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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator BEST ( Victoria) - I should be very glad if the Minister in charge of the Bill would be good enough to favour us with a further explanation of this clause. Personally, as I have before said in the strongest possible terms, I support the general objects of this Bill, and will assist to make it perfect. But. I must frankly confess that on cursorily reading the Bill I did not gather that it was intended to apply to other than the goods enumerated in clause 15; and I fancy that the general public, looking at the measure as I did, would come to the same conclusion. If I remember rightly, the early history of this measure, it was originally framed in open and general terms. A deputation waited on the Minister of Trade and Customs and pointed out the serious difficulties that would arise in applying a radical Bill of this character to all classes of goods. It was then that the Minister said that his real object was to deal with the classes of goods mentioned in clause. 15; that is to say, articles used for food or drink by man, or used in the manufacture or preparation of articles of food or drink; medicines or medicinal preparations ; manures ; apparel, including bootsand shoes, and the materials from which apparel is manufactured; and seeds and plants. That assurance of the Minister certainly went far to commend the measure to those who waited upon him. I thought that what he suggested was rather a fair compromise, and that he was really securing, instead of the direct opposition of those who waited upon him, their more or less passive assistance in the passing of so desirable a measure as I conceive this to be. I think that my honorable friends the members of the Government are making a serious mistake in not confining the Bill to goods mentioned in clause 15. There are many reasons why the goods enumerated there should be specially picked out. My honorable friend Senator Pearce says that it is only a power of inspection that is given. That is quite true; but he will understand that this Bill has to be read in conjunction with the Customs Act, which provides the most ample powers of inspection.

Senator Pearce - Not so ample as those provided by this Bill.

SenatorBEST. - It provides the most drastic remedies so far as concerns any breach of the Customs Act or the regulations under it.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator would have heard it pointed out, if he had been present, that the powers under this Bill are much more ample.

Senator BEST - This Bill gives the power to take samples. Unless the Bill is to be made to apply to everything, there is no use in saying in clause 5 that there shall be a power of inspection without giving co- relative and consequent remedies to secure the object for which the inspection is made.

Senator Pearce - When I spoke, I pointed out that there was practically a penalty that could be imposed under that clause.

Senator BEST - I am not aware of what it is. The clause seems to me to be inconsistent with the general tenor of the Bill. I invite an explanation from the Minister. I have spoken on the basis of what I have learnt from the Chairman and from the clerks at the table as to what is before the Committee, and I must confess that I was somewhat surprised when I discovered that this clause carried the Bill beyond the scope of clause 15. But I shall be glad to hear what the Minister has to say. If there is any reason for altering the view which I have expressed, I shall take it into consideration.

Senator PLAYFORD(South AustraliaMinister of Defence). - The contention in connexion with this clause is that it was framed under different conditions from those that exist in connexion with the Bill at present ; that is, that it was framed when there was no special exemption and no special inclusion of any particular classes of goods, and that it was therefore applicable to everything that might be imported or exported. It is contended that when clause 5 was inserted, which limits the application of the Bill to certain classes of goods mentioned in clause 15, it was overlooked that clause 5 went beyond clause 15, and that therefore the other House simply made a mistake. . I am informed that they acted with their eyes perfectly open. It will be noticed that clause 15 says that "sections 7 and 11 of the Act shall not apply to any goods other than those" enumerated therein. The Minister had an object in view in putting in that clause. Clauses 7 and11 allow the prohibition of imports and exports under certain conditions. Under clause 5 the Minister can prescribed any articles under certain conditions. That clause gives him a power which I contend he oughtto have, and that is to inspect all prescribed goods, but it gives him no power to prohibit their importation or exportation. All the Minister can do under the clause is to direct that samples be taken of any imports or exports, but he cannot take samples of a single article unless it is prescribed. Quite apart from the articles enumerated in clause 15, there are certain articles coming into the Commonwealth which we believe are injurious to the consumers. The Minister wants power to prescribe such goods by regulation, to take samples of them and examine them. If he be satisfied by the examination that the goods are injurious, and that the importation of them should not be allowed, although he will not have the power to prohibit such importations, still 'he will have what I contend is a very right and proper power. He can say to the importer, "Here is a sample of your goods which, on analysis, we find injurious to the public. Do not import them in the future, because if you do Ave shall -expose you publicly." It is a very useful power for the Minister to possess. It will not be exercised unless it is beyond dispute that the goods in question are injurious. It will be used in an exceptional case, and then only for the benefit of the community as a whole. The word " prescribed " was designedly left in clause 5 by the other House, and I object to its elimination.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia). - We are all greatly indebted to the Minister of Defence for what he has said. He has given us the most novel explanation of a piece of legislation that; ,1 think, we have ever listened to. The clause gives power to inspect goods, but, as it fixes no standard of description, or quality, or purity, there is no offence that the inspection can disclose; nor does it provide a penalty which may be sought to be enforced against the importer in a Court. My honorable friend justifies the retention of this word " prescribed " on the ground that if, upon inspection, the Minister of Trade and Customs does not like the quality or purity of the goods, he is to have -the right of going to the importer and, on his ow:n word, giving him a hint that he had better not import the goods again.

Senator Drake - Of sayang, " If you send any more I shall stop them."

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The Minister cannot stop the goods. If he were to say to an importer, " If you please, do not import any more," the importer would snap his fingers at him and say, " You have nb authority to stop these goods from comng in; there is no legislation to that effect." What is the statement of Senator Playford? Did any one ever hear from a responsible Minister such a statement as this : " But we will show him up. We will put his name in the news- . papers"? I do not know whether it will give the importer a remedy or not by action for libel ; I hope it will. But whether it does or does not, I ask honorable senators if they have ever listened to such a confession of legislative 'impotence as the clause would be if it were acted upon ? I think that there will be a very considerable struggle before a provision of that sort is enacted.

Senator MULCAHY(Tasmania).- Suppose that a machine were imported for a particular purpose, and that under this provision the Minister called for an inspection of it to be made. It would be inspected by a person who might or might not be acquainted with the working of the machine and who might report to the Minister that, in his opinion, it would not carry out some operation. What is the use of an officer reporting on the article unless the Minister is able to prohibit its importation, or levy a penalty upon the importer, on the ground that it had not been properly described? Surely it must be evident to every honorable senator that by an oversight this clause was not altered in consonance with the improvement which limited its application to certain articles. It would be very much better if the Minister would frankly recognise that fact, and agree to the amendment.

Senator Dobson - - I desire to ask you, sir, whether this clause can be put from the Chair? The Minister let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that, under the Customs Act, Customs officers have the power to inspect all imports, but no power to take samples. If, as the Minister said, this clause was designedly left in its present form in another place, we can only conclude that, 'because a section of the Customs Act is defective, the Minister, acting on the advice of the Customs officers, has dragged in the clause to patch up a defect in that Act.

Senator Playford - What is the point of order ?

Senator Dobson - My point of order is that the clause is foreign to the scope of the Bill, and ought to be submitted in a, Customs Act Amendment Bill. I contend, sir, that you ought not to put the clause to the Committee.

The CHAIRMAN - The clause was in the Bill when it was read a second time, and as the subject-matter of the Bill relates to commerce with other countries, it must be put. It is not my duty, as the honorable and learned senator knows, to construe a provision in the Customs Act.

Senator MACFARLANE(Tasmania).I would suggest to the Minister the desirability of postponing the consideration of the clause. This is, I believe, a matter which the Minister of Trade and Customs said he would have put right in the Senate. I am informed on good authority that he made such a statement in regard to several matters.

Senator Playford - He did not ask me to move an amendment

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