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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator MULCAHY (Tasmania) - I hope the Committee will accept my assurance that I propose to offer no factious opposition to the passing of this Bill. I desire, as a business man, to pass workable provisions, to give practical effect to the beneficent principle underlying this Bill. The whole of the debate on the measure but tends to strengthen my belief in the necessity for' expert advice in dealing with it. It is proposed to call upon people to accurately describe their goods, whether imports or exports. Our object is, with regard to imports, to protect the public, and, with regard to exports, to protect the reputation of the Commonwealth. These are desirable things. But the question is - Can we, by legislation, carry out those objects? For the sake of illustration, let me assume that this Bill,, as it stands, has become an Act of Parliament, and that a Customs inspector has been sent down to overlook a certain shipment for the purpose of seeing whether the goods comply with the description of them, as invoiced. Let us assume that the object of his inspection is to protect the public. To begin with, we are not going to protect the consumer by means of this Bill. We are hoping that the States will do that later on, if it can possibly be done. We are going to protect the importer ; and the importer generally knows a great deal more about the goods in his own trade than the inspector does. Assume that the inspector finds a piece of material invoiced as union. Very well ; he is not satisfied as to whether it is a union of linen or cotton, or whether it is a piece of calico or a piece of linen. He has to go to an analyst, to get that question determined. He takes a sample to an analyst, who tells him that the stuff is union - that is, that it contains both linen and cotton. But that piece of stuff may be union of the very highest quality, and its value may be greater than that of a piece of pure linen of coarse make. It may be a far better wearing material, and there may be no intention of deceiving the public in regard to it.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator instanced goods invoiced as union.

Senator MULCAHY - What protectionto the public is there in marking the goods as union? Absolutely none, as I shall be prepared to demonstrate by producing samples upon the table of the Senate. Take the three materials which I have just referred to - cotton, linen, and union. I have brought some samples of materials with me, so as to be able to show honorable senators that, with the best intentions possible, this measure will not do anything that will be of material advantage to the public, or tha't will protect the importer. Let me begin with the simplest illustration I can give. I hold in my hand a linen handkerchief. It is made of material manufactured by one of the best Belfast houses - a house known all over the world as being thoroughly honest. I hold in my other hand another linen handkerchief. Both are pure linen. But the handkerchief first mentioned is sold at 18s. a dozen, whereas the second is purchasable at 5s. 2d. a dozen. The same description - " linen handkerchiefs " - applies to both. What assurance has a man who goes into a shop to buy a linen handkerchief that he will not be charged 1s. 6d. for the inferior article? What protection does this Bill afford? The next day the same customer may go into another shop and buy a linen handkerchief priced as low as 6d. He gets a pure linen handkerchief in the second case, just as he did in the first. But everything depends upon the quality of the linen.

Senator Styles - Does not the purchaser know what he is buying?

Senator MULCAHY - As a rule, he does not.

Senator Styles - If cotton is sold as linen, it is a fraud upon the purchaser.

Senator MULCAHY - What I am pointing out is that some cotton handkerchiefs are of better quality and higher price than some linen ones.

Senator Playford - This kind of thing is known to us all.

Senator MULCAHY - Then we should be all the more careful about the provisions of this Bill, because if there is no protection to the public there is no use in passing such legislation. I have here two pieces of woollen serge. They are both guaranteed as being pure woollen serge. The one, however, is made of what is known as cross-bred wool. It is a pure woollen material, and can be sworn to as such. It is sold at 3s. a yard. I also have here another piece of pure woollen serge, which is sold at 10s. a yard. Both goods come in under the same title, and there are forty or fifty qualities intervening between the two. Woollen serges are sold in all sorts of qualities at all sorts of prices, and they are all pure wool. What protection is afforded to the public with regard to such goods by means of this Bill ?

Senator Playford - The public do not want protection in that case.

Senator MULCAHY - If we do not need these provisions, why pass them ?

Senator Styles - We want them, in order to stop shoddy from coming in as wool.

Senator MULCAHY - Suppose we were to compel the importer to mark stuff as " shoddy." Would that afford any protection to the public? There are various qualities in shoddy. I have here a piece of material 50 inches wide, which is sold at1s. a yard. It is shoddy. Another piece of material of the same width is sold at2s. a yard. It also is shoddy.

Senator Styles - Are those goods marked " shoddy " in the shop ?

Senator MULCAHY - Of what use would it be to mark them as shoddy ? A man knows whenhe buys a suit of clothes for 10s. or 12s. 6d. that he is not getting a pure woollen material. Say that a man goes into a shop to buy a complete suit. He wants them cheap. Certain goods are put on the counter before him. He buys a suit for 12s. 6d. Surely he does not want any one to tell him that the stuff is shoddy. He knows it must be. It is impossible for it to be anything else.

Senator Styles - That is an extreme case.

Senator MULCAHY - One naturally selects an extreme case to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of some of the provisions of this Bill.

Senator O'Keefe - Would it not be a fraud if such goods were branded " wool " ?

Senator MULCAHY - They would not be branded as wool. Would any one expect that a suit of clothes costing anything under a couple of pounds would be pure wool? As a matter of fact, they could not be. Nothing that we can do, however, will prevent a dishonest shopkeeper from taking advantage of a customer.

Senator Styles - This Bill does not apply to shopkeepers.

Senator MULCAHY - The argument has been used that if we in the Australian Parliament do our duty it will rest with the States Parliaments to follow up our legislation. I am pointing out that, so far as fabrics are concerned, there are thousands of cases in regard to which it will be impossible to put upon goods any mark or brand that will be any indication of their real quality. The price of the article alone, combined with the credit of the retailer, is the means by which the public determines the quality of goods.

Senator O'Keefe - Is not the honorable senator quoting a case to suit his argument ?

Senator MULCAHY - Surely that is what I am here for.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator is taking one case out of hundreds.

Senator MULCAHY - The same considerations will apply in respect to other goods. I have before me several samples. One is a best fronting linen which is sold at 2s. 8d. a yard. I have also another piece of pure linen - guaranteed' pure - which is sold at 9¼d. a yard. Both are fronting linens, and both are pure. It- is the fineness of the weaving, and the quality of the fibre used, that determine the 'price. Linens can be bought at far lower prices even than 9¼d. I have here also a piece of union - consisting of linen and cotton - which is sold at 11?d. It- is therefore a higher-priced article tRan the other which is a pure linen material.

Senator Playford - There is nothing in this Bill to say that it is not a higher-class article.

Senator MULCAHY - It is evident that the honorable senator does not understand the difficulties in regard to trade.

Senator Playford - I have heard a great deal about the tricks of trade.

Senator MULCAHY - And we have also heard a good deal about what are known as the tricks of politicians.

Senator Henderson - And when they are combined it is a curious mixture.

Senator MULCAHY - Unfortunately, the cap does not fit, for politics has pretty well knocked me out of trade.' These qualities overlap each other. It is possible to purchase & union, the price of which is higher, and which is a better material than a low-grade linen. You can also purchase a cotton which again overlaps a union, and is higher in price than a lowclass union. These remarks apply, of course, only to one particular branch of trade, but I ca.n very well understand that the same considerations may be carried a great deal further. There are certain things as to which the public do require to be protected from themselves and from the importer. Those goods come under the heading of imports of foods. Goods that are manufactured for use as food stand in a class by themselves. We should do all we can to see that .they are wholesome, but we require to make certain that it is possible to carry out the provisions that we enact. In regard to exports, the Bill provides that exporters are required to furnish descriptions where goods are prescribed. Here, again, so tar as the trade in fabrics is concerned, and so far as concerns woollens exported from Australia - if any are exported - It is very doubtful if we can give any application' to the clause. I have very little misgiving, so far as woollen exports are concerned, because Australia has not yet become a woollen-exporting country. Honorable senators say that the Minister will not do such silly things as sometimes are insinuated; but we do not know what a particular Minister may do. We are framing a law, and it will be the duty of any Minister to try to administer that law according to the intention of Parliament. A man, even although actuated by the best intentions, might make serious mistakes, which would militate very greatly against the success of our export trade. I have already stated what has happened in Tasmania, where the legi.sla.tors did possess some knowledge of the export trade in apples. We are asked to empower the Minister to require, if he pleases, that all shipments, of fruit shall be inspected, whether it suits the shipper or not. That inspection is quite unnecessary. The trade has developed without the aid of such legislation, and is increasing every year. It will place the trade at a very great disadvantage if we give to the Minister a power which he might exercise, even with the best of intentions, in> an arbitrary and' improper manner. What is the remedy? It seems to me that Senator Symon has proposed the right remedy, and that is to prescribe in a schedule not merely the classes of goods, but the different lines, that we wish to have inspected prior to exportation. I cannot shut my ears to the arguments which have been adduced by Senator Pearce with, regard to the export of leather. In the interests of the manufacturers themselves it is desirable that properly-made leather should be exported.. There are some articles which should be inspected with a view to keeping up the reputation of our exports, but there are other articles which cannot be inspected with: advantage to the country. Undoubtedly the underlying principle of the Bill is good and sound, but the questions to be considered are: "How far can it be carried out with advantage?" and "Where is it likely to cause harm?"

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