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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 950

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) -Part V of the Bill is extremely important. It starts with clause 52 in Division 1 -Unfair Practices. Clause 52 states:

A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive.

That is extremely important. Although the words are general they are capable of being applied by the court and because of the generality of the words we have provided in the Bill that there be no penalty for the breach of that clause; that is the general one. But it would be the subject of proceedings to prevent conduct which was misleading or deceptive. That would be by injunction in the courts to prevent that kind of conduct. That is a very important remedy which might assist the public, and where individuals are injured by conduct that is misleading or deceptive they would have available to them action for damages under clause 82 of the Bill.

I turn to the other clauses. Clause 53 deals with false representations. Is it to be said that there should be no federal law to deal with the activities of corporations which offend against the provisions in this clause? Clause 53 states:

A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, in connexion with the supply or possible supply of goods or services . . . falsely represent that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model:

Is there any legitimate objection which could be raised to that kind of a provision making it an offence for a corporation to do that?

Sentor Wright- Does the Bill make it an offence?

Senator MURPHY -Yes. By the Constitution which the honourable senator is fond of referring to, and its virtues, this Parliament is empowered to make laws with respect to financial or trading corporations. And it is dealing with these corporations in the Bill. We are entitled to deal with them. We are expected to deal with them. One of the things that the Government is proposing to do is to prevent them from making false representations. Is this so horrifying to honourable senators opposite that they want to strike it out of the Bill which we propose?

Senator Greenwood - Is this clause 52 you are talking about?

Senator MURPHY -I have moved on to clause 53 because the enormity of what is proposed by the honourable senator on behalf of the Opposition is to strike out in their entirety clauses such as those I have mentioned. I have dealt with clause 52. Clause 53 deals with false representation in these terms:

Falsely represent that goods are new; represent that goods or services have sponsorship, approval, performance characteristics, accessories, uses or benefits they do not have; represent that the corporation has a sponsorship, approval or affiliation it does not nave;

I should like to hear from honourable senators opposite why such a provision should be struck out of the federal law. We are empowered to deal with trading corporations. We take the view that if this kind of conduct is engaged in it ought to be an offence and there ought to be penalties and remedies by way of injunction and damages to those who suffer by, in this case, the false representations. The provisions are reasonable. We have not sought treble damages but simply damages for the persons who are affected.

The Opposition says that there is something wrong with a proposal that it should be an offence for such a corporation to make false or misleading statements concerning the existence or effect of any warranty or guarantee or if it were similarly to make false or misleading statements concerning the existence of or amounts of price reductions. What is it in those two clauses that is objectionable to the Opposition? It has been my experience and the experience of my advisers that people in industry and commerce are not opposed to these provisions. I understand that the representatives of the manufacturers who are affected by these provisions- those who stand for the application of proper standards throughout our trade and commerce- do not object to the provisions. Why is the Opposition objecting to them? I put, in a way that is not offensive, the same kind of question which Senator Hall put. On behalf of what interest- I am not suggesting in any corrupt way- or on behalf of whom is it said that there is objection to this consumer protection?

Senator Greenwood - We say on behalf of the consumers.

Senator MURPHY -On behalf of the consumers, Senator Greenwood says. As I understand the position, the consumer organisations are in favour of these provisions.

Senator Greenwood - But we are speaking on behalf of consumers generally.

Senator MURPHY -Leave aside the argument based on the weight of support for the proposal and turn to the provisions. I read them and I ask: What does the Opposition say is wrong with them? Is there anything wrong with the contents of clauses 53, 53 and 54? Clause 54 states:

A corporation shall not . . . in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services, offer gifts, prizes or other free items with the intention of not providing them as offered.

Is there something wrong with such provision being incorporated in the law? Does it strike some strain of Liberal philosophy that we should not have such a law which would prohibit such misconduct by corporations? Clause 55 states:

A person shall not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is liable to mislead the public as to the nature, the manufacturing process, the characteristics, the suitability for their purpose or the quantity of any goods.

Is that clause contrary to Liberal philosophy? Does the Opposition feel constrained to strike it out of the Bill? Clause 56 states:

A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, advertise for supply at a special price goods or services that the corporation does not intend to oner for supply at that price for a period that is, and in quantities that are, reasonable having regard to the nature ofthe market -

In other words, the bait advertising which is a pernicious practice. Is the prohibition of that practice in some way against Liberal philosophy as it is expounded in this chamber? The other practices are referred to in the Bill. Referral selling, accepting payment without intending to supply as ordered, misleading statements about home-operated businesses, coercion at place of residence and pyramid selling-all are matters of misconduct by corporations. This Parliament is empowered to deal with them. Anyone can see that we have a national economy. It is in everyone's interest that the laws applicable to trade and commerce are the same throughout the nation. Clause 62 relates to product safety standards. I understand that this provision is welcomed widely. Product information standards provide for the evolution of national standards so that companies, wherever they are operating, will know the standards. We can use our scientific bodies such as the Standards Association of Australia to set up standards not only as to products but also as to the information that is to be disclosed in relation to them. This will be manifestly to the benefit of industry and commerce and will be a step towards efficiency and cutting out the conflicts between the various States and the uncertainties which we have, some of them in the building materials industry and some of them in various other industries. It is a very valuable step in the direction of assisting the consumers as well as commerce and industry. Yet somehow this is offensive to the Liberal philosophy as expounded by honourable senators opposite.

The rest of these provisions are very sensible. They are wise provisions. The Government thinks that there is every reason why these provisions which deal with the trading activities of these corporations ought to be incorporated into federal law. If this is not done now it will be done shortly. One might say that it is irresistible that we will have the evolution of national laws dealing with the trading activities of corporations in this respect. It is virtually common ground that we ought to have trade practices laws dealing with those malpractices by corporations and the argument is irresistible that they should be accompanied by similar national laws in the direction of consumer protection to protect these false and misleading practices by corporations. All the Opposition is doing is trying to obstruct and hold back something that is going to happen and something that is manifestly in the national interest. The Opposition ought to be encouraging the Government, as I am sure industry and commerce would, towards the evolution of these standards which would operate throughout the nation to the benefit of everyone.

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