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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 894

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) -in reply- I should like to thank honourable senators for the tributes which they have paid to the legislation and to those who prepared it. Indeed one could say it is remarkable to see how well honourable senators have kept to the subject matter in hand and have not allowed themselves to be diverted to other and more interesting byways. The legislation is very important. Its history has been marked by one of the most successful filibusters to be conducted in the Australian Parliament. The legislation is substantially the same as it was on its first introduction last year. If the legislation had been passed then I think we would have been able to use the laws to combat the inflation which is affecting our economy. I am sure that consumers would have benefited from those provisions which would protect them from false, misleading and deceptive practices which are being carried on all over Australia.

If one were convinced by the contentions which are put up by the Opposition, one would think that there is no need for consumer legislation. But there has been nothing to stop the States from getting together and developing consumer protective legislation which could operate properly and on a uniform basis throughout Australia. If it is an argument that the national Parliament should not introduce consumer protection because the States can do it, why have the

States not done it? Why is it that organisations familiar with what is going on in the consumer protection area are supporting this legislation and asking for it? If all is well- as Opposition senators pretend- why is there this great concern throughout the nation? Senator Guilfoyle sits there contemplating the question which I put. What is the answer to it? The answer is that the States have not developed the legislation and are not going to develop the legislation. It is necessary to have national laws if the consumers are to be protected.

Senator Guilfoyle - How will you help if the traders are not corporations?

Senator MURPHY - We will help them to the full extent of the national power. Almost all of what is done in Australia is done either by corporations or in connection with corporations. The breadth of these laws goes into the other areas of national legislative power and deals with interstate trade and the various ways in which the legislative power of this Parliament can be used to enter into this field. It would be much better for the States, if they so want, to fit in with national legislation, to carry out consumer protection in their own areas where the national Parliament cannot reach or to refer the power to this Parliament so as completely to cover the field.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator MURPHY -I do not think it would be useful for me to go over all of the remarkable statements that have been made by Opposition senators and endeavour to analyse them or counter them. I think that this legislation has been so long before the Senate and before the country that enough consideration has been given to it and to the motivation of those who have sought to oppose it and those who have sought to delay it. I think I should say, however, that the Bill is very close to the form in which it was originally introduced. My officers and I have spoken to a great number of people throughout the community. We have received proposals from both individuals and organisations in industry and commerce. We have had a great deal of advice and a great many suggestions from consumer groups. There is almost universal support for the bill. In fact, I have been rather astonished at the strength of some of the support from various groups which one might have thought from listening to the Opposition were opposed to the Bill.

Senator Greenwood - Are you suggesting that they are speaking with 2 voices, one to you and one to us?

Senator MURPHY - No, I think they are speaking with one voice to which we are listening and to which the Opposition is not. I have taken note of the amendments which were proposed in the House of Representatives. There have been some discussions in relation to these amendments. We have modified some of the proposals which have come from the Opposition side or from other quarters, and I have done my best to meet any constructive suggestions which have been made. During this debate and during the consideration of the Bill in Committee I will continue with my endeavours to meet the proposals which are put forward. If a proposal is put forward which will be helpful in improving the Bill, certainly my attitude will be to accept it. It would be absurd not to accept it. We are not the embodiment of all wisdom; we have not a monopoly of it. Although I have spoken to a great number of people and received their suggestions, I am not dogmatic in my attitude to the particular provisions which are in the Bill. We want to have the best Bill that we can, and I will accept any proposal which improves it. If I am not convinced of the wisdom of certain proposals which are put forward but I can see that they will do no great harm, I will accept them if other honourable senators think that they will improve the Bill. I will resist attempts to destroy the Bill. Sometimes what might seem to be a fairly harmless kind of amendment could be destructive of the legislation, and such amendments will be resisted.

Honourable senators may have already had circulated to them some amendments which I propose to move. But it should not be assumed that because the Government is putting forward amendments at this stage there is therefore some great change in the Bill, because there is not. Although some of them may be fairly lengthy they deal with comparatively minor matters in the Bill. The Bill would be perfectly all right if it went ahead exactly as it is. But it is with this spirit of trying to meet, even at the last minute, objections which might be made and bending towards them that we put forward certain proposals. They do not touch the substance of the Bill. Although, as I have said, some of them are quite lengthy they deal with changes to the Bill which are relatively trifling.

It is important for us to judge this kind of legislation in the context of our democratic system of government. Here is legislation which is substantially the same as was put forward 12 months ago. It ought to have been passed; it was in the interests of the people. Yet for party political interests honourable senators opposite considered that they should prevent the Bill from coming into operation. I think our country has suffered from that. I think that what has been done in this chamber, as I have said several times before, is not merely undermining the Government and its attempts to administer the country properly; it is undermining the system of government. The kind of filibustering, the endeavours to prevent sensible legislation being enacted, are not helping Australia. The Opposition may say: Here you are 12 months after the Bill was first introduced and there are some changes in it.' Of course there are changes. The changes could have been made if the Bill had been passed and we had had the experience of it. I repeat that the changes are relatively trifling when one looks at the substance of the Bill. I hope that the Senate can rise above the party political warfare that has been conducted here and not do what was done yesterday but pass the Bill, which is manifestly in the interests of the people.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2.

(   1 ) Sections1 and 2 shall come into operation on the day on which this Act receives the Royal Assent.

(2)   Section 55 shall come into operation on a date to be fixed by Proclamation, being a date not earlier than the date on which the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property as revised at Stockholm on 14 July 1967 enters into force for Australia.

(3)   The remaining provisions of this Act, other than subsections 45 ( 1 ) and (2) and 47 ( 1 ) and (2), shall come into operation on a date to be fixed by Proclamation.

(4)   Sub-sections 45 ( 1 ) and (2) and 47 ( 1 ) and (2) shall come into operation at the expiration of four months after the date fixed under sub-section (3).

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