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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 1415

Mr HURFORD (Adelaide) - The Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), who represents the Minister for Civil Aviation in this House, finished bis speech on the note of the 2-airline policy. This is completely irrelevant to the matter before us. As the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) said when opening this debate on a matter of public importance, we had a debate on this subject only a couple of weeks ago in which the Australian Labor Party - the alternative government of this country - made it clear that it was not tampering with the 2-airline policy. The issue today is completely different. I am proud to have been given the opportunity at the. last moment - the arrangement was that there would be only 2 speakers from the Opposition - to speak on this matter. I am proud to be able to stand here, and on behalf of the Opposition condemn the Government for its failure to take advantage of so many opportunities in the past.

Government speakers have not been able to stand up in this place and talk with the national interest in mind. Instead the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen), who is representing the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood), gave us a sad list of lost opportunities that occurred when the restrictive trade practices legislation was before this House. At that time nothing was done about monopolies. As I have pointed out, we have, just had something completely irrelevant from the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. While such speeches are being made honourable members from this side of the House at any rate are receiving telegrams on this issue from interested people in their electorates. They are receiving telegrams not least of all from those people, who are working in Ansett Transport Industries Ltd whose future employment is so much in doubt because such a system has been allowed to continue, to operate in this country whereas this is not the case in the other so-called bastions of free enterprise.

There are several restrictive trade practices Acts in the United States of America, but the one that is particularly pertinent to the situation which faces us in Australia today is the Clayton Act. That Act, under sections 7 and 8, prohibits any corporation from acquiring another corporation if the effect of acquisition is to create a monopoly or to substantially lessen competition. Are we to say that a takeover of the nature that is taking place in Australia will not lessen competition? Should we not have the structures, as the Opposition suggests, so that at least the national interest can be determined? If an inquiry shows that a lessening of competition, in the terms of the Clayton Act, will take place as a result of a takeover, then there is an end to that particular merger or takeover.

In the United Kingdom there is a Monopolies Commission run not by a progressive Labor government, I may add, but by a Conservative Government which would look upon the present Liberal Government in Australia as a brother, although as a very slow and unprogressive brother. But under the Monopolies and Mergers Acts of 1948 and 1963 in the United Kingdom the Government can refer to the Monopolies Commission for inquiry and report a proposed merger or a completed merger if that merger will create or enhance a situation in which one-third or more of any trade is in the hands of any one person or group, or if the gross value of the assets to be taken over exceeds £5m or $10m. Is anybody going to suggest that that section in the Monopolies and Mergers Acts in the United Kingdom would not be pertinent to the situation with which we are faced in Australia today?

For the last 23 years this Government has had opportunity after opportunity to introduce such an Act into this Parliament. There were the proposals of Sir Garfield Barwick which have been mentioned already today. When I knew that I was to be given the opportunity to speak in this debate I rushed to look at my file on this subject, and the first thing I came upon was a speech by Mr Freeth who is now our Ambassador in Japan. Mr Freeth speaking on behalf of Sir Garfield Barwick when he made his well known statement. I have a copy of it here. It was certainly made in 1962 although I have not been able to turn up the exact date.

After that statement was made I, as a chartered accountant in the community in Adelaide, saw the wheels of reaction start to grind. I attended a few luncheons. One in particular which I remember was organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants. At that luncheon the forces of reaction in this country got up and said such dire things about the effects of legislation such as that which was foreshadowed at the time. They are the people who provide this Government, which has been in office now for 23 years, with the sinews to fight elections. I have no doubt that they are the people who stopped Sir Garfield Barwick in his tracks in trying to do what should have been done in the interests of the ordinary people of this country - the setting up of the necessary structures so that the national interest can be determined in a situation such as the one which we are discussing today.

We could go back further. I have in my hand the report of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review which reported in 1959. That report contains sections dealing with the sorts of changes that ought to be made in our Constitution. Chapter 16 deals with corporations and chapter 17 deals with restrictive trade practices. The failure to implement the recommendations contained in that report is another nail in th: coffin of this Government on this very subject of takeovers. The Joint Committee on Constitutional Review was an all Party committee of this Parliament. It reported on the constitutional changes which should be made. But what has happened? Along with so many other recommendations which have been made to this Government, the recommendations contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review have been shelved for all these years.

Now it is plain when such changes should have been made, if necessary to the Constitution, so that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) could have stood in this House at question time today and told us and the people outside this Parliament what was the national interest. Instead today we heard some wishy-washy statement from the Prime Minister. He referred only to the overseas investment part of the takeover which we are discussing. Perhaps that may be irrelevant; I do not know. None of us can ascertain just what overseas participation there is in Thomas Nationwide Transport. But that is all that the Prime Minister could talk about. He mentioned a few other things which were repeated by the Minister for National Development representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. I believe that even in these circumstances, where, as a result of the will of his own Government, the Prime Minister's hands are tied behind his back because the Constitution has not been properly altered to cover this situation, the Prime Minister should have stood up in this Parliament and told the nation what he thinks about this takeover.

Having said that, I do not want to canvass the issue. The main purpose, of our raising this matter of public importance today is to show that we should have structures so that national interest can be determined. It is the duty of members of the Opposition to stand up in this place and show the country why we should have these structures and to point out, as indeed the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and the honourable member for Newcastle have pointed out, the opportunities which are available to this Government lo make sure that this Parliament had the necessary structures. I do not want lo canvass the issue which is an important one. There are some grave dangers in this takeover, but we do not have enough information on it. If 1 might give a personal view, it is that one of the great areas in which reform is needed in our society is in this area of transport rationalisation. There is a tremendous economic wastage in the transport field. In order to sec this highlighted one can go to Darwin or to Tasmania and see the costs incurred by members of the public in the transport field. On almost every occasion on which one studies transport in Australia one finds thai there are trucks returning empty one way and over long distances in our vast country; there are ships returning empty one way; there are airline cargo freighters returning empty one way; there are railway carriages returning empty one way. Rationalisation is needed, but we are not sure how it can be done because we have not got the right sort of tribunal or, as is mentioned in the wording of the matter of public importance which has been raised today, we have not got the right sorts of structures in order to examine this question of takeovers. We are not sure what kind of rationalisation is needed in our case.

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