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Wednesday, 5 September 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) .- I did not speak during the debate on the motion for the second reading, and I may say that I should not have given a vote to prevent the Bill being taken into Committee. Like every one else, I recognise that there' are possibilities under such a title as covers the Bill, of effecting beneficial legislation for the Commonwealth. Holding that view, I should not have opposed the second reading ; but I reserved my right, which I intend to exercise, of voting against the third reading. I shall do so for many reasons, some of which we have heard from Senator Symon, and which, have from the first time I perused the Bill, seemed to me strong and imperative. So far as I can judge, having regard to the discussion in Committee and in the Senate. I should say that the keynote of the Bill is that we shall infallibly kill industries of the Commonwealth unless we keep up prices. From every point of view, economic and otherwise, that is a very bad starting point. I should join as heartily as any honorable senator on the other side in any attempt, by factories law or similar legislation, to insure that every industry carried on in the Commonwealth would be conducted under conditions worthy of the Australian people. But once we have devoted proper attention to that most important point, we violate every economic law when we practically make it our chief object to keep up prices. My view is that, subject to all those conditions which I may group generally as fair conditions of labour, the object aimed at - and it is the most worthy object any Parliament could have - is to cheapen economic production. The more we cheapen production the more we lessen the amount of labour that we or any other civilized persons have to undergo in order to live happily. That, to mv mind, is the real value of legislation of this kind; but any attempt made in Committee to amend the Bill in that direction was defeated by a majority. An effort to maintain prices was sustained throughout, in spite of the many divisions called for on this side of the Senate ; and for that important reason I object to the Bill. There are, however, other objections. Rightly or wrongly, I am of opinion that one of the results of the Bill, if it becomes law, will be to create monopolies within the Commonwealth; and I venture to say that such a result would not be entirely unpleasant to members of this Senate. I know that there are honorable senators who hold the view that it is not desirable that private enterprise should carry on economic production ; and they recognise that, if any monopoly arises within the Commonwealth, it will give them an additional handle whereby 'to continue their determined efforts to abolish private enterprise, and submerge all competition in one big State industry. Many honorable senators do recognise that possibility ; and we have abundant proof of the fact, not only in their attitude, but in the speeches they made both in Committee and in the Senate in regard to the probable operation of the measure. We have been' told, more or less directly, that such a result is quite possible ; and for that reason I feel compelled to vote against the third reading. There are, however, other reasons for the vote I intend to give. It is admitted on all sides that one of the chief results of the Bill will be to hand over to the Executive greater power than probably we in this Commonwealth Parliament have ever vet endowed the Executive with. But it will not stop there. In this legislation there is a most extraordinary departure, which characterises no other measure submitted to us. It is proposed to hand over tremendous powers, not to a member of the Executive, but to a permanent official in the person of the ComptrollerGeneral. If my memory be right, we have never yet given such a power to any permanent official. Bad as it is to take away from Parliament such powers, and to entrust them to the Executive, it is far worse to hand them over to a permanent official

Senator Higgs - That has been the case for some time in the Department of Trade and Customs.

Senator Trenwith - It must always be the case.

Senator CLEMONS - I am sure that Senator Higgs" will recognise that there is no parallel. We have necessarily to give the Comptroller- General certain administrative powers, but the powers proposed under the Bill are totally different from those attached to the ordinary duties of his office".

Senator Drake - The ComptrollerGeneral has to pass judgment on an industry.

Senator Trenwith - That is another form of administration.

Senator CLEMONS - If Senator Trenwith says that this is another form of ad- \ ministration, I shall tell him the alternative, namely, that the Comptroller-General or the High Court shall do certain things. Would Senator Trenwith call that an act of administration? Surely when the alternative is that a question shall be decided either by the ComptrollerGeneral or by a Court of Justice, we are leaving altogether the domain of administration, and endowing this particular official with duties such as, I venture to say, no English-speaking official has ever before been entrusted with. On other occasions I have strongly objected to taking away from Parliament powers which properly belong to it, and handing them over to the Executive; and that view is, I know, shared by many honorable senators on both sides of the Chamber. We deplore the extensive powers given to the Executive by regulation ; but this Bill confers additional powers, not on the Executive, but on a permanent official - powers which we should jealously guard as belonging entirely to Parliament. Last night, when an endeavour was made to have the Bill recommitted, it was pointed out, and I think very reasonably, by Senator Drake, that the measure must necessarily to some extent come into conflict with the proposal for preferential trade of which we have had notice.

Senator Lt Col Gould - That proposal is only a pretence to get higher duties.

Senator CLEMONS - That may be, but for the purposes of my argument I have to assume that the Ministry are in earnest. I venture to say that Senator Playford himself last night offered no reason whatever for his contention that the proposition of Senator Drake is not soundly based. I venture to say, further, that Senator Playford cannot offer any reason in his reply, though I hope he may.

Senator Trenwith - He has no desire to do so. Enough time has been wasted over the Bill already.

Senator CLEMONS - I think that a great deal of time has been wasted over the Bill. I .am sorry that Senator Trenwith, who, I suppose, is an ardent advocate of preferential trade with Great Britain, is unable to see that the Government are proposing something with one hand while they take it hack with the other. I believe that, if we pass this Bill, we shall interpose a great obstacle to the achievement of even that measure of preferential trade which Ministers and their supporters profess to be willing to give to Great Britain. I believe that many members of the Senate Told that if it becomes operative, it will lead to the creation of monopolies within the Commonwealth. The only hope I have in connexion with the matter is that the Bill, if it becomes law, will remain entirely inoperative. I console myself with the reflection that if it should be inoperative it will not be singular in that respect, when considered with other legislation we have passed this session. It is. a deplorable thing that, after manyweeks have been devoted to the discussion of a measure with a loud-sounding title, many members of the Senate, who are anxious to promote all the good indicated by the title are compelled, as I am, to fall back on the hope that the Bill, when passed into law, will remain operative. Now that we have reached this stage, and seeing that I have only that hope to rely upon, I am compelled to vote against the third reading.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales) [3.18]. - I should have liked to have had an opportunity to speak after some honorable senator on the other side had spoken to the motion.

Senator Trenwith - We are all satisfied.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - If honorable senators opposite are satisfied, I suppose they will not say anything on the third reading, but by-and-by will be prepared to vote, when if becomes necessary. No doubt, Senator Play ford's omission to reply to Senator Drake's argument is largely due to the fact that he has the voting power behind him, and therefore does not see any necessity for making any special effort to defend the measure. I shall not believe that the honorable senator is unable to give any good reasons at all for it, because we have a right to assume that a Minister who submits a measure for the consideration of the Senate is prepared with arguments, which, to his mind, are cogent, m support of it. I should be failing in my duty if I did not say a few words in protest against the passage of a Bill which I believe to be inimical to the best interests of the Commonwealth. Holding the views I do on the subject, I can only fulfil my duty by speaking and voting against the measure, while I recognise that eventually I must bow to the will of the majority of the Senate. Senator Symon's speech dealt with the legal aspect and objectionable features of this Bill very completely. It was not a speech of great length, but it covered all the points of criticism. ' If this Bill is open to the construction put upon it by Senator Symon, and I believe it is, we must look forward to some very unpleasant and unsatisfactory litigation in connexion with the industries of the country as a consequence of it. No doubt we ail desire that the trade and commerce of the country shall progress; but if they are to be hampered in the way proposed in this Parliament they can be conducted only under the most difficult and unsatisfactory conditions. I sympathize with the desire expressed that our industries shall be fairly conducted, and I recognise the objections which are urged against dumping which might be injurious to local manufacturers. But honorable senators opposite should bear in mind that there are other people in the Commonwealth besides manufacturers. They should remember that the consumers form the mass of the people, and it appears to me that they are the very last persons considered in this class of legislation. If this Bill should give effect to the desire of its promoters, one of its results will be to make Australia one of the dearest countries in the world to live in. The people of Australia are not wealthy ; they are a people of moderate and less than moderate means, and every enhancement of the price of the goods which they must consume must be considered a serious injury to them. I have no doubt that the effect of this Bill will be to enhance the cost of living in the Commonwealth. Senator Clemons has already pointed out that, whilst the Government profess to offer preferential treatment to the people of Great Britain, they propose under this Bill to shut out British goods. I shall not deal with the preferential proposals of the Government to-day, but will content myself with saying that it appears to me that they are merely an attempt to introduce a higher protective Tariff by Executive act, and without giving Parliament a fair opportunity to express an opinion on the matter. The question of preferential trade is one which should be dealt with quite apart from the levying of ordinary Customs duties. No doubt we shall have an opportunity to express a. full opinion on these proposals later on. Honorable senators who allowed this Bill to go beyond the second reading, and now find that it has been reported from Committee practically unaltered, have only one course open to them, and that is to vote against the third reading. It was submitted with a high-sounding title, and as many of us understood it, the object sought to be accomplished was a good object, but I felt, when the Bill was first submitted to us, that it contained so many blemishes and defects, and was so little likely to be radically altered in Committee, that it was a very serious mistake to record no division against it on the second reading. Had it been possible to defeat the Bill on the second reading, a very great deal of time would have been saved. If we are able now to destroy it on the third reading, whilst I shall regret the time which has been lost in considering it, I shall rejoice at the result. It is a measure which abrogates every principle of fair play' and justice, as understood in British communities. It will destroy the confidence which people should have in entering upon the establishment of industries. If their enterprises are to succeed, the people must be given fair play and justice. One of the objects of this measure is to prevent the operation of monopolies, but a commercial trust is defined as a monopoly, and it is greatly to be hoped that the Bill will not .have the effect of preventing the operation of some of the commercial combinations which our honorable friends opposite regard as monopolies. After all, those particular combinations have been brought about merely in self-defence, and in order to promote the industries in which the people forming them are engaged. Their operations are being carried on for the benefit of the community. If it could be shown that they are taking an unfair advantage of the community, we should be justified in putting a stop to their operations, but nothing of the kind has been shown. Under this measure persons charged with an offence have the onus of proof that they are not guilty of the offence thrown upon them. We know that it is a much more difficult matter to prove a negative than to prove an affirmative, and I say that it would be better that some breaches of the law shoul'd go unpunished than that persons who are really innocent of an offence created by this Bill should be punished. A commercial trust has been so defined as to include every person who enters into a combination or becomes a body corporate. If the Bill is not unconstitutional, as I believe it is, in the manner in which it deals with corporations, as apart from individuals, it is certainly most unwise that amy attempt should be made to strain our powers under the Constitution in order to enact such legislation. The people of Australia, in accepting the Constitution, did so in the belief that it would be construed according to the ordinary just and fair meaning of its provisions, and it is a serious thing that they should now discover that, while they thought that thev were amply protecting States' rights, they were really handing them over to another authority that is determined to exercise its powers to the fullest extent. Apparently, it is intended to deal with States Governments who may be considered guilty of a technical offence created by this measure. Quite recently the Government of New South Wales entered into very large contracts for the supply and importation of wire netting, to be distributed to the farmers and graziers of the State to assist them to deal with the rabbit plague^

Senator Trenwith - Has not that argument already been very fully stated?

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD.- Only the other day a deputation waited on the Premier of New South Wales to ask him to give work at enhanced prices to persons locally engaged in the wire-netting industry. They explained that unless their request was granted a large number of wire workers would be thrown out of employment. Mr. Carruthers, in reply to the deputation, pointed out that by the contract let in the old country for wire netting, the Government was saving ,£22,000 to the farmers and graziers of New South Wales. Can it be said that the importation of this wire netting does not interfere with the local trade, and could not, therefore, be described as " unfair competition " ? I say that if an attempt were made to deal with that case, it would be a monstrous interference with States' rights. I may be told that this measure is not intended to apply to such cases.

Senator Trenwith - We could not deal with it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - If a dozen of the men whose interests will be affected by the importation of wire netting under the contract referred to combined to import wire netting, it would be said that they were engaged in unfair competition, to the detriment of the wire-workers of New South Wales, and they would render themselves liable to a prosecution under this Bill. Senator Trenwith says that it will not apply to a State. If it will not, why should it apply to half-a-dozen persons who have joined together to do exactly the same thing? The object of men in joining together to save money in that way is very worthy, because it assists them to conduct an industry at the minimum of cost. But by this legislation, honorable senators 011 the other side say to such men, " You shall not be allowed to do anything of the kind. If you happen to be located here, you will have to buy all your materials for your stations or farms at the highest possible rates," although such persons cannot possibly get an extra sixpence for their products. That example alone will show how the-Bill will work. Again, let me take the case of dumping. It has been pointed, out that if at the end of the summer season a merchant wants to dispose of his goods, he will sell them at a sacrifice, and of course to the detriment of persons who have similar goods to sell, but do not want to make a sacrifice at that time. That is an illustration of dumping. Next, let me take the case of a man who, at the end of the season in the old country, has bought goods which were offered at a cheap price, or which mav have deteriorated somewhat in value. The goods are imported into the Commonwealth, and sold at what are called " slaughtering " prices. No doubt the operation will injure some other person in the trade, and the importer of the goods will be liable to a prosecution. I may be told that the measure is hedged round with certain safeguards - that first the ComptrollerGeneral will have to issue a certificate ; second, that the certificate will have to go before the Minister, who, if he chooses, may refer the matter to a Justice; and, thirdly, that it will be reviewed by the Justice. That will afford very little safety to an individual in a case of the kind which I have stated. So far, unfortunately, the policy of the Commonwealth has been to interfere as much as possible with trade and commerce. It is a great mistake to pass this grandmotherly legislation. I believe that if certain honorable senators had their way a man would not be able to engage in" any business or occupation without finding himself surrounded with all sorts of restrictive legislation, and faced with all sorts of pitfalls, although he had no desire to interfere with other persons in the community, and had in view only one object, and that was to do the best he could for himself and the community at large- I am sorry that the Bill has reached this stage. I shall record my vote against the motion, and then, like many other persons, await anxiously to see what the result of this legislation will be.

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