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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 888

Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - Senator Wright certainly speaks from a very well qualified base when he talks of disruptive tactics because he certainly used his vote yesterday to disrupt very important legislation and he continues his disruptive tactics today in his many sided argument. The argument is an interesting one but we still await, of course, the amendments which are to be proposed to this Bill by those in the disruptive Party in this House. But if they follow the amendments proposed in another place by the party which Senator Wright supports, we will find that there are many sides to his argument. He finished by speaking against the powerful merchants, as he calls them, yet his Party in the other place moved amendments which will very considerably water down the effectiveness of this Bill against the powerful merchants. That son of argument may sound very impressive, as Senator Wright can be impressive in his speech, but the logic would escape most people who seek it.

I support the Bill and I support it in its entirety except for perhaps one or two minor aspects of amendment. But I certainly support the consumer section in Part V of the Bill. I wonder, when I look at members of the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Country Party, whom they represent in this place. I would like to know whom they take their advice from. The political advice, wherever they get that from, is, of course, utterly disastrous.

Senator Webster - As it was in South Australia when you ran it there.

Senator STEELE HALL -The senator can argue that another time and in another place. I am dealing with the present series of Bills that have been presented to this House and the utterly disastrous political position that the Opposition parties put themselves in. All I can say is that there is a considerable number of people in the community which is growing day by day that will certainly take on this opposition from a non-Labor view. There is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction in the community with the sort of attitude which has been voiced here today. There are 13 million consumers in Australia and in regard to this Bill the Liberal Party and the Country Party are against all of them. That is not a bad round-up for a political base. Who on earth do the Opposition Parties take their view from? Who advises them politically? They can bring up a number of dissatisfactions in the conflicts they may foresee in the future but the real point of the matter is that to go back and say that the States can get together amicably and in time- it is somewhat urgent- to present a unified front to produce in 6 States the necessary consumer protection legislation ignores completely the fact that there is a State, namely Queensland, which would like to draw a fence around itself on very many occasions and that there are political differences of great extremes between the States. Apart from that there is the parochial view that the States take in these matters which stands against any early implementation of the ideals presented by the Opposition. One cannot expect from any experience or any track record of Premier's Conferences to have any great consistency between the States. States have consistently sold each other out for parochial interests. I have seen it happen, and it will happen on important matters like consumer protection.

Senator Wright -The only little man in the Army in step.

Senator STEELE HALL - I could not understand that interjection. Perhaps it is some lack of comprehension on my part. I could not understand the words to begin with, let alone the meaning. I was pleased to hear Senator Missen speak, and I must congratulate him on speaking extremely well to the chamber. I congratulate him on his maiden speech. Although I cannot agree with his sentiments, I know that he holds his views sincerely.

The practical factor about consumer protection is that if this legislation is not passed by the Senate in this form and in the particulars to which it relates, it will not eventuate; it will not come into being during the time we are considering at the moment. The Opposition, if it is able to do so, will defeat the legislation. It has been put to me that the Opposition is making its move with far lower motives than those which have been stated and that it has given promises to certain people and is acting accordingly. (Opposition senators)- Oh!

Senator STEELE HALL -To whom do Opposition senators listen? Whom do they represent? That is the big question that has arisen in this chamber in the last few days. It is difficult to find the answer to that question. The Opposition is not representing the truly Liberal people in this community. It is not representing anyone in particular in knocking out consumer legislation which is wanted by nearly every consumer organisation in Australia, if not all, and these organisations are not all Labor Party fronts. The Liberal Party does not have all that happy a history in matters relating to trade practices. As I understand it, Sir Garfield Barwick intended to move fairly comprehensively in the trade practices field. When Mr Snedden took over the trade practices legislation it was considerably watered down. We are moving again to introduce trade practices legislation which is closer to the legislation which was originally introduced. From listening to the remarks of Opposition senators one would assume that they support trade practices legislation, but from the action of Opposition members in another place in moving substantial amendments to the legislation one would assume that they are trying to defeat it.

Senator Webster - Senator, Ithought you said a moment ago that you were not in complete agreement with this Bill.

Senator STEELE HALL - I think Senator Webster had better listen more carefully and not try to disrupt debates by raising quite irrelevant small points.

Senator Webster - This is quite important, really, because you are criticising the Liberal Party. I understood you to say that you did not agree completely with the Bill.

Senator STEELE HALL - There are several minor parts which I believe should be amended.

Senator Webster - Surely you are not going to water it down after what you have said.

Senator STEELE HALL -If Senator Websterlikes to compare a few minor amendments with the destruction of Part V of the legislation or the considerable watering down of clause 45 or some of the other amendments which were moved in the lower House, we will just have to agree to disagree entirely on the merits and worth of that comparison. I have been subjected, as I believe all members of Parliament have been subjected, to a great deal of lobbying on these issues. The lobbying as far as I am concerned has been divided into 2 interest groups. There is the retailing section of the community, and I speak of the large retailing section of the community -

Senator Webster -Labor got $50,000 from one of them.

Senator STEELE HALL - I would not like to retail what the Liberal Party got. If Senator Webster wants to go into past practices, I will have him on on that one.

Senator Webster - From what I hear you put the screws on a few of them yourself.

Senator STEELE HALL -If Senator Websterwants to debate those factors I can elucidate. I can inform him of a lot of things which he does not know at the moment, but I do not intend to be drawn into breaking confidences simply because of the rather inane interjections by Senator Webster. The representations on this legislation have been divided into 2 main interest groups. The big retailers of the Australian community, in the representations they have made to me, certainly have not approved the trade practices legislation. Whilst their representativeshave said basically that they do, the effect of their first try at placing amendments in the hands of members of Parliament has been to water down the legislation and make it much less effective than it ought to be. On the other hand, the manufacturing community has been far kinder in its assessment of this Bill. I have generally found it in favour of the Bill practically as it stands. Statements have been made to me that any honest manufacturer has nothing whatsoever to fear from any part of this Bill.

As the representations have gone on the division has quite clearly been made on the basis of retailer having a different view from manufacturer. There is no doubt that retailers have been exerting quite undue influence- or should I say undesirable influence- in their discount concessions. There have been quantity discounts and there have been muscle discounts. It seems that trading organisations have simply been saying: If you do not give me an additional overriding discount I will take you off my shelves and put your competitor on.' This Bill will wipe out that type of discount, thank goodness. I believe that the divisions of thought have been well brought up by representations that have been made by the various interested groups. Obviously, those who do not like the Bill will bring forward, and have brought forward, their versions of why it should be altered. Those who approve it have brought forward counter versions. I believe that the argument has been pretty well presented to the Parliament on that basis In addition, the consumer organisations of Australia have overwhelmingly supported the consumer part of the Bill. In my own experience, that part of it is necessary. As to whether there will be conflict between State and Federal jurisdiction I cannot say, but I assume -

Senator Webster - What do you think?

Senator STEELE HALL -I am about to say that I assume that Part V of the Bill will generally be beneficial and will raise the level of standards at which corporations must operate and present their goods to the public. For that reason I support that part of the Bill. Obviously, I reserve the right to talk about the machinery but nevertheless minor amendments.

Senator Wood - Mr President,-

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