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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator Playford - I have heard that statement two or three times already.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - And the honorable senator will hear it again many times, not only in this Chamber, but outside. The honorable gentleman will be covered with confusion and ridicule when he hears that same statement made over and over again in his own State. He declares here that there is to be a power of inspection for curiosity, but no power to enforce any penalty. Anything more puerile as a reason for exercising the power of inspection was never listened to. My amendment has failed so far as imports are concerned, but I ask the Minister whether he really wants to retain the power as to exports,or whether he will not adopt the wiser course and accept my amendment.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales). - I really expected the Minister of Defence to reply to the remarks of Senator Symon. All the punishment that the Minister contemplates for an exporter of undesirable goods is that the latter shall be exposed.

Senator Pearce - That might prove a very drastic punishment.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is so. I think Senator Pearce in his remarks this afternoon said that this exposure might ruin a man's business altogether.

Senator Pearce - I did not say that.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Senator Pearce said that if a man were exposed the penalty might be so grievous as to mean the ruin of his business.

Senator Pearce - What I said was that the effect of the exposure would be such as to prevent a man from repeating the offence.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Did the honorable senator not say that the exposure might be such as to ruin a man in his business? However that may be, is there any necessity to go further and examine goods for export, when we know we cannot stop exportation, or punish the man for exporting undesirable goods? Under the Bill we can inspect and examine the goods, and that is all. The Minister is powerless, and the exporter may snap his fingers at him, and ask, "What are you going to do now?" The Minister may say that the goods are of such an abominable character that they should not be allowed to be exported, but, at the same time, their exportation cannot be prohibited. There is not one single power in the hands of the Minister except the power to harass, annoy, and injure the commerce of the Commonwealth. Does the Minister propose to submit a new clause providing that a penalty may be inflicted? If so, that might be an' argument for his present position, because then he could ask for the power to inspect in order to ascertain whether an offence had been committed.

Senator Matheson - The Government would then have to fix a standard which they cannot do, and therefore they cannot have a penalty.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .-Then what is the good of the clause? Are we to fill up the statute-book with legislation that can have no beneficial effect, but which from its sheer stupidity may do injury to the Commonwealth? I cannot understand why the Minister should persist in retaining a provision when its ridiculousness has been exposed, and when, by passing it, Parliament will only have to admit in the most abject manner that it has consented to place a measure on the statute-book that is not worth the paper on which it is printed, and that will tend only to confuse, annoy, and injure the community. Is that a proper position for Parliament to take up ? I presume that every Parliament makes mistakes, but there is usually some substantial ground for the action of Parliament.

It is not customary for Parliament to say to offenders against the law, "You should not do so and so. It is very wrong and very naughty of you." Are we a pack of old women that we should talk like that? It is proposed that we should say to certain persons, " It is very naughty of you, and you should be birched for doing so and so; but we have no one to do the birching."

Senator Pearce - The public will do the birching.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The public will do the snapping of the fingers, which will show the contempt in which a great deal of our legislation is held. I think that if the public could but realize how we are sometimes guided in the passing of legislation they would decide that it would not be difficult to find men who could do better work. If the Minister can give a reply to Senator Symon, I ask him to do so. If he can only say that he knows nothing about it, that he does not know whether it is right or wrong, but that as it is in the Bill he will adhere to it, let the honorable senator make that reply.

Senator Pearce - Would the honorable senator prefer a lengthy reply?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I should prefer a reply giving full information. As Senator Pearce knows exactly what is in the Minister's mind, he might reply to Senator Symon if he can do so, and so save Senator Playford the trouble.

Senator MULCAHY(Tasmania).- There is a principle involved in this clause to which we have not, so far, paid sufficient attention. It is the principle of giving the Minister the power to punish without a trial. When Mr. Kingston became Minister of Trade and Customs, he inaugurated a very severe policy. I commended the right honorable gentleman for it, and always stood by his action in my own State. He refused to become an arbitrator, and sent disputes under the Customs Act to a magistrate for trial.

Senator Styles - That very thing was bitterly complained of.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator should have heard the railing here against it.

Senator MULCAHY - I am aware of all that; but I upheld the principle. When a certain article is being exported, although it may not be specifically included in clause 15 of this Bill, the Minister under this clause retains the power to authorize an inspection of it. For what purpose ? That he may acquire certain knowledge about it. For what purpose does he require the knowledge? The Minister will require special knowledge in order to be able to say to the axporter - "This article is adulterated; you must not export it again. I cannot stop you, but I give you that warning."

Senator Pearce - What is the penalty?

Senator MULCAHY - The penalty is that the Minister will be permitted to say - "I am going to try you, and not a magistrate, and I will showyou up to the public."

Senator Pearce - The penalty is that the Minister will be able to say - "I will give an analysis of the article to the buyer."

Senator MULCAHY - I am aware that Senator Pearce is able to quote instances in which it might be desirable that the Minister should possess an arbitrary power. I have upheld provisions giving such powers to Ministers. Every one who knows anything of the work of the Customs Department must do so. At, the same time, these powers should be given only where they are absolutely necessary, and in my opinion they are not necessary in this case. We are asked here to give the Minister power, by the publication of his own opinion or that of an inspector with respect to certain goods, to practically prohibit their exportation, if for any reason, political or otherwise, he desires to do so. I cannot deal with imports, because the common-sense amendment proposed by Senator Symon has been defeated by a very small majority, but I can say that it would be very much wiser if the Minister would admit, what must be evident to every one, that clause 5 was inserted in the belief that its application would be limited to the articles dealt with in clause 15.

Senator DRAKE(Queensland). - The clause will, I think, be powerless for good, but the particular part which' Senator Symon now proposes to amend may put the Government in a very awkward position. In exercising their powers under this Bill, we have been told time and again that they will be supposed to protect the consumer as well as the producer. The Government will have no power to prevent the exportation of bad or adulterated goods. When they reach the other side of the world, and go into consumption, it will be found that they are defective or bad, and when complaint is made on that score, 'the Government will have to say, " We knew all about that, because we inspected and examined the goods before they were exported. We can supply you with an analysis of them which will show that we knew exactly how bad they were. We knew all their faults, and yet we permitted them to be exported."

Senator Mulcahy - That will not apply to exports of foods.

Senator DRAKE - I am aware of that. We are dealing now with articles which are not included in clause 15, and when complaints are made with respect to them, the Government will have to admit that they are powerless to prevent them going into consumption, though we have been told over and over again that this Bill is to protect the consumer. The consumer will not be protected by it in any way; the goods will lie exported, and the Govermnent will be charged with a knowledge that they were bad, and still permitted them to go into consumption. I see no particular advantage to be derived from that.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia). - One has only to listen to speeches from honorable senators opposite to notice some strange contradictions. For instance, Senator Gould has asked us what is the use of the clause, when it provides for no penalties and we can punish nobody under it. He has said that we are like a lot of old women, who talk about a thing and do not do it. He was followed immediately by Senator Mulcahy, whose difficulty is that the underlying .principle of the clause is the power of punishment placed in the hands of the Minister.

Senator Mulcahy - The power of " showing up."

Senator PEARCE - I must leave these honorable senators to mutually destroy each other's arguments.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Can the honorable senator mention any other Act which provides that people shall be " shown up "?

Senator PEARCE - I am not giving my version of the clause. I am merely tying these two foxes together by their tails, and leaving them to fight the matter out between themselves. They were followed by Senator Drake, who made the confusion worse confounded. The honorable senator says that we have been told that this Bill will protect the consumer, and he asks us how we are going to do that by this part of the clause. It does not deal with the consumer in Australia.

Senator Drake - I did not refer to the consumer in Australia.

Senator PEARCE - But it will protect the export trade of Australia by guaranteeing to the buyer and the consumer in foreign markets that goods exported from Australia shall be of the standard they are stated "to be.

Senator Matheson - Where does the honorable senator find the guarantee?

Senator PEARCE - I shall show where the guarantee comes in by-and-by. Senator Drake assumed that the Government, having the power under clause 5, would not exercise it.

Senator Drake - No, I did not.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator assumed that they would allow the whole process of adulteration to go on, and would" permit the consumer on the other side to be poisoned.

Senator Drake - No. What I said was that they have no power to stop the exportation of these goods, after inspection.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator said that when a complaint was made as, to the quality of certain goods the Government would have to admit that they knew that they were adulterated or inferior.

Senator Drake - What is the use of inspection, if we cannot stop the exportation ?

Senator PEARCE - If what Senator Drake has said is correct, and until action is taken in some other country, the Government remain silent, although on inspection it has been proved that certain goods are being adulterated, it will be because they have misread the meaning of this clause. I cannot contemplate that any Government would act in such a way.

Senator Mulcahy - What can they do. ?

Senator PEARCE - They can do what the Minister of Defence has said they can do. They can go to the exporter, and say, " We have made an inspection of your goods ; we have analyzed a sample, and we find that there is proof of adulteration, and that the quality of your goods is such that their exportation may seriously injure the export trade of Australia. We think this adulteration should be stopped." The Government would then have two courses open to them. If the matter were sufficiently serious, they would have evidence to bring before Parliament, to show the necessity for an amendment of the Act which would enable those goods to be included in section 15 - an amendment which,

I am afraid, would be fought as strongly as certain honorable senators are now fighting clause 5. But the Government would, have an alternative. They could announce through the Agents-General for the States, or through the High Commissioner, if one were appointed, that goods of a certain brand contained certain injurious ingredients.

Senator Dobson - Did the honorable senator ever hear of any Government in the world doing such a thing.

Senator PEARCE - I do not care whether any Government in the world ever did such a thing. "Under this clause the Government would have that power in reserve to hold over the heads of people who were prepared in their own interest to sacrifice the reputation of the exports of the Commonwealth generally.

Senator Lt Col Gould - Senator Mulcahy's contention is that the Government ought not to have the power to put a man' in the black list in that way without a trial by a magistrate.

Senator PEARCE - I find that honorable senators opposite are hopelessly divided as to the effect of this clause. There are some who say that it is too oppressive; that it gives too much power to the Minister, and places too much force behind him. On the other hand, there is a party represented by Senator Mulcahy, which says that the clause is meaningless, and that by passing it we shall merely be loading up our statutebook with legislation that will do no good. The opponents of the clause have answered themselves. As to the guarantee asked for by Senator Matheson, I reply that it lies largely in the reserve power in the Minister's hands.

Senator Matheson - It is a negative guarantee.

Senator PEARCE - But it is a very forceful one. I know that the leather to which reference has been made was manufactured by a man who almost went on his knees to the Premier of Victoria in asking that his name should not be disclosed.

Senator Best - The amendment does not affect goods of that character.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator thinks that leather would come under clause 15. It might, but it- might not. In the case referred to, the leather was specially manufactured for saddlery purposes. Such leather might not be used for boots and shoes at all. The particular shipment' was made in view of the South African war, and the War Office practically laid an embargo upon all Victorian leather on account of it. That was all due to' one man, whose adulteration practically had the effect of ruining Australian leather on the English market. The provision giving power to take samples of such articles is the best penal power that we could wish for.

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