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Thursday, 10 July 1930

Senator DALY (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

In 1926 a bill to amend the Commerce Trade Descriptions Act was passed by the Senate, but owing to the pressure of other business was not dealt with in the other chamber beyond the first-reading stage. The present bill is practically the same with a few formal additions rendered necessary by the transfer of the administration of the export section of the act to the Department of Markets and Transport. Its objects are: first, to extend the power to require compulsory marking to any imported and exported goods in respect of which such marking is considered necessary, and secondly, to adapt the provisions of the act more exactly to the purposes they are intended to achieve.

In respect of the first object, at present marking of goods with a trade description is compulsory only in respect of the seven classes of goods specified in section 15, viz. : -

1.   Articles used for food and drink by man or used in the manufacture or preparation of articles used for food and drink by man.

2.   Medicines or medicinal preparations for internal or external use.

3.   Manures.

4.   Apparel (including boots and shoes), and the materials from which such apparel is manufactured.

5.   Jewellery.

6.   Seeds and plants.

7.   Brushware (which was added by an amendment of the act in 1926).

It is proposed to repeal this section, which action, combined with the omission of the word "specified" from sections 7 and 11 of the act, would remove the limitation and enable regulations to be issued to require compulsory marking in respect of any goods imported or exported. It will, of course, be understood that the granting of such power does not necessarily imply that it will be used to require the marking of all goods. This would not be practicable, for example, in the case of bulk goods ; neither is it necessary. All that is intended is that, when there are good and sufficient reasons for requiring the marking of a particular article or class of articles, the power to require it to be done should exist.

Cases have arisen in which such action has been found desirable. It arose in the case of brushware, and eventually the act was amended to include brushware, but obviously it is impracticable and cumbersome to amend the act to meet every individual case as it arises.

Other instances have arisen where compulsory marking is considered necessary. For example, representations have been made requesting that imported blankets should be required to bear an indication of origin. But, as they are not specified in section 15, nothing could be done. A similar position has arisen in the case of furniture from the East. One interest-, ing case was that of cricket balls made in India, which were imported unmarked. After importation marking was applied which would mislead purchasers into believing that they were buying Australian or English cricket balls. That sort of thing can only be prevented by having power to insist upon such goods being marked " Made in India."

When the Commerce Trade Descriptions Act was passed in 1905, the idea of the compulsory marking of goods was new in this country, and certain fears were entertained as to its effects. These, however, have not been justified by experience, and it may now fairly be claimed that the benefits of the act have been appreciated by the public and by manufacturers both in the Commonwealth and overseas. In this connexion it may be stated here that some time ago the Australian Association of British Manufacturers requested that all imported goodsshould, wherever practicable, be stamped, with the name of the country of origin.. In the tariff of the United States of America there is a provision that no articles shall be imported unless they bear a statement of the country of origin, where such can be applied without damage to the article. Articles imported without the required marking are delivered only after the marking has been applied, and in addition an extra duty of 10 per cent, ad valorem is collected on the offending goods. In Great Britain the British Merchandise MarksAct 1926 gives power to prohibit the sale,. or offering for sale, in the United Kingdom of articles not bearing an indication of origin. The goods are specified by the appropriate department after appointment of a committee to examine the matter and consideration of its report.

The report of the Imperial Economic Committee held in January, 1928, contains a reference to the conditions necessary to make voluntary preference to Empire goods effective, and one of these conditions is that the consumer should be able to recognize Empire goods. It seems obvious that efforts to encourage the consumption of Empire goods must be based on action that will enable the user to recognize them, that is, by compulsory indication of the origin of the goods. In view of what I have said, it will, I think, be admitted that the present limitation of the power to require' marking results in anomalies, and prevents a proper application of the principles underlying the act, and also that it is out of date in comparison with the legislation of other countries on the subject of the marking of goods.

In regard to the second object of the bill, it may be explained that the act provides for two classes of marking (a) the compulsory application of a trade description, and (b) the prevention of the application of false trade descriptions. The terms " Trade Description " and " False Trade Description " are defined in the principal act. These are really separate and distinct objects requiring separate and distinct provisions, but in the present act the provisions relating to them are not distinct. Section 4 (1) defines when a trade description is deemed to be applied to goods. The terms of the section clearly indicate that it was designed to deal with the application of false trade descriptions. In such case it is necessary that the provision should be so drafted as to meet all the methods by which a false trade description may be used in relation to goods. But when it becomes a matter of denning the method by which a compulsory trade description, that is to say, a " true trade description," shall be applied the provision should be so drafted as to enable the trade description to be applied in a definite prescribed manner. Clause 3 of the bill deals with this point, and in it the definition is made clear as to when both a false trade description and a compulsory trade description shall be deemed to have been applied to goods. Clause 7 amends section 8 of the principal act. That section relates to goods which the act requires to bear a trade description.

It may be explained in regard to the compulsory application of a trade description that the trade description is required to bo applied directly to the article itself, where that is practicable, and, if that is not practicable, to the immediate container. At present section 8 ha3 effect where the goods are found without marking in the package or covering in which they were imported. For example: Boots must be marked and the marking must be applied directly to the boot. But when boots, without marking, are removed from the carton in which they were imported, the section is useless. The amendment proposed in clause 7 is intended to remove this defect. The effect of the amendment is that if a question arises as to the application of the section to particular goods, the first point for consideration will be: How do the regulations require the goods to be marked? If the marking must be applied directly to the article, and the article is found without the trade description so applied, it will come within the section. If the regulations require the marking to be applied to the immediate container, and the immediate container does not bear the required marking, the section will apply.

The new section which clause 8 of the bill proposes to insert in the act applies to goods found after importation to be bearing a false trade description. The principle is the same as is applied by section 8 to goods found after importation without a trade description which they are required by the act to bear. Both provisions give power to follow up goods which have been imported in con- travention of the act. It will be readily understood that it is impossible to inspect every article imported into the country, and it is, therefore, necessary to have the power to follow up goods in respect of which the provisions of the act may have been evaded.

The amendments proposed in respect of sections 3, 6, 11 (2) and (3), and 13 ave formal, and have been rendered necessary by the transfer of the administration of the exports sections of the act to the Department of Markets and Transport. The proposed amendment of section 5 merely extends the scope of inspection to cover inspections made at packingsheds, meat-works, and other places where goods are prepared for export. The proposed amendments of the act will generally the effect of adapting its provisions more exactly to the purpose which the act was designed to serve, and will bring it into line with modern legislation on the subject.

I do not anticipate that the bill will be regarded as contentious. A similar measure was introduced by the previous Government and passed through this chamber, but, owing to circumstances over which that Government had no control, it did not get beyond the firstreading stage. I trust that honorable senators will dispose of the measure as expeditiously as possible as the Government is anxious to bring it into operation at the earliest possible date.

Senator SirGEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [9.34.]. - As a member of the previous Government I had an opportunity to discuss many of the principles embodied in this bill, and am perhaps more conversant with its provisions than some other honorable senators. I am somewhat in doubt as to whether clause 8 was in the measure submitted by the previous Government. The clause reads -

After section nine of the principal act the following section is inserted: - "9a. All imported goods found in Australia which bear a false trade description shall, until the contrary is proved, be deemed to have been imported in contravention of this act.".

Senator Daly - It was not in the bill as introduced; but I understand the Government moved to insert it.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - It is a rather drastic proposal. The success of this measure depends very largely upon wise and sympathetic administration. If it were administered by an arbitrary minister without exercising great judgment untold loss and injury could be inflicted upon a number of honest traders. It could be used in a most oppressive way, and considerable judgment and a good deal of sympathy will have to be exercised in its administration. I am not sure whether clause 8 is not in excess of -the constitutional powers of this Parliament. I am under the impression that when goods have been released by the customs the Commonwealth has no further control. Is it contended that cricket balls, for instance, to which the Minister referred, when once released from bond and placed in a retailer's shop, can, if landed in contravention of the act, be seized and the person displaying them for sale be deemed to have imported them in contravention of the act?

Senator Daly - Only if they have been wrongfully passed through the customs.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - If they have been entered, the duty paid, and subsequently found to have been imported in contravention of the act will the retailer be responsible?

Senator Rae - Goods are sometimes imported under false invoices.

Senator Daly - The Commonwealth has power under the Constitution to intervene in such cases.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.This clause if severely administered, can be made very oppressive, because the person offering goods for sale may not be the importer. He might have purchased them through an- agent or a merchant.

Senator Daly - The responsibility will not then, be upon the retailer.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I should like the Minister to consider whether this clause is not beyond our constitutional power. With the greater portion of the bill I am quite familiar, and with the exception of the constitutionality of clause 8 I do not think any objection can be taken to its provisions.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 (Imported goods found in Australia with false trade description).

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