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Thursday, 16 November 1905

Senator PULSFORD (New South Wales) - Before the Bill passes from the Senate, I wish to make a few remarks. It naturally divides itself into two parts. Clause 9 provides that no person shall import any goods to which a false trade description applies, and clause 13 contains a similar provision in regard to falselymarked exports. With those clauses every honorable senator is in accord, because he desires to stop fraud. So far the Bill commands the support of every one. But it brings into play other provisions which, in my judgment, are as bad as those clauses are good. I refer to the clauses which require that goods shall be branded as prescribed. These requirements are an undue interference with trade, and so far they are unwise. The regulations which under the Act must be brought into play will be very numerous. The penalties which, through the incorporation of the Bill with the Customs Act, will be brought into force, are very severe, and liable to do a great deal of harm. I ask the attention of honorable senators to the mass of material called Customs decisions, which I hold in my hand. It is almost impossible for dealers in goods to keep up with all the decisions. Here is a book which is kept in the Library, and in which new decisions have been pasted. We were told, in reply to a question I asked some time ago, that the decisions in regard to descriptions of goods totalled 10,000. To give one instance of the possibilities which are being created, I shall refer to cotton socks. If cotton socks are imported, and they have on the side a " clock " of silk, then, under the Customs Act, they have to be entered as silk goods, and pay duty as such. To that extent the Customs Act requires the importer to make a false description, and to declare as. silk goods articles which he will sell as cotton goods. There is no mistake about the possibility of errors of this description ; there is no mistake about the possibility of trouble occurring to our traders. Those who knew more about the requirements, possibilities, and conditions of trade than others did, felt themselves called upon, by every consideration of duty, to press their views upon the Senate. In my second-reading speech, I referred to commerce as being by this Bill put under the heel of the Minister. How correctly I stated the real truth of the case has since been shown, because honorable senators are well aware that time after time when asked, the Minister could not give an explanation. He could not point to what was likely to be done in regard to the grading of goods. He could not tell us what goods the Government intended to order to be graded ; he could not tell us what the expenditure was likely to be in carrying out this important measure, if it is to be carried out with that fulness which he led us to believe was necessary. We could get no information as to the fees which were contemplated to be charged to importers or exporters. On all these points we could get no information. We saw that the Bill was being pushed rapidly along. To adopt the phrase of Senator Givens, we saw that the Bill was being "belted" through its second-reading stage after a debate which occupied only a day and a-half. I shall not refer to what occurred during the Committe: stage. But when the matter was referred to yesterday, what did we hear ? We heard Senator Givens talk about the "belting" ' and Senator Stewart talk about the "gag." These are the necessary consequences of Bills which unduly and improperly interfere with trade, and put heavy burdens upon traders, regardless of their rights and liberties. When the rights and liberties of traders are attacked in the way in which they are attacked by this Bill, then it is the most natural thing in the world to hear one honorable senator talking about the Opposition 'being "belted," and another honorable senator talking about the "gag" being applied. It shows where the legislation of Australia is drifting to. If at any time it were desirable that the Federal Parliament should be careful in what it was doing; if at any time it was necessary for Australia to rise to a higher level, this was the time. We ought to passed the Bill with its good clauses, designed to attack fraudulent trading, and let alone this attempt to compel unnecessary things to be done. I have not risen to-night to go into this matter again fully. I shall content myself with a very earnest appeal to all those engaged in the administration of the measure to fully, faithfully, and earnestly car-ry 'out the clauses which deal with actual fraud in matters of imports or exports, and to act with the greatest care, caution, and hesitancy in bringing about those new conditions which are likely to hamper our trade and commerce.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.

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