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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 713

Senator VIGOR(5.44) —I deal with some aspects of the Trade Practices Commission annual report which were first raised by Senator Puplick. I am disappointed that the Commission has failed to recommend tougher legislation to deal with unnecessary mergers-for example, the Coles-Myer merger, the Bond-Castlemaine Toohey merger and other large mergers which have happened in the poultry industry and in other areas. The report states:

Merger activity has been given a measure of added impetus by two particular factors:

(i) the recognised and unarguable need for Australian industry to become more efficient and internationally competitive by rationalisation.

. . .

(ii) the cry for more deregulation and self-regulation. Those who cry loudest would have no merger control at all, but that is to go too far. Merger control under the Trade Practices Act, legally and administratively, is at the minimum, and is capable of accommodating all reasonable needs. The Commission suggests one must beware the danger of becoming too libertarian about mergers lest, in time, monopolies emerge.

I think it is already probably too late to save competition in the retail industry.

I would also like to refer to trade stock. The problem in that area is that the litigation is becoming so expensive that even the Government is not prepared to take on the very large corporations which have enormous legal resources and can play cat and mouse with the Government simply by entering into protracted litigation. The same type of thing is happening in the area of regulation and deregulation. Pages 23 to 25 of the report inject some sense into the debate. I quote from a section of the report which deals with the self-regulation in advertising as proposed by the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. The report states:

FACTS decided to reject the Commission's terms of authorization for self-regulation and not to comply with the authorization conditions. Furthermore, FACTS no longer proposes to rely on an authorization as its new system is to be voluntary.

This refers to such important areas as the advertising of alcohol and cigarettes, children's television and the Australian content of television. It is extremely important that in all these areas we should have some type of Government control.

One of the matters dealt with quite effectively by the Trade Practices Commission is that of labelling. A major campaign has been set up to ensure that the `made in Australia' designation is in fact what it means and that the goods are not just packed in Australia. A number of cases have been brought against trading corporations to ensure that their labelling requirements are correct.

Chapter 5 of the Trade Practices Commission report relates to consumer protection. The Commission generally has concentrated on a number of trivial issues rather than on conducting a large-scale campaign of greater significance. The most important initiative has been the undertaking of an Australia-wide survey in order to ascertain from the public those areas of consumer dealings where most of the problems occur and those which warrant the most attention from the Commission. I believe that this is a most important area for the Commission. I commend it for its attempts to handle this and to ensure that advertising is handled in a sensible way within the Australian community.

Question resolved in the affirmative.