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Wednesday, 15 November 1905

Senator Lt Col GOULD (New South Wales) - I am quite sure that it will be recognised as being perfectly fair that in considering the adoption of the report on this Bill, honorable senators should have an opportunity to address themselves to its provisions, especially in regard to those which did not receive full consideration in Committee. It will also be recognised that it is perfectly competent for us to address ourselves to the whole of the clauses, from the beginning to the end of the Bill. Possibly an amendment or amendments will be submitted later on for the purpose of securing the recommittal of the Bill for the reconsideration of certain clauses. I have no doubt that honorable senators will be prepared to consult the convenience of the Senate generally in allowing the first portion of the Bill up to clause 10 to go unchallenged, though, of course, some remarks may be made as to the desirableness of legislation of this character. But the latter portion of the Bill, commencing with clause 11, was put through last night under very peculiar circumstances, which have led honorable senators on this side of the Chamber to think that a very unfair advantage was taken, that would not have been possible without the force of numbers.

Senator Guthrie - Honorable senators opposite went away and refused to work.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Senator Guthrie is one of those who did his utmost to prevent a proper and full consideration of the measure. If the Senate had adjourned last night after disposing of clause to, the very long debate that we have had to-day would not have occurred, we should have avoided the angry recriminations which have been made, and should thereby have conduced to the more effectual conduct of business. A fair and honest fight putup against a Bill which we consider to contain provisions that are most objectionable and injurious to the welfare of the Commonwealth. We had a perfect right to take the course we did. The measure itself, as cannot be too often impressed on the mind of the public, is one that lends, itself to an administration that would be simply damnable, considered from the aspect of the interests of Australia. I admit that by noninterference on the part of the Minister, the Bill could be so administered as to work no very great injury to the country. But the only way in which danger could be avoided would be by a most careful administration, such as I decline to believe it will receive from the gentleman now at the head of affairs.

Senator Playford - Rubbish !

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- No doubt Senator Playford considers that it would be perfectly safe to leave the matter in the hands of the present Government. Most Ministries suffer from the little weakness of believing that no evil can arise from their administration. I do not suppose that any Minister would say : " I am going deliberately to do an injury to the commerce of the Commonwealth." But there are Ministers and Ministers. Some Ministers think that the more interference there is with regard to every industry in the country the better. I do not share that view. I believe that we have gone a great deal too far in our legislation. I believe that we have over-legislated. This is a specimen of over-legislation that must do the country an immense amount of injury. Australia is at present almost a. by-word, in consequence of its restrictive legislation. Are we to continue that system, so as to become a still greater by -word? I am aware that some honorable members entertain the extraordinary idea that because this measure has been passed by another place, it ought to be looked upon as the acme of wisdom and perfection. But it contains provisions that a great many members of both Houses of this Parliament never believed to be within its compass. We learnt yesterday, though not until there had been a considerable amount of debate on clause 5, that that was an exceedingly dangerous provision. I doubt whether even the Minister in charge of the Bill was aware of its scope. Certainly he did not mention it when he moved1 the second reading of the Bill. He did not say that it was intended to hamper even' branch of trade and to apply to every article that might be exported or imported. If that had been known when the Bill -was before the other Chamber, most assuredly it would have been objected to much more strongly - and the opposition to it was strong as it was. It is most unjust to take advantage of a House of Legislature by getting legislation passed through having effects never contemplated by those who dealt with it in the first instance. Whatever we may do with regard to this measure in the Senate, if we send it back to the other House with two or three amendments the debate there will be confined to those amendments. Honorable members in the other Chamber will have no opportunity to discuss any provisions which they passed under a misapprehension. I trust that honorable senators will take the trouble to go into the measure thoroughly, and cease to treat it in a cavalier way. They talk of the Bill having been " stonewalled " from this side, because we made an earnest protest against many of its provisions, when there was a deliberate " stone- wall " on their part. We could get no information, or defence, such as we were entitled' to get, when a measure of vital concern to the whole Commonwealth was being considered. Whatever opinions thev may hold in regard to the Bill they showed scant courtesy to this side when they did not respond to our appeals. When a' measure has been fought by an Opposition day after day, and it has been made clear to the Government that their opponents desire to obstruct its passage, and not to improve its provisions, I can understand them turning round, and asking their supporters to be "dumb dogs." But there was no such obstruction offered to this Bill. It was introduced by Senator Playford in a speech which was very brief, and by no means comprehensive. I believe that he did not realize, and I doubt if he now realizes, the far-reaching possibilities of it. If he had realized! its ' grave importance, I cannot conceive that he. with his long parliamentary experience, would have consented to thrust such legislation down the throat of the Opposition. I dare say that he will not have much to say in defence of the Bill if he exercises his right to reply to the criticisms from this side.

Senator Playford - We have heard all this criticism before, and it has all been replied to.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Once or twice last night, when the honorable senator replied very briefly to speeches from this side, he led1 me to think that he did not realize the meaning of the words which he was asking the Committee to assist him to enact. He sard that we, on this side, were making second-reading speeches. There were three or four clauses which contained most important principles, and which called for second-reading speeches from this side, in order that every honorable senator might fully realize their meaning before he was called upon to vote. It was only right that those speeches should have been replied to at full length. Unfortunately, Senator Symon was not here to speak at the second-reading stage.

Senator Playford - He delivered a second-reading speech, though, on the first clause of the Bill.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- It was a very short second-reading speech.

Senator Playford - It lasted for two hours.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The Minister must realize that if Senator Symon had dealt with the Bill at the second!reading stage, he would have occupied a great deal more time than he did when he spoke on clause i.

Senator Playford - No; he discussed the whole measure.

Senator Givens - Will the honorable and learned senator tell us! what evils the Bill can possibly do?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The evils have been stated so often that' they ought to have sunk into the brain of the honorable senator.

Senator Givens - It is simply a Bill to provide for common honesty. A man can import or export anything he likes, so long as he tells the truth about it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - -Is it necessary to compel a man to give so many particulars to Customs officers as are required by the Bill ? We all desire to prevent dishonesty with regard to imports and exports. If Senator Playford had introduced a Bill to carry out that purpose, with reasonable precautions and safeguards, it would have been passed through both Houses, I think, without any trouble. If the debates of the other House be referred to, it will be seen that honorable members expressed a desire to do what was fair and just between importers or exporters and the public. Senator Playford has told us that the last Government contemplated the introduction of a measure of this kind because they left behind- them a draft. That fact ought to convince honorable senators that the members of that Go vernment desired to do what was fair and just with regard to importers and exporters.

Senator Playford - It was a more drastic Bill than this one.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The Minister knows that the draft Bill which was found by the present Government in a pigeon-hole or cupboard had not been revised by the members of the late Cabinet. We have had the assurance of Senator Symon that it was not referred to him as Attorney-General for the purpose of advising his colleagues on legal points. How, then, can it be fairly said that the late Government if it had remained in office would have submitted a more drastic Bill to honorable senators for their consideration? Senator Playford knows that when 'the members of a Ministry take office they find a num-ber of Bills which have been drafted, but not considered by the previous Cabinet. If a Minister instructs an officer to draft a Bill, it is done by the latter on such, lines as he may consider most convenient and advisable.

Senator Playford - The Minister laysdown the lines and the principles on which, the draftsman is to work.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- A Minister of Trade and Customs would say to his. draftsman : " I want you to prepare a Bill to provide for the inspection of imports and exports, and to insure honest and fair dealing." Later on it would be his duty to seewhether the principles which he had laid' down had been properly embodied in themeasure. And at that stage he could elicit the opinions of his colleagues. Perhaps I am presuming too much in saying that the Commerce Bill was fully considered by the members of the present Cabinet before it was submitted to the other House. Is it not a matter of common notoriety that threeMinisters differed there with regard to its; provisions? One Minister thought that it meant one thing ; a second Minister thought that it would provide effectually for grading ; while a third Minister thought that it would not provide for grading. The Ministers were not at one with regard to the effect of its provisions. There was a promise made that certain amendments would be submitted' in the Senate in order to clear up doubts and' difficulties which had arisen, but not oneof them has been submitted here.

Senator Playford - Yes ; one amendment has been embodied in the Bill.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Not one iota of assistance has been given to honorable- senators in their efforts to insert any one of the amendments which it was promised would be made here.

Senator Playford - So far as I can find out, there were only two amendments promised, and one of them - an alteration in the title - has been made.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - An honorable senator on the other side was permitted to move an amendment for the inclusion of jewellery amongst the articles enumerated in clause 15. It was taken out of the hands of a Government supporter, who, having obtained a pair, had wisely gone home.

Senator Styles - It was moved at my request.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- What chance had any one on this side to submit amendments dealing with more vital questions? The Minister talks about various amendments* which have been made. In clause 1 we made an amendment to provide that the Bill may be cited as " The Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act."

Senator Playford - That amendment was promised by Sir William Lyne, and was agreed to.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I am glad to hear the Minister say that the amendment was promised by his colleague, but it was under discussion for hours before it was agreed to.

Senator Playford - A definite promise was not given. Sir William Lyne said, "I do not make an absolute promise that the amendment shall be considered, but most likely it will."

Senator Lt Col GOULD - The Opposition were charged with " stone-walling " the Bill when they were advocating an amendment which Senator Playford now tells us was made in pursuance of a promise given by Sir William Lyne.

Senator Playford - I wanted to know from honorable senators opposite what they thought was a better title than " Commerce Bill." _ If they could have suggested a better title, I should have been only too willing to accept it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - The honor- able senator is very plausible now ; but it was only with the greatest difficulty, and after two hours' discussion that we persuaded him to accept our amendment. His supporters were so angry that they voted in a body against him. I believe that the fear they created in his mind was so great that he dare not1 then have accepted a single proposal unless it emanated from his own side. Senator Styles, who - is not a member of the caucus, was privileged to be allowed to amend the Bill.

Senator Styles - In that case the Government was under no pressure from the Labour Party.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- No. The honorable senator had the gracious permission of both parties to get his little amendment introduced.

Senator Styles - The Opposition would have supported it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- It is very probable that the Opposition would have assisted the honorable senator to hand down his name to posterity as one who had assisted in perfecting the. measure. I admit that after having fought our amendment very strenuously and earnestly, Senator Playford, did, in accordance with the promise of his. colleague, assent to it with the best grace he could. I realize the difficult position he was in.

Senator Playford - I need not have given way. If I had not given way I could have beaten the Opposition.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- No doubt th< honorable senator would have given wa' in the first instance, only that he had .1 suspicion as to the effect his action might have on the Labour Party, He put up a very good fight' for the clause, but ultimately he consented to an amendment of which, as he found, his loyal supporters did not altogether approve. It is almost impossible to think of anything to which a trade description could not be applied under this Bill. Whether a man is importing or exporting goods, he must apply such a trade description to them as may be specified by; the regulations which are to be submitted to Parliament by the Minister. Parliament is enabled to afford help to those who may be affected by the Bill, only under the provision requiring the regulations to be notified for a period of three months before thev become operative. Under clause 7 it is provided with respect to imports that -

No regulation under this section shall take effect until after the expiration of not less than three months from notification in the Gazette.

Why this assistance is given to importers, and not to exporters, I am unable to say. It mav be urged that the Government desire that this notice shall be gwen in order to prevent mistakes bv people sending their good's to the Commonwealth from other countries. But if that be the objec three months is too short a time to give to people in other countries an opportunity of determining whether they will, send their goods to the Commonwealth under the conditions prescribed by the Government. There will, in the early stages of the operation of the Bill, be no more > fruitful source of difficulty in connexion with imports than that which will arise from these regulations. Dealing with exports, the Bill provides in clause 11 that -

The regulations may prohibit Hie exportation of any specified goods unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character relating to such matters and applied in such manner as is prescribed.

Is that a fair way in which to hamper our commerce? Honorable senators may say that revelations have been made in connexion with the butter trade. 1 ask them to turn to clause 15, and they will find that a very wide field is embraced. It includes -

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

(6)   medicines or medicinal preparations, for internal or external use ; or [c) manures ; or \d) apparel (including boots and shoes), and the materials from which such apparel is manufactured ; or

(e)   seeds and plants.

I should like the Minister to explain what articles of export there are that are not embraced in this clause. We have had a great deal of talk about apples, and about butter, but we have had no information as to the articles which, cannot be included under clause 15. We are asked to provide that if a man desires to export anything he must, in a trade description applied to his goods, specify their nature, number, quantity, quality, purity, class, grade, measure, gauge, size, or weight. We also provide that he shall state the country or place in or at which the goods were made or produced. What necessity is there for that? I could understand the Government of the mother country saying : " We desire to know where goods imported into this country have been manufactured or produced," but it is an utter absurdity for the Government of a country to attempt to place an embargo upon its own exports by requiring such descriptions to be applied to them. Further information must be given as to the manufacturer or producer of the goods, or the person by whom they were selected, packed, or in any way prepared for the market.

Will that give any guarantee as to the soundness of the goods? If the Minister grows apples and exports them to the other end of the world, what difference will it make to the man who eats them, whether they were grown by Senator Playford, or by Jones, Brown, or Smith? He will be concerned with the quality of the article, and not with the name of the producer. Again, the Bill provides that information shall be given as to the mode of manufacturing, producing, selecting, packing, or otherwise preparing the goods. During the second-reading debate it was pointed out that it is possible under this Bill to compel a man to say whether his goods have been produced by union or non-union labour. What does it matter to the people to whom we send our goods whether they are, or are not, the product of union labour? Do Ave, at the present time, take the trouble to inquire whether goods sent to us from other parts of the world have been made by union or nonunion labour? It is not part of the duty of the Government to make inquiries of this character. I can understand a man who believes in unions, and in union labour, telling a storekeeper that he will not buy certain goods unless he is assured that only union labour has been employed in their manufacture ; but I cannot understand a Government that is supposed to represent both union and non-union labour, and the sympathizers with both, requiring this information. It is utterly absurd, but the aim is clearly to play into the hands of .1 particular section of the community, and not to give a fair deal to all people in the- community. It is possible, under this Bill, for the Government to kow-tow, as I suppose they must do, to the minority of the workers of this country at the present time, and to enable them to secure what they desire. They hold their office by the breath of a particular party in the community, and I realize how dangerous it is to give them an opportunity to play into the hands of that party.

Senator Trenwith - Every Government holds its position by the assistance of a party.

Senator Drake - Of its own party sometimes.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Usually a Government holds its position because its policy is in accord with the views of a majority, but my charge against the present Government is that their honest convictions are not in accord with the convictions which are thrust upon them by the members of another party.

Senator Trenwith - They do not say that, and they must be better judges than is the honorable senator.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I ask Senator Trenwith to look at the history of the present Government from its inception. I ask the honorable senator to go back to a period anterior to that, and consider what was said by the head of the present Government.

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