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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 410

Mr JACOBI (HAWKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General: Is it a fact that the Australian Government in areas under its direct control - that is the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory - is taking direct action to combat the world wide problem of inflation? Is it also a fact that the Government is prevented from taking similar action to protect the rest of the Australian population from soaring prices because the structure of our outmoded Constitution leaves power over prices with the 6 States instead of with the nation's Government where it belongs? Will the Minister inform the House of the steps that the Government will take to rectify this and other distortions at the constitutional convention to be held in Sydney next week?

Mr ENDERBY (Minister for the Northern Territory) - In the Territories, one of the few places where the Australian Government does have power on these subjects, a certain amount has been done in recent months. There would not be time to give a full list. For example, in the Northern Territory that popular commodity - beer - is now selling in a place like Katherine at 3c below the price at which it was being sold there, say, a month ago. Other examples could be given. In the case of the Australian Capital Territory we held the price of bread down here for much longer than it otherwise would have been held down. We have depressed the rents on residential leases. Beer at present is selling for less in the Australian Capital Territory than in New South Wales. Petrol at this time is5c a gallon cheaper in Canberra than it is in Queanbeyan. It is clear that certain things are being done and we hope to do others in the future. A measure is not too far off, I hope, that could be fairly objectively called a charter for shopkeepers in the Australian Capital Territory - I hope that it will also 'be implemented in the Northern Territory - to stop or at least reduce-

Mr Holten - What about lawyers?

Mr ENDERBY - I will come to lawyers in a moment. It is hoped that the measure will stop or reduce the exploitation of shopkeepers that takes place from time to time. I am reminded by one of the honourable gentlemen sitting opposite of lawyers' fees. Following discussion with representatives of the Law Society of the Australian Capital Territory a month or so ago of the Government's proposals in the area of conveyancing law reform, lawyers in the Australian Capital Territory voluntarily substantially reduced their conveyancing fees. I come now to what the honourable member for Hawker had in mind. It is a great pity that some of the States cannot do some of these things. I am reminded of a meeting attended by the Prime Minister and some of the Premiers - the Treasurer was there and I was fortunate enough to be present in the role I play as Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister for the Northern Territory - at which the States were informed of the sorts of measures they can implement. Very little has been done in this area. One would hope that at the Constitutional Convention in Sydney there will be little grandstanding and little showmanship but a lot of objective appraisement and a realisation of the problems facing Australia in this day and age. For economic management the ultimate source of power and responsibility rests with the Australian Government, where it should lie. but that power is denied to it. On the other point I am reminded by the right honourable member for Higgins-

Mr Gorton - I did not say anything.

Mr ENDERBY - No, but seeing the right honourable member sitting there reminded me of the absurd state of the laws of defamation in Australia where an action can be brought claiming damages in respect of a newspaper article published in the Australian Capital Territory or a program broadcast or televised in the Australian Capital Territory which is read or seen by people in Queanbeyan and Goulburn and which can be read and seen by people in Victoria and perhaps Queensland and South Australia and where the plaintiffs chances of success vary because each of those places has a different set of laws on the subject. How very absurd that is. I have described some of the steps which have been taken by the Australian Government in its Territories. I hope that many more will be taken. One would hope that the States will take measures of a similar kind. One would also hope, particularly when we get to the committee stage of the Constitutional Convention, that substantial reforms and recommendations will be made and implemented.

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