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Thursday, 30 August 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - While I cannot hope to influence the determination of the Committee, I am pleased to take part in an interesting discussion. I wish to point out that, to my mind, there is one dominant fact with' which Senator Best carefully avoided coming to grips. I am going to show how dangerous it is - not unusual, but dangerous - to read only a part of a clause. My honorable friend read to the Committee part of clause 19, but he stopped at the very part where he ought to have gone on.. The clause reads -

The Comptroller-General whenever he has received a complaint in writing, and has reason to believe that any person (hereinafter called the importer) either singly or in combination with any other person within or beyond the Commonwealth, is importing into Australia goods (hereinafter called imported goods with intent to destroy or injure any Australian industry -

My honorable friend stopped there.

Senator Best - I think I read on to " unfair competition."

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friend distinctly stopped before he came to that part of the clause. I made a note of the fact at the table.

Senator Best - I feel absolutely certain about the matter.

Senator MILLEN - Well, if my honorable friend did read on - and, of course, I have to accept his assurance - he quite lost sight of the remainder of the clause in his argument. I ask honorable senators to bear in mind what unfair competition means. It means, according to sub-clause 2 of clause 18, in rough words, the selling of goods at less than the local price.

Senator Mulcahy - It means selling goods at much less than the cost of production.

Senator MILLEN - I am dealing with one case, where these goods come in, and are sold at a lower price than the current rate.

Senator Pearce - 1 do not think it i.s right to say " the current rate." The Bill says " greatly below the ordinary cost of production where produced " - that is, at the place of origin.

Senator MILLEN - I was trying, foi the sake of brevity - which is dear to the heart of this Committee - to summarize the effect of clause 18. There are several, paragraphs in it. One deals with the disorganization of local industry. Imported goods can only disorganize local industry by being sold at lower than local prices. Another paragraph deals with competition resulting in an inadequate remuneration for labour. The imported goods can only occasion an inadequate remuneration for labour when they are sold at lower than the local price, t summarized the effect of the clause by saying that unfair competition is denned as the selling of an article at less than the local market rate. I think that is not an inaccurate summary. If that be so, we have to read clause 19 as meaning that the offence which the ComptrollerGeneral has to inquire into is the intent to destroy or injure an Australian industry by selling goods at less than the local price. That is the meaning of the clause, and that is exactly where Senator Best, if he quoted the words, as he said he did, absolutely failed to keep them in his mind when addressing the Committee. My honorable friend smiles. I think it is enough to make any one smile, that he. with his knowledge, of the law, should get up and try to impress the Committee with such an argument. He sought to make extremely light of the power of the Minister. I am always loth to refer to individuals, but when it is affirmed that (he Minister is not likely to. and never does, differentiate between individuals. I wish to remind the Committee that quite recently we have_ had an admission from the Government that in one particular case the Minister of Trade and Customs, exercising the Dower which he may possess, has absolutely allowed the manager of one particular factory to grade his own butter. After instances of this kind, what is the use of telling us that Ministers are impartiality itself, and that they never by any means differentiate between individuals ?

Senator Stewart - There were special circumstances in that case.

Senator MILLEN - I never knew of a case where I could not find special circumstances if I wanted to do so. It is impossible to say anything worse about the Bill than that it is a measure under which in special circumstances the Minister may do one thing to-day and another thing to-morrow. The fault that I find with the whole course of legislation which this Parliament has been passing is that we have left so much to the Minister, leaving him to determine, in special circumstances - it may be with special individuals - what course of action he will take.

Senator Givens - That is a power which we left to the Minister in the Papua Act, with the honorable senator's help.

Senator MILLEN - With my help, left anything to this Government ! My honorable friend surely makes a mistake. I would not even leave them their portfolios if I could help it.

Senator Stewart - The honorable senator would not leave anything with them, I am afraid.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, I would leave them my honorable friend. Senator Best has pointed out that all the Minister could do would be practically harmless. Probably, to his mind. it is a mere nothing that a man should have his goods hung up for two or three months; but to men of commercial knowledge, like Senator Mulcahy, it is evident that it makes all the difference between" a profitable investment and a grievous loss whether an importer can put his goods on to the market at a certain time, or whether they are tied up until the Minister has inquired into the case. In some instances it will mean that the goods will be rendered valueless owing to the loss of the season's market.

Senator McGregor - The importer can give a bond.

Senator MILLEN - What is the good of telling me that, if the Minister takes a sovereign! of mine, I can have it if I plank down twenty shillings.

Senator Playford - -It will only be necessary to plank down a. little bit of paper with a name upon it.

Senator MILLEN - Would the Minister be likely to take a bond like that? He would want to know that the bond was of good substance and value before he would allow the goods to go out. He would satisfy himself that that bond, if presented, was worth twenty shillings in the pound. Therefore, it is idle to say that the man could get his goods. He could only get them by depositing money, which would be liable to be forfeited if the case went against him. The whole position is that the clause makes the competition unfair if the goods are sold at less than the local price.

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