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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - While listening to Senator Best, I have been wondering whether he intended that this Bill should affect trade unions ; because there is no argument applicable to trusts used by him which could not be applied to unions of labouring men. I see no particular reason why paragraph a should be retained in clause 6. What is really aimed at is secured by paragraphs b and c. The one object which we have in passing this clause is to see that there shall be no unfair competition, no inadequate remuneration for labour, no substantial disorganization in Australian industry, and no throwing of workers out of employment. What is the necessity, or what is the desirability, of inserting paragraph a for that purpose? If it be taken out altogether, we do not, to the smallest extent imaginable, impair the efficacy of the Bill, or the clause under consideration.

Senator Best - But we make it more difficult.

Senator CLEMONS - The elimination of the paragraph will not make it more difficult to work under the clause.

Senator Best - It would be incumbent to prove two different things, whereas it would not be necessary if the words were retained.

Senator CLEMONS - Surely we do not want such short-cuts to legislation. We might as well say at once that a commercial trust consists of common scoundrels. A commercial trust, however, is not necessarily injurious ; and to the fullest extent to which it may be injurious, it can be dealt with under paragraphs b and c. If there is a little honesty and fair play on the part of a commercial trust, it should not be treated unfairly. But this clause would shut it out even though it were carrying on operations in a way to which we could not have the slightest objection. I cannot see the smallest imaginable reason that the most devoted admirer of this Bill can allege in favour of the words. If they are left out, I cannot see that anything harmful would follow, because everything that is necessary is amply provided for. Senator Playford has admitted that it does not follow that a commercial trust is necessarily an improper thing. We all admit that if a trust has a proper regard for the remuneration and conditions of labour, and for fair competition it is not unfair. I return to the point that every word of this clause would apply to an ordinary trade union. A trade union might be conducted exactly as a commercial trust is supposed to be conducted under the definition which appears in this Bill. Even Senator Best will admit that.

Senator Best - I will not. It is totally different.

Senator CLEMONS - It mustbe admitted that a trade union might be conducted under the definition of " commercial trust." But nobody wants to shut out a trade union because it is a trade union and to say that it shall be treated as a commercial trust is to be treated. That is a serious reason why we should hesitate to include words which in themselves do not add anvthing to the strength of the Bill.

Senator PULSFORD(New South

Best, a little while ago, that this Bill referred to "great trusts." He used the word " great." I refer honorable senators to the fact that the word is not used in the Bill. The clause under discussion refers to all sorts of trusts, small as well as great ; and a misapprehension is created by keeping before the minds of honorable senators the statement that we are dealing with great evils. I urge honorable senators to disabuse themselves of that false impression.. Senator Playford has made a remark which, instead of weakening the ground that I take, strengthens it materially. He said that if a charge is brought against any one, all that he has to do is to prove his innocence. If that argument be looked at quietly, what does it resolve itself into? That an entirely false charge may be brought against anybody. If we eliminate the words to which I object, we shall to a certain extent prevent that evil being done. At the same time, we shall not weaken the power of attacking great trusts and serious evils when they arise. To give an idea as to what is possible, I wish to quote some details of an agreement that I hold in my hand. It is similar, I suppose, to hundreds, if not thousands, of agreements existing in Australia. And remember that an agreement amongst merchants and traders to do a certain thing is, according to clause 3, to be considered to constitute those traders a trust. The agreement which I have in my hand is one by which certain distributing merchants of New South Wales bound themselves to sell a certain brand of cocoa at a given price, and bv which the agent for the manufacturer at Home bound himself to sell only to firms which observed the condition. The sole object of the agreement was to prevent what might be called sweating in selling, because the only profit on this cocoa is equal to1d. per lb. I know all about this matter, because my name appears in the agreement.

Senator Millen - Is the honorable senator a " commercial trust " ?

SenatorPULSFORD. - Yes ; I am agent for the firm in London, and, according to this Bill, for one of the most simple and innocent agreements the world ever saw, I am liable to be described as a commercial trust, or a party to a trust, and have a criminal charge levelled at me. Such agreements are made almost by the hundred. Honorable senators will see that if ten or twenty importing firms are dealing in a proprietary article, there is a tendency for one house to quote some minute fraction under the price of another house ; but with an agreement of this kind, which, as I say, may be regarded as a simple and requisite anti-sweating agreement, a minimum price is fixed to cover all trade risks. This is a form of agreement which exists in all the States, and is necessary for the carrying on of business. So far from being of that grasping character which is attributed to trusts, it really has an opposite tendency. The sole object is to make it possible for business to be conducted. It has happened again and again that, with various competing firms, the price has become such as to return no profit, and the sale of the article has been given up. The object of such agreements is to obtain a minimum profit - sometimes a beggarly profit scarcely worth the trouble of entering in the books.

Senator Best - If an agreement is not detrimental to the public, there will be no liability to a prosecution.

Senator PULSFORD - But why should I be brought into Court to prove that I am not a criminal? Whv should the Senate allow any persons to be charged as criminals, when that can be avoided?

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