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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator GRAY (New South Wales) - I am sorry the Minister of Defence is not present, because I wish to remind him once more that he has not yet given me an answer to the question which I have so repeatedly asked him; or, at any rate, I have not received an answer which is satisfactory. In view of the fact that the operation of this Bill will cover the whole of the coastal trade of Australia, I wish to know whether it is proposed to have expert inspectors at every port from Townsville, in Queensland, and Hobart, in Tasmania, to Adelaide, in South Australia, and Fremantle, in Western Australia? That is an important question; in view of the cost of such a scheme of inspection, and the information I desire ought to be in the possession, not only of honorable senators, but of all merchants, traders, and producers. The Minister may imagine that, by a system of bluff, he has answered the question, but when a Minister introduces a Bill, which, for weal or woe, inaugurates, an entirely new departure in. the commercial relations of the Commonwealth with the outside world, he ought to be in a position to thoroughly explain and interpret its provisions to honorable senators. I see that the Minister of Defence is now in the Chamber, and I again ask him whether, under this Bill, it is proposed to have expert inspectors at every port in the Commonwealth at which exports and imports, are dealt with? The Minister, though he may bluff to his heart's content, will not bluff me out of an answer to which I consider myself entitled. I have no great personal interest in the matter, but, as I said before, the information I ask is highly important, not only from a business point of view, but also from the point pf -view of the public finances. The Minister this afternoon stated that goods of poor quality - which I take to mean goods which, though of inferior quality, are not in themselves harmful to the health of the community - will not be allowed into the Commonwealth. I fail to see any provision in the Bill which could keep out such goods if they are properly described. It must be re membered that certain goods, although' of inferior quality, may, under certain circumstances, be of practical use to the community at large. We have to consider all the varying conditions and circumstances of life, which create all classes of purchasers. ' Some people buy the very best of goods, while others are compelled, by their means, to purchase goods, which, I suppose, are regarded by the Minister as inferior. In any draper's or grocer's shop we find various customers, from those who purchase the very best. to wageearners, with, perhaps, 30s. a week, who have to make their income go as far as possible. We have to take things as they are, and not as we should like them to be; and I think we shall make a very great mistake if we exclude goods of inferior quality, unless it can be shown that they are harmful to health. References have been made to the Butter Commission ; but I fail to see that the deliberations or findings of that body have much to do with the provisions of the Bill now under consideration. The Commission found, not so much that the butter exported was inferior, but rather that, unfortunately for Australia, commercial men, to their disgrace be it said, permitted butter of inferior grade to be exported as of the best grade, and thus damaged the good name of this country. These men allowed their personal interests to lead them astray, and a system of corruption was the result. But the Commission in their report did not find that the lower grades of butter exported were unfit for human use, or that it was of such a quality as to be a disgrace to Australia.

Senator Henderson - The report of the Commission declared that a fraud was being perpetrated.

Senator GRAY - That referred to the corrupt giving and taking of moneys, and to the grading of inferior butter as the best. The situation was to a great extent brought about by the bonus offered by the Victorian Government. The money thus offered as an inducement for the encouragement of the trade found its way into the pockets of middlemen, and of others who showed themselves to be corrupt.

Senator Henderson - And for whom the honorable senator is fighting now.

Senator GRAY - I am sure Senator Henderson does not say that in the spirit, which might be inferred. I have as much regard for the principles of equity which should be acted upon in our commercial life, as the honorable senator can possibly have.

Senator Story - But that principle must be acted upon voluntarily.

Senator GRAY - I do not say that. Commercial life, and the pastoral, agricultural, and dairying industries in Australia are just as pure, practically, as they are in any part of the world I know of, except, perhaps Denmark, in relation to the butter trade. In that country the production of butter is the one industry, and there is such systematic inspection that it is almost impossible for butter of an inferior quality to be exported. The same circumstances, however, do not prevail in other countries, and it is a cruel injustice to be constantly referring to the Butter Commission. Such constant references are in themselves a reflection on the honesty of the people of Australia, when, as a. matter of fact, the people as a whole conduct their commercial business with integrity. All that the report of the Commission showed was that there are dishonest men in Melbourne, as there are in Sydney and all over Australia; but this dishonesty is the exception, and not the rule. The Bill has no application to such circumstances-

Senator Story - The Bill will enable people to know what quality of goods they are purchasing.

Senator GRAY - As I said on a former occasion, when discussing the Bill, a Government brand is of no value whatever, and is not regarded by experienced buyers in the trade. If a large number of dairymen in New Zealand express a desire for the Government brand, it is for quite another reason than that suggested by honorable members opposite. A friend of mine, who is one of the largest butter buyers in Australia, and who is connected with an institution with which many of my labour friends would like to be identified, does not, when in New Zealand, purchase on the Government brand, but knows exactly where the best butter is produced, and goes direct to the dairies. In the same way, buyers in England purchase butter on the quality indicated by the dairy brand, and not on the Government brand, though it may suit them to have the Government brand placed upon it as well as the private brand. I cannot see how the Government brand can have the slightest value as an indication of the quality of the goods to which it is applied. If, for instance, the Government brand is put on butter of No. 2 and No. 3 qualities, it will not make the slightest difference to the actual consumer. The buyers of that butter in England will purchase it for what it is worth, and it will be sold to consumers in Birmingham, Liverpool, and other places, not as second and third class butter, but simply on its quality as ascertained by testing. What is the system which obtains in England in connexion with' the sale of butter, cheese, and other perishable products? Buyers representing large firms go every week to Liverpool, Manchester, and London to purchase perishable goods. A buyer in London will go into Tooley-street and sample the different butters placed on the market there, and he will buy them according to their quality. He sends what he buys to the large stores in Birmingham and Liverpool, where the butter is sold, not as Australian butter, Canadian butter, or Denmark butter, but as good butter, worth so much. A woman coming into a store to purchase butter will take some of it on her finger and taste it, and if it suits her palate she will buy it.

Senator Stewart - I have seen butter labelled " Danish " butter or " Irish " butter.

Senator GRAY - I have seen Danish' butter labelled as " Irish " butter, or as " Australian" butter. That kind of thing will continue to be done, and this Bill will have no practical application whatever, so far as the protection of the consumer is concerned.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - It will not be any more applicable if the word " prescribed " is used.

Senator GRAY - No. After the expose this afternoon of the far-reaching effect of the Bill, the Minister should agree to postpone its consideration. If this Bill is to affect the whole of the commercial community of Australia, that knowledge must be a complete revelation to the whole of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament. The measure has been placed in an entirely new light. If, having regard to the previous interpretation of its provisions, I considered that it was one which' should be considered by a Royal Commission, in the light of this revelation with respect to the enlarged powers it confers, it is of ten times greater importance that that course should be adopted and expert evidence called. We previously imagined that the measure would apply only to the goods, referred to in clause 15. Now we are given the startling information that it will apply to every article of import and export in the trade and _ commerce of the Commonwealth, and that the Minister of Trade and Customs will have the administration of ali commercial matters in Australia. His judgments are to be absolute. From what we have heard this afternoon, it is clear that no. such power has been given to a Minister by any legislation passed elsewhere. It will be admitted that such a Bill is one of the last which should be made a matter of party, and I therefore ask the Minister in charge of it to postpone its consideration in order that he may make thorough inquiries as to what its effect will really be, and be able to interpret its provisions in such a wa,y that we shall know what we are doing in passing it.

The CHAIRMAN - I remind the honorable senator that clause 5 is under discussion, and not the Bill as a whole.

Senator GRAY - Perhaps I have departed from the question to some extent. When the discussion on the clause commenced, I believe that no honorable senator present really understood the extent of its application. The revelation made is of such a character that I should prefer to have further time to consider- the effect of the measure, because I now realize its immense importance, and the immense powers which are proposed to be given to the Minister of Trade and Customs. I repeat that the Minister in charge of the Bill should reconsider the position. In the first instance, Senator Playford thought it sufficient to introduce the measure with a ten-minutes' speech, on the ground that information concerning it might be obtained from the debates in another place. I venture to say that the honorable senator's contention will not hold good at the present time, because no one in the other House, or in the Senate, ever interpreted the Bill to mean what it is now contended that it does mean. In the circumstances, it is Cut right and proper that the Minister Should give us his interpretation of the Bill in the light of the latest information on the subject. I should like to know, for instance, whether it is likely that a further surprise may not be sprung upon us. It is only fair that we should be given further time to consider the Bill, arid to obtain some as to what effect it will really have under the altered conditions.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH (Western Australia). - I should not have spoken on this clause, but for the fact that Senator Pulsford, in- rather a disingenuous way, has read, an extract from a speech I made last session, the inference being that I was speaking then on a clause similar to that now Under discussion. It is only necessary for me to read the two clauses to show that they deal with different matters. If honorable senators will refer to page 2793 of Hansard for last session, they will find that Senator Findley's amendment, on which I spoke, referred to -

AH goods to which no trade description or trade mark is applied, setting forth correctly the name of the manufacturer or producer of the goods, the material of which the goods are composed, or from which they are derived, and the place or country in which the goods were made or produced. Notwithstanding anything in this Act contained this sub-section shall come into operation on the 1st day of July, 1905.

That would make it mandatory that every article of import should be marked with the manufacturer's name and the place of origin.

Senator Pulsford - Those are the essential requirements of this clause.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - That provision is different altogether from the clause now under consideration.

Senator Pulsford - It is different in wording, certainly.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - The honorable senator now admits that it is different, but while he did not quote Senator Findley's proposed amendment, he quoted my speech, as though' it had been delivered on a clause analagous to the one now under discussion. The clause with which we are now dealing provides that -

An officer may inspect and examine all prescribed goods which- are imported, or which are entered for export or brought for export to any wharf or' place.

That examination is to be as to the quality of the goods, and to ascertain whether they contain any deleterious substances, and so forth. I think it is very necessary that the Government should have power to examine all imports.

Senator Best - They have power under the Customs Act.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - But not to take samples. It should be possible for us in this Parliament, where we act as guardians of the interests of .the people, to call for a return of the goods coming in, and the analyses of those goods. I do not think that any one wants to condone the importation of goods that are deleterious to health, or are not correctly marked, or are calculated' to deceive the people who buy them. We only want to ascertain the actual facts of the case, and to have those facts made public if necessary. I cannot see what good reason there is for objecting to the clause as it stands.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia). - I merely wish to point outto Senator Smiththat his last observation shows, that the word "prescribed" is not needed. That is the object of the amendment. My honorable friend says that he would give power to inspect any goods. His own reason for supporting this unlimited power of inspection is that under the Customs Act it is possible to inspect any goods. Then why limit the inspection to the term " prescribed " ?

Senator Staniforth Smith - Does the honorable senator want to have an extension of the Ministerial power?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - No; but Senator Smith admits that there is complete power of inspection of all goods under the Customs Act.

Senator Guthrie - But it is impossible to take samples ofsteam engines.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - We know that samples of such goods cannot be taken. What Senator Best has called attention to is absolutely the case. Anything can be inspected, and if the goods are not up to the mark, they can be dealt with. But Senator Pearce says that he wants the clause for the purpose of showing people up. This is a new kind of inquisition. It is proposed to take a tar brush and bring it down over everybody whom the Minister wishes to mark.

Senator Playford - Only in cases where the Minister thinks that the Customs Department is justified in saying that certain goods ought not to be imported, and that it should show up the importer if he does import them.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - But look at the position of the victim. No opportunity is afforded him of being heard. He might be able to satisfy the Customs that the officers were mistaken.

Senator Playford - Then the Department would do nothing.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - But a man would be condemned unheard.

Senator Playford - First and foremost, the Customs Department would have a suspicion that a man was importing something injurious to the community ; then the goods would be prescribed by regulation, and samples would be taken of them.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The only power under clause 5 is the power to inspect and take samples. There is no power whatever to interfere further whether the articles concerned are good, bad, or indifferent. But when the Customs Department comes to the conclusion that a man ought to be put on the black list, he is to be so condemned under this provision. That, according to Senator Pearce, is the theory for leaving in the word "prescribed." If, however, the Bill is to be kept for the purposes for which it was intended, clearly the word " prescribed " ought to come out.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - My honorable friend, Senator Smith, seems to be a little dissatisfied with my reference to his speech of last year. But I hold that the quotation was in every way fair, and that his change of front is obvious. It is quite true that the clause of which he was speaking last year is not word for word the same as the clause new under discussion. Butthe important fact is that when Senator Smith said what he did last year, he referred to Senator Findley's proposal for compelling all goods to be described, whatever they were. It was in opposition to that proposal, which also is the central feature and controlling factor of this' Bill, that Senator Smith made that speech. There is no getting away from that fact. I think that the Minister ought to give us some information as to what is involved from the monetary point of view in the scheme of this Bill. Before we have done with this clause. I propose to move for the addition of a fourth sub-clause, which will read -

No fee shall be charged to the owners or importers or exporters of goods inspected and examined under this section.

The Minister ought to tell us what the Customs Department anticipates will be the expenditure incurred in the inspection and examination of goods under the measure. As Senior Gray has pointed out, if the clause, as drafted, were fully carried out, and a very complete examination were made in order to detect any possible cases of goods being irregularly or falsely marked, Australia might have to face the expenditure of a very considerable sum. We should be informed whether that matter has been considered.

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