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Thursday, 12 October 1972
Page: 1516

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - Mr Deputy President, the duty of the Government is to introduce laws which will protect the public, especially in an area in which, on the Government's own admission and by general agreement, it is necessary that there be laws for the protection of the public. We have had some 10 years of neglect and delay by the Government in introducing effective laws against restrictive trade practices. We have reached almost the end of this Parliament and the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood) has just introduced a Bill on a basis which is a contemptible basis for any government - that is, it has introduced a Bill which it has no intention of trying to pass through this Parliament. What is the purpose of introducing the legislation when there is no intent at all to pass the measure through the Parliament? The AttorneyGeneral said:

The Government believes that the Bill should not be passed through the Parliament without there being an adequate period for those affected by its provisions to give consideration to what is proposed and, if it is so desired, to make appropriate representations to the Government and to members of the Parliament. Accordingly the Government does not propose that the Bill be passed in the current sittings of Parliament.

These are the last sittings of this Parliament. So it is not proposed that the Bill should be passed at all by this Parliament. On 24th May this year the AttorneyGeneral made a statement to the Senate in which he said that there had been a thorough and comprehensive review of the existing legislation and that it was proposed to make some changes of great importance and a number of modifications to provisions of the existing legislation which would improve its effectiveness. Then he said:

The net effect of all the changes will be both to strengthen the legislation and to widen its scope.

He said that he was making the statement relating to the proposals to the Parliament so that there would be an appropriate opportunity for the proposals to be studied and fully debated. Then he said:

The proposals outlined . . . are an earnest of the Government's intentions to attack the basic causes of inflation wherever they may be found. Restrictive practices and monopolisation contribute importantly to inflation. There is no question about that

He went on to say how the monopolies were contributors to inflation, how there was a lack of efficiency in the operation of business practices and how important it was that this legislation be strengthened and widened. I will say, in fairness to the Attorney-General, that he recognised that the state of affairs was undesirable, that these restrictive practices were injuring the community and that we needed effective laws to cope with them. After the AttorneyGeneral had made his statement I spoke and referred to the pressure that had been applied by powerful interests to prevent the laws being made, and I said that there was no intention on the part of the Government really to introduce effective laws.

What do we see now? At the end of the Parliament the Attorney-General comes into this chamber and says: 'Here is the legislation which I bring in as a result of the comprehensive and intensive review which was made before I made the statement in May. This had been done by the Government. It has been lying there for the whole world to see. We will introduce the Bill but we will not proceed with it.' What does that mean but that which was prophesied - that the Government had no intention whatever of making the changes which would prevent the operation of restrictive practices and which would cope with monopolisation in the community. We know that everyone in the community, except those engaging in restrictive practices and monopolisation, has been injured by them. We know that local government authorities are subject to the operation of restrictive practices so that ratepayers have to pay higher rates than they would otherwise have to pay. We know that the Federal Government and the State governments are suffering from the monopoly power operating in the community so that the taxation which is imposed on our citizens is higher than it otherwise should be. We know that consumers are left with no real protection against the restrictive practices which are being operated.

This is common ground. The Government agrees with this. Attorneys-General from Sir Garfield Barwick on have said that these are the facts; this is the position. There is no doubt about that. No. honourable senator disputes that restrictive practices are operating which are injurious to the citizens and to the nation. Yet the Government, because some kind of pressure is being exerted, is unwilling to introduce laws or to attempt to put its concept of what needs to be done. There is no doubt that these changes which, in the Government's view, are necessary are important changes. The Attorney-General has said so. He has said how the present legislation is not working. He has stated his view - whether I agree with it is immaterial - and he has told us what is wrong with the laws and what needs to be done to clean them up. Why then is the Government refusing to proceed to clean up the defects in the legislation? Why then is the Government refusing to do what it says is necessary to make these laws effective? This has reached the stage of a public scandal in that those who are able to exert pressure upon the Government are so powerful that they can force the Government to refuse to proceed to do what it has said is in the public interest. The AttorneyGeneral made clear his position when, at the end of his speech, he said what has to be done. I noted very carefully how he phrased that part of his speech. He implied that the attitude was not his attitude. He said:

The Government regards it as important that there should be an adequate opportunity for the detailed provisions of this Bill to be properly studied and assessed.

Knowing the Attorney-General, I think the message is clear - the Attorney-General considers that these changes should be made. The Bill is there. The Government, because outside pressure is being exerted, has determined that the necessary changes will not be made. For 10 years Australia has suffered from the delay, neglect, default and refusal of the Government to introduce the necessary measures to cope with the injury to the nation caused by restrictive practices and monopolisation. I ask for leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 12 noon to 8 p.m.

General Business Taking Precedence of Government Business

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