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Friday, 16 August 1974
Page: 1091

Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - This Bill seeks to extend the scope of the Prices Justification Tribunal by giving it a general power to inquire into and report upon the prices charges by companies irrespective of their turnover. At present the Tribunal is restricted in all its dealings to companies with an annual turnover in excess of $20m. But there will be some exclusions. There will be provision for companies of varying sizes to be able to notify price increases. This Bill seeks to widen the Tribunal's field in the examining of prices. The Bill seeks to empower the Tribunal as an alternative to stating that it does not intend to hold an inquiry into the clause of a particular price increase, to notify the company concerned of any lower price that it considers to be justified. In that regard the company is to have 7 days in which to notify the Tribunal whether it accepts the lower price or prefers to proceed to a public inquiry. When the Tribunal exercises that general power it will have 4 months in which to conduct its inquiry and to lodge its report. The Bill seeks to extend, subject to the agreement of the company concerned, the period of 21 days available to the Tribunal to decide whether or not to conduct an inquiry. It also deals with the pricing behaviour of retail firms. The Bill provides for the appointment of a Deputy Chairman and extends the period of appointment from 5 to 7 years.

As is well known to the Senate, the Opposition did not oppose or amend this Bill in the House of Representatives. It contented itself with the making of a number of observations upon the effectiveness of the Tribunal as part of a general price mechanism control. It expressed considerable reservations about that, which I myself enjoy. The Opposition in the Senate does not feel that at this stage of the sitting it needs to embark upon a double debate on the matter, a debate having already taken place on it in the House of Representatives. We are therefore prepared to accept the Bill without any amendments at this stage. We notify the Senate that as experience in operating the Prices Justification Tribunal develops we might have observations to make at a later date that are much less favourable.

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