictive business practices in the field of patents and patent licensing;

The report went on to deal with the strengthening of consumer policies. It stated: that they should examine the advisability of adopting longerterm measures, which may require new legislation: (i) stronger action by means of prohibition or control- against resale price maintenance, recommended prices when they operate with similar effect to resale price maintenance, and refusal to sell . . .

It also recommended:

(ii)   effective provision against the harmful practices of monopolies and oligopolies;

(iii)   effective provision against undesirable mergers and concentration of enterprises which limit competition unduly;

The organisation recommended also that bodies should promptly consider urgent steps for the extension of their legislation to cover restrictive business practices and service industries or in those sectors to which it does not apply or does not fully apply. I will not read all of the details. But here we have an organisation to which we belong saying in December 1971 that this ought to be done urgently. Discussion has taken place on this matter in this nation. The people were told before the last election what the policy of the Australian Labor Party was. Here we have a proposal which intends to implement what was put to the people. This legislation was introduced into the Senate on 27 September and has been circulated all over the country. Many of the people who have been circulated have spoken to officers of my Department who have answered any questions asked. But also there are those great monopolies and those bodies engaging in these restrictive practices who have batteries of lawyers and accountants who know -

Senator Withers - That is guilt by association.

Senator MURPHY -They know full well what the implications of these provisions are. They are not in doubt about them. The provisions in the legislation are intended to put an end to the restrictive practices and they are intended to protect the consumers.

What do we find here. I think it was only about a week ago that I indicated to the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who now interrupts -

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse)- Order! In answer to a point of order raised some time ago I indicated that you, Senator Murphy, should not debate the Bill. What you have been doing, of course, puts me in a position of being unable to refuse to the Opposition the same sort of privilege that you have now exercised. I cannot allow you to continue further in what is virtually a debate. The Senate has decided in its wisdom that the debate should be adjourned. The motion before the chair is that the debate should be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. You, Sir, are able to introduce the matter on the next day of sitting. I feel that the forms of the Senate will not be sustained if I allow this debate to continue on these lines.

Senator MURPHY -Mr Deputy President,if you are assuring me that the matter will be dealt with on the next day of sitting I will promptly resume my seat. There is no difficulty about that. I would be pleased to know that you, Mr Deputy President, are of the view that it should be resumed on the next day of sitting. I will be pleased to see you vote that way. I am not so sure of the views of honourable senators opposite me. I would like to convince them also that the debate should be resumed on the next day of sitting or that it should be resumed within a reasonable time. All I am asking is that at least this debate ought to be able to be concluded in this period of sittings. If I can be assured that this debate will be concluded within this period of sittings- I mean by that within a reasonable time for it to go to the House of Representatives, not in the dying hours of this session but within the next month -I would not press for it to go on tomorrow. But what I am fearful of is that there has been pressure put upon the Opposition and that an attempt will be made, because it has been talked about, to defer this legislation for as long as possible, and that some attempt will be made to put it over till next year without the Senate properly considering the Bill, and taking it through the Committee and third reading stages and letting it go to the other House.

If a suggestion is made, as was made across the table to me some little time ago, I am prepared to agree to any reasonable adjournment of the proceedings and not to press the motion. But it will be different if an endeavour is made to stall and delay so that these practices which are against the interests of the community can be committed day after day with impunity, when it is recognised that for the most part the existing legislation is just useless. The Commissioner has come in and said it. He has before him evidence of thousands of practices which are operating against the interests of the community and the legislation is such that they cannot be effectively stopped. Is that what the Opposition is going to vote for, so that these practices can go on? If this Bill passes the second reading stage and then goes to the Committee stage, if the Opposition is dissatisfied with any of the provisions it can seek to amend them then. But is the Opposition simply going to stall this Bill and not even say, Let us deal with the Bill and achieve the kind of Bill that we want to go to the House of Representatives'? That is what will happen if the Bill proceeds. But if the Opposition votes to delay this Bill by some amendment and to put it over until the next year, that means it is deliberately saying 'We are not prepared to consider any amendment of the existing legislation which we know to be unworkable and we are prepared, for whatever motive, to allow those practices to go on and to leave the consumer unprotected.

I suggest in all reasonableness to the Senate that it should not delay the Bill and that if an adjournment for a fortnight is needed, or for, say, 3 weeks or even a month, as long as the understanding is that it will be dealt with I will agree to it. But if the intention is simply to stall and to put it off as long as possible- if that is the determination of those opposite- I will indicate to the Opposition that the Bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives and proceeded with in the House of Representatives and will then come here. If it is again treated in that manner, that would be regarded under the Constitution as failing to pass the Bill. I am indicating to the Senate that if the endeavour is made to stall this Bill the Government will take the steps which are open to it to introduce the measure in the House of Representatives. It will also probably have the consequence that if the major legislation of this Government is to be treated this way- if major legislation is brought into the Senate rather than into the House of Representatives and if it is to be treated in the way which means that it will not even be dealt with in the current sittings of this Senate there would be little purpose in bringing major legislation into the Senate. I ask that the Senate agree to the motion.

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