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Friday, 31 August 1906

The PRESIDENT - There are too many interruptions. The honorable senator should be allowed to get on with his speech.

Senator MULCAHY - I want some interruptions, sir, because I wish to elicit what is in the minds of honorable senators, and, if I can, to remove their difficulties. An honorable senator on one side of me believes that the advantage of a description will be to protect the public in regard to value.

Senator Givens - Yes, in one way. It will also protect them from being deceived.

Senator MULCAHY - It will protect them from being deceived in regard to the value of the article.

Senator Givens - And its nature.

Senator MULCAHY - The honorable senator joins with Senator Pearce with regard to the effect of an article upon health ?

Senator Givens - Yes, among other thines.

Senator MULCAHY - I wish to discriminate between two things if I can get honorable senators to follow me. The descriptions required under the Act are veryvague and uncertain. If a fabric is composed of one material, say cotton, a man is required to say that it is composed of cotton. If it is composed of cotton and linen he is required to say that it is union. If it is composed of wool, he is required to say, that it is an all-wool fabric. If it is composed of wool and cotton, he is required to say that it is wool and cotton. The Minister might go so far as to insist upon the percentage being put in. It would cause an enormous amount of trouble to the importers, but still it might not be open to very much objection.

Senator Givens - The trouble would fall, not on the importer, but on the exporter.

Senator MULCAHY - Everything which the exporter at Home does has to be paid for by the importer in Australia. If an analysis of cloth has to be made at Home, who but the importer has to pay for it? Again, if an importer desires that his goods shall be put up in a special way - for instance, that large pieces of stuff, as sold by the manufacturer, shall be cut into smaller pieces - he has to pay for that being done. Now, what is the use of a description? Is it of any use in regard to cotton goods? It really is not. Because a fabric which is made entirely of cotton might vary in price, as calico does, from 2d. to 1s. 6d. per yard, or even, more for the finest textures of long cloth. As theyare all pure cotton goods, of what use is a description ?

Senator Givens - Is it any hardship to say that they are all pure cotton goods?

Senator MULCAHY - I do not know that there is any particular hardship in simple cases of that kind, but why should we compel a man to give a description if no benefit will result? Why should we compel an importer to go to the extra expense of having a particular description put on his goods? Why should we require a man to put on a piece of calico, which any man recognises, " This is a piece of calico" ? any more than that we should require a ton of coal to be branded as "coal."

Senator Givens - Why should I have a cotton handkerchief palmed off upon me as a pure linen handkerchief?

Senator MULCAHY - In that case the honorable senator is deceived. There is no step which we can take under the Commerce Act, or which any State Legislature can take, which will prevent a dishonest man from palming off a cotton handkerchief as a linen handkerchief if he chooses to do so.

Senator Givens - If the States would follow up our Commonwealth legislation, we could punish those traders who deceived the public.

Senator MULCAHY.If the honorable senator went down Bourke-street, and bought a handkerchief which was sold to him for linen, and he found that it was entirely cotton, he would have his remedy at present under the common law. It is impossible under these regulations to stop a dishonest tradesman from palming off inferior goods on his customers. The honorable senator, as a matter of fact, could buy linen handkerchiefs for less than it would cost to buy some kinds of cotton handkerchiefs.

Senator Givens - I doubt it.

Senator MULCAHY - I am stating an absolute fact. It is possible to buy at a shop in Bourke-street or Chapel -street, Prahran, an absolutely pure linen handkerchief of coarse quality for 6d. It is possible at the same time to buy a Scotch lawn cotton handkerchief for1s. No one would gain anything from branding the one handkerchief as linen, and the other as cotton.

Senator Givens - A man should be able to get what he bargains for.

Senator MULCAHY - I have materials in my hand which will prove what I say.

Senator Givens - The Chamber will be a haberdashery shop directly.

Senator MULCAHY - Well, if argument will not convince the honorable senator,perhaps ocular demonstration will. If, for the purpose of protecting the purchaser who, for reasons of health, wishes to buy an entirely woollen garment, it is considered desirable that no fabric shall be marked " all wool," unless it complies with that description, I shall raise no objection. But that object can be secured in a very simple way ; and I venture to say that it is the only good that we can secure by these regulations. If the Minister of Trade and Customs would allow me to deal with this matter in my own way, T believe that I could show him how all the good that can be accomplished under the regulations may be accomplished in a very simple manner. But even to brand an article " all wool ' ' is not necessarily to guarantee it to be superior to a union article. I hold in my hand a piece of very common fabric in which it may be said there is only a percentage of wool. It is 54 inches wide, and is sold at1s. 8d. per yard. But this fabric would be described in exactly the same manner as another which is sold at 2s. 6d. per yard, and as a third which is sold for 4s.9d. All three are union fabrics - Yorkshire tweeds containing a certain proportion of wool and cotton. The one designation " union tweed " would cover them all.

Senator Givens - I suppose that the wool and the cotton are in different proportions according to the value.

Senator MULCAHY - Yes; but the point is that the same general description applies to each, although there is such a wide difference in their value. I have here another piece of stuff which I can guarantee to be absolutely pure wool. It is what is known as a cross-bred serge, made of the lowest description of wool. It is sold wholesale for 2s. 6d. per yard - about half the price of the best specimen of Yorkshire tweed which I have shown. Therefore, the description " all wool " or "union" does not necessarily imply superiority.

Senator Dobson - The all wool article in the case mentioned is inferior.

Senator MULCAHY - It is. The owner of this article assured me that he would guarantee it if submitted to any kind of analysis. Another sample which I produce, and which is sold wholesale at 3s. 4d. per yard, is also all wool of a finer texture, though it would not keep its colour for any time. Other samples of allwool material are sold wholesale for 9s. and 11s. per yard. Where, then, is the advantage of compelling importers to describe every piece of stuff which comes in ? There is no protection to the public. The regulations are absolutely useless for that purpose. Take an example. I have here a pair of military socks sold retail at 6d. per pair. In the pair which I now exhibit the material is 95 per cent. cotton and 5 per cent. wool. Here is another pair of military socks containing 80 per cent. of wool and 20 per cent. of cotton. The one description would apply to both articles, although they differ so widely in quality.

Senator Dobson - Would not the price indicate what they are?

Senator MULCAHY - Exactly ; it is the price of the article and the reputation of the tradesman upon which the purchaser has to depend. He must do it. If a man goes into a shop and buys an article' which looks very nice, and he is told that it is pure linen, though he afterwards finds that it is merely ai piece of cotton, he will not purchase at that shop again. The same happens in other branches of trade. The purchaser necessarily has to depend upon the reputation of the tradesmen' for the quality of the goods that he buys; and that specially applies to the textile fabrics trade. I have here also some specimens of ladies' hose. Here is a pair which is sold at is. It is absolutely pure wool, and could be submitted to any analysis. Another pair, of finer quality, is sold for 3s. But both are pure wool. There could be no discrimination between them in the description applied to them under the regulations. I have admitted that a trade description might be of value in the case of some articles, but the regulations are of no use whatever to enable the public to determine the quality of an article. It may be that the person desires to purchase an all-wool material for hygienic purposes.' I have no objection, therefore, to the description "all wool " being applied' specifically to articles which are made entirely of woollen material. Or it might be provided that any article containing less than 90 per cent, of pure wool should not be allowed to be described as woollen, and there might be a heavy penalty for an offence. But to go further, and insist upon a general description being applied to articles which are widely different in quality and price, secures no good purpose, and simply has' the effect of embarrassing trade. What sort of reputation will the Australian Parliament secure for itself if we insist upon this legislation? It is because I honestly think that the regulations have absolutely no useful effect, and not because I wish to inflict any rebuff upon the Minister, that I ask the Senate to support me in disapproving of them.

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