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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator Lt Col GOULD (New South Wales) - The debate has revealed the fact that the effect of the Bill will be more farreaching than was at first anticipated. Various Chambers of Commerce have sent in petitions against the Bill, butthey could have had no idea that it will have such a far-reaching effect as has been disclosed. I admit that it was generally understood that the object of the Bill was to prevent the fraudulent importation and exportation of certain articles. Honorable senators will recollect that a deputation recently waited on Sir William Lyne to represent that the Bill extended very much further than was necessary in the interests of the community. The Minister of Trade and Customs at the time promised that the goods included, in paragraphs d and e of clause 15 should not be affected by the measure. I am under the impression that what he said was that the intention was, to legislate only with regard to articles of food and medicines, and he was quite willing to limit the application of the Bill to such articles. When it came before the House of Representatives it was determined to include articles of apparel, seeds and plants, and manures. It if. clear that the idea running through the minds of Sir William Lyne and the members of the deputation that waited upon him was that the Bill was to apply to certain articles of commerce specified in the measure itself.

Senator Pearce - A number of amendments which would have had the effect of widening the scope of the Bill were defeated in Committee in another place.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is very possible, but I wish honorable senators to bear in mind what was the intention when the Bill was introduced. I am satisfied that it was believed that clause 5 would only apply to the articles specified in clause 15.

Senator Playford - As introduced it was provided that the Bill should apply to any goods the Minister might prescribe.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is possible; but the Minister of Trade and 'Customs promised the deputation that waited upon him to limit its application.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Clause 5 originally contained the words, " all prescribed goods." Then clause 15 was inserted, limiting the goods to which the Bill should apply, and clause 5 should have been amended, but was not. I have the original Bill before me.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That being the case, it is evident that it was never intended that the Bill should apply to every possible article thai might be imported or exported. Having now made the discovery that the application of the Bill is very much wider than was intended, it is only right that we should so amend it as to bring it within the intention of honorable members in another place, in order that they may not be taken by surprise.

Senator Trenwith - The honorable senator desires that we should assume that honorable' members in another place did not know what they were doing when they passed the Bill.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I desire that we should assume that when they passed clause 15, honorable members in another place believed that they were limiting the scope of the Bill to the articles mentioned in that clause. If we pass clause 5 as it stands, it may very well be said that we have determined to put the whole trade of the Commonwealth in fetters. I decline to believe that any Minister, however able, honest, and well-advised, is in a position to exercise such powers as are here conferred with advantage to the Commonwealth. While I deprecate, as much as any honorable senator can, dishonest trading, and the placing of fraudulent marks upon goods in order to mislead the public, it would, in my opinion, be better to run all the risks arising from, that than to put the whole of the commerce of the Commonwealth in fetters, and to place its control in the hands of any one man, no matter how able and honest he might be.

Senator Trenwith - It would not be in the hands of one man. The goods must be prescribed by regulations, which must be submitted to Parliament.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Does not Senator Trenwith realize the fact that the regulations will have full force and effect until they are objected to by Parliament? The Minister must present the regulations to Parliament within thirty days of their publication, but if Parliament is in recess they may not be presented until thirty days after its next meeting.

Senator Guthrie - Thev can have no effect until three months after they are made.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - I am not certain about that, but Parliament may not be sitting when they are made.

Senator Trenwith - Although the Minister may prescribe any article of trade, it is reasonable to assume that he will only do so upon fitting representation.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Is it not much more reasonable that Parliament should determine the matter?

Senator Trenwith - No ; Parliament could not do so from day to day.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Then of what use is Parliament at all? Is it simply to pass legislation providing that Ministers may do as they please?

Senator Trenwith - It does so within certain limits. It must do so as a necessity of the case; administration could not go on otherwise.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Honorable senators cannot point to any Parliament in Australasia which, within a period of five years, has thrown so much power into the hands of Ministers by regulations as has the Commonwealth Parliament.

Senator Trenwith - Because Parliament is finding it more convenient in every way to deal with certain matters' by regulations.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - No; because members of Parliament shirk their responsibilitiy, and shunt it on to Ministers for the time being. We may have an able Minister administering this law, or an ignorant and incapable Minister, who, though he might not be long in office, coulddo an immense amount of mischief in a short time.

Senator Trenwith - He would not be long enough in office to pass regulations under this Bill.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The honorable senator must know very well that he might be long enough in office to pass regulations under this measure. We may not approve of a particular member of the Cabinet, but we may object to turn out the Ministry of which he is a member inorder to get rid of him. Senator Symon has submitted what 1 believe to be a reasonable proposal, ana suggests that if Ministers object to insert a schedule of goods, they should agree to make clause 5 apply only to the goods mentioned in clause 15. In the first instance, in dealing with this measure, much was said as to the necessity of preserving the public health. We were told that it was practically a Health Bill, intended to deal with the adulteration of food and drink. Now, however, the measure is given the widest possible scope, and is made to apply to -

(a)   articles used far food or drink by, man or used in the manufacture or preparation of articles used for food or drink by man ; or

(b)   medicines or medicinal preparations for internal or external use ; or

(d)   apparel(including boots and shoes) and the materials from which such apparel is manufactured ; or

It will be found that paragraph d meets the case cited by Senator Pearce, where a man chose to prepare leather with some material which rendered it an inferior article, and thereby prejudiced the sale of other leathers exportedfrom Australia. If the Bill is to have the scope proposed, it will do an illimitable amount of injury to the commerce of Australia, because every article of export will be branded as possibly "bad." Some honorable senator has suggested that petty thieves object to certain legislation dealing with them, but criminal legislation is not on the same footing as this Bill. In all criminal legislation we act upon the principle that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty. We do not bring a man before a police court, and say to him, "We are going to have an examination to find out whether you are a thief or not." But under this Bill every article of export and import is liable to be taken possession of by the Minister.

SenatorMulachy. - Without any apparent object.

Senator Guthrie - Not until he has made a regulation.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon -He cannot impose a penalty by regulation, and there is no apparent object except mere curiosity.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The object alluded to by Senator Pearce is that a man might be shown up as being a. dishonest trader, and, as the honorable senator has stated, he might by that means be punished more severely than by any penalty imposed by the Bill. I protest against the Committee passing a clause having such a far-reaching effect without very much more knowledge with regard to the matter involved than we possess at the present time. We should take every care that articles are not dishonestly exported or imported, but we should also bear in mind that every interference with trade hampers the effective conduct of that trade. It must re-act upon the people themselves, because if hindrances are placed in the way of trade and expenses are added to, the consumer has to pay more ultimately, so far as imports are concerned ; and in regard to exports, the exporters have to pay. A man who is to-day producing a first-class article will receive no betterprice for that article to-morrow - unless prices have gone up generally - simply because it has the Government brand upon it. While I give credit to honorable senators for a desire to maintain: the good fame of Australia, so that people may say that in buying anything that is produced in Australia they may depend upon obtaining a bond fide article, which is what it represents itself to be, I say nevertheless that it is possible to go so tar that, instead of helping trade, we shall injure it, and make it harder for business people to extend their operations. To mv mind, this legislation will have that effect. I believe that if we could put it directly to the people of Australia that cur object is to enable the Minister to interfere with every article of export or import that goes out or comes into Australia, the Bill would be universally condemned from one end of the continent to the other, and that condemnation would be re-echoed at the other end of the world. Australia today is not in very good odour, because of what people call our restrictive legislation. This measure is still further restrictive. It will operate greatly to the detriment of the trading community. I do not wish to say that the supporters of the Bill desire to do anything of that kind, but I urge them to give the matter further consideration, in order that, if they find they have made a mistake, they may determine to limit the measure, so that it will effect known evils, and not imaginary ones that may or may not exist in the future. 'I trust that the Committee will accept Senator Symon's amendment, after which, if they are not prepared to insert a special schedule, I hope that they will accept another amendment which will confine the operation of the Bill to the articles enumerated in clause 5-

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