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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I only rise to say a few words, because it is not my intention to make a second-reading speech. At the previous stage .the principle of the Bill was affirmed by a good majority, and the Committee has to deal with, the' details only. It is considering clause 5, but almost the whole of the last speech was directed to an alteration of clause 15, by the omission of paragraph d, which relates to apparel, including boots and shoes, and the materials from which they are manufactured. lt is better not to anticipate the discussion of that clause. I want to deal with the amendment of Senator Symon, who says that the1 power which clause s proposes to give is, so far as imports are concerned, a.1 ready contained in the Customs Act. Under that Act we have the power to inspect imports, but we have no power to take samples of them. This clause enables us to take samples, and it is a very important addition to our powers. We must be placed in a position to direct the inspectors to deal with exports in the same way as they can now deal with imports. I ask honorable senators to agree to the clause on the ground that it gives a very necessary power to Customs officers.

Senator Gray - Do the Government intend to have experts at each port?

Senator PLAYFORD - I have heard that question asked many times, and I am getting pretty tired of listening to it. We have already stated that experts will be required.

Senator Gray - Why does not the Minister give a straight answer?

Senator PLAYFORD - I gave a straight answer previously, and I do not know why I should be asked to repeat the answer over and over again. The honorable senator recalls the story of the character in Dickens, who was always thinking of King Charles' head. He is, a man with one idea,- and. he embodies it in the question : " Are you going to have experts to look at your linen . and cotton goods, and to examine your woollens?"

Senator Gray - The Minister has not given an answer vet to my question.

Senator PLAYFORD - We shall have experts where they are required. I shall oppose the amendment of Senator Symon. If it were passed, I should drop the Bill at once, because it would be impossible for the Government and its officers, to enumerate all the articles. We want the power given to us in this way, because, day by day, we find out the tricks which have been practised upon us.- We want power to make regulations to deal with these tricks and frauds, without having to come to Parliament for a special Act. It must be remembered that the Government have to place the regulations before the two Houses, and that' if either House should think that the Minister has done wrong then, by merely passing a resolution, it can put an end to all the wicked things which are ascribed to him )by Senator Gray, who has a most depressing idea of the depravity of human nature. He makes no exception in favour of politicians or Ministers. He is always asking us to look at the honest traders or. honest merchants. Look at the honest firm which the other day was quite willing to pay £2,500 for legal and a fine of ^500 rather than let the facts come out in open Court. These are the sort of men with whom we have to deal, and whom the honorable senator is constantly championing. If the Committee strike out the power of the Minister to prescribe goods by regulation, it will administer a fatal blow to the Bill; therefore I must oppose the amendment.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - I desire to know from the Minister whether the Committee is to understand that the other day the Government accepted a bribe from a certain firm in Melbourne to prevent 'the facts of a case from coming out.

Senator Playford - Who said so?

Senator PULSFORD - I have never before heard a responsible Minister of the Crown make such a statement in Parliament as the honorable senator has just made.

Senator Playford - What is the terrible statement I made?

Senator PULSFORD - The honorable senator said distinctly that a certain firm in Melbourne had paid .£2,500 rather than let the facts come out.

Senator Trenwith - But not to the Government.

Senator PULSFORD - The money was. paid with the approval of the .Minister of Trade and Customs, and accepted by him as a fair and_ satisfactory settlement. The state into which the Minister worked himself just now is as nothing compared with the state into which the trade of Australia might be worked if these unheard-of pro- posalswere enacted. Suppose that tomorrow an importation of Worcestershire sauce arrived, and it was said that the article was not genuine. I should like to see the Minister of Trade and Customs trying to make an experiment on a bottle of the sauce, and satisfy himself as to whether it was genuine or not. Biscuits of all sorts, and values are imported. How is any Minister to draw up regulations to define biscuits? By this Bill we are creating numerous offences. What we want is a simple Bill to make fraud punishable whereever it be found to exist, and not a Bill to enable the Minister to prescribe how a certain article, about which he knows nothing, shall be marked, with the possibility that a failure to give certain information, or an error, may cause the party concerned to appear at a police Court as a criminal. That is not the sort of legislation by which to crush absolute crime, and if honorable senators be wise they will put the Bill in the waste-paper basket.

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