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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) - We have now come to one of the vital departures from all existing legislation. I propose very briefly to state my views on the subject, and to call attention to what it involves. I shall take a later opportunity, if necessary, when the attendance is fuller, to have the whole matter rediscussed on a motion for re-committal. I object strongly to this system of proceeding at this late hour with a Bill which has been in Committee only a short time, and which involves questions of the greatest magnitude in relation to our commerce. This clause contains two leading principles. It provides that -

The regulations may prohibit the importation or introduction into Australia of any specified goods.

Of course, that means any portion of the goods enumerated in clause 15 which the regulations may specify. As to that, I have no complaint to make, subject, of course, to the consideration that we shall give to that clause when it is reached. There we have a reference to specified goods which removes the difficulty and inconvenience pointed out this afternoon in regard to clause 5. But clause 7 goes on to say that the importation of these specified goods may be prohibited - unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character, relating to such matters, and applied in such manner, as is prescribed.

We all admit that the main purpose of the Bill, when introduced last year, and again when introduced this year, was to prevent the importation of fraudulently marked, goods. This is a laudable desirable object, which is carried out expressly by clause 9 in these words -

No person shall import any goods to which a false trade description is applied.

That is salutary, beneficial, proper legislation, and no one can object to it. But this clause engrafts on it something altogether different. The first mischief is that it makes the marking of goods compulsory, which is not the case under the Imperial Act, and there is no reason why it should be. Compulsory marking was specially excluded from the operation of the Imperial Act, and if honorable senators will investigate the subject, they will ascertain the principle of all this sort of legislation, which is not new. We are not the discoverers of the mischief to be corrected, or of the remedy to be applied ; we are merely dealing with well-known and well-understood principles. The object is to prevent the public being victimized by having foisted on them goods under wrong or fraudulent descriptions. These principles have been adopted in England and the various States. Kerly, at page 19, says -

It will be seen, therefore, that the Act' is directed against false marking only.

And that is all that it should be directed against -

Deceptive marks or deceptive trade descriptions are forbidden by it to be placed on goods, but it does not operate to make the marking of any kind compulsory.

This Bill, first of all, makes marking compulsory in the case of imported goods, and, secondly, by an extraordinary perversion of every rule which ought to apply to trade, it makes the compulsory affixing of a mark, which is prescribed, not in the country of origin, but in Australia. The importation of the goods specified in clause 15, or which may be specified by regulation, is prohibited unless there is applied a trade description "of such a character relating to such matters, and applied in such manner as is prescribed." That is to say, if goods come here unmarked!, imported by some commercial man, who knows what he is getting, and who may reject them if they are falsely described, they may be marked in. any way the Minister chooses. All this has nothing to do with the consumer, but only with the importer. Goods which come here without any trade description, fraudulent or honest, may, under regulation, be marked by the Minister, even in the most fanciful or absurd) way, which he may prescribe by regulation. These marks are to be conceived in the minds of the authorities here, and to have no reference to the manufacturer or exporter. That is an entire reversal of ordinary methods, and has nothing to do with the principle of the Bill.

Senator Mulcahy - It is impossible to mark a lot of goods; which come here.

Senator Playford - If it is impossible, it will not be attempted.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Is the object of the Bill not to prevent the importation of fraudulently-marked goods?

Senator Pearce - Yes.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Then if goods are not marked at all, why should the importer here be compelled to apply marks to goods to which no special marks are applicable - to apply any mark which the Minister may devise?

Senator Pearce - In order to describe the goods, I suppose.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - But the mark applied may be one which does not describe) the goods; they may be goods to which a trade description cannot be applied.

Senator Pearce - If the Minister cannot apply' a mark, he will not attempt to do so.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Let us legislate with some degree of sense ! I am heart and soul with my friends opposite in keeping out fraudulently-marked goods, but that is accomplished by clause 9.

Senator Pearce - If goods could be brought in unmarked, a fraudulent mark could be applied after their arrival.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That could be done, even if we passed! this Bill fifty times over. Supposing cotton, linen, or other goods came in unmarked ?

Senator Mulcahy - Or so-called woollens.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The only control we have is over importation at the sea-board. We cannot follow goods into the interior of the country. The goods I have indicated may be imported without any mark at all.

Senator Playford - It is a. trade description, not a mark which is dealt with.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Of course, it is a mark.

Senator Playford - A mark its quite a different thing from a trade description; a mark may be a circle or a letter, or anything of that kind.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - A circle or a letter does not exhaust what amark is. What I wish to say is, that the moment the goodsleave Port Melbourne for the city, the mark may be taken off.

Senator Pearce - We shall have done our duty; let the State do theirs.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - We shall not have done our duty, because we shall not have protected the consumer.

Senator Pearce - We shall have done so, as far as we can.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - What we desire to protect the consumers against is being deceived, which they may be by fraudulent marks, forgeries of marks, and so forth., There are volumes and volumes dealing with the subject of deceit by means of false marks and trade descriptions. The Bill, however, provides that the Minister, if goods come without a mark, may prescribe a mark, or he may change the mark which they already bear. Anything more idle or absurd! was never invented. The whole difficulty with the Bill has been that some extraordinary kind of mind - it is impossible to define the kind of tortuous mind - has been brought to bear in formulating the clauses. That people must be protected against deceitgoes without saying; but in some extraordinary way the mind I refer to has been brought to bear with the effect of complicating, and not assisting or facilitating, legislation. This is one of the most vital clauses of the Bill, and I make no apology for directing particular attention to it. If the Minister of Defence desires to keep us here all night, I am prepared to stay; but that is not the way to deal with a Bill of this description, when it has been before us only for the second time really in Committee, and we have reached a clause of importance to which the concentrated mind of the full Senate ought to be given. I shall deal with that matter at greater length at another opportunity presented by the recommittal, if necessary, of the Bill. I am now simply dealing with clause 7, which, as I havealready shown, is a departure from well-known principles, and existing legislation, and from the object of the Bill itself. I shall vote against the clause, but I should like to know whether Ministers think it desirable in the interests of the BiU that the provision should be proceeded with. If so* I intend to move a proviso to prevent the place of origin being regarded as a trade description. The place of origin used to be so regarded until a Select Committee or Royal Commission in England in 1891 condemned -it as a serious interference with trade.

Senator Mulcahy - The place of origin has to appear on the goods.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - But, for the reason I have indicated, it has not, since then, been a part of the trade description. It was found that the words " Made in Germany " merely gave an advertisement to the goods of that country.

Senator Mulcahy - That was not the intention.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON -But that was to the effect, and I shall refer to that point when I submit an amendment.

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