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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 948

Senator MISSEN (Victoria) -As has been indicated already in the second reading debate on this Bill, the Opposition desires to have the whole of Part V removed completely. It is opposed to the inclusion of these clauses in the Bill and will vote against the Part. I do not propose to repeat the arguments which Senator

Guilfoyle and I and other speakers have expressed with regard to this Part of the Bill in the last 2 days. But I do wish to say one or two things about this matter.

Of course, many representations have been made by many people and interests in respect of the whole of the Bill. I think it can probably fairly be said that manufacturing concerns and other economic interests of that sort do not seem to have concentrated very much on the contents of Part V. There have been representations and there are, of course, feelings. Perhaps they have been somewhat induced by some misunderstandingsI will not go any further than that- on the part of some ofthe consumer groups that the deletion of this Part will in fact lead to some less effective form of consumer protection. It is the belief of the Opposition that in fact the deletion of this Part is more likely to lead to more effective long term consumer protection.

Part V proposes that various acts will be prohibited. It has already been pointed out that the States already have quite comprehensive and detailed legislation in respect of a number of these matters mentioned in Part V. It also has been pointed out that the effect of this Part, if adopted, might well be that much of the State legislation would be wiped out and all its effectiveness lost. Certainly that could well apply in respect of the dealings which individuals have with corporations.

I do not propose to go into that constitutional argument, except to say that it is not appreciated by many people outside this chamber that in fact that may well be the result. There may well be the result that Commonwealth legislation, phrased in general terms, will stop the individual- I am dealing with the individual, not so much the State-from enjoying the effective remedies that he has already under State legislation. It has been pointed out that the Commonwealth, under its own legislation- limited, as it is, to the corporations power- is not able to provide the small claims courts and the consumer tribunals which are required and cheap, quick and easy justice which is necessary for individuals whether they are dealing with other individuals or with corporations. If the view we have expressed is correct and constitutionally the State legislation in respect of these tribunals will be wiped out as far as an individual dealing with a corporation is concerned, there will be a great loss to the consumers and to consumer organisations; they will be unable to deal in that area in the future.

Senator Wrightpointed out this morning that the implied conditions and warranties contained in Division 2 of this Part are very much a repetitionalthough in different language to some extent- of legislation which appears in most of the goods Acts and other legislation of the States at the present time. The position therefore is that, as has been said time and again, the inclusion of this Part in the legislation at the moment will lead to confusion, constitutional doubt and probably a denial of some rights which consumers have at present. One other thing should be pointed out because I do not think it has been referred to earlier in the debate. In clause 28 of the Bill, which already has been passed by the Committee, the functions ofthe Commission are set out. Clause 28 states:

(   1 ) In addition to any other functions conferred on the Commission by this Act, the Commission has the following functions-

(b)   to examine critically, and report to the AttorneyGeneral on, the laws in force in Australia relating to the protection of consumers in respect of matters referred to the Commission by the Attorney-General, being matters with respect to which the Parliament has power to make laws;

Other paragraphs in that clause will lead to the collection by the Commission of a great deal of material on the consumer situation. I suggest that no doubt the Attorney-General will give such directions when this legislation comes into operation. No doubt there will be this assessment of the laws and this assessment of the need for Commonwealth legislation. I have no doubt that in some areas there is a need for Commonwealth legislation- for instance, on the standards which are widespread throughout Australia, as well as other areas which are of common knowledge and common importance to the people throughout Australia. But that does not mean that the achievements of the States should be wiped out.

It is for those major reasons that at this stage we of the Opposition believe that Part V should be taken out of this Bill. No doubt it will appear in some other form. It ought to appear after the investigations are carried out by the Commission. It ought to appear after the States have been consulted and it is known how far comprehensive legislation can be agreed on and adopted by the States as well as by the Commonwealth. Then, no doubt, there will be an area in which the Commonwealth can take some useful legislative action. For those reasons we propose to vote against the whole of Part V.

Senator Murphy - Are we dealing with the whole of Part V?

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