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Wednesday, 8 November 1905

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) -This Bill has been so much discussed by Parliament, by the different Chambers of Commerce, and other public bodies, and also so exhaustively dealt with by the press, that it is exceedingly difficult to raise any new points of criticism. Therefore, the points which do suggest themselves to me shall be dealt with briefly and tersely. The Bill, I understand, is founded on the Merchandise Marks Act of Great Britain, which, dealing with fraudulent trade descriptions, provides that the place of manufacture shall be stated. The Bill before us, however, goes much further, and I think that if regulations are framed to carry out the whole, or even half of its provisions, it will prove the most drastic legislation that any honorable member could well conceive. The Bill entirely depends on the regulations, on which, in turn, depends the entire administration. Honorable senators have at various times offered criticisms about too much being left to regulations, but with many of their arguments I do not quite agree, because there are certain matters which have no parliamentary significance, and which may safely be left to be dealt with in that way. The Bill before us, however, deals with the whole of the important export trade of the Commonwealth, and the regulations may do an infinity of harm.

Senator Playford - The Bill does not deal with the whole of the export trade.

Senator DOBSON - The Bill deals with the whole of the trade, so far as regards foods, medicines, fabrics, boots and shoes, and so forth ; and there is good ground for saying that the regulations should be assented to by Parliament before they are given the force of law. I admit that such a course has its drawbacks, and that if we commence to set out the regulations required under the Bill, we may do harm. We may thereby interfere with trade, and dictate to people on the other side of the world how they shall pack and deal generally with their goods - we may, in fact, impose regulation which will not be tolerated. The most serious criticism I know of in regard to the Bill is that it simply deals with the commerce with other countries, while! it does not apply to commerce between State and State. The whole of the States, except perhaps Queensland, have tolerably strict measures dealing with the sale of wholesome foods and medicines. I have here a Bill which has passed the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, and is now under consideration by the Legislative Council of that State; and a slight reference to it shows that we are entering on a dangerous path. The two Bills will overlap, and we shall find State inspectors, and Commonwealth inspectors doing similar work. I am afraid that exporters will be called upon to deal with two different Departments, and two separate lots of inspectors. The Victorian Bill is intended to prevent the adulteration of food. The definition of " article of food " includes - every article used-for food or drink by man, and any article that enters into or is used in the composition or preparation of food, and also includes confectionery, spices, flavouring substances, and essences.

Clause 5 of that Bill is as follows: -

Any authorized officer may at any time enter in or upon any wharf pier or jetty or any railway station or place of delivery or premises and there inspect any animals carcases or articles of food or drugs which he may have reasonable ground for believing are intended to be slaughtered or sold or used for food for human consumption.

We see, therefore, that the two measures have practically the same objects in view. I find that under the Victorian Bill there is to be what is called a Food Standards Committee, who have enormous powers. It is provided that the Beard of Health can only make regulations in regard to carrying out the purpose of the law with its consent. There is no such provision as that in the Bill now before the Senate. If it is the intention of the Minister to have, say, butter graded, will it not be necessary to appoint inspectors, or other officials ? The Bill makes no reference to that matter. What is not clone under the Federal law may be done under the State law. While we may think we are protecting the butter producers Or exporters from harassing legislation, they may find themselves exposed to the operation of the State law. The Ministers, in charge of the two measures may take either the most drastic, or the least drastic, law, and apply it. In my opinion, the Senate has no right to proceed further with this measure when there are grave reasons for supposing that the two laws may overlap, and one prove to be unconstitutional. Sub-clause c of clause 3 deals with trade description as to the manufacturer or producer of the goods, and sub-clause d as to the " mode of manufacturing, producing, selecting, packing, or otherwise preparing the goods." Mr. Wade, the Attorney-General 'of New South Wales, has expressed an opinion which merits consideration. That opinion, as reported in the press, is as follows: -

Mr. Wademaintains that the Bill oversteps the limits of Federal action, and invades the rights of the States. The power to legislate in connexion with trade and commerce conferred by the Commonwealth, he believes, only enables the Federation to exercise control in securing smoothness and rapidity in and transport and exchange of commodities while the States retain powers to protect the health and safety of their citizens.

Senator Keating - From what is the honorable and learned senator quoting?

Senator DOBSON - From one of the morning journals.

Senator Playford - We do not know whether the quotation actually represents the opinion of Mr. Wade.

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