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Thursday, 1 June 1972
Page: 2481

Senator KEEFFE asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:

1.   Are certain manufacturers who are transfering to metric measures using this as an excuse to reduce quantities and increase prices?

2.   Does the Government approve of such methods of adding to the cost of living; if not, what action does the Government intend to take to eliminate such practices at a time of high inflation and severe economic depression?

Senator WRIGHT The Minister for Education and Science has provided an answer to the question. As it covers 2 pages, I ask for leave, Mr President, to incorporate the answer in Hansard.

The PRESIDENT- Order! Is leave granted?

Opposition senators - No!

The PRESIDENT- There being an objection, leave is not granted.

Senator WRIGHT The Minister for Education and Science has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

1.   The attention of the Government has been drawn to the activities of Sunburst Foods Pty Ltd in changing the container for their orange juice from i gallon to 2 litres without a proportionate price reduction. This action may have been justified, since the company states that it has maintained its price at 99c for½ gallon since 1968 in spite of several increases in material costs. It should also be stated that the new container is clearly marked 2 litres (3.5 pints). However, it is unfortunate that the company appeared to use the conversion of its pack to a metric size to conceal an effective price increase.

2.   The Government foresaw that this type of practice might occur. In his second reading speech on the Metric Conversion Bill, Mr Bowen stated, inter alia -

It (the Metric Conversion Board) will be required to advise on the need for legislation to give effect to conversion, to report attempts to take unfair advantage of the public in the course of conversion and to perform various other functions appropriate to conversion.'

3.   The Metric Conversion Board has established close liaison with trade associations and will draw their attention to such practices. In general such associations are sensitive to reactions of this nature and are anxious to avoid criticism. The Board has already issued a circular letter to over one hundred relevant associations advising them of the Board's responsibility and seeking their co-operation to ensure that conversion is not made the occasion for unjustified price increases or other unfair practices. The Commonwealth itself has no power to intervene in this matter other than in the ACT and the NT.

4.   The Conversion Board has designed a cost comparator which was described in the December issue of the Metric Conversion Board Newsletter, copies of which are available in the Parliamentary Library. It is not intended that the Board itself issue the comparator, but rather that commercial sponsors should produce it and distribute it free of charge. The Board intends also to issue price comparison charts for display in shops and to publish an article in one of its future newsletters on the matter.

5.   The Conversion Board will watch for such practices and refer them to the appropriate authority in the State concerned. This authority, in a particular State, may be the Price Control Authority, the Consumer's Protection Association or the Department of Weights and Measures.

6.   The ultimate safeguard against attempts to increase prices is a perceptive and discriminating public. For this reason the Conversion Board has explored several avenues as described above to educate and advise the public. It is significant that the case described above was criticised in the press last December.

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