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Tuesday, 3 July 1906
Page: 976

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I have been waiting patiently for some honorable member to enlighten us regarding the possibility of this much-dreaded combination of farmers. A great deal of nonsense has been talked about a possible combination of farmers to ruin their own industry. In connexion with the coal industry and the manufacture of agricultural implements, I would point out that the trade is under the control of a few individuals.

Mr Carpenter - What about sugar and tobacco ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I do not regard the Colonial Sugar Refining Company as being engaged in a primary industry. I class that industry distinctly as a secondary one, and, further, it is one which would not come within the operation of this amendment.

Mr Isaacs - Under the amendment the sugar-growers of Queensland might combine against all the rest of the sugargrowers of Australia.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Does the Attorneygeneral seriously ask the Committee to suppose that the whole of the cane sugargrowers in Queensland and New South Wales would enter into a combination to ruin another portion of that industry?

Mr Isaacs - The amendment would enable the Queensland cane sugar-growers to try and ruin the beet sugar-growers elsewhere.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Does the AttorneyGeneral say that the object of this Bill is to prevent a combination of the Australian sugar-growersfrom ruining the beet sugar-growers of Germany?

Mr Isaacs - The honorable member does not think that he is talking in Berlin.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The honorable and learned member knows that practically, there is no beet sugar grown in Australia, and, therefore, if he is going to prevent beet sugar from competing with Australian cane sugar, it must be beet sugar grown in another part of the world. The whole history of combinations, if it has shown one thing, has shown that every trust which has tried to make a corner in a perishable article has brought ruin and destruction upon its members. In the United States millions and millions of money have been spent in an attempt to corner wheat, but it has always failed. The attempt was made, not by the farmers themselves, but by the trustmongers in the cities. I would ask the Minister of Trade and Customs, or the AttorneyGeneral, if, in Australia or outside, there is any record of a combination of farmers having deliberately set themselves to work to ruin other farmers in order that they might receive an advantage from the destruction of an industry ?

Mr Isaacs - This amendment assumes that there will be, and that they will have no regard for the other farmers who will be ruined.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I gather exactly what the honorable member means; but if I want to find any one who can teach farmers how to work, or teach the representatives of farmers what they want, I shall go to an honorable member who knows absolutely nothing about the matter, and who does not represent a farming constituency.

Mr Watkins - If they will not combine, why move the amendment?

Mr McWILLIAMS - There are certain little combinations among the primary producers which are made really in their own interest, and which are not injurious to the public. We have a combination of cooperative companies, and I am hopeful that the whole system of co-operation will be enormously extended amongst our farmers. I think that anything which tends to prevent co-operation amongst the farmers is not a step to benefit their interests or to promote the interests of all Australia. So long as they are not seeking to take an undue advantage of the public or of any one else, all these combinations or arrangements must be mutually beneficial.

Mr Isaacs - We all agree to that.

Mr Carpenter - The Bill will not touch them at all.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Taking theBill as it stands, it places it in the power of any one to charge any such combination with a criminal offence, and the onus of proving his innocence is thrownupon the defendant.

Mr Isaacs - That is not correct.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I must not discuss clauseII, but if the Attorney-General will tell me that under that clause it will not be possible for an individual to lay a charge against a combination, and that its members will not be treated as criminals until they can prove their innocence, then I cannot understand plain English when it is in front of me.

Mr Isaacs - I can say that it is not so, as clauseII has nothing to do with criminal matters.

Mr McWILLIAMS - But the clause puts it in the power of any person to lay a charge against a combination of persons. I care not whether it is a co-operative sugar company or a co-operative cream company or a co-operative shipping company, the whole onus of proof will be thrown upon them, and they will be treated practically as criminals until they are in a position to establish their innocence.

Mr Isaacs - The honorable member is quite wrong about that.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I do not believe that it was ever contemplated in any part of the world that a Bill of this kind would deal with primary producers, and, therefore, I shall support the amendment.

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