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Thursday, 14 December 1905

Mr ROBINSON - It seems to me that that is possible under this Bill. Are we going to refuse light to residents in the backblocks because a commercial trust for which we are not responsible has control of the kerosene supply ? It appears to me that if the matter be followed to its logical conclusion, the case which I have cited is one which the provisions of this Bill fit to a nicety. There are other examples, which show what an extraordinarily drawn measure this is. If an importer gives too large a remuneration to his travellers, that may constitute an inducement to the Minister to certify that the competition is unfair. Another provision of the Bill states that an importer cannot purchase a cheap lot of goods abroad, because competition shall be deemed to be unfair - if the imported goods have been purchased abroad at prices greatly below their ordinary cost of production where produced, or market price where purchased.

That means that it would be within the power of the Minister to prevent the importation of any line of goods which were sold off in any part of the world. Honorable members who have had the misfortune to invest a few pound's in mining, know that many a mine has been able to carry on successfully by purchasing machinery from a claim that has proved a. " duffer. " Yet any goods imported under similar circumstances would be liable to be " held up " at the whim of the Minister and his precious. Board. ' On the other hand, the way is paved so nicely for the local trusts that it is practically impossible for them to come under the operations of the Bill. It is admitted that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company will not be affected by it.

Mr Mcwilliams - Is there any provision in the Bill which will have the effect of preventing the formation of a local combine?

Mr ROBINSON - If honorable members will refer to the Sherman Act they will see that it contains a general provision that contracts in restraint of trade are void. That Statute also embodies a section, the safeguarded. The literature of America reveals the fact that the best way of dealing with trusts is for the Government to control the means of communication, and to make trade between the States as free as possible. This Bill contains no far-reaching proposal of that kind. On the contrary, it contains a provision which will confer on the Minister power to increase the Tariff without reference to Parliament. The only remedy for an abuse of that power that we possess is the power to turn him out of office. Many of the biggest trusts in Australia will not be. touched by this measure.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is to prevent a number of companies forming themselves into a single company instead of into a trust ?

Mr ROBINSON - It seems to me that there is no provision to prevent a number of companies combining to form a single company. For instance, there is nothing to prevent a number of leather companies from forming themselves into an Amalgamated Leather Company Limited, or to prevent the manufacturers from taking shares in the new concern.

Mr Isaacs - Has the honorable and learned member read the Northern Securities case in America - the Merger case?

Mr ROBINSON - I have read a good deal in reference to it, and I do not think the Attorney-General will be able to apply it to a company in which the persons interested take their payment in shares. In such circumstances, it is quite possible for individuals to sell out and leave no trace of their original deal. But under the Sherman legislation, I believe, they could be reached in another way.

Mr Hutchison - It would be very difficult to catch them.

Mr ROBINSON - I admit that it is very difficult to catch them. Nevertheless, the attempt should be made. I have never regarded the operations of trusts with unconcern. I have always believed that legislation should be enacted to control them. I go further, and I say that in Australia we enjoy many advantages which will tend to prevent the undue creation of trusts, if Parliament is only watchful. But under the provisions of this Bill, if we do not create trusts, we shall call into being all the evils attendant upon them, and that without benefiting the public. It is not my intention to delay honorable members by speaking at greater length. I crave the indulgence of the House for the somewhat disjointed nature of my remarks.

Mr.WATSON (Bland).- I am one of those who have thought for a considerable time that there is great necessity to deal with what is perhaps the most outstanding feature of modern industrialism. The concentration of capital, its accumulation, and its greater power to-day, as compared with a few years ago, have led to developments in industrial organization that have been recognised by every inquirer into social events throughout the world. It is increasingly evident that, whether by State or any other form of Socialism, or whether by restrictive legislation, society will be compelled, in the ordinary march of events, to take some steps to curb the increasing power which is being vested in the hands of the few by the vast accumulation of capital, and by the better organization of industrial forces. I am far from denying that some forms of trusts or combinations of capital act in a most beneficent way. There can be no doubt that better organization leads, in the first instance, to economy of production and distribution. Nor can there be any doubt that by forming a trust any set of producers, manufacturers, or others can produce more cheaply, and put their goods on the market more economically, than they can when they are competing with each other, and absorbing a great deal of energy and money in keeping their goods before the market, and maintaining useless stocks. That is a truism that is recognised to-day all the world over. Modern methods tend in that direction, and it is useless to expect that Australia, any more than the rest of the world, will escape from all the evils which, in the present condition of society, follow in the train of irresponsible power. I was glad to hear the honorable and learned member for Wannon say, towards the close of his speech, that he believed in the public ownership of public utilities. That is a doctrine that the Labour Party, and a number who do not belong to that body, have been trying, for many years to instil in the minds of the community. But I was under the impression, in view of the campaign upon which the honorable and learned member's leader has entered, that private enterprise was to be the feature of the future, so far as Australia was concerned.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That, surely, is. not inconsistent with his statement.

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