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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 981

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I indicate that the Opposition acknowledges the fact that it will be the desire and wish of the Senate that the Part we would like to have removed should remain part of the Bill. But what was said by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) when he last spoke reveals as clearly I think as any words could express one of the hidden problems which will emerge from this legislation. He said that the small claims courts which the States have established will continue in existence for the purpose of adjudications upon matters arising under State laws. We agree with that. But we think that the scope for those small claims courts will be so limited that what has been the really significant development in the area of consumer protection in recent years will cease to be of value.

The Attorney-General knows the provisions of the Constitution and matters arising under Federal laws can be heard only in Federal courts or in State courts invested with Federal jurisdiction. The small claims tribunals are not federal courts -and they cannot be- and they are not State courts. Therefore any of the problems -

Senator Murphy - How would you describe them?

Senator GREENWOOD - They are purposely established as small claims tribunals in order to avoid what are called the expenses and the procedural difficulties which one has in taking issues before courts. That is said to be their appeal and I think that we all recognise that with virtually a minimum of expense the small claims tribunals can deal with what Senator Wright earlier acknowledged was the meat of consumer protectionclaims for $200, $300 or $500 in regard to work and labour carried out, services and goods such as motor cars which have something wrong with them and in respect of which the purchaser either wants his money back or wants what he has bought. The small claims tribunals were the places where these issues could be litigated and their establishment represented a thoroughly desirable development.

If, as the Attorney-General says, the Commonwealth laws which he is introducing here are such good laws why should the opportunity not be given to enable the issues which they raise to be litigated in small claims tribunals? The issues will not be able to be litigated in these tribunals because they will have to be taken to a court, with all the attendant delay, complexities and costs. If I am incorrect in this argument I would like the Attorney-General to make the position clear, because, as Senator Missen said, there will be a lot of disappointments with this legislation. I believe that this result is not one of the results that people who have supported the legislation apprehend will flow.

Additionally, of course, there is the distinction between individual traders and companies. Each of the States has a consumer affairs bureau or department which is staffed by people who administer the relevant legislation. A trade practices commission will be established under this legislation and presumably it will police the Commonwealth legislation. There will be a duplication of staff and one wonders what will happen in the State areas with regard to State matters and whether or not there will not be a diminution in the work which these State bodies are doing. These are some of the aspects which the Opposition parties have in the forefront of their consideration. They are real problems and we would have wished the Government to have taken note of them. There is no desire to be obstructive, as is the constant refrain from Government speakers. We want these issues resolved in the interests of everybody. But, as I said, our arguments do not prevail. We acknowledge the fact. The Opposition will not say anything further on the Part.

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