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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3582

Mr ANTHONY (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct my question to the Prime Minister. He will recall the comments by Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd that the Prices Justification Tribunal had not given an explanation of the grounds on which it, the Tribunal, reached its decision on BHP prices and the Tribunal's own comment that it had not been given the criteria it needed to make its decisions. Does the Prime Minister regard such a stab in the dark method as satisfactory? Will he give an assurance that if the Government is given price and income control powers proper criteria will be laid down for the application of these powers? Finally, will the Prime Minister make it clear to the Australian people before they vote on 8 December just what these criteria will be?

Mr WHITLAM - Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd certainly did not use any such term as 'stab in the dark*. I remember that comments were made by BHP on Mr Justice Moore's findings early in the year and again on the findings of the Prices Justification Tribunal last month. I do not dispute the right of BHP to make these comments. In fact I appreciate that BHP has so willingly accepted the Government's policy in this respect and has abided by the findings of the judges who have inquired into the Company's affairs. It was a matter of deliberate policy by the Government to have the Tribunal established and to have good appointments made to it so that we could observe the whole system in practice. We did not presume to ask the Parliament to lay down guidelines for the conduct of the Tribunal. We believed that the persons we were appointing to the Tribunal would be in an excellent position - a better position in fact than at this stage members of the Parliament on either side are - to draw up such guidelines. We want to give the Tribunal an opportunity to work these matters out in practice. Where it becomes clear that amendments are desirable to the Act we promptly will sponsor those amendments in the Parliament.

Mr Anthony - The people will be voting blindly in that case on what you actually intend to do.

Mr WHITLAM - I have said before and I repeat that it is desirable to have an unchallengeable right in this Parliament to establish a prices justification tribunal. So far none of the bodies which have come before the Tribunal has defied its findings, but there is doubt as to the sanctions which can be applied by the Tribunal.

When the Parliament gets power to pass laws with regard to prices it will put the powers of the Tribunal beyond challenge. Nevertheless there is no reason at this stage to suggest that the Tribunal is not acting with complete propriety and justice. It is hearing all sides. It is giving its reasons. I believe the public is supporting the method of operation of the Tribunal. Nobody has cavilled at the appointments and I believe the Tribunal deserves the support of the Parliament. When, as it will, the Tribunal makes reports to the Parliament it will be entitled to suggest amendments to legislation. This is what happens in the annual report of the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and in the annual report of the Trade Practices Commissioner. One would expect that the President of the Prices Justification Tribunal similarly will feel free to make suggestions for alterations to the basic statute. I can assure the House that the Government will act promptly on any recommendation that the President makes in his annual report or which he makes on any interim occasion. I believe the Tribunal is acting in the way that the Parliament expected when it passed the Act and as the public would hope.

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