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Thursday, 30 August 1906

Senator PULSFORD (New South Wales) . - It is very desirable that, in considering this Bill honorable senators should remember that we are sailing upon an unknown sea, which is absolutely uncharted. There is nothing in the experience of other countries to guide us in connexion with this part of the measure. In the first and second part of the Bill there are occasional references in marginal notes to the Sherman Act, or to something else which is American; but in the third part honorable senators will find that there is no reference to America in any of the marginal notes. The meaning of that is that every one of the clauses in this part has. been thought out, built up, and constructed here. In a matter of such immense importance, it is quite obvious that there are many openings for error even from the point of view taken by the Minister. I venture to say that within clause 18 there are possibilities of trouble which the people of Australia1 little dream of. I direct the attention of the Committee to one matter in connexion with the clause which lets "the cat out of the bag" as to what the Bill is before us for.

Senator McGregor - Who is holding the the bag?

Senator PULSFORD - Senator McGregor is doing his share in that direction. This clause makes it quite clear that the Bill is introduced, as I think most people are already well aware, in the interests of manufacturers, and I might almost say of certain manufacturers, in Australia. There are several references in it to " the manufacturer," and in sub-clause 3 there is a reference to the processes, plant, and machinery in " the Australian industry." These references clearly show that the manufacturing industries are those which it is proposed to support, and I ask honorable senators to be a little bit critical of this clause in consequence, and to remember that there are other industries in Australia of relatively overwhelming importance when compared with the manfacturing industries. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the fact that an importer in one State, being charged with unfair trading in any line of business, may lead to a prohibition of those goods, not only by himself, but by every other importer in the State and in every other State in Australia.

Senator Pearce - My amendment will deal with that.

Senator PULSFORD - I am aware that Senator Pearce has seen this difficulty ; but I am pointing out how great the objection to this legislation really is, and the serious outlook which it brings before us. With respect to the amendment suggested by Senator Pearce, do honorable senators believe that we shall get over the trouble if we limit the prohibition to one importer? Will that do very much good? Can he not employ an agent to bring in the goods for him? If this clause is to be passed, with or without the amendment suggested by Senator Pearce, it will involve a very wide-spread trouble to spring from a very small cause. The clause practically makes it a crime for anybody to buy cheap goods. I should like honorable senators who, before Christmas comes, will have to face the electors, to think out what this means. Let Senator Playford think what he will have to do in Adelaide when he faces an audience largely composed of lady voters. Let the honorable senator consider to-night how he will then, justify proposals to make it impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for cheap goods to be imported and sold in Australia.

Senator Playford - The ladies of South Australia! .nave; no desire to buy cheap goods, if that would prevent the employment of their own people. They have no wish to buy goods produced under sweated conditions in any part of the world to compete with the productions of their own people.

Senator PULSFORD - This clause says nothing about sweating. It does not provide that goods produced under sweating conditions shall not be imported, but that if goods are bought cheaply abroad, and so can be imported here, and sold at a price which will enable them to compete in our market with similar goods produced in Australia, it shall be an offence to import them.

Senator Best - Of what use are cheap goods if we have not the money to buy them ?

Senator PULSFORD - That is a very old gag. If people have the money to buy cheap goods, and have not the money to buy dear goods, will they, thank Senators Best and Playford for putting the price of the articles they require beyond their reach, and so preventing them from obtaining them? Life is one long struggle to the great mass of the people. They are possessed of limited means, and must make what thev have go as far as they possibly can. One of the main results of legislation such as that which is embodied in this clause will be to make it difficult for people to spend their money to such advantage as thev otherwise would be able to do.

Senator McGregor - They would not have any means at all if the honorable senator had his way.

Senator PULSFORD - In that remark, Senator McGregor raises a very big question. The honorable senator knows, or ought to know by this time, that what he says is all humbug. The great work of Australia is the production of commodities which we send abroad to the value of tens of millions of pounds sterling annually, and the goods that come here from abroad are but the final results of the work of our producers. If it were not for the possibility of importing goods from abroad, of what use would it be for us to produce goods for export? If Ave legislate in such a way that people can only get a limited instead of a large quantity of goods from abroad, we shall be only making it hard instead of easy for them to live. That is my reply to Senator McGregor's interjec tion. The honorable senator ought to know that what I say is true. I have not yet found any member of the Senate, 01 any one else, who is 'prepared to face this very obvious statement of the economic position of Australia. Let honorable senators go to the country districts, and tell the producers, whether they be pastoralists, farmers, or miners, " You are producing pastoral or farm produce, or gold or other minerals. You must send your productions abroad, and

Ave intend by our legislation to be careful as to what you shall get in exchange. We do not desire that you shall get 'bargains, but that you shall be able to get only dear goods in exchange."

Senator O'Keefe - H - How does the honorable senator account for the fact that nearly all the miners in Australia are protectionists ?

Senator PULSFORD - They are not, and the honorable senator ought to know that they are not. The great mining State of the Commonwealth is Western Australia, and in the first Federal Parliament that State had in the two Houses eleven free-traders out of twelve representatives It is, therefore, ridiculous for Senator O'Keefe to say that all the miners of Australia are protectionists.

Senator Henderson - It is quite wrong for the honorable senator to sum up Western Australia in those terms. That State sent representatives to the Federal Parliament because they were Labour men, and not because they were either freetraders or protectionists.

Senator PULSFORD - We had a good deal to do Avith the question in the first Federal Parliament, and it is on record how the representatives of the great western State voted. We know very well that the statement now preferred to the Senate by Senator O'Keefe is inac-' curate, to put it mildly. Not only is it to be wrong for people to import cheap goods, and obtain bargains, but if an importer has made a mistake by buying goods abroad at their full price, and has missed the market - if he has bought goods for the summer or winter trade, and has missed that trade, and the goods> are left on his hands - and he finds it necessary to sell them cheaply to get rid of them, this clause provides that if he sells them at a price below the cost of production, it shall be a crime. Is (not that an offence to common sense? Yet, here it is embodied in this proposed legislation in black and white.

Let honorable senators get this and similar facts into their heads, and consider, if they are not prepared to make some alteration in this measure, how later on they are going to face the electors and explain these absurdities to them. I should like very much to know what is meant by paragraph b, of sub-clause 1 of clause 18. I find from the clause that, for the purposes of this part of the Act, competition is to be deemed unfair if, in the opinion of the Comptroller-General, it is unfair. That is practically what paragraph b of sub-clause 1 amounts to. It is a very neat way of putting it, but there are other words in between which may be more difficult to interpret. The clause provides that -

For the purposes of. this part of this Act, competition shall be deemed to be unfair if -

(b)   the means adopted by the persons importing or selling the imported goods - are, in the opinion of the ComptrollerGeneral, " unfair in the circumstances." Is not that going it rather strong? The Minister of Customs is really to be the Czar of Australian trade, and the Comptroller-General is to be used to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for him. In sub-clause 1 we have the words -

For the purposes of this part of this Act, competition shall be deemed to be unfair if -

(a)   under ordinary circumstances of trade it would probably lead - and so forth. Then, as Senator Drake has pointed out, the word " probably " opens up a vista of extraordinary possibilities which cannot be viewed without alarm. What is to prevent a manufacturer going to Dr. Wollaston, and complaining that some rival in. trade has imported half a dozen cases of goods, the sale of which will injure the trade of the complainant, and asking the Comptroller whether he cannot see his way to advise the Minister to stop the importation ?

Senator Playford - The honorable senator fancies that the Comptroller is going to be an idiot.

Senator PULSFORD - The Minister has taken power which would enable him to turn the Comptroller-General into an idiot pretty quickly.

Senator Millen - The ComptrollerGeneral will soon be an idiot if he has to administer this Bill.

Senator PULSFORD - I think he will. We have it on the authority of Dr. Wollaston that, in dealing with Acts relating to commerce, he may not be allowed to have an opinion.

Senator Pearce - But this Bill specially says that Dr. Wollaston shall have an opinion.

Senator PULSFORD - When I referred to this point the other day, Senator Playford interjected that Dr. Wollaston is only a servant, recognising that the ComptrollerGeneral will have to do as he is told.

Senator Playford - Of course; but the Comptroller-General can have an opinion, and express it to the Minister.

Senator PULSFORD - Senator Pearceis answered by Senator Playford, who says that the Minister will tell the ComptrollerGeneral what the latter has to do.

Senator McGregor - -If the Bill provides that Dr. Wollaston shall do a cer tain thing he will have to do it.

Senator PULSFORD - And he will have to do it under the direction of his master, the Minister of Trade and Customs. In order to put a tangible question before the Committee, I move -

That the word " probably," in paragraph a of sub-clause 1, be left out.

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