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Wednesday, 24 October 1973
Page: 1427

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -The Senate is debating an Opposition move to defer discussion of the Trade Practices Bill until the first sitting day of the Senate in 1974. I understand that the news media this evening referred to an intimidation by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam)- I am not positive about the comment, but I believe that it has been made- that in the House of Representatives the Government will introduce a similiar Trade Practices Bill if the Senate does not proceed with this Bill either this evening or in the near future. I acknowledge the Government's claim that it is a very important Bill and that the Government wishes to see the Bill proceeded with as quickly as possible. But it is interesting to note that 2 days ago the Trade Practices Bill was at the bottom of the notice paper. Those who understand what I am saying will know that it means that within the last day or two the Trade Practices Bill has been considered to be a major item on the Senate's notice paper.

The Trade Practices Bill and the general policy related to it are very important matters in our community. The Bill contains 75 pages and it is completely different from any other Trade Practices Bill that has been presented to this chamber. The implications of the Bill must be recognised by the people who are affected- whether they be consumers or people in very important areas of commerce within our society. The changes proposed by the Bill must be assessed in order to ascertain what they will mean to our commercial life in the future. I believe that it would be the Opposition's desire to accede to the Government's wish to pass such a Bill as soon as is practicable. This afternoon Senator Murphy pleaded with us to do this. Senator Brown from my own

State of Victoria also laid down in very strong terms that this Bill should be passed in its entirety. The main reason which Senator Murphy gave and which Senator Brown advanced in very strong terms as to why this Bill should be passed immediately was that the Bill is one of the measures with which the Government seeks to control the rate of inflation.

I would like to make a suggestion in calm terms to the Government if it believes in the immediate introduction of this enormous piece of legislation. Even if it were possible to get this legislation under way in 1 973 and to do something which it has not been possible to do under the Prices Justification Tribunal which this Government set up, or under the present trade practices legislation, or by the various actions which the Labor socialist Government has certainly taken to its heart to implement in the Australian Capital Territory and other areas where it feels that it has jurisdiction, I doubt very much whether the Trade Practices Bill which we have before us for debate would quickly provide a further tool to this Government to use to control inflation.

I think that the public generally recognises that the inflationary tendency which has been so pronounced in the last 9 months is the direct result of the political policies of the present Government. There certainly is reason to say, as I see Dr Cairns is saying, that inflation is an entirely external matter. Those who argue in this chamber that this Trade Practices Bill will cure inflation are obviously arguing against Dr Cairns when he says- probably, to some degree, quite correctly- that the enormous income which Australia is earning at the present time through its exports and the new money being introduced into this country bears some relationship to the inflationary tendency.

I believe that the policies of this Governmentits non-opposition to wage demands and excessive strikes which have taken place in the community which this year have increased by more than 50 per cent over the previous year; encouraging the provision to employees of longer annual leave and greater benefits which are certainly required in the community but which in some instances may have an inflationary influence; the enormous expenditure in which the Commonwealth Government has become involved; and attempting to say to the people: We have cured unemployment problems' when to a large extent, it has taken the unemployment sectors on to the Commonwealth pay-roll- are adding to our inflationary tendency. This inflationary tendency will not be cured by attempting to control restrictive trade practices, although if I knew that such practices were not in the interests of the public generally I would be very anxious to see that they were controlled. I doubt very much whether this Bill, which the Government demands should be passed this year, would be a real tool for the socialist Government that we have in power at the present time. Both speakers on behalf of the Government have said that many people are being harmed by the practices that are occurring in the community.

Senator McAuliffe - Hear, hear!

Senator WEBSTER - I hear an honourable senator say: 'Hear, hear! '. I note with some concern that neither Senator Murphy nor Senator Brown is willing to instance the type of trade practice which we have in the community which is so harmful to the community. I have had some experience in the commercial life of Australia. I have heard the Labor Government's argument concerning price justification in relation to the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, and trade practices in the very important area of the steel industry. These are base industries and what happens in them can have an enormous effect on the price of goods in our community. This is an area in which some trade practices may be of concern to the community.

Prior to my coming into the Senate I was a director of a public company which had the benefit of being an agent in Victoria for steel produced by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. As a director of that company I used to be most annoyed with BHP, which was a hard company to deal with. It used to demand its money within 7 days.

Senator Wheeldon - I rise on a point of order. Loath as I am to interrupt this fascinating reminiscence of Senator Webster, it would appear to me that he is debating the substance of the Bill and not the proposition relating to the adjournment of the Bill. It would seem to me that if we are going to have a proper debate on this matter we should confine the debate to the reasons for the proposed adjournment of the Bill. If the honourable senator wishes to debate the Bill I am sure that we on this side would be delighted to do so. But I would ask you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to rule that the debate now is on the adjournment and not the substance of the Bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown)- There is some substance in what you say, Senator Wheeldon, but the debate has been in progress for some 2 hours or more and it has been rather wide ranging from both sides of the chamber. Therefore I feel somewhat reluctant at this stage to impose undue restrictions on any honourable senator. But I think it would be helpful for the purposes of the debate if greater attention were given to the substance of the motion before the Chair.

Senator WEBSTER -Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I shall endeavour to indicate to a person such as Senator Wheeldon, who is a legal individual, and the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy), who introduced this Bill and who is a person of legal training, that one of the great problems that the commercial community in Australia has is that even within this Parliament there are so many legal individuals who do not understand the commercial impact of what they attempt to bring into this Parliament. I was attempting to emphasise that if only you, Senator Wheeldon, had had experience other than your university and legal training and the time that you spent within the Young Liberal Movement you would have had a great opportunity to learn of the real commercial interests of the community. I say to the Senate that at a time when perhaps I was not as affluent as some honourable senators in the Government are- I had to work for my living -


Order! Senator Webster, I attempted to be as gracious as possible in regard to the point of order just taken, having regard to what had preceded your contribution. I ask you to attempt to come back to the subject matter and the substance of the debate. I do not think- and I think that you will agree- that a reference to someone's political affiliations of yesteryear has any relevance whatsoever to this debate. Will you do as I ask, please?

Senator WEBSTER - I acknowledge the fact that the time taken in interrupting my speech is all time taken out of my time on the air. I understand the reasons for that. I am attempting to say that this particular measure is a very legalistic measure and the fact is that commercial interests in Australia have not had time to study this matter. The barbs of this Government are pointed at the commercial interests. The Government says that there are illegal trade practices in the community but it is not willing to name them. It has illegal trade practices of which it is well aware, but they do not exist in the community to any great extent. Where they do exist I believe that we as an Opposition should see that they are done away with. I have said so far as the Opposition is concerned that where there is an overseas company which has control of a particular product or manufacture and which is able to dominate the trade in Australia or is able to dominate the policy relating to export from this country, that is something that must be done away with. But what this Bill does is to hit at every commercial practice in Australia, and every corporation which is registered in Australia can be harmed by this Bill, as honourable senators know.

Senator Murphyintroduced this legislation on 27 September. He said in this chamber that there was the opportunity during the 10 months in which he was attempting to draw up this Bill--

Senator Wright - With all his staff and consultants.

Senator WEBSTER -With all his staff and consultants. Despite his legalistic mind he did not once consult industry on this matter. The Senate will be amazed to know that on 3 October, after prompting by Senator Greenwood and others, Senator Murphy sent out telegrams to various bodies in the commercial world asking whether they would care to give their advice to his Department and, in the words that I have in front of me: 'Would you care to submit your views to my Department. We will have officers prepared to discuss it with you'. What an abhorrent proposition. The Attorney-General stood up in this Senate and said: 'Well, this is trade practices. They well knew the Labor Party policy. They well knew what I was drawing up. We should debate this immediately'. But I say to Senator Murphy that he is not quite fair to the Senate when he does not say that nearly every commercial body in Australia that has been in touch with him or his Department has pleaded with him, as telegrams that I and other senators have illustrate, and have asked him would he please defer this matter for at least 6 to 8 weeks to allow them to understand what this measure is really about. I ask you, Senator Murphy, whether you have received -

Senator Murphy - Senator, youdo not want it deferred for 6 to 8 weeks because that would bring this matter on again this sitting. You are trying to defer it until next year. If you could get the chance, having regard to the pressure that is on you, you would defer it for 2 or 3 years.

Senator WEBSTER -Senator, you are taking up my time. I do not want you to take up my time, much as you would wish to do so. I think it would have been a little fairer for you to have stood up in the time available to you and said: Well, I have received from the various chambers of commerce some expression of concern as to the ramifications of this law which I, Senator Murphy, have brought in'. I think that their fears are well founded.

Senator Devitt - I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention, Mr Acting Deputy President, to the fact that Senator Webster is not addressing the Chair but is in fact throwing taunts across the chamber. My understanding of Standing Orders is that he must address the Chair.

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