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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3041

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Smith) - The Opposition objects to clause S. But firstly I want to refer to what the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) said. He created the impression that the Government's decision had not been made as a result of the representations of one particular group, but that a number of other people had made representations. I accept that, but it is quite clear that the only organisations that seemed to be making all the noise- certainly to the Opposition and certainly to the Press- were IBM Australia Ltd and some of its affiliates. Whilst the Minister is entitled to refer to his Press statement I would like to refer to the last paragraph of his second reading speech where, talking about the intention of the Government in the future, he said that the Government intends to amend the Trade Practices Act with respect to manufacturers' warranties. He said that the Government will be dealing with that matter upon its return to office. Let me say that my parry will be dealing with it, because it expects to be in office. One wonders why the matter of manufacturers' warranties could not have been dealt with, with the same expertise and speed. That is not the case.

The honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) made a rather strong attack on me on the basis that I had some peculiar problem in dealing with overseas international combines. I have no such problem. I would like the honourable member for Cowper to understand bis own

Government's position. It was that Government- - not the Labor Government of which I was a member- that introduced the amendments to the Act which this Bill seeks to delete. Let me refresh the memory of the honourable member for Cowper. The amendments to the Trade Practices Act were foreshadowed a long time before they were introduced. Plenty of submissions could have been made- they were not made at that time- by IBM. I am aware that the Committee to review the Trade Practices Act, the Swanson Committee, stated that one of the amendments should be in relation to the definition of 'consumer' which adopted the basic notion of goods or services 'ordinarily acquired for private use or consumption' and then excluded certain transactions of a commercial nature. The Committee considered that the best approach to the definition would be by reference to the price paid by the consumer for the goods or services. The Committee recommended that the appropriate test should be a limit of $15,000 on the value of the goods or services.

The honourable member for Cowper has forgotten that it was the Swanson Committee that brought in this recommendation which forms part of the Government's recommendations. Why did the Swanson Committee do that? It was strongly of the view that the definition of a 'consumer' should be sufficiently broad to provide protection to a range of business transactions, particularly purchases by small businesses. The Committee considered that one important function of the consumer protection provisions of the Act is to redress, between supplier and customer, inequalities in the technical expertise required to recognise, and the bargaining power to negotiate, a fair bargain. These inequalities are not necessarily limited to 'traditional' consumers or to transactions involving what might be termed 'consumer' goods in a narrow sense. The Committee went on to talk about the possibility of an insurance company purchasing a wrong chair, or something of that nature.

Again, the honourable member for Cowper seemed to overlook the fact that some Government Ministers were concerned that IBM was becoming upset. It first appeared in the Australian Financial Review, which at that time seemed to be the appropriate mouthpiece for IBM, that the industry was grinding to a halt because the com- { niter group was upset. The managing director of BM informed all its clients by telex:

I regret to have to inform you that until further notice we will be unable to accept new contracts . . .

They were the only people mentioned in the Press. There was no suggestion by the Opposition that the Government had done the wrong thing. In fact, the Opposition was applauding the Government in this area. I am astounded by the ignorance of the honourable member for Cowper in this area. Then, on 7 July 1977 the Acting Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Macphee, was moved to comment that he found it surprising that industry had taken so long to examine the proposed new definition of 'consumer'. Mr Macphee stated that it was surprising that in view of the long period over which the proposed definition of 'consumer' had been made public and in the light of the specific invitations which had been issued on a number of occasions by his colleague, Mr Howard, for interested persons to examine the Swanson Committee's recommendations, it had taken so long for somebody to talk about this matter. Senior Government officials were reported as saying: 'The principle is that if it is reasonable to protect the ordinary consumer, then is it not reasonable to protect the business man who is not expert in what he is buying for his own use- that is, not trading stock or raw materials'. Then we find The Australian saying that there was confusion. It reported:

After a week of investigation I feel that it is just old fashioned stupidity by our supposedly most intelligent industry.

I wish the honourable member for Cowper would talk to his colleagues. They are the words of the Government and other Ministers. What are they talking about? This is a high pressure campaign and whilst the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs has said that there are other people who have been complaining, the real issue came from IBM and a few of its subsidiaries. I think the other one is the Otis Elevator Company. Neither are Australian owned in this sense. Let us not be hoodwinked by an attack on me. I can take it but the consumer cannot. That is the point the Opposition is making. I wish the honourable member for Cowper would understand also that the Government has amended the Act so that a trade union can be liable for damages if it causes a secondary boycott. He must have forgotten that legislation. It is good to see the honourable member for Cowper in the chair listening to this speech because I know he will learn from what I am saying. The point I want to make is that this -

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Ian Robinson)- The Chair restrains itself. It cannot interject.

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