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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 975

Senator MISSEN (Victoria) - I think it is necessary to say a few words in reply to some matters which Senator Murphy and Senator Everett in particular have raised on this proposal to delete this section from the legislation. In dealing with this matter last night the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) chose to slide right across the surface of the argument and not to go into the depth of it. He chose to go from one clause to another and say things like: 'Is this contrary to Liberal philosophy? Is that contrary to Liberal philosophy?' But he chose to ignore entirely what was the essential argument that the Opposition advanced, namely, that what is essential is that in this community there shall be laws passed by the Commonwealth where there are necessary Commonwealth purposes and there shall be laws passed by the States also in their own area.

The Attorney-General said that we have arrived at a national economy and that laws in this area should run right across the nation. Of course, that is the high point of centralism. I suggest that we should accept rather the inference which we must take from Senator Everett's views- he comes from a State which has propounded laws in this area- when he said that there will be a constant need for statesmanship on the pan of the States. That will continue. Even if this section becomes part of the Act it will be necessary for the States to continue to pick up the areas where new demands and problems arise. Consequently we say that one cannot look at this matter in isolation from the States and that it requires further discussion and consideration with the States. Senator Everett says that he and the public are puzzled. They will be puzzled because we have here a superficial appeal being put into effect by adopting a Commonwealth law in regard to consumer protection- and that is seen to be the end of the problem. Whereas, it is evident, I think, that it will remove many rights which consumers have at the moment. It will create confusion. It has not been thought out thoroughly or discussed thoroughly with the States.

In regard to the statement that the Opposition considers that this is good law, I do not think that statement appears from any of the speeches that have been made on the Opposition side. As we have said, matters in relation to product safety standards and product information standards appear to have a certain Commonwealth importance, and it may well be that they should be in a law of this nature. But we say that one should look at each of these things and decide what is gained and what is lost by introducing a general Commonwealth law and thereby obliterating in part the rights which individuals will have, particularly in the small claims tribunal area. The Opposition's general contention may be said to be this: If this Part stays in the Bill, superficially it will appear that the Commonwealth has tidied up, finished with this area of consumer protection, but that will not be so. There will be disappointment. It will be seen that people have lost rights which they had. There is a refusal to consider this matter further. It is not an idea on the part of the Opposition that we should remove Commonwealth responsibility from this area. It is our idea that consideration of this matter should be done in depth and more thoroughly. By leaving this section in the Bill we may be selling the consumer short. That is what I fear will happen and that is what we have tried to avoid.

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