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Wednesday, 24 October 1973
Page: 1424

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) -I want to state quite emphatically at the outset that I am opposed to the motion that this debate on the second reading be adjourned and the adjourned debate made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. Likewise I oppose the amendment moved by Senator Greenwood which would effectively set this Bill aside for further consideration until 1974. Before I retail to the listening audience what has transpired in this debate I want to remind the Senate and the Australian community that in the policy speech of my leader preceding the election of the Labor Government on 2 December 1972 we gave a commitment in respect of prices in these terms:

We will establish a prices justification tribunal.

We will establish a parliamentary standing committee to review prices in key sectors.

We will strengthen the laws against restrictive trade practices.

Everyone in the Australian community, including even honourable senators opposite, recognise that at the moment Australia is experiencing galloping inflation. The recent quarterly consumer price index figures indicated a rise of 3.6 per cent over the figures for the previous 3 months. The figures for the 3 months prior to that revealed an increase of 3.3 per cent. This means that we are facing the possibility of an inflationary rate in Australia of between 14 per cent and 15 per cent a year.

One of the reasons why we on the G overnment side are anxious to have this legislation passed through all stages at the earliest opportunity is to allow the Government to have one other instrument, among many others in its armory, in an attempt to regulate inflation and to cause it to recede.

I want to retail briefly what has happened to date in connection with this debate. A motion was carried which meant that the second reading debate would be adjourned. My leader, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy), opposed that motion but it was carried. He then moved that the adjourned debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. On the surface the motion for the debate to be adjourned appeared to be quite an innocent one. However we on the Government side had knowledge- I am not sure from what source it came- that there was a possibility of an amendment being moved which would have the effect of deferring consideration of this Bill until 1974.

Senator Greenwood - Someone had read the newspapers.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) -I had not read that section. It is interesting to note that while the Leader of the Government was speaking Senator Webster interjected and said: 'Yes, it ought to be adjourned until 1974.' That happened notwithstanding that the Leader of the Government said that the Government was prepared to adjourn the debate for another month if the Opposition was prepared to go on with the debate and allow up to dispense with this Bill in the course of this Budget session. We must remember that this Bill was introduced into the Senate on Thursday, 27

September, and that tomorrow is 25 October. It will be one month tomorrow since this Bill was brought into the Senate. My leader, Senator Murphy, was prepared to give the Opposition another month, making the period 2 months in all. If Senator Greenwood reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that he said that he would give the Opposition 3 weeks to a month if it were prepared to agree that this Bill should be passed in the course of this Budget session. Notwithstanding that statement, Senator Greenwood rose in his place and moved an amendment which, if passed, will effectively set this important Bill aside until 1974. Senator Greenwood conceded in the course of his remarks that there was a need for laws to deal with the numerous manifest malpractices in both commerce and industry.

Senator Greenwood - That was not new, of course.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - I invite the honourable senator to read Hansard tomorrow. I made a note of what he said at the time. Your prime concern was what this law will mean to business and commerce. It was only after an interjection by my leader that you remembered that consumers were concerned also. We are concerned with consumers as well as commerce and industry. In my view you insulted not only the intelligence of honourable senators but the intelligence of the Australian community because the example you gave -

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Order! Would you please address the chair and not Senator Greenwood.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - I am replying to what he said in the course of the debate. I repeat, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that Senator Greenwood not only insulted the intelligence of honourable senators, he insulted the intelligence of the Australian community because as an argument why this Bill should not pass through all stages he referred to a little grocer in a country town who may decide to form a company. He was worried about what this Bill will mean to him. I credit you, Mr Acting Deputy President, with sufficient intelligence to know what that would not be the case at all. Senator Greenwood also expressed concern about the possible retroactive application of existing agreements. This Bill has to be passed through the second reading stage before it is dealt with in the Committee stage. We must remember that the combined Opposition parties represent the majority in this House. Honourable senators opposite would have ample opportunity to provide adequate protection. They would have ample opportunity to ensure that any retroactivity would not have a deleterious effect on such people. I believe that that was nothing more than a red herring.

One point interested me particularly. I think it is a question which should be posed. What reason has any commercial or business undertaking to fear this Bill if it conducts its business and commercial transactions in a legitimate way? In my view it has no need to fear; none at all. I say again that it is wrong for the Senate to frustrate the Government's commitment to the people and to frustrate the will of the people, because it has a mandate.

Senator Greenwoodsaid also that my leader, in the course of his remarks, was prejudging the issue. I recall that remark because I made a note of it. I see that Senator Greenwood acquiesces with my assessment of what he said. He was replying to my leader's accusation of delaying tactics by the Opposition in connection with the passage of this important Bill. In Senator Greenwood 's closing remarks he said that his Party, or the Opposition, was as much committed to an effective Trade Practices Act as was the Government. Quite frankly, that statement is downright, undiluted political humbug. Let us look back over the record to see what the situation was. The Liberal-Country Party coalition Government was in office for 23 years. In 1 962 the then AttorneyGeneral, now the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick, evidently was commissioned by the coalition Government to prepare a Trade Practices Bill and subsequently a Bill was introduced in 1 965. 1 know, and it is universally known, that any resemblance between Sir Garfield Barwick 's original concept of an effective Trade Practices Bill and what was introduced in the 2 Houses of Parliament in 1965 was purely accidental. It was so emasculated -

Senator Greenwood - No, that is wrong.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - That is known generally. The original concept of Sir Garfield Barwick was so emasculated that the Bill represented nothing more than a hollow gesture and an ineffective piece of legislation. In 1971 the Australian Council of Trade Unions became involved in a commercial enterprise and exercised its influence on some of the biggest trading and manufacturing companies in this country. One company in particular was Dunlop (Australia) Pty Ltd. It was the ACTU which forced those companies to discontinue a practice broadly and generally known to operate, and by the then Government to operate. That practice is known, and was known then, as resale price maintenance. Every honourable senator sitting opposite tonight knows that what I say is true. In due course the Government of the day was induced to modify or amend the existing Trade Practices Act to regularise and validate what the ACTU had achieved outside this place. In my view that was an indictment of the performance of the Opposition parties at that time.

There is a clear need for an effective Trade Practices Act, and it is urgently needed. It would be one of the critically important weapons in the armory of responsible government with which to fight inflation. I want to direct the attention of the Senate briefly to the sixth annual report of the Commissioner of Trade Practices for the year ended 30 June 1973. It is worth quoting what was said in that report under the heading Chapter I-General'. In paragraph 1.3 the Commissioner said:

Parliamentary concern and the increased public concern over restrictive trade practices make it clear that the climate has changed.

That is something that the Opposition has not recognised. He continued:

In particular, action against restrictive trade practices is now seen, in Australia and overseas, as one of the measures that may help to contain inflation.

Effective competition makes it harder to put prices up and makes it more necessary to pursue increased efficiency to keep down the costs that affect prices. To the extent that effective competition is inhibited by restrictive trade practices inflationary trends are harder to stop or slow down.

They are not the words of Senator Bill Brown; they are the words of a man who has some very intimate and detailed experience in this field. I think that even the Opposition would concede that there is some substance in what the Commissioner of Trade Practices says in his report. I repeat what I said earlier: We are facing a period- and in fact we are in the throes of a period- of galloping inflation.

Senator Greenwood - Which Government contributed to it? Your Government.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - Senator Greenwoodasks Which Government contributed to it?' We inherited part of it.

Senator Greenwood - Ha, ha.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - Wait a minute. In addition to this, reliable, competent economists are of the opinion that 60 per cent of Australia 's inflation is caused by overseas influences. That is not challenged. If that is true, and if what the Commissioner of Trade Practices said is correct and we could effectively implement some measures by way of restrictive trade practices legislation, it would be reasonable to say that we could reduce inflation by at least another 10 per cent to 15 per cent. But the Opposition was not prepared to pass a Bill for an Act to enable a price referendum to be conducted; it opposed that measure. In other words, the Opposition has opposed every measure- this Bill is only one of them, but it is the critically important one- that we have attempted to pass through this chamber which would have given the economic tools, so to speak, with which to manage the economic affairs of this nation. Yet at the same time the Opposition has the temerity and audacity to charge this Government with being irresponsible in handling the state of inflation in this country at the present time. For the Senate to delay this Bill, in my view, is an act of economic sabotage against the Australian people, and honourable senators opposite stand condemned, and they will stand condemned in the eyes of the Australian people, for their delaying tactics in relation to this important piece of legislation.

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