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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator MULCAHY (Tasmania) - This is an exceedingly important measure which of all others, I think ought to have been submitted in some way for the advice of experts in the various branches of industry which it is likely to affect. It affects the importers, and on that point I do not propose to say very much. Imports affect consumers, and I know that if anything is clone by the Bill which affects the whole com- . munity, it will very soon be altered. I am very much more concerned with the effect which the Bill may have on our exports. I do not believe in the cry of "Who is askingforthislegislation ?" which is heard so often when a new measure is introduced. If we were to wait for any section of the public to ask for special legislation, we should probably have very few Bills to consider. When special legislation is asked for it is often enough desired for a selfish and not altogether good purpose. At the same time, when we are dealing with a section of the community which is numerically smallI refer to the producers, manufacturers, and* exporters - we might very reasonably try to ascertain whether it desires such protection, as, apparently, we wish to force upon them by this Bill. In Tasmania we have had some experience of this legislation in a modified form. The principle underlying our Exported Products Act is the same as the principle which underlies this Bill. We must admit that it is a proper thing for the State to interfere for the protection of thehonest exporter against the dishonest exporter, and to see that the imports are what they profess to be - sound and wholesome, whether in the nature of food or medicine.

Senator Millen - I do not think that any one objects to that portion of this Bill.

Senator MULCAHY - No. The only question is. how far is it desirable and practicableto interfere? It is not a question of what we may desire to do, but a question of what we can accomplish, and very often in attempting to do a right and most desirable thing we run the risk of doing the very opposite. It seems to methat by passing a measure contain- ing extreme provisions such as have been advocated here we may run the risk of doing very serious mischief. It may be interesting to honorable senators to learn why the apple producers of Tasmania approached the Government of the day about four years ago. A dishonest practice had grown up with some shippers of exporting inferior fruit and placing the best apples on the top of the case, and sending to England the shipment each year under a different name. On one or two occasions the Agent-General reported that whole shipments of fruit had been more or less depreciated in value by the dishonest actions of some persons, who took care in the following season to conceal their identity by assuming another name or brand. The position became sp serious that the fruit-growers asked the Government to devise legislation for the purpose of putting down this dishonest practice, and, naturally, their first suggestion was an inspection of the fruit prior to shipment. We wisely discussed the matter with those who knew what they were talking about, and what was practicable. But every time we attempted to provide for compulsory inspection, we found ourselves confronted with insuperable difficulties. The persons who approached us in the first instance had in the end to admit the impracticability of so legislating as to prevent the mischief in the way which they had suggested. What followed? The Exported Products Act, which was passed in 1901, was largely of a permissive character, but it did one good thing. It provided a means of identifying every case of fruit which left the State. It required persons who shipped under any brand or mark, or under any assumed name, to register that brand, or mark, or name. Persons who shipped under their own name were easily identifiable each year. Consequently, if there was a bad parcel of fruit in a shipment, the shipper could always be easily traced. But as regards inspection, we found that all we could do was to provide means for the inspection of fruit by those persons who not only desired it, but were able to avail themselves of it. That fact is not quite fully appreciated, at any rate, in connexion with the export of apples. In trying to bring about uniformity of legislation, we have to remember that sometimes the conditions are not uniform. With regard to fruit-growing Tasmania is behind the other States a week or a fortnight, or three weeks, as the case may be. Under these circumstances, economy of time from the picking of the fruit until it is placed in the hands of the purchaser in England is of the greatest moment. The growers naturally desire to get their fruit sent away as early as possible, so that they may secure the good prices which prevail at the opening of the season. What happens? The fruit is not picked promiscuously or at random, as some honorable senators seem to think. It is carefully picked, and graded by the growers, who understand the necessity and the value of grading. In most cases, however, there is no time for making a proper inspection. The fruit is picked, sent to the river-side, and taken away by barges or steamers to be carried to the port, and placed in the ship's hold. Sometimes not more than twenty-four or thirty hours elapse from the time the fruit is picked until it is placed in the ship's hold.

Senator Keating - The Tasmanian Act provides for. local inspectors.

Senator MULCAHY - Yes, if the growers wish to put the Government brand of superiority on their fruit, but not otherwise. If they wish their fruit to be inspected, and to have it declared that at that time it was of first-class quality and well graded, they can obtain inspection. It is voluntary, not compulsory.

Senator Keating - The Act absolutely prohibits the exportation unless the fruit is marked.

Senator MULCAHY - The Minister is. I think, speaking from' memory. The Act compels the exporter to so mark his fruit that it may be identified, and it also provides that if a man marks his fruit as first-class, it shall be first-class fruit, and provides penalties if it is not of that quality.

Senator Keating - Section 6 says -

No product shall be shipped or placed on board any vessel for exportation from Tasmania unless the package containing such product is clearly branded in the prescribed manner with a registered brand of the consignor, and withthe registered brand or the initials and surname of the producer.

Senator MULCAHY - That provision is for the purpose of identification, and has nothing to d'o with the grading or classification of the fruit.

Senator Dobson - No regulations have been issued under the section.

Senator Keating - There are subsequent provisions for dealing with the grading and other matters.

Senator Macfarlane - The section was never carried out.

Senator Keating - From want of funds, according to the Government.

Senator MULCAHY - As a rule, the greater proportion of our fruit is shipped from Hobart, but when the Act was passed it was being shipped from different parts of the State, and we could not afford to provide for inspection at every port. There is no provision in the Act for compulsory inspection. Section 6, to which Senator Keating has referred, merely provides for a method of identification. Section 7 says -

Any consignor may brand any package containing any product with the words " First Grade " or " No. 1," or any other prescribed word or mark signifying "First Grade" or "No. 1," if the contents of such package comply in all respects with such conditions as may be prescribed by Regulations to be made hereunder for such purpose.

The consignor may brand the packages, but if he does, the fruit must correspond with the conditions laid down. He is not obliged to brand it. Section 8 says -

The inspector shall have full power and Authority to open any package branded with the words " First Grade" or " No. i," or any other prescribed word or mark, indicating " First Grade " or " No. 1 " and to inspect and examine its contents, and' to prevent any package marked as aforesaid from being shipped or placed on board any vessel, if the contents of such package sire not in accordance with the provisions of this Act and of any Regulations made hereunder.

Senator Keating - Then the inspector had a general power to forbid the exportation of fruit under certain conditions.

Senator MULCAHY - That was only when the shipper took the responsibility of declaring that it was first-grade or firstclass fruit.

Senator Keating - Oh, no.

Senator Best - He has to mark his fruit.

Senator MULCAHY - For the purpose of identification, not classification.

Senator Keating - Under section 9 -

The 'inspector mav forbid the export of any product other than ' fruit intended for human consumption which he may consider unfit for such purpose.

Senator MULCAHY - Surely the Minister can see that that section deals with quite a different phase from that .which I am discussing. I am confining my remarks principally to our experience in the exportation! of apples, and pointing out the possi-- bility of very serious trouble arising if a Minister, no doubt with the best intentions in the world, desires to interfere, and tell the people of Tasmania or any other State how they should deal with a trade about which they know a great deal more than hu does. To my mind, one very serious feature of this Bill is that it is 'really an addendum to the Customs Act. I belie\,e that we cannot rightly estimate the complications which it may bring about. For that reason I should have been pleased if any supporter of the Government had proposed that the measure be referred to a Select Committee. I know that in the other Chamber a similar proposition - a most common-sense one, T think - was rejected, and that the Government are anxious to bring the session to a close. Therefore I do not wish to be the cause of any delay. But the effects of the Bill will be so serious that I think it would be almost better if its consideration were postponed until next session, so that in the meantime necessary information might be obtained for our guidance, especially in regard to an industry .like our apple industry, which is assuming national proportions. However," if the Bill is to go into Committee, ,as I have no doubt it will, I think we 'might make an effort to improve its provisions', arid take away a little of the power which it gives to the Minister to prescribe regulations.

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