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Wednesday, 8 November 1905

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) - I welcome this Bill as an instalment of the legislation which is necessary to insure, not only commercial, but also national, honesty. I fail to understand how anybody who desires to see trade honestly conducted can have any real objection to this Bill. Honest merchants who conduct their business on pure and clean lines, should, above all other persons, welcome such a measure as being calculated to protect them from the unfair competition of merchants who do not so conduct their business. Every honorable senator who is animated by a desire to see honest merchants given a fair show will assist in passing the Bill. We have heard a great deal about the evils likely to follow, but I ask honorable senators who have argued in that way to show how any person who conducts his business fairly and honestly can be injured. I have no sympathy whatever with, and no generous feelings to throw away upon, the man who conducts his business dishonestly ; and I refuse to consider the Bill from his point of view. Let us examine and analyze the Bill, no matter how closely, and what is its object? It is to secure, as far as this Parliament can, that in the case of Commonwealth commerce - fortunately, or unfortunately, we have no power to deal with State commerce

Senator Millen - We could deal with Inter-State commerce.

Senator GIVENS - If Senator Millen will assist me by his vote I will give him an opportunity to deal with Inter-State commerce in this Bill.

Senator Millen - I will do so if one clause is struck out of the Bill.

Senator GIVENS - It is not necessary to strike out any clause. We have only to insert about three words to make the Bill apply to Inter-State commerce, and I challenge Senator Millen to give me a vote in that direction on an amendment which I propose to move when the Bill gets into' Committee. The Bill provides, so far as this Parliament can regulate the matter, that Commonwealth commerce shall in future be conducted on pure lines. There can be no question as to the need for a Bill of this description. The revelations of the Butter Commission which recently sat in Victoria, and whose findings should be familiar to every honorable senator, showed that in that particular branch of commercial life corruption was rampant, that the trade was reeking with fraud, and that cheating was the rule and not the exception. This Bill will tend to minimize that corruption, fraud, and cheating; and it is urgently required to effect that object if it can be effected. We know that in connexion with the butter trade our good name as exporters was being ruined by the malpractices of certain merchants of Victoria, and perhaps of other parts of the Commonwealth'. We know that in Victoria the Government stamp was used by exporters without the knowledge of the Government. To put it in plain language, the Government stamp was stolen and used wholesale by those people.

Senator Walker - It did more harm than good, then?

Senator GIVENS - Of course it did, when fraud was used. The honorable senator is a banker, and will he say that the issue of bank notes is a very bad thing, because certain fraudulent notes are circulated from time to time?

Senator Walker - That is not a fair parallel.

Senator GIVENS - It is absolutely fair. What is it that gives value to a bank note? Is it not the stamp which is a token that it is a genuine bank note issued by a particular banking company ? If a forger comes along and issues forged notes he deceives the bank and the people on whom the forged notes are palmed off. In exactly the same way the exporters of butter from Victoria, who fraudulently put the Government stamp on their goods, were guilty of forgery, and their conduct was equally reprehensible.

Senator WALKER (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was a genuine Government stamp.

Senator GIVENS - It was a genuine Government stamp fraudulently used. Will the honorable senator tell me that if a man can get possession of the plates used for stamping notes of the Bank of New South Wales, of which he is, I believe, a shareholder and director, he will be justified in using them to issue false notes wholesale?

Senator Walker - The honorable senator does not understand anything about the matter. A signature is required as well as the stamp.

Senator GIVENS - I am aware that a signature is required as well as the stamp. The honorable senator, who is now posing as the champion and advocate of corrupt practices, must surely be a different individual altogether from the honorable senator who has posed as the moral and upright director of a bank. If the honorable senator were a merchant in the old country relying upon the Victorian Goverment stamp as a guarantee of purity, and bought 100 boxes of butter branded1 with that stamp, he would sing a different tune it., when he opened the boxes, he found that they contained axle grease.

Senator Walker - I think the Government should be responsible in a case of that sort.

Senator GIVENS - I entirely agree with the honorable senator, but that is no excuse for the dishonest action of the people who fraudulently used the Government stamp. We know from the revelations of the Butter Commission that when boxes of prime butter were sent into the stores with well-known brands affixed to them, the butter was emptied out of those boxes, and inferior butter was sent home in the boxes branded with the reputable brand. These are some of the practices which this Bill will put a stop to, and I think it ill becomes any member of this Senate to constitute himself the apologist for such practices. The Bill will not prevent any person from exporting goods of any description he likes provided that he accurately describes them.

Senator Walker - Why should he describe them? .

Senator GIVENS - In order that he shall not commit a fraud upon any person.

Senator Walker - If he puts no mark on the goods, there is no fraud.

Senator GIVENS - The Bill will not prevent a man from exporting 100 boxes of butter, if it is marked according to its grade - as prime, or number two, or number three, or pastry. I will go further than some honorable senators, and say that if any butter is not fit to be exported as pastry butter, it can be sent home, if it is called axle-grease. Therefore, no hardship is inflicted on any person. All that a man has to do is to accurately describe his goods. It is time for this Parliament, as well as every other governing body in Australia, to see that everything possible is done to protect the good name of Australian products in the markets of the old world. The honest producer, as well as the honest exporter, will be robbed every time of a certain amount of his legitimate profit if our good name suffers. If we are in the habit of sending home apples of inferior quality, so that Australian apples come to be regarded as inferior generally, then the man who sends home first-class apples will only get a secondclass price. The same result will happen with butter, jam, and every other article that we can send home. An Agent-Gene-

Tal of Victoria has stated that frozen lambs have been sent home from the State which would have been more correctly described as frozen skeletons.

Senator Millen - Is the honorable senator speaking of an instance where the lambs which were refused the Government stamp brought more than lambs which received it ?

Senator GIVENS - No. I am only concerned in trying to prove that every export should bear an honest description. Senator Macfarlane said that a man should be allowed to export any article he likes without giving a description. Suppose that the honorable senator were allowed to send home 100 boxes of butter which was only suitable for pastry butter, and that it was marked as " Tasmanian .butter." What would be the result when it was put on the English market? The shipment might be divided amongst 100 different buyers. As soon as it was found that it was not fit for ordinary use, and that it could be best used as pastry butter, for all time those buyers would look with the utmost suspicion upon all other Tasmanian buffer, and all the honest producers would suffer merely because the honorable senator had desired to get the highest possible price for butter of inferior grade.

Senator Walker - Why should not each butter-maker have his own brand?

Senator GIVENS - There is no provision in the Bill to prevent each man from having his own brand.

Senator Walker - What more does the honorable senator want?

Senator GIVENS - I want the buttermaker to insure to the exporter that, in addition to the butter bearing his own brand, it shall be free from adulteration, and correctly described. In Australia, we have instances on record where articles have been put up not only for. local use, but for exportation, which contained not a particle of the stuff of which they were supposed to be produced. We had a case tried in the Police Court, in which it was shown by a

Government analyst that an article which was sold as raspberry vinegar was innocent of raspberries, that an article which was sold as "jam was made of pumpkins or of turnips, with clover seeds put in to represent raspberry seeds. Last year, when the health inspectors went round Melbourne, they found sixty-eight samples of that mysterious compound generally described as sausage, and there was not one sample that did not contain deleterious adulterants. These are some" of the frauds against which we desire tb protect the consuming public so far as we can. __

Senator Millen - Will this Bill guarantee pure sausages?

Senator GIVENS - At least it will guarantee that the prime Frankfort sausages which are introduced here-

Senator Millen - And which are made here.

Senator GIVENS - Some of them are made here, perhaps, but I know that some are imported. The Bill only goes as far as the Federal authority to legislate goes. We have no power to interfere with State matters. We also have evidence that our export trade has been ruined in another way. It is a fact borne out by sworn evidence that people in the old country look with suspicion on our manufactures owing to the dishonest and fraudulent practices of certain manufacturers. I would not for a moment say that all our manufacturers follow these pernicious practices, but I do submit that those who follow an honest method of doing business - those who, as far as they can, never attempt to do anything which is fraudulent - should be protected from the undue and unfair competition of those who go iri for dishonest practices. We know that in the old country our leather has received a verybad name on account of the pernicious practices of some tanners,' who load the article with a substance known as barium, which is of no use except to add weight. Weight for weight, barium is of very much. less value than hide. Therefore, by the addition of that adulterant, the tanners get an undue profit, and the whole trade of Australia suffers because of that fraudulent practice. Will any one say that the perpetuation of that practice is desirable? No.

Senator Millen - I think that the Bill will still allow that adulterated leather to be exported.

Senator GIVENS - Only by the connivance of the Government.

Senator Millen - No,' by the man describing the article accurately.

Senator GIVENS - That is so; but the consumers in the old country are properly protected, because the importer will know exactly what he is buying. All we say to the Australian manufacturer is : " You can manufacture and export any stuff you choose, and the only condition we impose upon you is that you shall correctly describe the article."

Senator Millen - Just while it is going through the Customs.

Senator GIVENS - That is as far as we can go.

Senator Millen - No.

Senator GIVENS - We cannot follow our products into the consumers' houses in England, or Germany, or France. That duty is cast upon the Government of each importing country, and I trust that it will be fulfilled faithfully and honestly. In the same way we, in Australia, impose certain conditions upon importers. A person can import any article he chooses, provided that it is accurately described. This Bill will not prevent him from doing so. Unfortunately this Parliament cannot follow the imports into the consumers' houses, but the States Parliaments can do so, and that duty is cast upon them. All we should be concerned about is "to do our duty in the fullest measure possible, and trust that the States Governments, will in like manner fulfil their duty. In almost any shop in Melbourne, if a person asks for ten yards of imported flannel or ten yards of locally-made flannel, very often, unless he goes in for an absolutely superior article, he will, :get an article which is not flannel in the proper meaning of the term, but half cotton and half woollen. The Bill, so far as the Federal authority goes, will prevent that sort of fraud from being perpetrated upon the consumers. It will allow the importation of woollen goods, flannels, tweeds, and clothes of every description, but it will not allow the importation of any goods as being of pure wool unless that is the case. If cotton has entered into the manufacture of any goods, they must be described as a mixture of wool and cotton. To that extent this Bill merely provides for common honesty. I cannot understand how "any honorable senator can oppose a provision which must commend itself to everybody on account of its agreement with the laws of equity. Senator Pearce also spoke of shoddy boots. We know that a large number of shoddy boots are imported, which are supposed to be made of leather. If you go through the whole gamut of importations in the same way, you will find that the same practice is carried on. Goods are imported as steel, although they do not contain a particle of steel. Goods are imported as being composed of certain substances, although absolutely foreign to them. These are all methods by which a proportion of the trading community cheat the public. I would not for a moment insinuate that the whole of the trading public pursue these methods, but those who do not are subject to an undue and unfair handicap, and ultimately, unless some step is taken to protect them, will have to go to the wall. To-day we have heard a great deal from Senator Gould about the protests of Chambers of Commerce against the Bill. He has also told us that they are the only experts whose guidance should be accepted by the Parliament.

Senator Walker - No, the honorable senator also referred to the Jam Manufacturers amd the Fruit-growers' Union of New South Wales.

Senator GIVENS - Admitting for the sake of argument that Senator Gould brought forward every trader in the community as a witness against the Bill, I ask what does that prove? It has been proved up to the hilt that fraud, cheating, forgery, almost every crime in the calendar, has been committed by portions of the trading community. But I say that a large proportion of the trading community has been guilty of those offences, and that it is our duty to protect the honest against the dishonest. I should like to direct the attention of honorable senators to a passage on the ethics of trade, from a: book by the celebrated German poet and philosopher, Heinrich Heine. In volume VI. of the English edition of his writings, in which his work, " The Gods in Exile," is printed, he says, speaking of the god Mercury -

I have already ventured, despite their crafty disguises, to surmise the names of the important mythological characters who appear In these traditions. This one is nothing less than the god Mercury, the ancient leader of souls, Hermes Pyscopompos. Yes, under that shabby overcoat, and in that sober shopman's form, the most brilliant and youthful of the heathen deities, the crafty son of Maia, is disguised. On that three cornered hat there is not the least .sign of a feather which could recall the wings of his divine head-covering, and the heavy shoes with steel buckles do not at all suggest pinioned sandals; this heavy Dutch lead is different from the mobile quicksilver to which the god gave a name, but the very contrast betrays the identity, and the god chose this disguise to be the more securely concealed. Yet it may be that he in no wise chose it from mere caprice. Mercury was, as you know, at the same time the god of thieves as well as merchants, and it was natural that in choosing a garb which rendered him incognito, and a calling by which he could live, he had in mind his antecedents and talents. Therein he was experienced, he had discovered the tortoiseshell lyre and the helioscope, he robbed men and god, and even as a babe he was a little Calmonius who slipped from his cradle to steal a yoke of oxen. He had to choose between the two occupations, which are in reality not very different, since in both the aim is to obtain the property of others as cheaply as possible; but the shrewd god reflected that thievery does not stand so high in public opinion as trade, but that the former is interdicted by the police, while the latter is even protected by law, that merchants reached the top rung of the ladder of honour, while those of the thieving fraternity must climb a ladder of a much less agreeable description, that the latter stake liberty and life, while the merchant only risks his capital or that of his friends; and so the cunninvest of gods became a merchant, and to be as perfect a* one as possible, Dutch at that.

There the celebrated' poet and philosopher points out that the people who adopt the profession of merchant, and carry on trading, simply do so because it is safer than the ordinary practice of thievery.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable senator believe that nonsense?

Senator GIVENS - I do not believe ft is nonsense. It is absolutely true. The methods of some merchants, some exporters, and some operators on the stock exchange, would shame the vilest thief in the community. One only needs to look at the recent revelations in New South Wales in connexion with the administration of the Lands -Department to see what the mercantile community will descend to.

Senator Millen - The mercantile community was not concerned in that.

Senator GIVENS - It is a matter of trade absolutely, and I only refer to it in that way. Every day in the week, brokers on the stock exchange will sell scrip which they have not got, and under circumstances in which they may never have it, and may never be able to supply it.

Senator Walker - The honorable senator virtually says that merchants are thieves of a higher class.

Senator GIVENS - I say that incidentally to the pursuit of commerce and trade fraud and cheating are rampant, and that it is necessary for us to protect the honest merchant from the unfair competition of those who pursue the pernicious methods I have described.

Senator Walker - The honorable senator's quotation went to show that a merchant was a thief.

Senator GIVENS - My quotation was from the work of an author who will be remembered when most of us are forgotten. It is our duty, so far as we can, not only to protect our trade in the markets of the old world, but also to protect the interests of the consumers in Australia. We can only do that by means of some such Bill as we are now considering. The Bill will not restrict honest trade in the slightest degree. It only goes so far as to compel merchants who import or export goods to describe them truly and accurately. We know that our good name has suffered through the practices of the dishonest. We know that firms have been in the habit of exporting meat, jam, and other goods, in tins which did not contain the weight which they were reputed to contain. Do we not know that jam and butter have been exported in twelve-ounce tins when the buyers thoroughly understood that they were getting one pound of goods ? I say that that is a palpable fraud, which has acted detrimentally to the whole trade of Australia. I have bought reputed pound tins of certain articles produced in the old country, and afterwards found they did not contain a pound weight of goods. I have tried them. We also have the evidence produced by the Butter Commission in Victoria, "to the effect that butter was exported in tins that contained only twelve ounces, though they were reputedly pound tins. It is the duty of the Australian Parliament to protect the good name of Australia, and to help to maintain the reputation of the honest trading community. It is our duty to help to build uo a good name for Australian goods, not on] v for the sake of the community as a whole, but for the benefit of honest merchants. This is a Bill to provide for honest trading, and I cannot understand how any one has the unblushing effrontery to get up and oppose it in this Chamber. We are told bv Senator Gould that it is a very drastic Bill. He viewed it with disfavour, because he said it would be read and taken in conjunction with our Customs Act. The objection to that course being pursued seemed to be because certain very drastic punishments were provided in the Customs Act which were, in his opinion, too severe for any offence that might be committed under this measure. I do not hold with that view. I believe that anybody who fraudulently places a wrong trade description on goods which are exported, and who thereby injures the good name of Australia and inflicts a wrong on our producers, does something for which mo punishment is too drastic In cases, also, where merchants import goods which are of a deleterious character, to the detriment of the people of the Commonwealth, no punishment which I can think of that is capable of being imposed by the Customs Act would be too severe. A little while ago a reputable firm in this city - I believe one of the most reputable firms - was hauled before a justice of the peace for selling tinned milk which was not of the quality described. What did the evidence in that case show? There was not a particle of butter-fat in that milk, so that a young child fed on it would be absolutely starved. Many people have to depend upon condensed milk for feeding their children. If the merchant who sold that milk did it knowingly, he was guilty of little short of murder; and if he did it unknowingly, it was an act of culpable negligence by which the lives of young children might have been sacrificed. I have no objection to such goods as that milk being imported if they are accurately described.

Senator Millen - I have a considerable objection.

Senator GIVENS - How can the honorable senator reconcile that with his conscience and still be prepared to allow goods to go from Australia to the old country which are not even fit for axle grease?

Senator Millen - The honorable senator does not know what my views are yet.

Senator GIVENS - I have a very fair idea. I undertake to say that the honorable senator would not prohibit the exportation of the lowest quality of wool, or of tallow.

Senator Millen - That is very different from a thing being sold as food, which is really poison.

Senator GIVENS - I do not say that the milk which I have referred to was poison. It was wholesome as far as it went, so long as it was used as an adjunct to food consumed by grown-up people. It was when used as food for young children that as it contained no animal fat it was equal to poison. If this milk had been properly described, no mother would have thought for one moment of feeding her child upon it. The milk was put up as the best condensed milk.

Senator Stewart - Whose milk was it? Was it Nestles?

Senator GIVENS - No, but it was a Swiss brand. The firm was greatly to blame, because the milk was sold for the sake of a little extra profit, and it was bought at a price at which the genuine article could not have been supplied. I suppose that thisfirm also sold it at a lower price ; but, fortunately, the law of Victoria stepped in and a conviction was secured. This firm, which is that of Moran and Cato, one of the largest, and, I believe, one" of the most reputable in Melbourne, could not have been deceived if a Bill of this kind had been in operation. For the protection of the honest merchant such legislation if, necessary ; and for that reason I shall vote for the most drastic clauses of the measure now before us. I am strongly in favour of this Bill, because I believe this Parliament cannot go too far in legislation of this kind - no action could be too drastic to compel honest trading in Australia so far as lies within our jurisdiction. A Bill of the kind is necessary for the good name of Australia in the countries with which we trade, and also for the protection of consumers. The Bill has, in one form or another, been under consideration of the two preceding Governments, and more or less, Isuppose, has met with their approval. I hope now thatthe measure will be rapidly passed into law.

Senator Pulsford - Does the honorable senator not sec any danger in the power to make regulations?

Senator GIVENS - There is. always danger in such power, but I regard Parliament as the safeguard in this connexion. I do not like government by regulation, and I have asked honorable senators opposite on more than one occasion to assist me in making actual provisions, rather than trust to the discretion of the Minister for the time being. I should go a long way in that direction ; but Parliament is supreme, and it any regulation inflicts, a hardship, the Government may be called to account.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator knows the factors which come in.

Senator GIVENS (QUEENSLAND) - I quite agree with the honorable senator. I welcome this Bill as astep in the right direction, and, notwithstanding any danger there may be in the power to make regulations, it must inevitably do good.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mulcahy) adjourned.

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