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Wednesday, 24 October 1973
Page: 1420

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) -Mr President,I appreciate Senator Brown 's gesture. Perhaps it was appropriate. Points of view have been placed by the mover of the amendment on behalf of the Opposition and by Senator Murphy on behalf of the Government. In relation to the determination of this matter, I speak for the other Party which has a significant position in the Senate. I am indebted to Senator Brown. I think he is assisting the Senate in ceding to me as he did. I express my appreciation. It appears to me that this debate seems to emerge as a clash between what are considered to be the obligations, duties and responsibilities of the various parties in this chamber. The Government has introduced a Bill. I shall comment only briefly upon the substance of the Bill. The Government considers that it has a right and a duty to present this Bill which, if passed by the Senate, will be presented in another place. The Government also considers that it has a right to ensure the passage through this chamber of the Bill as speedily as possible, for purposes which it considers good and sufficient. On the other hand, the

Opposition considers that the Bill is of such moment and of such tremendous import that it has a similiar right and duty to ensure that the Bill receives the maximum investigation and the maximum scrutiny. That view is shared by the Democratic Labor Party. The Opposition considers that the Bill is so fundamental in its character it should become law only after a complete examination by the upper chamber of the Parliament, in which it has been introduced. They are the 2 positions which are taken in this chamber today by the contending parties to the Bill.

It is now common knowledge that never has a Parliament in Australia been faced, in such a short time, with such an overwhelming mass of legislation which trespasses into almost every field of Australian life. I shall not refer to particular Bills. When one looks at the areas in which this Government, by legislation, is having some impact, it is revealing to find how fundamental the alterations must be in the structure of society which are being effected by these legislative processes. For example, important legislation has been introduced in the field of divorce and law reform generally- matters requiring detailed and technical scrutiny. Legislation of a major character involving virtually a complete economic reorientation of Australian life has been introduced. A major Bill has been presented in relation to industrial relations. Amendments have been sought to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Great matters in relation to social welfare have also been coming before this Parliament. Legislation is projected, or is now being canvassed, relating to the control, ownership and direction of our national resources. None of these measures could be considered of a minor character. All are of a major character. All are fundamental. All have been brought forward in a very short period. It is the boast of the Government, in its enthusiasm, that it has done more in so many months than other governments did in an equal number of years. I cannot find it in my heart to blame the Government for that boast.

I can recall that in the first 2 months of administration of the present Government, when Mr Whitlam and Mr Barnard were the only members of the Executive Council and therefore occupied all the ministries, many major matters of an administrative and even a quasi-legislative character were effected- 14, 1 think, in numberof great consequence to the nation. That set the tempo of the approach of the Government. But it is a matter of very great question whether the enthusiasm, even the excitement and, if I may use the term, the hysteria of the Government should be matched by a failure on the part of the Senate to give the necessary scrutiny to this mass of legislation which is coming forward. Therefore, I make no apologies. There comes a time when the Senate owes a duty to the nation to ensure that the nation's interests will be preserved and protected in these matters which are now of such fundamental consequence. This Bill is a Bill of that character. Two major Bills are already on the Senate notice paper. It is worth while referring to 3 or 4 Bills which we already have to consider. I refer to the Trade Practices Bill and the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill. The second Bill is of great constitutional significance and consequence. It will have to receive the technical attention of those senators who are qualified to deal with it, quite apart from other considerations.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Senator BYRNE - Before the suspension of the sitting I had spoken for some short time on the amendment moved by Senator Greenwood to the motion proposed by Senator Murphy that the resumption of the debate on the second reading of the Trade Practices Bill be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting, Senator Greenwood having moved that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the first sitting day in the year 1974. I indicated on behalf of the Democratic Labor Party that we were supporting that amendment moved by Senator Greenwood, and I indicated at that point many of the reasons which persuade us to the course of action which I have announced on behalf of the Party. I was reciting the very heavy legislative program which has been presented by the Government and still faces consideration by this chamber.

If we look at the notice paper we find that there are 43 Bills awaiting consideration, and when we look at the content of many of those Bills we find that they are of great importance and of fundamental significance. They are Bills which in many cases affect the whole structure of some area of Australian life, whether it be our social life, our economic life, or perhaps our whole legal system. If it is the function of the Senate to consider matters such as these and if these Bills are of this tremendous importance the Senate must be given adequate time to consider them without being subject to the charge, merely by asking for such time, that we are unduly delaying or in some way frustrating the will or the intentions of the Government. The legislative program of the Government is of such a magnitude that perhaps it has not been equalled. I do not go into the merits or demerits of that program at this time. I merely point out that the Government has announced the creation of a very great number of boards, advisory committees, research groups, and the appointment of individual advisers -

Senator Wheeldon - Task forces.

Senator BYRNE -Yes. They have assisted the Ministers of various departments, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Government in bringing forward ideas- some sort of think tanks- which constitute the basis in many cases of the legislative program. I do not at this stage criticise the Government for that. I think that the proliferation of these bodies may be undue but, nevertheless, the end result is that the Government has now formulated an intense legislative program which is being channelled through to this chamber. There has been no increase in the number of senators in this chamber. With the additional duties imposed on us in other directions, to which I will refer, the proper consideration of this very heavy legislative program becomes a practical parliamentary impossibility. I suggest that the Senate would be failing in its duty and would be recreant to the very purpose for which it was created if it attempted with undue haste to handle vital elements of this legislative program without proper consideration, proper assessment and proper scrutiny. That is the basis of the attitude which is taken by the Democratic Labor Party and by the official Opposition in relation to the Trade Practices Bill.

The Democratic Labor Party, of course, sees a need for the introduction of legislation in the field of trade practices, in the field of unfair commercial dealings, in the field of mergers and in relation to all of those matters which are covered by the provisions of the Bill now before the chamber. I do not deny that there is great virtue in the Bill, but that is not sufficient reason to justify the passage of the Bill through this chamber with the haste with which it is proposed. We say that this Bill is of such importance and of such significance that it must not only be canvassed by this chamber with due regard for its consequences and its implications but also it must be given the opportunity of the closest analysis by those in the community who will be affected by it- the commercial interests, the consumers and those who theoretically would examine the consequences of a matter of this kind in the field of comparative economic and social legislationwith a view to pointing out as advisers to the Government and to members of Parliament generally what are the possible consequences of this very great intrusion into the ordinary processes, both commercial and otherwise, in Australian life.

Let us have no doubt that the intrusion of legislation of this character will constitute a major intrusion into the processes of law and of commercial operation. Without going into the details of the Bill, which would be beyond my competence in the course of this debate, the Bill does impinge upon the processes of contract law, it impinges on the processes of commercial dealings in a major way, and it impinges on the processes and operation of the common law, although only in a circumscribed field of the total implications of the measure. Just how vast the ultimate implications may be, just what consequences it may have in other areas of life which I have not canvassed in that very short recitation, nobody can guess. This chamber should not pass legislation of this significance on some sort of informed or uninformed guess.

Senator Greenwood - On the face of it, it seems to have tremendously wide ramifications.

Senator BYRNE - Yes, of course. Senator Greenwood uses the expression 'on the face of it' and that is as high as we can put it at this stage, because of the limited scrutiny we have been able to give this legislation at this stage. On the face of it, the legislation has tremendous consequences, tremendous implications. I think it is owing to the community at large and to those who will be affected by it commercially that those consequences at least should be before this chamber and before this Parliament when this Bill is finally passed. It is owing to those whom this legislation purports to protect- the consumersthat their welfare is looked after and that the consequences of this legislation to them should be before this chamber when the Bill finally finds its passage through the Parliament of Australia. Therefore if we have sought to delay for some months this measure which we are discussing it is because it is the type of measure, perhaps above all measures which have been introduced in the Senate in recent times, which would attract such an attitude as has now been stated by the Democratic Labor Party.

I think some point should be made in relation to the function of the Senate. Under the Constitution the Senate has a particular function. Although it may have been constituted as a States House, it has assumed a most important role as the House of review. That the Senate is conscious of that responsibility is exemplified by the emergence of a series of Senate committees of various characters over the past few years. I refer to standing committees, select committees and estimates committees. The work burden that now rests on the Senate, at its own will and by its own creation, is enormous. But it is now a particular function of the Senate that the closest scrutiny be given to all operations within the public administration, so far as it is within the competence of this chamber. The Senate's function is not merely willy nilly and without proper scrutiny and observation to ratify the legislative program of the Government no matter who may be in government.

I speak for a Party that was not identified with the previous Government and is not identified with this Government. If one looks at our voting record one sees that on many occasions we supported propositions and legislation put forward by the previous Government. We have in this session supported propositions and legislation put forward by the present Government. That is the function of our Party in this chamber. We have always considered that our prime duty and responsibility was adequately to scrutinise legislation and administrative acts and, having done that, then to vote accordingly and to express what we think is the will of the Australian people in our vote in the Senate. But, as I say, our Party also has a positive contribution to make, as have all honourable senators and all parties in this chamber, not merely to ratify, or reject for that matter, the legislation of the Government, but by its own motions and by its own private Bills to present its own program and its suggestions as to the things of value that should be considered and should be carried into operation in the community.

For example, today Senator Wright introduced a matter of urgency which enabled discussion of an industrial situation that has developed in Tasmania. That discussion took some hours but it was a contribution by the Opposition- it did not emanate from the Government-to draw attention to a matter of great consequence. Today on behalf of Senator Little of the Democratic Labor Party I gave notice of a motion to introduce a Bill to amend the National Health Act. In other words, the contribution which the Opposition Parties make in this chamber is not merely to consider Government legislation. We have other duties; we have other responsibilities; we have other contributions to make. Therefore, when a matter of such great importance as this Bill comes before the chamber we are entitled to say that it is of such consequence that, in view of our other duties, we require proper time to consider it, and I think the Australian public would agree. As this Bill will affect so many areas of Australian life it is important that its full implications be studied at this stage.

Senator Poyser - It has been going on for 5 years and you know it.

Senator BYRNE -The Democratic Labor Party was not identified with the previous Government and it is not identified with this Government. It is no argument, Senator Poyser, that the matter has been going on for years and that nothing adequate has been done about it, if that statement is correct. I do not challenge it, nor do I contradict it or accept it. It is not our responsibility because it was not at our instance that legislation was delayed or not presented. The mere fact that a previous government may have been in default of its responsibility- I do not say that it was- is no entitlement to this chamber to rectify the matter by precipitate consideration of legislation of such vast consequences, even if that was the situation. We feel that this Bill is of immense consequence to the community. We feel that we have an obligation to have canvassed not only public opinion but also public commercial opinion, public industrial opinion, public economic opinion, academic opinion and the opinions of those who would wish in some way to make their contribution to establishing a position which would enable the most probably effective legislation to be introduced.

We say that it would be impossible to achieve that purpose within the time at our disposal if this Bill were to be considered according to the time schedule of the Government. Therefore, we support the motion for the consideration of this matter on a day early in the session in the first part of next year. In that time everybody will have an opportunity to consider this legislation adequately. Is this Bill introduced now purely as an anti-inflationary measure? The Government, of course, must accept a large measure of responsibility for the inflationary situation that has been allowed to get out of hand due to its failure to impose the necessary disciplines sufficiently quickly to avoid the necessity for the crisis legislation that has now to be introduced. This Bill goes far beyond the mere handling of the present inflation. It deals with such important and significant matters as mergers, monopolisation, exclusive dealing, resale price maintenance and price discrimination. All those are matters of very grave consequence. For example, the matter of mergers is one which touches the whole corporation structure and the whole ebb and flow of the operations of public companies in Australia. Surely that is of tremendous consequence. Surely those matters must be considered. Therefore we say that we expect that the Government would concede the wisdom of our position.

If the Government is earnest, as I think it is, about the necessity for this Bill and rethinks the matter it will realise that if a Bill which has consequences of this kind is to be introduced and is to be viable and effective when it becomes law, there must be time to give it proper and total scrutiny. We have seen statutes enacted over the years, particularly Income Tax Acts, which are challenged from time to time. All sorts of manoeuvres become apparent and can be taken advantage of to bypass the legislation. There is little doubt that if this Bill goes through and becomes law there will be an attempt to bypass it by some techniques of avoidance. We must try to avoid that situation arising. I am sure that some honourable senators on the Government side would not wish that to be the position. One cannot bring down legislation and avoid that type of situation if it is put through without proper care, scrutiny and consideration. The Senate can only do its best. We can try to equate the performance here with the performance of the House of Representatives. Though we have half the number of members we can do our best. But we would be failing in our duty if on a matter of this consequence we did not say: 'Pause. Let us have a look at this and let the nation have a look at it too'.

Senator Poyser - You have already had 5 years.

Senator BYRNE - We did not have 5 years. This is the Government's Bill. Obviously Senator Poyser does not understand that this Bill incorporates principles which are in many ways totally divergent and contradictory of provisions in any other Bill. Some of them are new. It is a Bill which must be looked at in isolation and not in relation to a previous Bill which may be reenacted. This Bill represents a totally different concept in this field of maintenance and control of prices and trade practices. This is a completely different proposition from any other legislation. Therefore, if Senator Poyser thinks that this matter has been under scrutiny for 5 years he shows a total unawareness of the history of the matter and of the contents of this measure to which I am directing my remarks tonight. The Democratic Labor Party always tries to act with a degree of prudence, restraint and wisdom. I do not make that claim self-consciously or unctuously, but we have been known to ask the Senate to pause from time to time to consider an important matter. We do it again on this occasion.

We think that if the Government pauses and reconsiders this matter, and gives the opportunity for this Bill to be looked at with more care and in more detail and scrutinised by those in the community who will be affected by it, a much better Bill may well be presented in the early part of next year. This would be our hope. If the Government does not choose to do that I am sure that in the intervening few months the Democratic Labor Party and the official Oppositionthe Liberal Party and Country Party- will discover things in this Bill which should be altered, amended, abandoned or improved. There is little doubt about that. The people of Australia will be grateful to us for asking the Government to pause for a few months.

Senator Mulvihill - And let the monopolists goon.

Senator BYRNE - That is the argument of emotion. It means, in other words, that the Government has allowed a certain crisis to develop and now asks to be extracted from that position by the precipitate consideration of legislation.

Senator Mulvihill - You want to control the labour content but not profits.

Senator BYRNE - If Senator Mulvihill would apply his mind to this Bill and not to another Bill relating to a referendum I am sure that the debate would be much more relevant. The Democratic Labor Party appeals to the Government to see the wisdom of the suggested deferment of this legislation until early next year. I am sure that the Government, upon consideration, will realise the wisdom of this course. I am sure also that the commercial community and the consuming community of Australia will see the wisdom of the course and, when the Bill comes back for consideration, will see that the best course, as suggested by the Democratic Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Country Party, is adopted. For those reasons the Democratic Labor Party supports the amendment moved by Senator Greenwood.

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