2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General if he can make any explanation in reply to the statement that excessive hours are worked bv employes in the Adelaide post-office?
– The honorable member was courteous enough to give me notice of his intention to ask this question, and I accordingly telegraphed to Adelaide for the information. I have received the following reply by telegram : -
Re operators inAdelaide, the statementis incorrect. No operators inAdelaide work more than six and a half hours a day. If the statement refers to the. assistants in the General Post Office, Adelaide, it is incorrect also. They averagerather under seven hours a day. Postmasters’ assistants and messengers at country offices are on duty from nine to nine and a half hours a day, and in some cases men have to rise before 5 a.m., and. their work does not finish until 10 or 11 p.m.
Acting Deputy Postmaster-General.
The officers referred to are country assistants, who receive mails early in the morning, and perhaps again late in the evening. That, of course, cannot be avoided.
Mr. EWING laid upon the table the following paper: -
Pursuant to the Defence Acts 1903 and 1904, Amendment of the regulations for the Military Forces - Part VIII., Militia Forces, paragraphs 37 and 46, Statutory Rules 1905, No. 50.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Wilmot that he desires to move the adjournment of the. House, to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “The injurious effects that the Act called the Sea Carriage of Goods Act is exercising on Australian trade in perishable products with the East.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I wish to commence my remarks by saying that, in my opinion, legislation is occasionally passed by this House in regard to which it would be better if we had the advantage of the information of commercial men, which would enable us to determine its probable results. Last session a Bill called the Sea Carriage of Goods Bill was before this House and another place,and, as a layman, I candidly confess that it seemedto me that its provisions were framed in the best interests of the producers of Australia. Men who were sending produce from this country oversea, had on numerous occasions discovered that it was seriously damaged when it arrived at its destination ; but in consequence of a clause inserted in the bills of lading by the shipping companies, no redress could be obtained from them. The shippers of perishable produce, such as apples and other fruit, have in this manner, at various times, sustained serious loss. It therefore seemed to me that a measure preventing ship-owners from contracting themselves out of their liability for the results of their carelessness would be beneficial to producers, and I didnot objectto the Bill. I have since discovered, however, that the Act is operating most injuriously upon the interests of Australian producers who desire to export to the East. I have been told that, so far as the carriage of perishable produce to England is concerned the effect of the Act has been to lower freights, though, in my opinion, the lowering of freights has been due really to an increase of competition. But the climatic conditions under which produce is conveyed from Australia to England are totally different from those under which produce is conveyed from Australia to the East. Perishable produce exported to England is invariably carried in cool chambers, and kept at a certain temperature throughout the voyage. But when produce is sent to the East by the vessels of the two principal English companies engaging in over-sea trade with the Commonwealth, it has to be transhipped at Colombo, where the heat is very great, and the effect of the transhipment on perishable produce is extremely detrimental. Therefore, since the coming into force of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies have refused to carry perishable produce from Australia to the East, though they continue, as before, to carry such produce to England.
– It is a pity that their right to refuse to accept such produce is not tested in the courts.
– That would mean the expenditure of a large sum of money, and thelawyers would take the oyster, while the clients would have to be contented with the shells. At any rate, the matter has not been tested, and the companies I have named refuse to take perishable produce to the East. This refusal applies particularly to apples, potatoes, and similar goods.
– Another argument for the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers.
– I am not arguing that point. Australia produces perishable goods in quantities far larger than those which she consumes, and it is, therefore, necessary that she should have markets abroad towhich to send the surplus. I need hardly point out how disastrous it will be to our producers if they are compelled, owing to the refusal of the shipping companies to carry their goods elsewhere, to confine their exports to the markets of the old world. We have repeatedly, year after year, seen that the effect of sending to those markets more than is required there is that prices go down immediately. We know, however, that there are teeming populations in the East, and I have the best authority for saying that if our produce can be delivered to them in fair condition, our people can do a very large trade with them. But apples and potatoes deteriorate very rapidly, and even flour and preserved or canned fruits - even though put up in hermetically sealed tins - will be totally destroyed in less than two months when the weather is very hot; so that it is a severe handicap on the shipping companies to ask them to guarantee the delivery of such goods in sound condition. One of the largest firms trading with the East, Messrs. Thomson, Thomson, and Co., who have offices in Melbourne, Colombo, Singapore, and elsewhere, were, before the Act came into operation, in the habit of exporting something, like 6,000 cases of apples to India and the Far East every year; but during the eight months in which the Act has been in operation, they have shipped away only 600 cases.
– Were those cases shipped away as ordinary cargo?
– I am not prepared to say, but I should think that such produce has in the past been carried in cool chambers, at any rate so far as Colombo. As I have said, the Peninsular and Orientaland Orient Companies now refuse to carry it at all, and it is only lately that the French and German vessels have accepted it, and then only in limited quantities, when they can get nothing else, and at higher rates. That is shown by the fact that in eight months they have carried only 600 cases, and the season is now practically over. These facts should convince honorable members that the Act is operating injuriously in regard to the interests of our producers. Further, I desire to point out that flour comes within the same category as apples and other perishables of that description. The result has been that instead of a steamer running direct to the East every two months, as was the case before the Act came into operation, only one steamer in every four months proceeds there. This should afford convincing proof that the operation of the Act has been disastrous.
– The Act does not deal with flour.
– All I can say is that flour, like almost everything, else of an edible character, is a perishable, and the fact that it is liable to contamination if stowed with other cargo, causes the steamship companies to object to carry it. Moreover, in two months flour will become full of weevil, and similar deterioration will, within three months, overtake oatmeal in hermetically sealed tins.
– The ship-owners would not be responsible for such deterioration.
– They think they would.
– There are special exemptions in such cases.
– There is nothing in the Act dealing with that matter.
– If the goods are naturally perishable the ship-owners are exempt from responsibility at common law.
– This is a great Act for the lawyers.
– It ought to be, but it is not.
– Whatever the lawcommon or otherwise - may be, the fact remains that the shipping companies will not carry products of a perishable character if they can obtain other cargo. They will carry flour only when they can obtain a sufficient quantity to fill one compartment of the hold. My statements upon this point can be easily verified. With regard to potatoes, my attention was called to the effect of the provisions of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act by one of the largest exporters of potatoes, who informed me that a firm in Colombo had written to them, asking them to ship a small quantity of potatoes, with a view to ascertaining if trade could be opened up. In consequence, however, of the refusal of the steamship companies to carry such cargo, they were unable to comply with the request.
– Did the shipping companies refuse to carry potatoes owing to the operationof the Sea Carriage of Goods Act?
– I am informed that the shipping companies have distinctly refused to carry perishables owing to the provisions of the Act.
– The honorable member ought to clearly satisfy himself on that point.
– I propose to ask Ministers to make inquiries for themselves. This is not a hostile motion, or anything of that kind. I am merely taking action in what I conceive to be the best interests of the people of Australia, and with a desire to insure as many new markets as possible for our producers. I also wish to guard against the closing of the markets we already have, by bad legislation, on the part of this House.
– Does the honorable member know that the Sea Carriage of Goods Act was the only measure initiated by the Reid Government?
– I did not know that. If that be the fact, it may account for the interjections of the honorable member for North Sydney.
– This is an attack on me.
– I feel sure that if it be a fact that this was the only measure introduced by the Reid Government, the members of that Administration will be magnanimous enough to join me in asking Ministers to bring down an amending measure to remove its objectionable features.
– The honorable member kept the Reid Government in office, and enabled them to bring forward the measure.
– The honorable member for Yarra also supported the Bill.
– I have not the slightest desire to interfere with the provisions of the Act so far as they apply to the export trade to Great Britain and Europe, but my sole object is to prevent the closing of the Eastern markets to our producers. If that result be brought about, we shall penalize them. I have already pointed out that the trade with the East in Australian produce has considerably decreased.
-Does that apply to Japan?
– I have merely cited the case of one firm, which, during the three vears preceding the commencement of the Act. despatched 6,000 cases of apples per annum to the East, whereas since the Act hasbeen in operation they have been able to forward only 600 cases.
– Have their shipments been refused ?
– Cannot they send them awav by the China boats?
– They cannot get them away by any boats, owing to the operation of the Act.
– No complaint was heard from Queensland on that score.
– The German and French boats are the only ones that will carry perishable cargo to the East on any terms whatever.
– Have the China Navigation Company and the E. and A. Company been approached?
– Messrs. Thompson and Thompson have communicated with all the companies, and only the two mentioned have been ready to do business. I might also mention the fact that at the commencement of the fruit season Messrs. Thompson and Thompson made arrangements with Mr. Casey, their agent at Hobart, to ship 600 cases of apples monthly to Colombo. They had agreed to sell the apples to an importer in Colombo, but in consequence of the refusal of the Orient and Peninsular and Oriental companies to carry fruit to the East they were unable to fulfil their contract. All I ask is that the Government shall amend the provisions of the Act so far as they operate with regard to the export of produce to the East. I understand that if the penalty of £100 were abandoned, the shipping companies would still be prepared tocarry perishables to the East. If the exporters like Messrs. Thompson, Thompson, and Co. and others, including the Tasmanian firms, are willing that the provisions of the Act should be modified so far as the Eastern trade is concerned, we mayreasonably ask Ministers to bring down an amending measure. The shippers are quite prepared to take the risk. As Ministers know, with the exception of perhaps two honorable members, there ate no commercial men in this House from whom we can obtain advice in matters of this kind. We are really groping in the dark. I did so when I supported the Act. I thought that it would be a good thing for our producers, but I now see that I made a mistake, and I trust that Ministers will come to the same conclusion. It may possibly be said that in consequence of the operation of the Act the rate of freight on apples exported to the old country has been reduced. I have the best authority, however, for saying that that result has been brought about merely by increased competition.
– The operation of the Act has not prevented a reduction of freight.
– No. So far as I can learn, there is no complaint with regard to the exportation of perishables to the old country, because the Act has had the effect of reducing the risk to a minimum. I trust that Ministers will give this matter their earnest consideration.
– I quite recognise the right of any honorable member, and especially of one who thinks that the producers he represents have been prejudicially affected by any Act, to call the attention of Ministers and Parliament to such an important matter. But as the remarks of the honorable member, and the conclusions he has drawn from the statements placed in his hands, would, if correct, reflect on the Ministry which introduced the Act, and on myself, as one of the commercial men in the House, to whom the honorable gentleman has alluded, I should like to say just a few words with a view to showing that the honorable member,’ or those who have given him information, are entirely under a misapprehension. I favoured the introduction of the Act, because I recognised as a business man that the way in which the shipping rings and shipping companies in combines were taking advantage of their opportunities to contract themselves out of every common law liability was utterly shameful.
– Like the Government railways.
– I do not say that the Government railways are any better in that respect - thev go too far in that direction. I found that the bills of lading were year after year becoming less valuable to shippers and consignees, and that it was high time that somebody stepped in and declared that the opportunities afforded by the practical monopoly of sea-carriage should’ not be taken advantage of to the public detriment. The practices of the shipping companies were operating to the disadvantage of the general community. When the Bill was before the House, it was argued by ship-owners that if they were called upon to incur any additional liability they must raise the freights, and that the consignees would practically have to pav for the immunity from unfair risk sought to be secured to them by the Act. The shipping companies represented that if, at the end of a voyage, they were called upon to pay claims to the amount of ;£ 1,000 on the voyage of a vessel in addition to the liabilities which they were formerly required to meet, the freights must be increased to a corresponding amount to cover the additional claims. That, however, was an altogether false argument. The fact was that the very evasion of liability by the shipping companies was becoming a national evil. Great and unnecessary losses were occurring every year, because those under whose control the goods were placed were not responsible for their safety. That was. a most improper state of affairs. The ^1,000 loss referred to did not need to occur if proper supervision was exercised. At any rate, only a small proportion of the losses which shippers had to endure occurred when the ship-owners were made to bear their proper share of responsibility for the safety of the cargo. The Act operates in the direction of not only doing justice between the two parties, but of reducing a great and increasing national loss. I think the honorable member for Wilmot’ can assure those who have given him the information which he has placed before the House that they have entirely misread the Act if they have arrived at the conclusion he has indicated. The Act merely pre- . vents ship-owners from contracting themselves out of their liability for neglect or negligence.
– There is no guarantee that the goods will reach their destination in a sound condition.
– None whatever. The position is quite the reverse, for an exemption is provided in the Act. It is simply set forth that shipowners shall not contract themselves out of their liability -
For loss or damage to goods arising from the harmful or improper condition of the ship’s hold, or any other part of the ship in which goods are carried, or arising from negligence, fault, or failure in the proper loading, stowage, custody, care, or delivery of goods received by them or any of them to be carried in or by the ship.
In other words, the Act provides that they shall not contract themselves out of their liability for their own neglect or negligence. Surely that is a proper provision. It is further provided that they shall not contract themselves out of their liability -
To exercise due diligence, and to properly man, equip, and supply the sHip to make and keep the ship seaworthy, and to make and keep the ship’s hold refrigerating and cool chambers and all other parts of the ship in which goods are carried fit and safe for their reception) carriage, and preservation.
Then, again, they cannot contract themselves out of their liability to “care for, preserve, and properly deliver them.” Any clause by which they so contract themselves out of their liability is declared by the Act to be “ illegal, null, and void, and of no effect.”
– On whom is the onus of proof ?
– On the consignee; he has to prove that there has been negligence. So far as perishable products are concerned, it is definitely and clearly stated in the Act that there is to be an implied clause in every bill of lading that the agent or charterer shall not be responsible for damage to or loss of goods resulting from a number of causes, which I need not enumerate.
– Read the provision in paragraph d of section 8.
– Under that provision, in every bill of lading a clause is implied whereby, if the ship is at the beginning of the voyage seaworthy in all respects, and properly equipped, her owner or charterer cannot be held responsible for damage to or loss of the goods resulting from “the inherent defect quality or vice of the goods.” The owner or agent, for example, would not be liable if goods became weevily or musty.
– The onus of proving that would rest on the shipping company.
– Not at all. This is not a new provision. The honorable member is considerably younger than I am - a fact to which I refer only for the reason that I remember when there was an honest bill of lading as between shipowners and shippers. At that time all these liabilities for neglect or negligence fell upon the ship-owner, and there is no more difficulty now in deciding responsibility for neglect than there was then. It had to be shown in such cases that the goods were shipped in good order and condition, and any alleged defect in, or neglect by, the ship had to be proved before a claim could be enforced. The provisions to which I have referred make it perfectly clear that owners of ships carrying perishable goods to the East, whether in refrigerating chambers or not, can be protected by the insertion of a clause in the bill of lading exempting them from anything from which ship-owners are exempted under this Act, and that even if no such clause were inserted, its existence would be implied. The best proof that the complaint made to the honorable member for Wilmot is not justified is furnished by his statement that the firm in question had sold 600 cases of apples per month to Ceylon, but could not mow obtain shipment owing to this Act. As a matter of fact, perishable goods of this description are being carried under this Act viâ Ceylon, and to ports beyond, by the very steam-ship companies that refused the shipments to which the honorable member referred. They have carried like cargoes which have to pass through the tropics on the way to Ceylon-
– And through the Red Sea bevond Ceylon.
– That is so. These very steam-ship companies often despatch ships, under the same conditions in the Act and by the same route, with full holds.
– But not with cargoes in cool chambers which they open at Colombo. That is the point. They would have to open the cool chambers at Ceylon in order to deliver a shipment there.
– That shows that the complaint is not due to anything in the Act itself. The trouble may have arisen because it does not pay the shipping companies to open the cool chambers on reaching Ceylon.
– If there were no such Act in force, would not other shipping companies take these goods ?
– Why do the shipping companies refuse to open the cool chambers on their vessels reaching Ceylon ? Does not the fact - if it is a fact - that they have refused to open them, show that the provision in the Act to which referencehas been made is rather good than otherwise? Does it not show that they do not open up the cool chambers on their vessels reaching Ceylon, because they fear; that by so doing they might destroy fruit or other perishable products for ports beyond?
– But are we to neglect the East for the sake of the London market?
– The East is not neglected.
– I spoke, not on behalf of the ship-owners, but for the shippers.
– The Act does not prevent the delivery of perishable products at Colombo. The very shipping companies which are refusing the shipments to which the honorable member has referred, are carrying the same class of goods through the same tropical conditions to ports beyond Colombo.
– They will only conform with the Act where the volume of trade pays them to do so.
– I have not the slightest doubt that, even in the absence of such a measure as the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, these shipping companies would refuse to take shipments of fruit for Colombo if there were sufficient through cargo forthcoming,.
– Under this Act we cannot open new markets.
– The honorable member’s perception is generally so keen that I am surprised to hear him make such a statement. Perishable products are being shipped every day to the East under the provisions of this measure, and they have to pass through the tropics.
– But they are not being sent to a new market.
– Surely the honorable member does not regard the Ceylon market as a new one?
– But the honorable member for Wilmot spoke of a new market in the East.
– The Ceylon market has been open for a generation, as long as freights have been available, and goods could be safely carried.
– Perishable products have been conveyed by French and German steamers.
– Those vessels have only taken 600 cases.
– Is it not perfectly clear that, as these vessels carry fruit from Hobart to London - and have to pass through the same conditions of climate as are encountered by a vessel carrying fruit to Ceylon - without any objection by their owners to the provisions of this measure, the refusal to receive shipments of fruit for Ceylon arises from causes’ outside of the Act itself ? I do not wish to detain the House, but’ have been led to make these observations, because of statements similar to that made by the honorable member for Wilmot, which’ have been scattered broadcast. This is the .first opportunity I have had to contradict .them.. , I repeat that the Sea Carriage of Goods Act simply brings back ship-owners to their liability under the common law, and that it is right that they should be brought back to that liability. They never had any right to be free from it. It is in the interests not only of the consignees, but of the ship-owners themselves, as well as of the general public - on whom must fall any unnecessary loss - that they should not be allowed to contract themselves out of this liability.
– I think that the taunt of the honorable member for Wilmot”, that the business men in the House had been asleep, has been thoroughly dissipated by the honorable member for North Sydney, who has answered, the whole’ case put” forward by the mover of this motion. It seems to me that the honorable member for Wilmot has been making use of this House just as one might avail himself of the “ Notes and Queries “ column in a newspaper, and that he could have obtained all the information he desired in a far simpler way. As a commercial man., I say that this Bill was required by business men more than by any other class, and that in a matter of this kind no commercial man could have an interest at all inimical to that of the producing classes.
– Is the honorable member a shipper to the East ?
– I am; and I may say that I find’ no difficulty in securing freight to the East for perishable commodities. The honorable member for Wilmot referred, among other things, to canned peaches, which, he said, were sent to the East, and could not be kept in sound - condition for more than a month Or two. That statement shows that he has not a grasp of the question. I undertake to say that if I went to the East to-morrow i’ should find some of my own canned peaches - that had probably been there for twelve monthsin a thoroughly sound condition. Goods that are placed in hermetically sealed cans cannot go bad when passing through the tropics or anywhere’ else. This shows that the honorable member ‘ has been somewhat misinformed in regard to the case in question. I think it is well known that the space in the vessels of the Orient Company and the Peninsular and Oriental Company set apart, for shipments of apples is” whol.lv taken up long before that produce is ready for export. . My own firm has a large contract running with a shipping company for a term of three years in respect of a large share of the space so set apart, and I know that the available space in many of these steamers is fully taken up under contract. Under these contracts,, the space has to be paid for whether used or not, and the result is that an outside shipper probably finds on applying for space in the refrigerating chambers that there is none available. As the honorable member for North Sydney has said, there is no reason why these steamers which carry perishable produce beyond Colombo, through the Red Sea, and on to the English market, should refuse the same, class of freight for transhipment at Colombo, en route to the East, when there is any space available. It is almost incomprehensible that they should do anything of the kind, for the freight on apples for the East would be relatively very much higher than that on apples for London or Liverpool. Shippers of perishable products are not confined to the mail steamers. They can get their goods sent to Colombo, Singapore, or other ports in the East, by the China Company and by other steamers which leave Melbourne and Sydney almost every week.
– Is the honorable member sure that perishable goods are carried by the vessels of the Eastern and Australian and China shipping companies?
– I cannot say authoritatively that they are. My firm has not been doing a very large trade in perishable products with the East.
– What about flour?
– It hardly comes within the operation of this Act. The Sea Carriage of Goods Act very ‘properly brings back the combination of ship-owners to the common law liabilities which they have been evading for many years. During that time they have not only been robbing and fleecing the public, but have placed the shippers in Australia in a bad position commercially. If freights were to be increased it was far better that they should be raised under a system by which shippers would be able to obtain a guarantee from the only person who is able to give one, that the perishable produce would be cared for on the voyage. The only persons who can see to the proper care of perishable produce on board ship are the ship-owners or their agents. It is easy to understand that whilst they had no responsibility in the matter they took very little care to see that the .goods were properly treated; but having made them responsible in the terms of the Act, we know that they will do their utmost to see that perishable produce from Australia arrives at its destination in the best possible order. There is nothing in the Act which enforces ship-owners to accept bad fruit here, and deliver it as good fruit at its destination. Speaking as a commercial man very largely interested in the fruit trade, I say that all that was desired was that the ship-owners should be brought back to their common law rights. There was no way in which we could do this- other than that provided by this Act. This provision was adopted elsewhere in the Harter Act, as honorable members are aware, and had been found to operate very successfully. I can see no reason why we should seek to upset this Act, which has been pronounced by many people who have had experience of its working to be quite satisfactory. So far from the Act having the effect predicted when it was being discussed by the honorable and learned member for Parkes, and other honorable members, of putting up freights on butter, apples, and other such perishable products, as a matter of fact, freights have absolutely come down. The honorable member for Wilmot has said that that is not the effect of the Act, and I am quite willing to admit it; but surely the converse also holds good, and it is proved that the Act has not had the effect of raising freights. The competition amongst the great carrying companies is such that we can depend upon freights being brought down to a proper level. Without some such legislation as is contained in the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, while that competition amongst carrying companies would still exist, there would not be the competition which there is at the present moment amongst those companies, in the carriage of fruit, butter, and other perishable products successfully and safely. If we wish to stimulate the production of our natural wealth, and secure good returns to our producers, that is the kind of competition we should encourage. I can assure honorable members that that competition now exists under the- Sea Carriage of Goods Act, and that the leading companies engaged in this traffic are vieing with each other as to who shall most successfully carry these products. It was only natural to expect that when this legislation was proposed, the great shipping companies that for a number of years enjoyed immunity from ordinary common law obligations should exercise considerable influence to prevent this Parliament passing such a law. I am thankful that honorable members saw fit to take a broader view. The measure was passed in the interests of our producers, and was based on justice; and, so far as I am aware, it has been successful in its operation. I can give honorable members personal experience in connexion with the matter. The year before the Act was passed, the firm to which I belong lost a very large sum of money on the shipment of fruit, not altogether because of the way in which it was carried, but largely because of the slovenly way in which it was handled, and the lack of attention in its carriage. Last year, under the operation of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, we had a successful year, and that advantage has been accompanied by the additional advantage of new contracts securing a reduction of freight on this particular kind of produce.
– The honorable member who moved this motion had one object in particular in asking honorable members to consider the question. He desired honorable members to be aware of the difficulties which shippers are experiencing in connexion with the carriage of these perishable products for transhipment at Colombo for the East. In substance, what thehonorable member has asked is that in order that the markets for this produce in the East might be extended, these particular ship-owners should be allowed to contract themselves out of the provisions of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act. I dissent entirely from what the honorable member has said. In my opinion the Act is an admirable instrument for the protection of the interests of shippers. I am sure that the mercantile community generally have no wish that the Government should do anything which would interfere with the principle underlying the measure. Of course, it must be admitted that any assistance which can be given to insure the further development of what ought to be a very large trade with the East in fruit and other perishable products would be desirable and profitable. I presume that honorable members are aware that the bulk of the produce shipped to the East is shipped direct by steamers passing along the eastern side of this Continent. The mail steamers, in declining to accept these perishable products, which have to be transhipped at Colombo, are really recognising that they cannot hope to successfully compete in the carriage of this class of produce with steamers going direct from Australia to the East. Though I have no actual knowledge of the circumstances which the honorable member for Wilmot has related to the House, I take it that the two large mail companies to which the honorable member has referred do not adopt the attitude of which he complains because of any objection to the provisions of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act.
– They carried this produce before the passing of that Act.
– I take it that their objection in the main is to the transhipment of this class of produce at Colombo, and so long as their space is fully taken up by through shipments to the old country, they do not wish to cater for trade which would naturally be accommodated by steamers going direct to the East. I entirely dissent from the view put forward by the honorable member for Wilmot, that there is any desire on the part of these two great mail companies to put any obstacles in the way of the carriage of this class of produce. What I have stated I think sufficiently accounts for the fact that they have no wish to cater for it. I trust that the honorable member’s remarks will not influence the House in any way, because I believe that the operation of the Act has, on the whole, been of benefit to the shippers of the Commonwealth.
– I am one of those who took a very considerable interest in the passing of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act. The bulk of the fruit shipped from Tasmania comes from my own electorate, and although I am in constant touch with the fruit-growers, very many of whom are my personal friends, I havenot, up to the present heard a single word of complaint from any of them. The great objection raised to the passing of the Act was that inasmuch as it would compel the shipping companies to provide their own insurance, it would lead to an increase in freights to such an extent as to prevent shipments of this class of produce. I am glad to say that the very opposite has been the result, and that this year shippers have been enabled to enter into contracts for the carriage of fruit from Hobart to London under the provisions of the Act at a reduction of nearly 33 per cent. on the freightspreviously existing. I admit that the passing of the Act may not have effected that reduction, but we are able to say that it has not prevented it - in other words, it has not caused the increase in freights which some of those who opposed the measure thought would follow its enactment. There is, however, a more important point to be considered. Quite recently an important case was decided in London. A large shipment of fruit was totally destroyed; as the shippers contended, through the negligence of the shipping company. The fruit, when it arrived in London, was absolutely worthless, and the shippers not only lost the whole of their fruit, but the freight which they had paid on it. They brought an action against the company, and the company put in as a defence their bill of lading, under which the shippers had contracted themselves out of all redress. The case, of course, went against the shippers, but I contend that that is a monstrous state of things. I hope that Ministers will be exceedingly cautious about interfering with the operation of an Act which has already done a very great deal of good. I readily admit the importance of our trade with the East, and in the interests of the Statefrom which I come I should like to see it largely increased. But we are satisfied that the Sea Carriage of Goods Act has been such a boon to us, although in operation for so short a time, that it would be a calamity to the growers and shippers of fruit in Tasmania if we had to return to the state of things existing before the passing of the Act. The shippers of fruit were very largely taken into consideration when the Act was passed, and the very fact that it was proposed to pass such an Act had the effect of inducing steam-ship companies to prepare for its operation, with the result that fruit was carried Home in the past season in an infinitely better condition than ever before. There has not been one failure, to my knowledge, this year in the carriage of fruit because the shipping companies, in anticipation of the passing of the Act, made preparations to accept their proper responsibility for the carriage of goods entrusted to their care.
– What was the percentage of failures prior to the passing of the Act?
– The shipment of fruit for some years was absolutely disastrous to the shippers. Whole shipments were sometimes destroyed, and the fruit was worthless when dumped on the London market. During the present year, largely, I claim, as the result of the action taken by the shipping companies to make proper provision to carry out their obligations under the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, fruit has been carried to London from Australia in excellent condition. It has been proved, as we contended all along, that it only required a little common sense and some care to enable that to be done. Desirous as we may be of opening up trade with the East, we should be exceedingly cautious about tampering, with the Act in such a way as to throw us back to the old condition of things. I readily accept the information supplied by the honorable member for Wilmot, but the gentleman whom the honorable member named in connexion with the shipment of fruit in Tasmania is a personal friend and elector of my own, and, though I conversed with him not many weeks ago, and he was aware of my interest in this matter, he did not bring it under my notice. I again urge the Ministry to be exceedingly cautious before tampering with an Act which I claim to be one of the very best that has yet been passed in the interests of the producers of Australia.
– I am rather pleased that the honorable member for Wilmot should have taken the action which he has taken this afternoon, because it gives an opportunity for the correction of the erroneous impression most industriously circulated in some quarters as to the effect of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act. I congratulate the honorable member also on the desire which he has evinced to support a rational measure of State Socialism. If we have had one instance of the splendid advantages to be derived from State Socialism which is better than another, this Act affords such an instance.
– Does the honorable member call the Act . a measure of State Socialism ?
– It is State Socialism, pure and simple.
– It is no more like State Socialism than chalk is like cheese.
– We know that until the Commonwealth Parliament intervened, and placed this Act on the Statute-book, individual shippers were absolutely unable to prevent the shipping rings from contracting themselves out of their liabilities.
– Is it an unusual thing for a Parliament to legislate against unjust contracts?
– The commercialism of which honorable members are so proud was grinding the individual producers, in order to obtain larger profits.
– Parliament intervened because the shipping companies’ contracts were not just.
– We were told that it was necessary, in the interests of producers, to place some restriction on the right of ship-owners to contract themselves out of their liability for damage done to cargo carried by them, and, after some little experience of the operation of the Act, we have no proof that it has operated detrimenfally to the interests of consignees, while we have evidence that ithas been of advantage to the shippers of perishable produce. The ship-owners now have to pay attention to the seaworthiness of their vessels, and to the proper condition of the holds and other places in which they store the produce which is carried. In short, they have to perform their part of their contracts. They cannot contract themselves out of their obligations. Not only have the producers of Australia been benefited in this way, but, owing to their concerted efforts, they have been able, by dealing as a body, instead of individually, with the ship-owners, to obtain considerable reductions in freight. The late Government, however, when contracting to pay a large subsidy to a shipping company for a certain purpose, should have seen that the interests of producers were preserved.
– The House will have an opportunity to do that when the contract comes before it for ratification, within a week or two.
– It is to be hoped that the House will not lose sight of that opportunity. The interests of shippers were disregarded when the contract was entered into by the late Government.
– They were not disregarded.
– What about Queensland?
– It is a strange thing that no reduction in freight could be obtainedfrom the companywhich was a party to the contract.
– The honorable member is not discussing the question before the Chair.
– Reductions in freight have been obtained.
– Not as the result of the action of the late Government.
– No, but they have been obtained.
– In spite of the late Government, and because of the action of the producers in combining.
– The question before the Chair is the operation of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, and I cannot allow the discussion to go beyond that.
– I am sorry that the interjections have thrown me out of my course. I wish to show that the Act, instead of being injurious to the interests of those engaged in the shipment of perishable produce from Australia, has benefited them. As the honorable member for South Sydney pointed out, the percentage of losses has decreased since the Act was passed, and there has been a considerable reduction in freights, though that, of course, is not due to the operation of the Act, but to other causes. The facts related by the honorable member for Wilmot as to the refusal of ship-owners to take produce for Eastern ports by vessels trading from Australia to London has no bearing upon the operation of the Act. The only inference to be drawn from those statements is that the vessels in question had their cargo space filled with more profitable freightage.
– But they carried perishable produce to the East before the Sea Carriage of Goods Act came into operation.
– Because a man is drunk during one month, it does not follow that he will be drunk during the next month, and, to my mind, the honorable member’s statement is evidence that these vessels get more profitable freightage than fruit now. We know, as a matter of fact, from the evidence of one who is largely concerned in the shipping trade with the East, that there has been no difficulty in getting freightage for a considerable quantity of produce consigned to Eastern ports. The honorable member for Wilmot only proved that a little more State Socialism is desirable. In my opinion, it is the duty of the Government, when an opportunity occurs, to seek out markets for our producers, and to assist them in getting freight to those markets.
– A little more Socialism !
– Yes. I am not afraid of Socialism, but I always like to know what it is that is proposed to be done before I express an opinion in regard to the matter.
This particular phase of State Socialism can be proved beyond all shadow of doubt to have been a boon to the producers of Australia, and more particularly to those engaged in the shipping of Australian produce abroad.
– The Act has been of advantage to our shippers, but it is not Socialism.
– It is not Socialism as that word is defined by some.
– Who defines Socialism to mean what the honorable member says it means ?
– I call the Sea Carriage of Goods Act a useful piece of State Socialism. My definition of Socialism may not be correct, or it may differ from that of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. I hopethat the Government will obtain further evidence than has been put forward by the honorable member for Wilmot before they take into consideration the advisability of repealing the Act.
– I, too, think that the honorable member for Wilmot is to be congratulated in having initiated the keenest and closest discussion which I have heard this session. He said at the opening of his remarks that the commercial members of this Chamber were asleep, that they were not looking after their own interests, when the Sea-Carriage of Goods Bill was before Parliament; but I think that he has found by this that they were perfectly awake, and that as soon as commercial men and producers feel that it will benefit their pockets they raise no cry against interference with freedom of contract. There is an interference by the Act with freedom of contract. A ship-owner is not now allowed to make a contract with a shipper absolutely relieving himself of liability for the bad condition of the refrigerating chambers of his vessel, or the bad handling and stowing of goods. A few years ago the first objection that would have been raised in this arena on. the discussion of such a measure would have been, “ This is an interference with freedom of contract. Why should we interfere with two adult persons who are making a contract?” Such is the change which may be wrought in a few years that, while the measure has been discussed this afternoon, not a word of that kind has been heard from the able commercial and producing members who have taken part in this debate.
– The honorable and learned member has never heard such an objection from me.
– Nor from any one else.
– I am glad that the honorable member has never allied himself with that extreme form of anarchy which forbids the State interfering on behalf of the public when there is practically a monopoly, as in the case under discussion.
– The law must say whether a thing is honest. When it has so pronounced, then let there be freedom.
– The old objection was, “Why should not two adult persons be allowed to contract between themselves as they think fit? Whatever they say is honest must be regarded as honest.” The honorable member begs the question. I do not care whether you call the Act State Socialism or anything else, it is a splendid measure, and it has operated to the advantage of the producers. There is a great trade opening out with the East, and we hope to increase our dealings with the huge population of that part of the world. We are now only beginning to feel the effects of this expansion of trade. No doubt there are difficulties in the way of communication. At the present time the vessels of the various lines proceeding to the East, along the eastern coast of Australia, sail perhaps once a month. There are other vessels calling at Colombo on the way to Europe, which also take cargo to the East, but at the present time our shipping arrangements are not equal to the great trade which we hope to presently do. But if the Sea Carriage of Goods Act is left alone for a while, there will be plenty of shipping companies only too eager to compete for this traffic. If I may be allowed to say so, respectfully, because I know that the honorable member for Wilmot has given us what is absolutely his honest view of the state of affairs, the statement which he put forward on behalf of the producers is really a statement put forward on behalf of the shipping companies.
– As they are refusing to carry perishable goods consigned to the East, why should such a statement be put forward on their behalf?
– The goods will be carried. We have only to give enough time to the shipping companies. The true and natural line of communication between Australia and the East is by way of Singapore, Manilla, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and the Japanese ports. If the steamers which now take that route - the vessels of the China Navigation Company, of the Eastern and Australian Navigation Company, of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha, which have been stopped by the war, and of the Norddeutscher Lloyd, which leave Sydney every three weeks - do not provide sufficient accommodation for the trade, other companies will come in. There is a tremendous rush to secure business for ships,” shipowners being only too anxious to find trade for their vessels. What the Act has done is, as the honorable member for North Sydney has so well said, not to guarantee that goods shall be delivered sound at the . port to which’ they are consigned, but that ship-owners shall take due precaution against damage? or loss. First it is provided that they shall not contract themselves out of liability for the harmful condition of the ship’s hold or for having inefficient provision for maintaining an even temperature in the cool chambers, or out of the liability foc handling and stowing goods. The honorable member for Wilmot may, therefore, reasonably conclude that he is under a misapprehension in thinking that ship-owners are required to give a guarantee that they will deliver their goods iri sound condition.
– I only know that they will not take the goods.
– The honorable member in opening the discussion said that commercial men were beginning to feel the pinch of the operation of the Act. I think, however, that they are beginning to appreciate its advantages, and that those honorable members who like the honorable member for Moira so effectively represent the producing interests, recognise that it has conferred great benefits. Under these circumstances r do not think, that honorable members are likely to change their views.
– I do not think the honorable member for Wilmot has made out a case such as would warrant any alteration of the provisions of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act. As the measure has had beneficial results so far as our shippers are concerned, and has prevented steam-ship companies from contracting themselves out of their proper liabilities, the Government should be very careful about interfering with it. One can easily understand why shippers will not carry fruit under the conditions to which the honorable member for Wilmot has referred. It is because they would not use their cool chambers for more than half the voyage. After the fruit had reached Colombo it would not be placed in cool chambers, and any; one acquainted with perishables knows that nothing is more injurious to them than sudden rises or falls in temperature. That is the reason why. shipping companies refuse to carry fruit to the East. In any case a few thousand cases of apples that might be sent t© Colombo are not to be considered as against the hundreds of thousands of cases which are shipped to Great Britain and elsewhere under far more favorable conditions than prevailed previously. I do not think that fruit intended for the East should be sent via Colombo. As the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne has indicated, the East coast is the natural route for shipments to the East. The Eastern and Australian Steam-ship Company have cool chambers in their steamers, and would be only too pleased to carry perishables to Eastern ports. The same remarks apply to the China Steam Navigation Company. As goods intended for Eastern ports have to be transhipped at Colombo if they are sent via that port, the transhipment might just as well be made at Sydney, and the goods sent by the shorter route. I am glad that this discussion has taken place, because every honorable member, except the honorable member for Wilmot, has expressed himself in favour of retaining the Act in its present form. I trust that the Government will take the same view.
– “ This discussion has caused some stir in certain quarters of the House, as does any mention of the regulation and control of industrial or commercial affairs by the State. Honorable members opposite seem to be quite unhappy because for once honorable members on this side of the House agree with them with regard to a piece of legislation which they term socialistic, but for which we have quite a different name. Owing to the loose and flabby thinking that is indulged in with regard to the socialistic propaganda from time to time, anything may be called socialistic nowadays. Honorable members of the Labour Party, if they please, may say that this Act operates in the direction of State Socialism; but if this be State Socialism, if every interference with private contract is State Socialism, I take it that the whole world has been engaged for hundreds of years in carrying out that principle.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– Very well. One may well wonder why the operation of State socialistic proposals for hundreds of years has not brought about the millennium which honorable members have predicted.
– Christianity has been taught for hundreds of years, and yet the millennium has not arrived.
– It appears to me that the further honorable members go with the kind of Socialism they propose the worse off they become, because they tell us that the condition of things is worse than ever before.
– Who says so?
– The State Socialists.
– But who says so?
– A most prominent member of the Labour Party, the honorable and learned member for West Sydney, recently declared that our whole civilization was a lie. Is that to be regarded as the result of all these hundreds of years of socialistic effort?
– The honorable member is changing his ground.
– I have not changed my ground.
– Not since the honorable member entered Parliament?
– I have changed no ground in connexion with this matter. If any party has changed its ground, it is that represented by honorable members sitting in the Ministerial corner. They are really whittling’ away their Socialism and attenuating it.
– Are the views of the honorable member the same as when he was returned bv the miners of Lithgow?
– My views are not the same as those of the honorable member. For one thing, I do not attend social democratic meetings on Sunday nights as he does. The honorable member’s views have changed in that respect.
– Will the honorable member kindly confine his remarks to the Sea Carriage of Goods Act?
– The distinction between what honorable members call State Socialism and the kind of Socialism that is the objective of the Labour Party, is that the first aims at regulating on the basis of justice all the individual operations of the community. In considering whether a proposal is socialistic or otherwise, we must pay some attention to its objective. What is the objective in this case? To look to the interests of individuals, to see that private contract is not crushed out by monopoly. The object of honorable members opposite is not to take care of private contract, but to abolish it altogether.
– The Sea Carriage of Goods Act interferes with private contract.
- Of course, it interferes to the advantage of private contract.
– It interferes with freedom of contract.
– That is precisely what I am saying. It interferes with freedom of contract, with the object of preserving and regulating it, and not with the view of abolishing it, as honorable members opposite propose. They do not want to encourage private contract. If they interfere at all it is with the ultimate object of legislating private contract out of existence, and setting up something else in its place. All this is by the way, but one may be pardoned for making some reference to these matters, because the moment one has anything to say with regard to a measure of this kind one hears remarks from the Ministerial corner with regard to its socialistic character. By the same process of reasoning, one might denominate any statute in the civil code as being in its essence socialistic.
– Does not the honorable member know that the Sea Carriage of Goods Act was denounced by the press as a socialistic measure?
– I suppose that settles the matter, so far as the honorable member is concerned, because it is well known that he pays particular attention to anything that the press of Australia may say. I believe that it is one of the features of the Labour Party that they accept as gospel everything that the capitalistic press may say. It is amusing to hear the honorable member declare, in the most confident way, that the press have characterized the Sea Carriage of Goods Act as a socialistic measure. The same press says that the honorable member and those associated with him are on the track that leads to the subversion of our civilization. Does the honorable member believe that ?
– Will the honorable member discuss the Sea Carriage of Goods Act?
– Honorable members of the Labour Party say that this is a socialistic measure, and my point is that it is nothing of the kind. It merely provides for interference on the part of the Government to prevent shipping combines from fleecing private enterprise. If we were Socialists we should be glad to see private enterprise entirely done away with, because that is the supreme objective of honorable members opposite. But we, who believe in private enterprise, desire to take every precaution to see that its operations are carried on upon the plane of justice. That is all this Act does. I do not think that it has acted in any way adversely to the shippers of Australia. None of the evil results that were predicted have followed from the Act.
– And yet we prescribe the conditions of contract for the Peninsular and Orient Company.
– The Government has to see that the contract entered into is just. It does that, and has been doing it for hundreds of years. That is one of the first and most fundamental principles of Government in any civilized country. It lies at the root of all our civilized life.
– The Act interferes with the freedom of the Peninsular and Orient Company to make contracts.
– I am afraid the honorable and learned member will lead me into further trouble with the Speaker. Otherwise, I should be delighted to carry on the dialogue with him. As I was saying, none of the dire consequences predicted have come to pass. On the other hand, it is well known that ship-owners are taking more precautions for the safe carriage of perishables, and I believe that on the whole the result of our legislation has been beneficial. It may be that cases of hardship will arise, but I believe that matters will settle themselves in time, that the Act will prove of great advantage to the producers of Australia, and will afford some guarantee that, whilst they are engaged in their own enterprises, and following their own methods of life, their interests will as far as possible be preserved.
– I am satisfied to know that the Sea Carriage of Goods Act has the heart-whole support of so brilliant a member of the legal profession as the honorable and learned member for NorthernMelbourne. He has told us how simple this Act is - how simple it is to interpret it. In doing so he has followed the example of nearly every lawyer who has been asked to interpret it. And yet almost every legal opinion consulted in the Commonwealth has placed upon it a different interpretation ! The honorable member for North Sydney tells us that the Act has operated wholly in the interests of the commercial classes, and I certainly think that the principle underlying it is just. While, however, the honorable member says that the persons most directly interested - namely, the shipping fraternity - cannot see any virtue in the Act, because it is intended to regulate their operations, it is only fair for us to consider whether the honorable member who, as a Minister, introduced the Bill into this House, would not merely be exhibiting one of the common weaknesses of human nature if he refused to see anything ill in his own ewe lamb. Judging from the remarks which have fallen from some honorable members, one would suppose that the honorable member for Wilmot had displayed anxiety to secure the repeal of the measure. I listened very carefully to him, but failed to detect any such intention on his part. His object was to direct the attention of the Government towhat might prove to be certain faults in the Act, with a view to having them removed. I suppose honorable members are agreed as to the necessity for some such legislation ; but I think the honorable member for Wilmot has done well in initiating this discussion, because he has shown that the export trade affected by the measure is now divided into two classes. Our export trade falls into two classes. The first is a class of trade - such, for instance, as that in fruit and other perishable commodities between Australia and Great Britain - so well established and so constant as to secure a regular traffic of steamers with special facilities for catering for its wants. There is such competition in that trade that, despite legislation of this character - and I think such legislation is good, if well considered - it will still be carried on, and competition will govern the freights. There is another type of export trade, however, which does not from its importance guarantee a regular service of steamers properly fitted and equipped for its purposes; and such avenues of trade must be retarded by a measure of this kind to the detriment of the expansion of .the commerce of Australia. Throughout the Sea Carriage of Goods Act an obligation is inferentially cast on the owner to properly man, equip, and supply his ships. I do not know how it presents itself to my legal friends, who hope for so much from this measure, but to the lay mind the obligation “ to properly equip “ is such as to make any sane man refuse to carry perishable merchandise, unless his vessels are fitted with refrigerating chambers. Vessels running between Australia and countries, the trade of which we may desire to develop, may not have such refrigerating chambers; and may consequently be debarred by this Act from offering themselves as the only means of transport available, at a risk which the consignor and consignee would be willing to take, in view of all the circumstances. Certainly the attention of the Government may well be directed to that fact, with a view to see whether this measure, whilst rightly applying to the important lines of our export trade, may not act rather harshly upon other branches. I make this suggestion not in the interests of the ship-owners, for whom I do not stand here, but in the interests of the producers.
– - We wish to open up trade.
– The object of the honorable member for Wilmot is not to stifle our export trade, but to improve and .expand new markets which I hope in time will be of immense importance to the Commonwealth. The adjacency to Australia of 400,000,000 people of Eastern races should surely make the House and the country feel that all efforts should be directed to opening up and expanding those markets before other countries have established their trade therein. I hope that the Government will give most serious attention to the subject . introduced this afternoon by the honorable member for Wilmot.
– In the absence of my honorable colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs, I undertake to forward to him the representations which have been made by the honorable member for Wilmot, and to ask him to consider the prospects of improving the conditions under which our trade with the Far East is being carried on. Even if it were only to’ afford public information on the question, an investigation by the Minister would be useful. All share the ambition of the honorable member for Wilmot that this trade, instead of being ‘in any way impeded, should be fostered and enlarged to the utmost.
– As a matter of fact, the United States are securing all the trade in the East that we ought to get.
– Wherever there are trade prospects, it is admittedly our business to look into them, and in that connexion the honorable member has the House with him. It was only when he endeavoured to offer a reason why that Irade is thought to be impeded that he entered upon debatable ground, and gave rise to a discussion which was certainly interesting in itself, but to which, after the masterly statement made by the honorable member for North Sydney,- it is unnecessary for me to add a word. ‘ Whatever may be the cause, I think the House is fully satisfied that our trade with the East cannot have been impeded by the passage of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act, unless the passing of that measure has so fostered the through trade to London as to make it more profitable to the shipping companies to devote the whole of their space to the through trade, instead of giving part of it, as before, to half-way shipments to the East.
– The fact is that they will not carry perishable produce to the East. They carried more freight the year before last to London than they have done since the passing of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act. That does not argue that there has been less space available on the steamers.
– Certainly not; but the facts are one thing, and their interpretation another. We are concerned with the facts, and’ with their proper interpretation; but are not called upon at this time, except by way of defence, to contend that the honorable member has not proved his case. He cannot associate the want of accommodation for perishable produce to the East with the passing of the Sea Carriage of Goods Act. I do not desire to touch upon the other question, except to say that my own impression is, that while the House was considering this Bill - of which I was an innocent supporter - it was being assailed by that section of the press which usually supports honorable members opposite. That section of the press described the Bill as a State socialistic measure, and the late Government was censured for introducing it. If, therefore, an error has been committed in labelling it, the fault rests, not with those who now adopt that phraseology, but with those who, at the time the measure was before us, so described it.
Mr. CAMERON (Wilmot).- I am quite satisfied with the proposal made by the Prime Minister. In bringing this matter before the House, I have been animated only by a desire to do the best for Australia. My wish is to ascertain whether trade has been diverted or checked on its way to the East by legislation that we have passed. If it has, then we should retrace our steps so far as is necessary. It is well known that America is competing in the countries of the East for trade that we are losing. It should be our desire to do our best to retain that trade. The motion of which I have given notice, will enable us to be supplied with information that will either prove or disprove what I have said to-day. If we find that the volume of our trade in perishable products with the East has decreased since the Sea Carriage of Goods Act has been in operation, that will be fairly conclusive evidence that such legislation is in the wrong direction. If, on the contrary, we learn that the trade is increasing - and according to my information it is not - we shall know that the statement I have made to-day regarding this question is erroneous.
Question resolved in the negative.
Bill returned from Senate without amendment.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable and learned member’s questions are as follow: -
I may add that an endeavour will be made by the Minister to expedite the report, and supply the honorable and learned member with the information sought by him.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin), agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until to-morrow at a quarter past 3 o’clock.
Motions (by Mr. Deakin), agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to the right honorable member for Adelaide, on the ground of ill-health.
That leave of absence for one month be granted to the honorable member for Echuca, on the ground of urgent private business.
Debate resumed from 7 th August(vide page 662) on motion by Sir William Lyne -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The remarks made by the Minister when introducing this Bill were particularly brief, and one would think from that fact that the measure was not of considerable importance. I hold that it is, on an analysis of its provisions, one that may have very farreaching effects upon our trade and commerce with other countries. According to clause 1, it may be cited as The Commerce Act 1905, but I think it might be described as “ a Bill to give the Minister power to obstruct commerce with other countries,” to delegate to the Minister - who is not always proof against the importunity of persons interested in limiting competition - power to prohibit imports, to affix the Government hall-mark as to quality, class, and grade to all goods intended for export, and to make any Customs official, agent, or private person, importer, or exporter, an expert, in the words of clause 3- as to the nature, number, quantity, quality, purity, class, grade, measure, gauge, size, or weight of the goods. and - leaving out some other parts of the clause - as to the mode of manufacturing, producing, selecting, packing, or otherwise preparing the goods.
For all these purposes the Minister is to assume a jurisdiction, whether it exists or not. We might also give this measure a sub-title, and describe it as “ a Bill to enable the Government to exercise its powers of initiating legislation - which are gradual ly becoming less as we are exhausting our rights under section 51 of the Constitution - to give them the power to pad their programmes with measures whose meretricious attractions may prove alluring . to those who subject measures to a merely perfunctory examination.” As those intrusted with the working of the Constitution, it is our duty to see that its spirit is respected in our legislation. I feel confident that the leading motive of the Constitution as regards trade and commerce is that, subject to the necessities of imposing Customs and excise duties, trade and commerce, whether internal or external, shall be as free as possible. That direction is really given by section 92 of the Constitution, which declares that, after the imposition of Customs and excise duties, trade, commerce, and intercourse between the States is to be absolutely free. It is not merely to be free from fiscal restrictions, but unfettered by any obstruction on the part of a State or an individual that is likely to interfere with the free interchange of commodities or the free intercourse of people between one State and another. That is the leading principle of the Constitution, and although it does not apply in its entirety to foreign commerce, still in spirit, subject to the power to impose Customs duties, it does. The only limitation imposed as regards external commerce is that we have power to make certain fiscal arrangements. Subject to that, I believe that the spirit of the Constitution is that trade, whether external or internal, shall be as unhampered as possible. The principle of the Bill seems to be the very reverse. Those responsible for its form appear to think that it is the duty of the Federal Parliament, on the mere possibility of an evil accruing, to place as many obstructions in the way of intercourse with foreign countries as is possible. The question of the constitutionality of some of these provisions also arises. As I have already said, the Bill may be described as one, amongst other things, to assume power whether it exists or not. We find, according to Prentice and Egan, that the mere fact that commodities when manufactured are intended for export to other States, does not bring them within Federal direction and control. We find it stated at page 519 of Quick and Garran’s Annotations to the Commercial Clauses of the Constitution that-
Commerce does not come within Federal jurisdiction and control until its transportation from one State to another, or from a State to a foreign country has begun. Even preparation for export is not sufficient.
I have given a summary of the various decisions on which Quick and Garran base their statement, and a quotation from a leading American authority on the commerce clause of the American Constitution. It is clearly laid down that Federal jurisdiction does not commence until the commodity has really entered into the stream of connmerce, whether internal or external.There are many matters which are more properly dealt with by the States. Even questions of importation are sometimes subject to State jurisdiction. I mention the importation of diseased cattle as an instance of questions which are left to the concurrent jurisdiction of the States. The draughtsman of this Bill, on the contrary, seems to think that Federal jurisdiction commences the moment that goods may possibly be exported or enter into Inter-State or external commerce, because clause 6 provides that-
Every person who intends to export any goods of a kindor class required under this Act to be inspected or examined by an officer shall, before the goods are shipped, give notice in accordance with the regulations to the Customs of his intention to export the goods, and of the place where the goods may be inspected.
So if he does not give a certain notice to the Customs Department, he is to be liable to a penalty of£20. As I indicated in the beginning, there seems to me to be in the Bill a very liberal assumption of a jurisdiction the existence of which is at all events open to challenge. I consider that a great mistake.
– Does the honorable and learned member contend that clause 6 would be invalid ?
– I say that it is open to challenge, and if I were to offer an opinion on it I should thinkthat it could be challenged successfully, because the authorities I have quoted seem to me to indicate that the mere intention to export does not come under Federal jurisdiction. If the mere intention to export does not come under Federal jurisdiction, we have no power to declare that anyperson who intends to export any goods shall give a certain notice to the Customs Department under a penalty of £20. Clause 6 might be one of those clauses which can have no effect, because they cannot be enforced. As a general principle of law, you cannot decide a man’s intention unless it is evidenced by some outward act.
– How about over-sea commerce ? Does, the honorable and learned member say that we have no power to deal with that?
– We have undoubtedly, just as we have power to deal with internal commerce. The two are alike, except, so far as limitations are placed upon our power to interfere with internal commerce, which, as honorable members are aware, must be absolutely free. In view of the authorities T have examined, I think we have no power to penalize a man simply because he fails to give a certain notice that he intends to do a certain act which he has not yet begun.
– The honorable and learned gentleman will note that it is to be before the goods are shipped.
– That is so.
– He may intend what he pleases,, but he must not ship the goods before giving notice.
– A person may intend to do a certain thing, and before he does any act to carry out his intention he must under this clause give a certain notice. I merely say that that provision is open to challenge with a certain probability of success. So far then as to the scope of the Bill. The powers under the Bill, nearly all of which are given to the Minister or the Government, are most extensive and arbitrary. Under clause 5 there is a power given of inspection of prescribed goods, irrespective of whether they are subject to’’ duty or not. These powers of inspection exist under the Customs Act, and they exist as ancillary to the Customs Act, even though they were not declared. But clause 5 of this Bill goes very much beyond that, in giving powers pf inspection in respect of certain goods which are not the subject of any impost at all on importation to the Commonwealth. If this Bill is incorporated with the Customs Act. and it deals with’ goods that are not subject to any Customs impost, the words used here may have a very wide significance. A power’ is given to search any place for goods, and these extensive powers of inspection may prove very harassing. Power is given to search’ for goods, probably in a private house, after importation, and although, as I have said, no claim can be made on the goods by the Treasury for the purpose of securing, duty. The powers given are not only very, extensive, but they are exceedingly arbitrary. I may mention that there is a; great difference between this Bill and the Customs Act as regards the prohibition of the importation of certain classes of goods. It is due to the public, and due to the importers and exporters that they should, know in express terms what goods cannot be imported without liability to forfeiture, or without the importer or exporter being] liable to a penalty. We should not have our legislation in such a state that people in other countries intending to export goods’ to us would be constantly risking prosecution. Hence the Customs Act, so far as that could be done, supplies a list of imports which are prohibitedThere is undoubtedly in a paragraph of section 52 of the Customs Act a drag-net provision dealing with prohibited imports,but so far as Parliament could declare in express terms what commodities were not to be imported it did so. Paragraph g of the section to which I have referred provides that all goods, the importation of which may be prohibited by proclamation, shall be prohibited imports, but that provision is to. a great extent limited by the actual specification of prohibited goods in an earlier portion of the section. The im’portations prevented under such a provi-sion are always very limited. I believe that up to the present time only certain articles which are likely’ to be deleterious if used in the manufacture of beer and other articles of consumption have been placed upon the list of imports prohibited by proclamation.. This shows that the Government regarded it as very dangerous to invest the Minister with the power to say that any particulararticles are liable to seizure if imported. Under this Bill it is’ proposed to give to the Minister the whole power of determining what goods are not to be imported.
– To which section does the, honorable and learned member refer?
– That is the whole purpose of the Bill. Take clause 7 for instance : -
The Governor-General may, by proclamation,, prohibit the importation or introduction into Australia of any goods specified in the proclamation, unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character relating to ‘such matters, and. applied in such manner as is prescribed by the proclamation or by the regulations.
In other words, under this clause the Minister is given power to prescribe what trade description must be affixed to any goods.
– Could that be applied, to patent medicines?
– They could be dealt with under paragraph e of clause 3 under which a trade description will cover any statement, indication, or suggestion direct or indirect, as to the material or ingredients of which the goods are composed, or from which they are derived.
The same power of prescribing a description is applicable under the Bill to all classes of good’s, and prohibited goods may be forfeited unless the description to be hit upon by the Minister is attached to them. In other words, the Minister is given power to fix a standard of testing imports, and to declare the method of indicating by a description the quality of. goods. If the description prescribed is not placed on goods the Minister may say that they are not to be imported, and if they are imported, however innocently, they may be forfeited. If they are knowingly imported in contravention of the provisions of the Bill, not only may forfeiture take place but the importer or the consignee of the goods is to be. liable to a fine of ,£100 under clause 11, which deals with the case of persons knowingly placing certain descriptions on goods.
– Halse descriptions?
– Yes ; but the description is to be prescribed by the Minister. If that description is false so as. to mislead in any particular, although innocently, the goods may be forfeited; but, if with the knowledge of the person importing or with the knowledge of the consignee, a fine of £100 may be imposed, in addition to the forfeiture of the goods. The point I desire to . emphasize is that the Minister is given power . to declare what description is to be attached to any kind of goods, and if that is not complied with the goods may be prohibited, their innocent importation renders them liable to forfeiture, and their importation with a knowledge that they are prohibited by regulation or proclamation renders the person importing them, and any person aiding or abetting in their importation, liable to a fine of £100. I am aware of no legislation of this kind, although the Minister of Trade and Customs stated that this Bill is based on the Merchandise Marks Acf of 1887, of England. That is not so- As I shall endeavour to show later on, the principle of the Merchandise Marks Act is quite different. Without going into details at this stage the primary object of the Imperial Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 is to prevent the imposition by an importer* or by a vendor internally of false marks. The object of this Bill is to enable the Minister , to prescribe what description he thinks should be put upon goods, which is quite a different matter. Again, there is nothing in the Imperial Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 as to the quality of goods in relation to trade descriptions or false trade descriptions. The Imperial authorities knew the great difficulty there is in giving indications of quality or purity, and these words, which are of very far-reaching importance, are expressly omitted from the English Act to which reference has been made. Although we were told bv the Minister of Trade and Customs in introducing this Bil] that with the exception of four or five clauses the Government have practically adopted the provisions of the Merchandise Marks Act of England, it is clear that they have not done -so.
– What clause does this Bill contain that the Merchandise Marks Act does not contain ?
– I refer, mainly to the principle of the Bill. For instance, there is clause 7 which, as I have endeavoured to point out, gives the Minister the power to prescribe that goods must have a certain trade description on them. He fixes what is -‘to be indicated by the description, and the goods are liable to forfeiture unless they have it on them. The Merchandise Marks Act of England, which is supposed to be the basis of this Bill, contains no such, provision. It deals simply with goods which have certain trade descriptions attached to them by importers - that have attached to them trade marks, to which the importer is. not entitled, or false trade descriptions. But there is nothing to prevent importation without any description of quality, quantity, or of the other requirements of clause 3. I have examined the provisions of the two measures, and find that that is the difference between them. Kerly, in the latest edition of his work on Trade Marks, referring to the Merchandise Marks Act of England, says -
The policy of the Act is to prevent fraudulent marking -
Part of the policy of this Bill is to prevent fraudulent marking, but it also provides for the placing on goods of certain marks to be prescribed by the Minister- whether by means of forged trade marks or false trade descriptions, and this section, as theremainder of the Act, only applies to goods which bear marks bringing them within its terms. There is no general obligation to stamp imported goods with any indication of origin.
The English Act is aimed chiefly at goods imported under false trade marks, or with false indications as to their origin.
– Under what English Act is it required that the words “ Made in Germany “ shall be placed on goods imported into England from that country ?
– Under the Act to which I am referring.
– I understand that it is compulsory to put on that trade description.
– No, but an importer must not put on a wrongdescription.
– Has not that Act been repealed?
– Before it was passed, it was not necessary for importers to place any description on their goods.
– The only section of the Act which comes near to providing what the honorable and learned member thinks is provided, is section 16, which says -
Where there is on any goods a name which is identical with or a colourable imitation of the name of a place in the United Kingdom, that name, unless accompanied by the name of the country in which such place is situate, shall be treated for the purposes of this section asif it were the name of a place in the United Kingdom.
Where there is a mark affixed to goods which is likely to deceive as to their place of origin, or to convey theassumption that they were made in England, it is to be regarded as a false trade description, unless there is something else to show that the goods were not made in England.
– Speaking from recollection, I think that there was a specific injunction that the words “ Made in Germany “ should be placed on goods imported into England from’ that country.
– There is no such provision in the Merchandise Marks Act, but, I think the Commission which recommended the introduction of that measure dealt with the suggestion that goods manufactured in Germany should be marked “ Made in Germany, “ and the importation provisions of the Act were largely due to the fact that goods were imported into England from
Germany bearing on them a mark of origin indicating that they had been manufactured in England, whereas they had really been manufactured elsewhere. There is nothing in the English Act to force an importer to give a description of the quality or purity of the goods imported, or to comply with any of the other requirements of clause 3 of the Bill. In that respect the Bill is the very opposite of the English Act. To show how harassing the Bill may prove to importers, and, to a certain extent, toexporters, one has only to read the list of articles given by the Minister at page 631 of the Hansard report of his speech as likely to be proclaimed. We should avoid as much as possible legislating by proclamation or regulation. How can an exporter from England know what our laws are when they are made in that way ? Because a proclamation may be issued at any time, even when goods are on the sea, declaring that their importation will be stopped unless they comply with certain conditions, with which, under the circumstances, it is impossible for them to comply. Then, again, the regulations issued by the Minister may be buried away in the Government Gazette, so that persons residing in other parts of the world will not know, what is prescribed. Notwithstanding these facts, the provisions of the measure are highly penal, and infringements of them may subject importers to the forfeiture of goods. Regulations made under the Act will become operative immediately on proclamation. We should, as far as possible, instead of providing in Acts of this kind for the making of regulations which will not be easily ascertained by those whom they concern, and especially not by exporters from other countries, endeavour to make our legislation explicit in itself. The Minister has informed us that he wishes to get power under the Bill to prescribe in regard to such articles, among others, as beer, butter, candles, cheese, . fish, fruits, furniture, jams, jellies, leather, salt, soap, spirits, and starch, what description shall be given to them to designate their purity, quality, place of manufacture, ingredients, &c. He will have to be an expert in regard to almost everything imported into the country to lay down some method of describing with accuracy, or so as to prevent themaking of mistakes, the nature of the contents of imports, their place of origin, degree of purity, quality, and so forth. Not only 1 so, but he will require to have at every ; port of importation officers who will be capable of properly administering the law. There is a great safeguard in the English
Act in the fact that that Act deals principally with trade marks, since it is easy to identify a false trade mark, or the misapplication of a trade mark. Then the definition of trade description is much more limited in the English Act than it is in the Bill. The Bill adds several words which are not to be found in the Merchandise Marks Act. In clause 3, paragraph a, the words “ quality and purity ‘ ‘ have been added. In paragraph b, the words, “ selecting, packing, or otherwise preparing the goods,” have been added.’ The only words in the English Act are “as to the mode of manufacturing and producing.” Then in paragraph e the word “ingredients “ has’ been added, the English Act reading “as to the material of which any goods are composed,” the Bill adding “ or from which they are derived.” But even without the addition of the words to which I have referred, -each one of the English provisions has led to litigation. There has been great diffi- culty in defining the place or origin of goods, several cases having turned on that point. Good’s made almost en- tirely in France have been found to have been manufactured in some part elsewhere, and watches have been confiscated because, although made in England, they contained one or two wheels which had been made abroad, and put together in England.
Kerly points out that in many cases it is almost impossible to comply with the pro- visions of the law, though, as regards false trade descriptions, there is the saving provision that the false description must mislead in some particular. That, of course, gets over the question as to where the goods originated, because, if they have been made principally in one country, it may be held that it is not a misleading description in a material point to designate that country as their place of origin. The Bill, however, will require a far greater degree of efficiency on the part of the officers stationed at our ports of importation than is required by the English Act. Not ‘ only must the Minister fix upon proper standards of description, but the clerks administering the Act, together with the exporter, im- porter, and consignee of the goods must all to’ a large extent be experts. The exporter is liable if he does not ‘comply with the description laid down by the Minister, in regard to the various matters mentioned in clause 3. Therefore I say that the Bill will lead to very great oppression of exporters and importers, and, instead of encouraging trade, may seriously hamper it. It is significant that in England they are unable to work a Merchandise Marks Act without the help of informers. We have had instances recently of local competitors giving information to a Minister. Under the Bill, every one who may be affected by the importation of a particular class of goods in the way of trade competition will importune the Minister to issue proclamations varying the descriptions. There is nol the same danger in England that there would be here, for the reason which I have pointed out, because very little harm can come of the registered owner of a trade mark stating to the Minister that it is being violated by an importer. The definitions of trade descriptions in the English Act are so clear, and are so much less comprehensive than are those in the Bill, that there is not the same likelihood of a Minister there being importuned and misled byinterested persons as to the description of certain classes of imports as there will be here. The fact is that the Department cannot get on very well, even in England, without the help of those affected by the competition of imports. To quote Kerly -
The regulations provide, in accordance with the Act, that where goods are detected by the officers to be such as are prohibited to be imported, they are to be detained. They do not, however, contemplate that the officers will be competent of their own knowledge to detect the attempted in- ffringement of the Act in all cases, or in all classes of cases; and accordingly they make provision for the officers to act upon information given byprivate persons, for instance, by the owners of trade marks or names which are likely to be wrongly used on imported goods, and in certain cases they require the informants to give security, or to make a deposit of money, as a condition of the detention of the goods.
Where there is merely a false trade description, or the use of a trade mark by a person who is not the registered owner of it, the supplying of information by interested parties may be a comparatively innocent thing. But if the Minister is to be set in motion in regard to the quality, purity, place of origin, or method of manufacture of goods, it may lead to an immense amount of harassing of industry, and an interference with the administration of the Customs Department which we certainly should not encourage. For these reasons I think that the Bill is too drastic. It is alto- gether too comprehensive, and is not necessitated by anything I have heard urged in its favour. I do not know whether it would not be well to vote against the second reading, and thus throw on the Minister the responsibility attaching to its introduction; but, at any rate, if an amendment is moved to refer it to a Select Committee, I shall vote for that.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the honorable and learned member for Angas.
– Before the honorable member proceeds with his speech, I desire to direct attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– It is much to be regretted that so little should be thought by those responsible for it, of a. Bill of this far-reaching character, embracing as it does the whole of the commercial operations of the Continent, that they should absent themselves from the Chamber and leave honorable members of the Opposition to address their criticisms to empty benches. I trust that the commercial people of Australia will take notice of this fact.
– The Opposition benches are equally empty.
– The criticism directed against this Bill has come from the Opposition side of the House, and the honorable and learned member for Angas handled his subject with such great ability that I should have thought he would claim the attention of the Prime Minister, who, I understand, is to-day in charge of the measure. The honorable and learned member for Angas rightly described the Bill as one to prevent commerce. He might have gone a little further and described it as a Bill not merely to prevent commerce, but also to destroy industry and retard the business operations of the community. It will be impossible to carry on business under the Bill, except by a process of evasion. The measure, on its face, aims at preventing deception in trade operations ; but it will in reality encourage deception. If it be passed in its present form, persons interested in the commerce of the country will be able to operate their businesses to advantage only by a process of evasion and deception. Above all things, any legislation we pass in this House ought as far as possible to aim at making it easy to do right and difficult to do wrong; but if, as this Bill proposes, we practically tie a man up, and give him no means of escape, except he resort to deception, we shall proceed in a contrary direction. That is one of my complaints against this measure. Instead of making it easy for a trader to do what is fair and right, it is proposed to bind him down bysuch restrictions, and to impose upon him such hardships, as will lead him to do what he otherwise would not be impelled to do. This is another of those regulative measures which seem to be teeming forth from the various Governments of Australia just now, and particularly from the Federal Government. I take leave to say that there has been so much of this kind of legislation recently as to show a great want of the sense of perspective on the part of those who are responsible for it. It seems to be supposed that if a Bill is introduced to impose certain restrictions upon trade, we shall necessarily promote the welfare of the community at large, and help to build up the industrial prosperity of Australia. We might, however, with advantage form a larger conception of the functions of government. One may very well ask how much further this restrictive legislation will go before we are afforded an opportunity to deal with those large subjects of public concern which have to do with the peopling of the Continent, and the setting up of a prosperous and happy people here. I am not now questioning the right of the Government to impose any restrictions they please. I suppose that the right of the Government to interfere with the occupations of the people nowadays, and with commerce and trade, extends . to the utmost detail of the individual life of the community. Admitting, however, that the Government may have this technical right, I challenge the wisdom of a measure of this kind as applied to a young and struggling community like ours. The Prime Minister hardly ever mounts a platform but he treats us to a most beautiful and sage discourse upon what should occupy the minds of the legislators of Australia ; but I should like to know how much further we are going to push restrictive legislation of this kind before we deal with the larger matters which have been awaiting our attention for the past five years. For instance, what is to become of our electoral machinery, or the great problem of the transfer of. theStates debts? Why are not proposals brought forward relating to that matter which has been vaguely described by the Prime Minister as “ population,” involving, of course, the appointment of a High Commissioner, and the advertising of Australia? Then, again, what about the Capital question, and our defences?
– And the Standing Orders ?
– There is no need for Standing Orders now that certain honorable members have removed from the Opposition benches to the Ministerial corner. Looking at the business-paper, it seems to me that the Government are exhibiting a strange lack of the sense of perspective in regard to the legislation which demands our attention. Instead of dealing first with what should come first, they seem to thrust upon our attention the subjects of least moment. I have looked through the Bill, and have asked myself whether there is any need for it. Our commerce is not very large yet. In Great Britain they get along without a Bill of this kind, although the value of their trade aggregates£850,000,000. whereas ours represents only£86,000,000. Why should we tie up our trade by means of stringent regulations and restrictions? I submit thatwe might very well take a leaf out of the commercial book of the old country, and put aside all restrictions until our trade has acquired a volume something like that of Great Britain.
– Our trade is greater than that of the old country in proportion to population.
– Of course it is; but having regard to our isolated position, and to our great empty continent, we have every reason to aim at encouraging our commerce, instead of restricting it in every shape and form.I desire to say a word or two with regard to some of the reasons given by the Minister for the introduction of the Bill. Of all the second-reading speeches that ever preceded the discussion of a Bill of this kind, commend me to the deliverance of the Minister of Trade and Customs. He occupied about a quarter of an hour, but gave us no description of the Bill or its principles. He uttered only one or two vague sentences in giving us his reasons for its introduction at the present time. He said that the Bill was the result of some understanding arrived at at the Hobart Conference. In making that statement, however, he conveyed a totally erroneous impression.There was never any understanding at all. The matter was introduced, under the head of “ The development of the resources of Australia,” by the honorable member for Gippsland, who urged the need of uniformity in the standardization of goods for export through the medium of an agricultural bureau. That was the utmost that was stated at Hobart, and that isthe extent of the justification for the Minister’s reference to what was done at that gathering. Will it be believed that every Premier present at that Conference disagreed with the honorable member for Gippsland, declared that there was no need for such legislation, and that under no circumstances would he consent to it. Yet the Minister of Trade and Customs has the audacity to tell us that this measure was practically agreed to at the Hobart Conference ! A more misleading statement was never made to this House: The Minister went on to tell us his reasons for introducing the Bill. He said, “ This is a Bill to confer greater and more discretionary powers on the officials of the Customs Department.” In Heaven’s name, if the powers they now possess are not sufficiently large, and if the discretion they are able to exercise isnot sufficiently extensive, I should like to know what more is required. At any rate, the harvesterscandal took place under ourpresent laws, and if we are going to have any repetition of that incident we shall have to seriously consider the question of curtailing, instead of increasing, the power of the Minister. If we confer greater discretion on the Customs officials, we shall really clothe the Minister with greater powers. His present powers are sufficient to enable him to ruthlessly break in upon the trade relations of reputable firms, and practically hold up their business, by increasing the import duties upon their goods by from 50 to 100 per cent. If we are going to give this power to the Minister of Trade and Customs, or to any other Minister, it will be a sorry look out for the country unless we have a much wiser Government in office than we now appear to have. The honorable member went on to say that another of the objects of theBill -
Is to compel persons who are exporting goods to bring their products up to a certain prescribed standard.
Who is tofix the standard ? Is the Minister competent to set up the standard to be observed throughout the trading ramifications of the Commonwealth? On the face of it the proposal is absurd.
– Who would the honorable member suggest?
– I would suggest that the standard should be fixed by those best qualified - by those who stand to lose by exporting inferior produce of any kind. The people whose life’s business it has been to cultivate a knowledge of these matters should fix the standard.
– Who are they?
– In the case of biscuits, butter, or cheese, the makers of those articles.
– Does the honorable member mean that he would allow them to fix their own standard?
-The market of the world fixes the standard.
– The honorable member believes in “ letting things alone.”
– We should do so unless we are compelled to interfere. As to many of the goods to which this Bill will apply, the Minister can interfere only to the great detriment of our commerce. If he could interfere,, and set up a better standard to facilitate our commercial operations in so far as these goods are concerned, I should say, “ Give him the power by all means”; but it is because, I am sure that it is not within the ken of one man to do so that I say this power should not be given to any Minister.
– The honorable member pins his faith to commercial morality.
– I do.
– They are guileless men who do so.
– I admit that under cover ofour commercial morality some strange things have occurred. There are abuses in relation to every industry in the world, but may I remind the honorable member that even Governments do not always carry out their functions perfectly. Has the honorable member closed his eyes to what is going on at the present moment in New South Wales in connexion with the lands of that State? Has he never heard of some of the strange things which the Government in his own State have allowed to take place? Does he not know that we have to “police” our Governments in all these functions, just as keenly as ordinary individuals have to be policed. After all, Governments are composed of ordinary human beings.
– We recognise that, and it is to “ police “ others that this Bill has been framed.
– One kind of human nature is to be pitted against another? My difficulty in regard to the honorable member is that he wishes an ignorant sort of human nature to be allowed to determine the direction which the operations of men who have spent their lives in the acquirement of particular kinds . of knowledge shall take. That is my whole criticism against this Bill. The Government cannot possibly know as much about these matters as the persons concerned. They cannot of themselves prescribe standards or descriptions as accurately as can those who are engaged in a trade to which this measure will apply. The markets of the world are in the last resort the great standardizing agents. I wish to know why this Bill relates only to commerce beyond the Commonwealth. Let me give the Minister an illustration of that which I have in mind. We are told that wine is to be standardized before it can be sent abroad.
-Why not before it can be sold locally?
– Exactly. Why notstandardize our wine for internal consumption ?
– Some one must drink the rubbish in the Commonwealth. That seems to be the intention.
– That seems to be really the case. We may have to put up with any kind of rubbish in the shape of wine. It may be adulterated with sugar, and water, as is now alleged to be the case with’ wine sold in some of the States, and possibly those who are making better wine will have to contend against that disability. These practices may still continue, so far as wine intended for local consumption is concerned, but the moment any wine is to be exported the Government step in, and say that it must be up to a prescribed standard. In other words, the Government is setting up a standard in the case of goods to be consumed by people outside to the great detriment in many cases Of those within the Commonwealth.
– Have we any power under the Constitution to deal with the question so far as it affects goods for local consumption ?
– Surely the Government, fromthe honorable member’s point of view, ought to have power to do everything.
– The honorable member for Yarra is quite right We have not the power. _
– Why does not the honorable member for Parramatta answer the question ?
-.- I answer it bysaying that if we have not the power to deal with these internal matters, that is an additional reason why we should not attempt to apply the provisions of this Bill to goods intended for export, because in doing so we shall differentiate in favour of the people of other countries.
– There are other legislatures that do the same thing.
– Does that make it right?
– No; but it shows that we are not proceeding on novel lines.
– I think that we are acting wrongly in prescribing a standard in relation to goods for export, and failing to fix one for goods to be locally consumed. Let us look at the question as it affects boots and shoes. Under this Bill a standard is to be set up for boots and shoes intended for export. The trade will not be able to export boots beyond the Commonwealth, except such as are prescribed by the Customs officer. Is not the proposal absurd? How could an officer say whether such articles were up to the prescribed standard unless he saw them being ‘ made and was an expert in every branch’ of the boot and shoe trade? Who could prescribe a standard for a good boot or shoe, having regard to the way in which the trade is specialized?
– Is the honorable member referring to the sole, or to the boot as a whole ?
– To the whole boot. According to this Bill, we are to have a Government official who is to say whether a boot is thoroughly and roundly made - whether the leather is good, whether the sole has been properly put on, and, in short, whether all the work appertaining to its manufacture has been carried out properly. It is absurd to expect this work to be carried out by any Government official, and particularly by any Customs officer. And so with apparel. We are to have a Government officer to say what kind of apparel shall be exported,, but no provision is made in the Bill in regard to the apparel, or -the boots and shoes, which the people of the Commonwealth shall wear. They may buy the veriest rubbish in the’ way of boots and shoes that they please, but no one must seek to induce persons outside the Commonwealth to buy such rubbish from Australia. I was told the other day by a woollen expert, that no man - not even those who are engaged in the trade - can tell whether sixpence a yard has been taken out of the quality of a cloth. If that be the case with regard to our woollen manufactures, how will a Government expert be able to set up a standard for the whole world? How will he be able to say what shall be a proper standard for cloth, and whether any cloth proposed to be exported is up to that standard, when the best experts assert that it is impossible to tell within a margin, which means a profitable enterprise or an unprofitable one-
– Who are the best experts ?
– The makers of the cloth. The gentleman to whom I have referred, is one of the best woollen experts in Australia.
– Who is he?
– Does the honorable member expect me to tell him? Suffice it to say, that he is one of the best woollen experts in Australia. He carries on a woollen mill, and says that no one can tell when sixpence a yard is taken out cf the quality of a cloth. The only test is in the wearing of the cloth itself.
– But the Minister .’an very easily settle all these matters.
– I am sure that he can set them right, off-hand. I am afraid this is .a Bill to bring about prohibition in many of the commercial and trading relations of the Commonwealth. I do not wish to touch the fiscal aspect of the question, but, apart from any consideration of the kind, protectionists and free-traders are alike interested in seeing that the Parliament itself prescribes the conditions under which that commerce shall be carried on, and that it is not left to a Minister to prohibit the importation, or exportation, of goods at his own sweet will, whim or caprice. If the Bill is to be passed as it stands, the Minister will require, as the honorable and learned member for Angas has very properly pointed1 out, a staff of inspectors and experts, which it is appalling to contemplate. It will be one of the most costly measures that has ever been passed. When we seek to do impossible things, we give people a motive for evading our legislation, and betaking themselves to that very deception which it is the very aim of this legislation to prevent.
– They are a bad lot, then, if they will evade it?
– It seems strange to hear, first one, and then another, honorable member putting these different points of view. One of the party to which the honorable member belongs, inquired just now, whether I would trust a private individual to fix a standard, thus implying that our traders are a very bad lot. Now, the honorable member for Hindmarsh seems to be shocked at the suggestion that they might be so.
– I am not shocked; I am accustomed to hear of things which satisfy me that a good many of them are.
– If human nature does not require to be regulated, surely Chat is ‘an argument against the Bill. If traders will not resort, to dishonest practices where is the need for this measure”? The Minister says that he desires it to be passed in order to check designing traders.
– The honorable member says that they will resort to improper practices.
– What I said was that this Bill would have a tendency to drive people to seek to evade its provisions as long as it remained in its present form. That’ is one of my main points. It proposes to set up a standard, as to which the Minister must be absolutely ignorant, and it must inevitably fail. The Bill aims at providing what the quality of articles of export and import shall be. How can a Government know whether an article is worthless or valuable? As was pointed out during the debate last week, an article which may be absolutely useless for one purpose might be valuable for another. The honorable and learned member for Werriwa showed that potatoes, which might have no value for the purposes of food, might yet be very valuable for spirit distillation.
– Or for making starch.
– That is another use to which they might be put. We might have an expert in the Department saying that potatoes were bad because they were unfit for human consumption, and condemning them on that ground, when the very purpose for which they were being imported, or exported, might be a wholly different one. Who is to say what shall be the quality of the goods which a man shall use for the purposes of trade?
– Under the Bill, the person concerned could still use the goods for a certain purpose.
– No. There is a prescribed trade description to be set up by a Government official, and unless the person concerned conforms to that particular description, his goods may be forfeited. No Government should attempt to set up a standard for goods, or to brand them, unless they can guarantee them as to their ultimate use. Unless a Government can go through the whole of the ramifications - of an industry, and say what this or that particular thing is to be applied to finally, they should nor. undertake the responsibility of forfeiting goods, because they do not happen to be in accordance with a Government trade description. Then again, things which might be good here, might, after they leave our ports, develop latent defects on the voyage. I believe that is a common experience in connexion with many of our staple industries. That might happen in connexion with fruit, preserved fish, preserved meats, or preserved milk. Is a Government official to say that preserved milk shall be made in a certain way? This Bill says so. Under this Bill, the Government are to say what ingredients shall be used in the manufacture of condensed milk. The Government take ihe power to mate up these prescriptions in relation to all the products of the country. For instance, it is provided that a trade description may mean in relation to any goods -
Any description, statement, indication, or suggestion direct or indirect -
as to the nature, number, quality, quantity, purity, class, grade, measure, gauge, size, or weight of the goods.
In fact, as to everything. It may even :5ay what the materials or ingredients used in the manufacture of certain goods shall be.
– The Bill says that, in a trade description, these things mav be stated.
– The Government are to be the arbiters. If a man says, “ These goods are all right,” the Minister, under this Bill, takes the power to say that they are wrong, and there is i.-o appeal from his decision. The Minister may do certain things of grace, if he pleases, but he is made the final arbiter under the Bill. This is a monstrous power to put into the hands of any Minister for a purpose of this kind.
– And it opens the door to all sorts of fraud.
– That is precisely what I say. This Bill provides for a precise description, and the standardization of goods, and it will inevitably drive people to evade its provisions. They cannot live as they do if the Bill is permitted to remain as it is at present. Let us look at one of the methods by which all this is to be done by the Government. Under clause 5, for instance, it is provided that -
An officer shall inspect and examine all prescribed goods which are imported or which are entered for export or brought for export to any wharfor place.
Does anybody believe that that provision can be carried out? It is not possible to range all the commerce of a country on a wharf and parade it for inspection. The thing is absurd on the face of it ; it is a physical impossibility.
– If people are aware that their goods are liable to inspection, the knowledge will act as a safeguard.
– But the clause says that the goods “shall be inspected.”
– This is to give work to the unemployed.
– That is about as sensible asuggestion as could be made in connexion with it.
– This has been tried in a State, and has broken down absolutely.
– It has broken down through the sheer physical impossibility of carrying it out. How is it possible to have shipments of thousands of cases examined with any degree of reliability? No inspector could carry out this duty.
– Fruit inspectors are doing good work now in several of the States.
– If they are doing good work now, where is the need for this measure? Is the intention really to multiply the number of inspectors? I believe that inspectors in the service of the States are doing good work, on the whole, and that is all the more reason why we should not meddle with them. Here it is proposed to provide that, notwithstanding the inspection of fruit by State inspectors, when it is brought to the wharf to be sent away, it is to be turned out for inspection and examination by an officer under this Bill. Nothing more absurd was ever put on paper.
– The honorable member admits that the States inspectors are doing good work; why shouldwe not increase their power?
– I do not say that they are doing good work in any such ridiculous way as is here proposed. The inspectors are working in the various States under far more reasonable enactments than are proposed in this Bill. I am endeavouring to point out that this Bill is unworkable. I admit that it appears to be impossible to make any criticism of any Bill submitted to the House by the present Government without being immediately challenged by the opposition of honorable members in the Labour corner. I do not know why it is, but one has only to make the slightest criticism of any Government measure, to provoke the opposition of honorable members in that corner. Ever since I rose to address myself to the provisions of this Bill, I have been subjected to a running fire of interjections from the honorable member for Hindmarsh.
– Because the honorable member has courted them.
– Iventure to say that the Minister of Home Affairs at present representing the Government admits the force of some of the criticisms offered from this side of the House; but the honorable member for Hindmarsh adopts the attitude of absolutescepticism of all that may be said from this side, although there is no State that will be harder hit by this measure, if it passes, than the State which the honorable member represents.
– No State will be hard hit by this Bill.
– That is a matter of opinion, and I am expressing mine. I believe that the States will be hard hit under this measure, and in such a way that they will be likely to resent it. If we take the case of fruit, this Bill says -
Every person who intends to export any goods of a kind or class required under this Act to be inspected or examined by an officer shall, before the goods are shipped, give notice in accordance with the regulations to the Customs of his intention to export the goods, and of the place where the goods may be inspected.
Is the Minister of Home Affairs aware that very often fruit on the tree in the morning is away by the boat atnight? How is it possible to have this fruit inspected in the way proposed ?
– It is done in South Australia now.
– I venture to say that it is not done in South Australia. It is a mere pretence of doing it, if anything of the kind does take place. It is a physical impossibility to do any such thing. I take the case of the fruit-growersof my own State, and I know that it is a common thing with them to get a wire from New Zealand for a shipment of oranges. The price is quoted in the telegram sent in the morning, and the request is made that the oranges should be shipped by a boat leaving the same afternoon. The fruit-growers have to pull the fruit from the trees, pack it, cart it ten or a dozen miles to a railway station, send it in to Sydney, and then to the boat to go out that night. How is it possible forthese men to give this notice to an inspector, and have that fruit thoroughly examined before it is placed on board ship? I remind honorable members also that it is to the interests, of fruitgrowers that their fruit, and especially soft fruits,, should be kept on the trees till the very last moment. They do not desire to take their fruit from the trees until it is necessary to send it direct to the boat, otherwise they have all they can do to ship it in a state of good preservation. If there is to be an inspector to whom the fruitgrower must give notice, and if he has to assemble his fruit wherever he may be directed to do so for the purpose of examination, running a risk that the officer may be employed with some other duty when he requires him to inspect his fruit, the result will be disastrous and ruinous to his industry.
– Where could one store 80,000 or 100,000 cases of fruit for inspection?
– Let us deal with the methods by which it is proposed that this work is to be done. It is not only provided that the fruit is to be assembled for the purpose of inspection, but the clause goes on to say -
For the purposes of this section an officer may enter any ship, wharf, or place, and may break open any packages and may do all that he thinks necessary. Every one is aware that fruit requires to be very carefully packed in rows in a case, and if a package of fruit is broken open, it will be impossible for any inspecting officer, I donot care how expert he may be, to replace it exactly as it was. In endeavouring to do so, he may bruise oneor two apples or oranges, and render it absolutely certain that the fruit will arrive at its destination in a rotten condition.
– And that may be the only case branded as being properly graded.
– Is it proposed that the Bill shall necessarily be applied to the export of fruit?
– So the Minister says.
– No; the Bill says it may be so applied.
– The Minister in his second-reading speech said that the Bill was intended to cover the export of fruit.
– Even if he did not, some other Minister might think differently.
– I say that it is physically impossible to apply the provisions of this Bill to the export of fruit. To attempt to do so would result in the ruin of the industry. Suppose an officer attends to examine a shipment of fruit: Is the inspection to consist of an examination of one or two boxes on the eve of the departure of the boat?
– If so, it will be a farce.
– It will be an absolute farce if that is all that is to be done, and it is physically impossible to have an absolute examination of the quality and nature of the fruit. I take exception again to the tremendous powers given to the Minister under this Bill. No Minister should possess such powers without check or hindrance, and without any provision, so far as I can see for any appeal from his decision. Take clause 7, for instance, which says -
The Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the importation or introduction to Australia of any goods specified in the proclamation unless there is applied to them a trade describtion.
This trade description is to be prescribed by proclamation. I should like to know how people living at the uttermost ends of the earth are to know what the Minister means, or how he is to interpret his own trade descriptions. I suppose there are hardly any two men who would interpret a trade description in the same way. People are to run the risk of havinga whole shipment of goods prohibited, simply because the Customs official here may interpret a trade description in a way contrary 10 the interpretation put upon it by some men at the other end of the earth. And, so far as I know, there is to be no appeal. How is an importer to inform a man at the other end of the world exactly what is meant by a given trade description?
– The design is to crush importers altogether.
– It may be that, owing to the prescribed trade descriptions being of an absolutely ignorant character, the complying with them may mean the importing of an inferior instead of a superior article. Then, again, take clause 10, which says that any . export may be prohibited, even when it has been put on board ship. The Minister can bail up a ship, and say to the exporter, “You must take that cargo out again.”
– We have done that with tea in South Australia.
– It might be done with tea as readily as with anything; but it would be a difficult thing todo with fruit and perishable produce generally. I do not object to all the supervision that may be possible ; but the Bill goes to extremes such as are not contemplated by the English Act, although in that country they have a trade and commerce ten times as large as ours. For every£1 worth of commerce that we have, the old country has £10 worth; but it has no such restrictive regulations as it is proposed to bring into force here. Then, again, the. Bill says that any goods which do not come up to a prescribed standard may be forfeited instant er, and the owner would have no redress unless the Minister liked to give him redress. The Minister of the day may act in regard to all the minute ramifications of the commerce of the country as the Minister of Trade and Customs acted the other day in regard to certain harvesters. In that case he interposed to prevent the importation of an article without giving notice of his intention to those most keenly interested. Acting on his own sweet will and discretion, he blocked the importation of those goods, and the importers had no redress. This is not a matter of fiscalism ; it is a question of getting fair-play for the industries of Australia. I understand that the Minister aims in this Bill at setting up standards for certain foods and medicines imported into this country. Against that function of the measure, I have not a word to say, because I think it absolutely necessary in the interests of the public health of Australia to take all the precautions we can to prevent patent foods and medicines which are likely to be injurious from getting into general use. I should like to see the Governments of the States doing what is done on the Continent of Europe, where quack medicines are analyzed, and their formulae proclaimed to the world. I often read Science Siftings, a very useful paper, nearly every issue of whichcontains the formula of some new patent medicine which has been put on the market ; and I believe that in Germany Government officials analyze all these remedies, and make public their ingredients. That is a work which might very well be done by our Governments; and if the functions of the Bill were limited to the safeguarding of the public from injurious food and medicines, I would readily and cordially support the measure. But we have the means of doing what is necessary in that direction in the Health Departments of the various States. In addition to the extensive laboratories of the Customs Department, each of the Health Departments of the States has a laboratory, so that there is all the machinery and paraphernalia necessary to analyze foods and medicines likely to prove injurious to health. But, as the Bill goes further, and interferes with the commerce of the country down to the minutest detail, there is only one description which can be applied to it, namely, that of the honorable and learned member for Angas, that it is a Bill to prevent commerce, and not a measure to facilitate trade and to standardize ourproducts. The plenary powers given to the Minister will tend to subvert the purpose at which the Bill is aimed, and the measure will have a result quite the opposite of what is intended. It makes it so impossible for persons to carry on. business and trading operations without fraud that it will in many cases drive the traders of the community, and others, to evasions which will defeat the very purposes which we have in view. It is impossible to do all that the Bill aims to do in the matter of prescribing proper designations for all the goods imported into this country, and therefore the measure must ultimately fail. It has been severely criticised by those who are most interested in commerce in Australia. Every Chamber of Commerce has protested against its passing, and I presume that the members of those bodies may be allowed to know a little about the subject. We may denounce them as honorable members sometimes do as members of a capitalistic class, who have sectional ends- to serve ; but, taking a broad view, they may be presumed to know what is best for the trading relations of the country in the largest sense. The Chambers of Commerce all over Australia unanimously ‘ condemn the Bill.
– And all the importers’ organizations, too.
– They say that it will ruin our trade.
– All the adulterators of goods say that.
– The honorable member’s statement is a scandalous slander upon persons who are as honest as he is.
– What I say is a fact. The statement is no slander on honest ‘ people.
– There are persons who object to the Bill who do not adulterate their goods.
– I did not say that all who object to the Bill adulterate their goods.
– I took the honorable member to imply that. If he did not, I have nothing more to say. Men who are as honest as we are, and who are assisting to build up the commerce of Australia, protest against the Bill, on the. ground that it will ruin their business. Many persons in my own electorate, particularly fruit-growers and farmers, say that the provisions of the Bill are unworkable. Those persons are as keen about seeing that the fruit they export is of good quality as the honorable member ever knew how to be. .
– Have they held meetings in regard to the matter?
– The employers raised similar objections against the establishment of wages boards ‘in Victoria.
– I am tired of hearing this constant cry that some one objected to some other proposal. All I know is, that I have been written to by a number of persons, men whose reputation and integrity are unassailable, and ‘whose word would be taken anywhere that they are known, who say that the Bill will ruin their business.
– That they say so does not make it a fact.
– No doubt, the, honorable member knows more about their business than they do. His self-sufficiency ‘ is amazing.
– I only suggested that’ they may be mistaken.
– If ever there’ was a Bill requiring further consideration, this is such a Bill. If ever there was a Bill” that needed to be sent to a Select Committee, by which, the. statements made by such persons as I have referred to could-, be tested, this is such a Bill. I strongly suggest to the Government that they should allow it to be inquired into by a Select. Committee, and that the honorable member for Hindmarsh, should be made a member of that committee. I should like to seehim confronting some of these men in regard to their statements about their own business. I am sure that he would be able to teach them all about it.
– I have been in business, and know some of the tricks of the trade.
– The honorable member strikes me as being a keen, shrewd, business man. The trouble is that he does not confine himself to one business. I only state what I have been told by men upon whose word I absolutely rely.
– Interested parties.
– Yes ; but should not they be heard ? Is the honorable member a better judge of what will injure the fruit trade than is a fruit-grower? If a’ man’s business is likely to be affected, is’ he not to be heard because he is an interested party ? -
– Honorable members opposite know nothing of fair play.
– There is not much suggestion of fair play in the interjection of the honorable member for Southern Melbourne. A Select Commiteee could gather information from one end of the continent to the other, from persons who are in business, and would tell us what the effect of the Bill would be, .and the House, having the recommendation of the Committee, before it, would be in a better position to form an accurate judgment in regard to the measure than it is in now. We do not know enough about the commerce of the country to be able to say that the provisions of the Bill will not injuriously affect it. The Minister of Home Affairs has said that it will not hurt anybody’s business; but he has’ spent all his’ life in a lawyer’s office.
– It will not hurt an honest person’s business, but it will hurt dishonest traders.
– And many honest traders, too.
-I am not concerned about its effect on dishonest traders.
– Would the honorable member allow them tocontinue to prey on the community?
– No ; I would abolish them as readily as would the honorable member. But I would not include honest with dishonest traders, and pass rule of thumb provisions, which will make it almost impossible for any traders to conduct their business honestly. The aim of our legislation should be to make it easy to do right, and difficult to do wrong, but. the Bill provides a motive for all kinds of evasion, for the simple reason that it will be almost impossible for traders to comply with its provisions. Then the trade designations prescribed may ; be ignorantly framed, and, in this way, the purpose contemplated by the measure may be defeated. We. require further light from those who can tell how their businesses will be affected by such legislation; and the Government should, therefore, refer the Bill to a Select Committee. I make this suggestion in the most friendly way, because I believe that if the Bill were passed in its present form the result would be most disastrous to the commerce of Australia. I suggest, also, as I did at the beginning of my speech, that it is about time that this Parliament devoted its attention to some of those larger proposals about which we have heard so much, and for the time relegated to the background restrictive proposals such as that now before us. We shall get along very well without this Bill. We have done so for many years. The old country manages very well without any such measure, and yet its commerce is ten times more valuable than our own.
– Why did not the Reid Government introduce some of the important questions to which the honorable member has referred?
– I do not hear the honorable member, but I have no doubt that his interjection is friendly. Everything that emanates from the Ministerial corner is of a friendly character. I never saw such an exhibition of barracking for a Government as we have had from the benches occupied by the members of the
Labour Party duringthe last few weeks. The Government and their immediate supporters sit still and listen to the criticisms passed upon them, and all the barracking comes from the Labour corner.
– We are only following the example of the honorable member, who was previously sitting in the Ministerial corner.
– The difference between the honorable member and myself is that I was an open supporter of the late Government, whereas the honorable member confesses that he is only making use of the present Administration.
– The honorable member for. Parramatta had doubts about the last Government at some stages.
– Whatever I had to say regarding the. late Government was stated openly in the House. I should like to hear the opinions of the members of the Labour Party with regard to some of the Ministers.
– They are all very good fellows, in my opinion.
– Have they all been converted then - have they been inoculated with socialistic virus? Perhaps this measure is to be regarded as the sign and seal of their conversion. The Bill now before us would be mischievous, and I suggest that a further inquiry should be made by a Select Committee, representative of the commercial knowledge of the House, which could ascertain the opinions of those who are most keenly interested in the measure, who have the most to lose if it prove mischievous, and the most to gain if it be made a thoroughly workable and honest enactment. I admit the necessity of legislating upon some of the matters dealt with by the Bill, but we should frame a measure that will not have the far-reaching and dire effects that would follow the passing of the Bill now before us. In the meantime we could give our attention to some of those matters upon which so much stress has been laid by the Prime Minister, and seek to increase the volume of our trade rather than hinder it and fetter it. We should aim at increasing our trade, because that wouldlead to an increase of our population, and the establishment of a happy and prosperous race of industrials, who would form the most secure barrier that could stand between us and any danger that might threaten us from outside.
– The honorable member for Parramatta commenced his speech by deprecating the absence of honorable members from the Government benches, and later on, when several honorable members were present, and were taking an interest in his criticisms, he objected to any remarks being made by them. It is really difficult to please the honorable member. It apparently escaped the attention of the honorable member that at the time he made his first complaint there were present only four members of the Opposition - the party upon whom the special duty of criticising the proposals of the Government falls. The honorable member said that this Bill would destroy commerce and industry, but that seems to me to be rather violent language to direct against a measure of this kind. What terms would the honorable member use in regard to a Bill that would really have such an effect as he describes? The language used by the honorable member with regard to some of the proposals with which he does not agree is extraordinarily vehement. I admit that he speaks in a most interesting manner, and that very often his criticisms are sound and worthy of attention, but surely it is unnecessary to stigmatize a Bill of this character in the violent language the honorable member has used. As a matter of fact, I do not know that I am in agreement with the whole of the provisions of the Bill, although I am thoroughly in accord with its general object. I am not sure that I shall be in favour of giving to the Minister of Customs the very large powers proposed, unless clear proof of their necessity is afforded. I admit that it is desirable to grant large powers to the Minister, because otherwise it may be impossible to prevent fraud, but we must guard against going any further than is absolutely necessary in that direction. If it can be shown that the powers proposed to be granted are excessive, I shall be prepared to join other honorable members in limiting them.
– I beg to call attention to the state of the House.[Quorum formed.]
– The honorable member showed clearly that if the extreme powers proposed to be conferred by the Bill were stupidly exercised the most undesirable results would be brought about. The same remarks might apply to the powers conferred by anymeasure.
– My point was that, owing to the nature of the case the powers granted by the Bill must be stupidly exercised.
– The honorable member did not convey that impression to my mind. I admit that he made out a good case as to the harassing effects of such provisions if they were stupidly applied, but we are entitled to assume that a little common sense will be exercised even by Customs inspectors. Occasionally abuses will creep in, but we must run the risk of that. The honorable member also said that a considerable outcry had been raised by the commercial class against this measure, and that the Chambers of Commerce of all the States have protested against it. If I recollect rightly, there was also a strong protest from the commercial section of the community when the Sea Carriage of Goods Bill was before this Chamber.
– The Melbourne Chamber of Commerce strongly supported that Bill.
– And the greater number of the Chambers of Commerce concurred.
– It was represented by a very large section of the commercial community that that measure would probably have the effect of increasing freights and doing great injury to our export trade, and the late Attorney-General had to make a very vigorous reply to the criticisms to which he was subjected for entering a socialistic trap and endeavouring to hamper trade and commerce in everyway. In spite of all the criticism that was directed against that measure, we nave heard to-day scarcely anything but praise of its results. That measure, which was expected to bring our commerce to ruin and disaster, has proved highly beneficial, and probably a similar thing will happen with regard to the present Bill. The members of the Chambers of Commerce are naturally inclined to think that any legislation of a restrictive character will hamper trade. Commercial men are very conservative in regard to any proposal to interfere with the conditions governing trade and industry, and are disposed to feel alarmed when any alterations are suggested. I do not think this House will, because of the fears of commercial men that industry will be hampered, stay its hand in its efforts to protect the public against false descriptions of goods, or to protect the producers of Australia against the disaster which may be visited upon them if the reputation of Australian produce is injured by persons who are careless or unscrupulous. The chief accusation levelled against the Bill is that its provisions in regard to the inspection of exports are impracticable. I should like to say, however, that the experience of one or other of the States has shown conclusively that none of these proposals is incapable of being successfully carried out. I believe it is a fact that in most of the States the system of Government inspection of exports now obtains. It is certainly in operation in South Australia in relation to most of the products to which it is said the provisions of this Bill cannot be applied. All fruit exported from South Australia - and especially that intended for the other States - is most carefully inspected by Government experts. The fear expressed by the honorable member for Franklin that in some way or other this Bill would prevent a shipment of apples being hurriedly; completed under special circumstances is due to a mistaken view of what is intended. It is surely not necessary to the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill that all the cases of fruit intended for shipment shall be lumped together on one wharf for examination. We do not attempt any such ridiculous practice in South Australia. A man who has a shipment of fruit to send away telephones to the Department, or in some other way most convenient to him, informs it that he will have a consignment ready at a certain hour, and an inspector is at once sent to examine it. These inspections are made, not only on the wharfs, but at the packing-houses. In the case of a grower directly exporting a large quantity of fruit, the inspections take place al the orchard. There are many growers who directly export their good’s, and in their case the examination is always made at the orchard.
– Hundreds of inspectors would be necessary to allow of that being done.
– Nothing, of the kind. In South Australia we have only one inspector, and yet there is no complaint.
– Can he visit the various orchards ?
– He does so, notwithstanding that distances there are very much greater than they are in Tasmania.
Fruit is sent from places as far apart as Penola and Clare, yet no difficulty is experienced in carrying out the work of inspection. The difficulties to which reference has been made during this debate are largely imaginary. Butter is not only inspected by the Government expert in South Australia, but is graded, and the cases are branded by the State officer. If a shipment does not come up to a certain standard it is branded “pastry butter.”
– Are shipments of pastry butter allowed to be made?
– They are.
– That will not be possible under the Bill.
– It depends upon the standard to be fixed,’ and the regulations to be prescribed. The honorable member will see from the facts which I have just stated that this Bill cannot possibly hamper enterprise. As a matter of fact, the system of Government inspection preserves the reputation of the producers.
– Are not the producers anxious to preserve their own reputation?
– They certainly are, and I am showing that I am equally anxious that their reputation shall remain untarnished. The honorable .member will recognise that it is to the interest of every producer of milk throughout the Commonwealth that the reputation of Australian butter should be kept as high as possible. He must be aware however, that, in the absence of some form of Government supervision, there would be nothing to prevent the industry from being ruined by a consignment sent to the markets of the old country by a man who had no permanent interest in the trade, but had simply managed to secure a quantity of inferior butter for export purposes. Firms which are regularly engaged in the trade have a reputation to preserve, and would not think of exporting inferior produce; but it is absolutely essential to the protection of Australian producers that some provision of this kind- should obtain. Even admitting that one or two growers might find once or twice, during a season, that, owing to the system of Government inspection, they could not complete their shipments by a few cases - and I. do not admit that anything of the kind is likely to occur - is it not a great deal better that they should suffer that temporary disadvantage than that the whole reputation of Austra- lian produce should be seriously damaged, as it has been on many occasions, by men who have simply gone into the export trade for a time, and, failing to make a success of it, have dropped out of it.
– Is the grading in South Australia, to which the honorable member has referred, in pursuance of an Act of Parliament, or is it carried out under regulations made by the Minister?
– Speaking from memory, it is carried out under regulation by the responsible Minister. The whole system has arisen from the development of the State Government Export Department, which has grown from a very small branch to one of considerable proportions. I have not been very many years in political life, but was a member of the South Australian Parliament when it was first proposed to establish a wine depot in London. It is out of that proposal that the very large State Export Department of South Australia has been evolved. That Department carries out the whole of the business relating to the export trade, for local shippers, and deals with a considerable variety of produce. I am reminded by the honorable member for Grey that it owes its origin really to a former leader of the Labour Party in the State House of Assembly. The proposal, as first made, was that a depot for wine should be established, but the then leader of the Labour Party moved to insert the words “ and other produce.” The amendment was carried, but, as may be surmised, the words so inserted were struck out by the Legislative Council. The Government, of which, you, Mr. Speaker, were a member, and of which the right honorable member for Adelaide was leader, determined, however, to act on the decision of the House of Assembly, and set to work to develop the export trade, not only in relation .to wines, but other South Australian products. Curiously enough, it is only in connexion with the wine trade that any suspicion as to the success of the export business conducted by the South Australian Government has arisen. With the exception of the selling of wine in small lines in London, the undertaking has been an undoubted success, and even the placing of small lines of wine with hotelkeepers and other retailers in London might have been successfully carried on by the wine depot if the Government had entered upon an extensive system of advertising. Honorable members will recognise, however, that the general body of taxpayers did not relish the proposal to spend a large sum of money on advertising the products of only a small section of the producers, and, consequently, in the absence of sufficient funds for this purpose, so as to enable the depot to compete successfully with Burgoyne’s and others, who advertise very largely and hold a considerable number of the tied houses, the Government, during the last ta’.v years, have ceased to carry on the sale of wine in small quantities. The establishment of the export depot was advocated as calculated to tend to the benefit of producers, and no question was raised as 10 whether or not it was a move in the direction of Socialism. Latterly, of course, those who are opposed to Government intervention in any way, have referred to the undertaking as a piece of State Socialism. Although the Export Department has been referred to as a socialistic enterprise, it has been just as pronounced a success as has the State Socialism of the Postal Department.
– The depot proved so successful that its scope was extended.
– We had one expert, Mr. Thomson, who practically inspected all butter sent through the Export Department. He knew his business, and he is now doing the same work for Queensland. Then in connexion with the export of wine, we had a viticulturist, Professor Perkins, than whom no better man can be found in Australia as an expert in wine, and he performed the same duties in connexion with that industry. Though, of course, rejected meat has not been shipped, it has sometimes happened that butter and wine which have been rejected have been subsequently exported, and in one case within my knowledge goods rejected have on export brought a better price than those which have been passed. Honorable members will know that that may be the experience of any expert. The taste for wine is capricious, and time has often a great effect upon its value. On the whole, there has never been a suggestion that Professor Perkins, Mr. Thomson, or any of the other experts have not carried out their duties of grading and inspecting to the satisfaction of the producers generally. The men to whom I have referred are .experts, and I do not overlook the fact that under this Bill it would appear that these duties are to be performed bv Customs officers. To give these powers of inspection to men who are not experts would be a mistake. Without examination by experts, we cannot look for anything like careful grading, but can only in a general way prevent the export of goods that are manifestly inferior. Goods must be very distinctly inferior before a man who is not an expert will take the responsibility of prohibiting their export.
– Inspection by persons who are not experts is apparently intended, because the Minister of Trade and Customs said that he did not think it would be necessary to make any new appointments.
– We can discuss that matter in Committee, but I think the Minister will find that for this duty he must have men who are expert. This should not involve additional expense in South Australia, at all events, because in all probability the men who are doing this work for the State would continue it under this Bill. In connexion with the export of fruit, Mr. Quinn, the expert employed in South Australia, examines all the fruit that is exported, the object being to keep up its reputation. To show the advantage of this inspection, I may refer to the reasons which led to the inspection of fruit. In Western Australia the growers of fruit are naturally very jealous of the fruit which is imported from the Eastern States, and they kept the local inspectors up to the mark, with the result that very large quantities of fruit were condemned, and the South Australian fruitgrowers believed that they were condemned without sufficient reason, that the local prejudice on the part of the West Australian inspectors, and not the inferior quality of the fruit, was the cause of the condemnation. The South Australian Government determined that so far as it could be prevented no fruit that was not wholesome and free from the codlin moth and other pests should be exported from the State. The system of inspection before export was then inaugurated, and the reputation of South Australian fruit has consequently been kept up ; and the action taken has been the means of very much improving our trade relations. The Export Department of South Australia also took up the meat industry. We hear a great deal about socialistic interference with private enterprise ; but in this case there was no such interference, because, singularly enough, clever and alive to new opportunities of trade as commercial, men are, no one in South Australia ventured to take up the meat industry. If was left to the Govern ment to establish that industry. They have established their own freezing works, and they do the whole of the killing, freezing, and transport to the markets of the old country.
– They offered a loan of £50,000 to any one who would establish the industry.
– I had forgotten to mention the fact to which the honorable member refers. No advantage was taken of the offer, and Dr. Cockburn, who was then Minister for Agriculture, began the killing, freezing, and transport of meat to London. From that has grown up a business in the export of lambs to London which is worth some scores of thousands of pounds to South Australia every year. I think that in the last year, the State exported 250,000 frozen lambs. In this connexion the Export Department carries on the whole of the business of export for the producer. The producer, whether he be apastoralist or a small sheep farmer, sends word to the Agricultural Department that he proposes to send a certain number of lambs on a certain date. The Government officers receive them at the railway station, they are put into yards, killed at a convenient time, frozen, and shipped away, and the producer later on gets his account sales.
– Who sees that they are properly frozen ?
– The Government Department freezes them.
– And they give advances to the producers.
– As the honorable member for Grey reminds me, we have in South Australia, in connexion with the export department, a system of advances on consignments by producers. The advance, of course, bears a certain proportion to the market value of the consignment. The system adopted enables a man, even if he has only half a dozen lambs, to readily secure for them the full value which can be obtained in the London market, which is the best market in the world. He does not require to go to any shipping firm, or to be under the thumb of any combine, as the Government do all the business of export for him. He has only to send in a notice of the number of lambs he is sending down to the Department, and he subsequently gets his account sales. Some small commission is charged, and there is a charge for freezing, but the charges in connexion with the exportation of frozen meat in South Australia are less than are those in any other part of the Commonwealth.
– The Government act as agent for the producer.
– Yes ; they act as his agent.
– If you grow rabbits, we send rabbits ; and if you .grow fowls, we send fowls.
– Rabbits and poultry are treated in the same way. Occasionally a new industry may be established in this way. I remember that an application was received from leaf -cutters on Kangaroo Island, who produced crude eucalyptus oil. They were under the impression -that the local firms of oil- distillers did not give, them a fair price for their crude oil, and they applied to the Export Department to put their production on the London market. They asked’ for an advance, and got a smaller advance than they asked for. Their oil was sent by the Export Department to London, and its value ascertained. The returns to the leaf. -cutters on Kangaroo Island were such that, they concluded, that they were receiving a fair price from the local distillers, and that it was not worth their while to endeavour to send the crude oil direct to the old country. Honey is exported from South Australia almost entirely through the Export Department. All manner of articles for which, in ordinary circumstances, it would be difficult to establish a market, can be. tested through the Export Department, which has proved to be a very great boon indeed to South Australia. Of course wheat, wool, and such staple products are not .exported through the Department, as the conditions in connexion with their export are privately organized. In the case of wool, the wool buyers of the world buy in Adelaide, and there would be no particular advantage in making use of the Department. In the case of wheat there has, until recently, been sufficient competition to insure to the growers a good return for their wheat. Of course honorable members will see that if the wheat industry got into the hands of a combine, it would be of the very greatest advantage to South Australian wheatgrowers to have the Government Export Department to fall back upon. It has been suggested, during the debate, that meat is an export which cannot be satisfactorily inspected and graded by Government officials ; but, as a matter- of fact, such work is done in South’ Australia to the satisfaction of the whole industry.
– How Can it be done where long distances have to be travelled before the meat gets to the ports of shipment ?
– The inspection of frozen meat can take place only where there are freezing chambers at the ports of shipment, but the distances which the beasts have to travel before being killed need not be taken into consideration. In South Australia, lambs are graded by Government, officials, and carcasses which do not come, up to a certain, standard of weight and quality, although, rejected, are kept in the depot for some days, to allow the owner to say what shall be done with them. If he does not make any intimation on the subject, these carcasses are sold at auction at Port Adelaide as “ rejects.” The effect of this Government inspection has been that South Australian lambs have obtained the highest price given for Australian lambs in the London market. South Australian butter, too, has obtained the highest price given, there for Australian butter, owing to the fact that it is graded before exportation, the Government brand not being placed on butter of inferior quality, which is classed as pastry butter. Then, although our apple export is not so large as that of Tasmania, the prices obtained for South Australian apples, owing to the care and supervision exercised by the Government inspectors in regard to all that are sent away, have been the highest obtained for any Australian apples. During the South African war, some South Australian merchants obtained contracts from the Imperial Government for the supply of preserved meat, and in those contracts were stipulations similar to those which, the Government propose to provide for under the Bill. It was required that the meat should be put up Sn tins of a certain size, and should be of first-class quality, to be certified to by the Government inspector. It was found that the 2 -lb. and 4-lb. tins of meat supplied did not contain full weight, and the deficiency was made up by sending away extra tins. I do not say, for a moment, that had there been no inspection the contractor would have sent short weight, but I say, without fear of contradiction, that the inspection rendered absolutely impossible_ in regard to this contract, what occurred in connexion with other contracts. The same thing took place in connexion with a supply of jam. Contracts were allotted to. a number of jam-makers in the State, and the Government inspector visited the different factories to inspect the jam when made. This inspection was absolutely satisfactory, and helped to keep up the reputation of our goods. Then, in regard to hay, the British authorities having had no experience of wheaten hay, were at first pre’judiced against it, and preferred oaten hay ; but they were satisfied that under our sys-tern of inspection only hay of good quality would be sent to them, and only good hay was sent, so that the orders our producers received were very satisfactory. To my mind, nothing will be gained by referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The proper carrying out of its provisions, and the effective supervision of our exports and imports, will depend entirely on the administration of the Department, and that cannot be improved by ascertaining the opinions of commercial men, producers, and others in regard to this, that, or the other provision of the Bill’. The success of .the measure will depend upon the selection of the right men to act as experts and supervisors, .and its application to the right class of goods. It is only by experience that we shall know to what goods to apply the provisions of the Bill. There may be goods which to-day it would be unnecessary to inspect, but which a few months or a year or’ so hence it might be advisable to bring under the Bill.
– Would not -a Select Committee be of assistance in making a recommendation in that matter?
– I do not think so. The Bill is a skeleton.
– A pretty lively skeleton.
– Its liveliness will depend upon its administration ; it may be a dead letter. If it is administered wisely, it will be of extreme service to our producers, but if the ‘ administration is unwise, it will do us harm. I do not think that the Commonwealth has much reason to fear that its officers will not do justice to the positions which they are called upon to fill.
– So far as they know how.
– Yes. Everything will depend upon the selection of the right men. To curtail the powers of the Minister may do harm; because it may prevent him from bringing under the Bill goods which ought to be subject to inspection.The matter, however, is one with which the House is perfectly competent to deal without an inquiry by a Select Committee. The honorable and learned member for Angas stated, I think, that the Bill is unconstitutional. That argument does not appeal to me perhaps as much as it should,- because the opinions of eminent lawyers differ so much on constitutional points. Of course, I do not think that we should attempt to pass legislation which it is clearly not withinour powers to pass, but the States Parliaments and Governments will take all sorts of care that we do not infringe their rights, so that we need not be greatly concerned about a matter which can be decided only by the High Court. -The argument that the Bill is another instance of the socialistic fad for bringing all industries under Government officialdom is of all arguments the most absurd.-
– Who says that the Bill is socialistic?
– I do not know if the honorable member for Parramatta said that it is socialistic; but he spoke of it as’ providing for Government interference with private enterprise, and said that it would be better to leave matters affecting exports’ and imports to men whose business it is to deal with them. I do not think any attempt should be made to classify the legislation brought before this House into socialistic or anti- socialistic measures.
– I never even thoughtof that aspect of the case.
– The- honorable member did not directly say anything on that point, but I understood that he held the same views as were enunciated by the honorable and learned member for Parkes,’ who condemned the measure as a proposed interference with private enterprise. I hope that ‘ no honorable member will be influenced by any such reason as that. If the proposal be a good one, surely we can adopt it without reference to the question whether or ‘not it emanates from those who belong to a particular school of economic thought. I ‘ hope this Bill will be fullyconsidered in Committee, and that it will not be relegated to a Select Committee. No possible advantage could attend1 the adoption of the latter course, but, on the other hand, the consideration of the matter would be delayed until next session.
– Is there any violent hurry for legislation on the subject?
– Is the measure urgently required in South Australia?
– I do not think it will affect South Australia to any great extent, except so far as imports are concerned. I consider that a measure which is intended to safeguard the health of the people is as pressing as are some of the questions that have been mentioned by the honorable member for Parramatta.
– The Bill does not directly deal with the adulteration of foods. That could be better provided for in another measure.
– That point may be argued in Committee. I believe that this Billwill confer substantial benefits upon our producers, and that any legislation which will have that effect should be brought into operation as early as possible. If the reputation of our produce were to suffer, our exportations would be seriously reduced, and our population would not expand at the rate at which we desire to see it increase. Therefore, as population is our greatest need, we ought to do everything we can to promote the growth of our industries and the expansion of our export trade.
– I was very pleased to hear from the honorable member for Boothby that in the State which he represents everything is almost as perfect as it could be. We know also that in Queensland a system of inspection and grading is applied to produce intended for export, and that Victoria is proposing to legislate in the same direction.
– That is about as far as they will go in Victoria.
– They already have an Act in operation.
– Then practically New South Wales is the only State which has not passed legislation dealing with the classification of exports. I am not aware that any greatdemand has been made for this measure. I believe that, as a matter of fact, it has emanated from the departmental officers, who are always anxious to increase their powers. In New South Wales the Government officials have been endeavouring for years past to secure an enactment for the regulation of the dairying industry, but they have always failed, because the producers are strongly opposed to any such legislation.
– The officers realize the necessity for it.
– The producers object, and rightly so, to being placed at the mercy of any Government official. Every State has its own methods of promoting the producing industries. Victoria has given a great impetus to the butter industry by granting bonuses, but unfortunately the Government grant has not gone into the pockets of those whom it was intended to benefit, but into the hands of unscrupulous traders.’The evidence given before the Butter Commission showed that the greatest corruption existed in connexion with the export trade. I have read the report of that Commission, which should be perused by every producer in Australia. The Commission have done splendid work in exposing the nefarious practices which have been resortedto by traders, but I do not see any reason why the disclosures that have been made in Victoria should serve as a pretext for saddling the producers of all the States with legislation such as that now before us. I believe that the evils which have arisen in Victoria in the past will be to a large extent corrected by the establishment of cooperative dairying companies, such as exist in New South Wales.
– I must ask the honorable member not to discuss the Secret Commissions Bill, which is on the noticepaper for discussion at a later date.
– I do not wish to discuss that measure at present, because I thoroughly believe in it. The producers of New South Wales have been self-reliant to the utmost degree, and have established the butter industry upon a sound footing, without any Government interference or support. They have always been prepared to meet the producers of other countries in the open markets of the world, and they deserveevery credit for the success which they have achieved. There is no reason whatever why they should now have their produce subjected to Government inspection.
– Hear, hear. New South Wales is a wonderful country.
– New South Wales demonstrated to Victoria the value of the cream separator. The proprietors of the Leader and the Australasian sent representatives to inspect the New South Wales butter factories before any institution of the kind was in existence in Victoria. The use of a Government brand in connexion with butter intended for export will not add one far.thing to the value of the article: Those who are advocating the adoption of . a Government brand do not understand the subject. The butter will not be improved in quality, or enhanced in value. It is the brand of =the factory which has its value in the market. In Victoria I have purchased large quantities of butter, and have been principally concerned with the brand on the article.
– Does the honorable member know that the South African buyers are’ asking for a Government brand ?
– I was not aware of that, but I know that some of the buyers for the London market who gave evidence before the Butter Commission in New South Wales stated that they did1 not require any Government brand. The producers of New South Wales are as anxious as any one to obtain high prices, and if they considered that any advantage would be conferred upon them by the adoption of a Government brand they would be only too glad to agree, to it. They have for the last twenty years been engaged in conducting large co-operative enterprises, and have handled and marketed their own produce^ instead of sending it to proprietary firms, such as those who have been operating in ‘Victoria, and whose main object has been to make as much profit as they could out of the producer. At a conference of producers recently held in Sydney, at which fully three-fourths of those engaged in the butter industry were represented, a resolution was passed by a large majority in opposition to any Government grading, or other interference with the industry.
– In Denmark the Government brand adds to the value of the butter.
– No, the price is fixed by a board, independently of the brand. Even supposing that the Government brand in Denmark has the effect of adding to the value of the butter, it does not follow that the adoption of a similar practice in the Commonwealth would have equally beneficial results. I would remind honorable members that at the Earl’s Court Exhibition a few years ago a New South Wales factory carried off the blue ribbon for the best exhibit of butter against competitors from all parts of the British Empire, including Victoria and New Zealand. That was a signal victory for private enterprise over Government graders and inspectors.
– We have to look, at the average o£ the quality,, and not at one special case.
– No doubt, but my contentionis that the Government brand does not give the butter any higher value. I do not consider that the proposed system of grading is practicable. The proposed methods could not. very well be applied to fruit, and so far as butter is concerned, it is proposed to start at the wrong end. It is intended that the produce shall be inspected, and graded when it arrives at the port for export, but I hold that the proper place to begin is the factory. The New South Wales producers believe in the cream being graded in the first instance, and I think that all that is ‘required’ is a strict Dairy Supervision Act. The provisions for insuring cleanliness in the dairy cannot be too stringent, but no attempt should be made to interfere with the exportation of produce. It would be quite possible, as has been recommended by the Butter Commission, to insist upon ‘the factories registering their brands,, and to require them to ship only under such brands.
– Those would practically be Government brands.
– It is proposed that the Government shall have power to prevent butter from being exported - that is what I object to. The farmers wish to keep their industry iri their own hands.
– What is the difference between a compulsorily registered brand and a Government brand?
– Why should we not have a registered brand for butter, as we have registered brands for horses and cattle?
– The arguments which the honorable member has just advanced might be used in support of the union label proposal.
– If I were to attempt to ‘deal with that question at this stage I should be ruled out of order.
– Does not the honorable member think that it is right that cattle brands should be registered?
– No doubt their registration would largely put down cattle stealing, and the registration of butter brands would be of great benefit to the producers, as it would deter persons from using the butter boxes of others. I am certainly an advocate of the grading system, but object to the work being carried out by Government officials as it would involve the appoint- ment of a whole army of experts. Had this Bill been demanded by the producers I should have supported it ; but as a matter of fact we do not find even one of our producers speaking in favour of it. I am satisfied that when the people become more familiar with the provisions of the Bill, petition after petition against its passing will be presented.
– Would the honorable member make grading compulsory ?
– I would not. The cooperative factories are combining to carry out the work of grading for themselves. When the producers recognise that they themselves are the proper persons to deal with this work, and send their produce to one central floor, they will be able to control the whole industry without Government interference of any kind. The co-operative companies propose to appoint their own graders.
– Will not all this grading confuse the producers?
– I think not. We are told that New Zealand butter secures the best price in the markets of the world. I may say that I have purchased large quantities of butter produced in that colony, and that my experience is that while one can get New Zealand butter graded as “ No. 1,” which is in every way suited . to the palates of one’s Sydney customers, it is possible to get butter branded “ first grade “ which is not at all suited to their taste. I have known butter that would not sell on the Sydney market, and would be regarded as of second-rate quality, to be in great demand for export to South Africa.
– I thought the honorable member was going to say that it was sent to Melbourne.
– Some of the butter to which I refer was sold to Melbourne firms for export to South Africa, because there was no local butter obtainable that was good enough for the South African trade. We do not require a Commerce Bill to deal with light weights ; but that is a matter to which I think we might well give some attention.
– It would not apply to the honorable member.
– I may tell the honorable member that in the early history of the butter industry in Australia - when Victoria was making rapid strides, and opening up trade with various countries in respect of this article of food - I happened to be interested in a large co-operative butter factory in Newcastle, and had the pleasure of sending the first shipment of tinned butter to the East. We spent a great deal of money, not only in developing this trade with the East, but in sending shipments to> Malta and Gibraltar, and this branch of our business went on swimmingly until a Victorian firm suddenly undercut us. We were greatly surprised at this, and failed’ to understand how they could undersell us, until we learned that they were selling 14 ozs. as 16 ozs. In that case we were theheavy weights, and the Victorians were the light weights.
– That is what the Sydney candle manufacturers are doing at the present time.
– In my opinion all reasonable care should be exercised in connexion withthe butter industry. The several States have gone to great expense to secure theplacing of their produce on the markets of the world in as good a condition as possible. No stone has been left unturned to achieve success. Our produce has withstood all criticism, and we have been able to compete with the products of the world in the open market of London. In thesecircumstances I do not think that Government interference at the port of export wi’.T be attended with the good results that are anticipated. I fail to understand why the Government should have any special reason for supervising the export of butter or other produce whilst they pay no attentionwhatever to produce intended for local consumption.
– Australians are experts inbutter.
– Doubtless they are. If weare to take action in this direction, let us start at the very basis of the industry, and’ see that our producers are working on right lines. But there has been no great demand’ for this Bill, and as the several States havetheir own graders, and the people of New South Wales are very much opposed to the measure, I must certainly vote against it. Let us educate our producers on the lines; I have indicated. The PostmasterGeneraland the Vice-President of the ExecutiveCouncil represent large farming constituencies, and I should like to knowhow their constituents view this proposal. I trust that the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee, so that we may have an opportunity of” hearing the other side of the question. So far all the criticism that has been levelled” against the Bill has come from the representatives of New South Wales. The reason for this is that the producers of that
State have had to carve their way to success without Government interference or assistance of any kind. The dairying industry in that State to-day owes its high position to the efforts of the producers themselves, and after the disclosures of the Butter Commission, the people will look very cautiously at any proposed interference on the part of the Government.
– If there were some interference on the part of the Government with the sale of manures, it would be well for the farmers.
– Government interference gave rise to the lands administration troubles in New South Wales that are now so prominently before the public.
– In that case it was private enterprise that interfered with Government enterprise.
– Certainly not. I am pleased to know that the Government of South Australia assisted the farmers of that State by means of loans amounting to £50,000.
– Private enterprise did not come in there.
– Quite so; but in the State I represent private enterprise will come to the front every time, and will teach the other States what is necessary in this direction. I do not know that the products of South Australia are selling at higher prices in the London market than are those of New South Wales. I certainly think that the producers should be consulted in regard to this proposal, and it is for this reason, that I trust that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Parramatta that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, will be accepted. I do not know that there is any pressing need for the Bill. Legislation on somewhat similar lines has been passed by all the States, with the exception of New South Wales, and I think she can manage to scrape along for the next few months without any interference in this direction on the part of the Commonwealth Government.
– The honorable member for Boothby is responsible on this occasion for the introduction of the question of Socialism.
– It was introduced before he spoke.
– He replied to the honorable member for Parramatta, who, he said, had not mentioned it.
– I stated that it had been mentioned by the honorable and learned member for Parkes.
– As that aspect of the question has arisen, I shall only say that no honorable member on this side of the House objects to a measure, simply because it is a socialistic proposal. A civilized community living in large masses must have social laws, and must allow the central authority - whatever it may be - to exercise a lesser or greater control over the management of those affairs which, in the interests of the community itself, can be best controlled by that authority.
– We are in absolute accord on that point.
– I come now to the point at which we commence to differ. The question, “ What is Socialism?” has frequently been put in this House and elsewhere, but fortunately the party to which the honorable member for Boothby belongs, has rendered it quite unnecessary for those who are opposed to their policy to give a definition of the word. The Labour Party have defined the Socialism for which they are striving, as the possession by the State of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
– The Federal Labour Party has no such definition.
– That is the definition, and the honorable member cannot get away from it.
– It is absolutely wrong.
– It may be, so far as the combined party in this House is concerned,but separate these honorable members,send them back to their different leagues, and they will find the definition I have given nailed over their doorways.
– We have no such definition.
– I quite agree with the honorable member for Moira, who said that, to a certain extent, he was not afraid of State Socialism. No doubt he would say in much the same way that he is not afraid to drink water, recognising that it is a necessary portion of his diet. But if we were to ask him to live entirely cm water-
– I should say that I would like a little microbe killer in it.
– No doubt the honorable member would. At any rate, he would refuse to assent to such a request. That is the whole position. We can all regard a measure such as this from the stand-point merely of its effect and its expediency. Whether we approve of this measure or not, it must be admitted that it is very farreaching and important. It goes beyond anything of the kind attempted in any of the States of Australia or in New Zealand. It proposes to deal not merely with certain articles ; we are, under this Bill, asked to give full power to the Minister to put his grip upon every article of trade and production, import and export, throughout every State of Australia.
– Only so far as the prevention of fraud is concerned. The Bill goes no further.
– The honorable gentleman is not acquainted with the Government Bill. I am afraid I shall have to show later that the Minister who introduced it is not acquainted with it. I have correctly stated the power that is given under this Bill. As the Vice-President of the Executive Council has just said, the Bill attempts to deal with fraud or false description of goods.
-And it goes no further.
– I shall very soon show, to the satisfaction of the House, that it does go further. I am sure every honorable member will be delighted if we can remove dishonesty from trade, and compel honesty in commercial transactions. We desire to remove every possibility of false descriptions, and the deception and injury which may be the result of false descriptions. But this Bill does something more; It not only provides that there shall be true descriptions of imports and exports - which is quite right - but it attempts to raise the standard of production. That is a very good thing also, if it can be successfully done by the State. I shall show afterwards that this is really three measures rolled into one. The objects of the Bill, to which I have just referred, are good objects, but we shall have to take great care that in giving the enormous power which is here asked for into the hands of a Government, or of a single Minister, we shall not be injuring the trade of Australia.
– Is there not equally enormous power placed in the hands of the Minister under the Customs Act?
– No, there is not, or the Government would not want this Bill. Further, I remind honorable members that we have seen how powers given under the Customs Act may be used in some cases. We have seen that the powers given for one purpose may be applied to quite another; we have seen that an action intended to prevent disturbance of the labour market in Australia by the introduction of labourers, say, during a strike, may be used to exclude six harmless hatters.
– That is absolutely incorrect.
– I pay no attention to such interjections.
Mr.Higgins. - There has not been a single man kept out of Australia by the operation of that Act.
– There was, for a week.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to connect these remarks with the question before the House, which is the second reading of the Commerce Bill’. If they cannot be readily connected they are, of course, out of order.
– I can very readily connect them. Extreme powers are asked for by the Minister who will have the administration of this measure should it become law, and I am illustrating the danger of giving such extreme power to any Minister without limitation. I say again that men were excluded from Australia for a time.
– Until the law was complied with.
– The law had not been broken in any way.
– Did those men apply for exemption ?
– How could they be expected to apply for what they did not know was necessary ?
– Those who knew they were coming knew what was necessary.
– The Minister of the day had a right to admit those men the instant he was informed of the circumstances, but instead of doing so he delayed their admission. Irefer to that matter only as an instance of powers given to a Minister, and used in a way which was never intended by Parliament. If it had been stated at the time Parliament agreed to give those powers to the- Minister administering the Act that they would be used in the way I have described, the majority of the members of this House would not have agreed to intrust the Minister with such power.
– The honorable gentleman has not correctly interpreted the action of the Minister of the day.
– My interpretation of his action is correct. Although I bow with due humility to the interpretation of the honorable member for Bass, I still retain the right to express my own opinion.
– Why -not ask the light honorable member for East Sydney his interpretation of that Ministerial action ?
– If honorable members will be calm, and permit me to proceed with my speech, I shall endeavour to confine my remarks to the subjectmatter of the Bill. I have no desire to enter upon another excursion which may irritate honorable members opposite.
– Why did not the honorable gentleman use the case of the six potters rather than that of the six hatters for the purpose of his illustration?
– The case of’ the six potters should never be mentioned from the labour corner.
– The case of the six hatters should not be mentioned from any corner.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs, when introducing this measure, made a somewhat extraordinary statement. The honorable gentleman endeavoured to shield himself behind the previous Bill, which, he said, was the Bill of the late Government. That is a most unusual course for any Minister to take. He should be prepared to accept the responsibility of the measure which he undertakes to introduce.
– The Minister said that this was a modification of the other Bill. He did not shield himself Behind the other Bill.
– The honorable gentleman said that the provisions of this measure were less drastic than the Bill of the late Government ; that the late Government proposed this and that. The honorable gentleman was shielding himself behind the other Bill.
– No, he was giving a history of the measure.
– I take Hansard for the statement I make. On several occasions, when the strength of the provisions of this measure were questioned, the honorable gentleman referred honorable members to the other Bill. I say that course was unusual. I also deny that there was any Bill dealing with this matter accepted by the late Government. The late Government did have a measure prepared, but the Bill drafted was never dealt with by them before they left office. I had seen a copy of it, and prepared some criticisms upon it, which I will give honorable members the benefit of to-night. As a matter of fact, the drastic provisions dealing, at any rate, with imports, came from a Bill which was drafted by a Ministry, of which the present Prime Minister was a member, if npt the head. That Government drafted a Merchandise Marks Bill, containing,, as regards imports, the, most drastic provisions to be found in the present Bill. The Watson Government rechristened that production. I do not know whether they did not desire to carry it on under the name conferred upon it by the previous Government, but after making certain amendments in the Bill, they called it the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill. When the late Government took office, they found two measures before Parliament, the Trade Marks Bill and the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill, and they found that certain provisions of the latter Bill dealt with matters which should properly be dealt with in a Trade Marks Bill. They found that the draftsman of the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill had borrowed from the English Merchandise Marks Act a number of provisions al together inapplicable to our circumstances, and other provisions included in the Englist Act, apparently in order to dovetail into existing British legislation, which could not be dovetailed into our different legislation.
– I should like to know those provisions.
– I am not going to debate them now. I say that the British Merchandise Marks Act dealt with matters which the present Government have not found it necessary to include in this Commerce Bill. Then it was determined that there should be a separation entirely of the overlapping provisions of the two Bills, and the resulting Bill never came before the Reid-McLean Cabinet for considera- tion. The draft that remains in the Department is not a Government Bill, but a draft of a Bill prepared for the Government, and not dealt with in Cabinet at the time the Reid-McLean Government left office.
– But it was approved by the Minister of Trade and Customs in that Government.
– The honorable gentleman is not here, and I am unable to say to what extent he may have approved of it. I know it was intended that it should be submitted to the’ Cabinet, but was not dealt with.
– I understand that the honorable gentleman himself had drawn up some critique upon it, and that would scarcely have been done if the Minister of Trade and Customs in the same Government had not approved of it.
-As usual, all Bills in print reach the members of a Government as soon as they are printed, no matter whether they are approved or not. In the circumstances, the statement made by the present Minister of Trade and Customs, in introducing this Bill, is altogether wide of the mark. I have next to consider whether, as the honorable gentleman stated, the provisions of the. Bill to which he referred, were more drastic than those in the measure now before the House. I turn to the honorable gentleman’s own comparison, and I find that he said -
The measure prepared by the late Government was called the Imports and Exports Examination Bill of 1905. Clauses 1 and 2 in the old Bill are practically identical with clauses similarly numbered in the present Bill. Clause 3 in the present Bill is altered slightly from the original by the addition of one or two words in the “ trade description.” Clause 4 in ‘the present Bill is the same as clause 5 .in the old Bill. Clause 5 in the present Bill is the same as clause 6 of the old Bill. Clauses 7 and 8 of the old Bill have been dropped.
This is the main difference, according to the Minister. He went on to say -
Clause 9 in the old Bill is the same as clause 6 in the present Bill. Part of clause 3 and clause 10 of’ the old Bill are embodied in clause 7 in the present Bill. Clause 11 in the old Bill is practically the same as clause 8 in the present Bill, and clause 12 in the old Bill is almost identical with clause 9 in the present Bill.’ Part of clause 3 and clause 13 of the old Bill are, with some modifications, embodied in clause 10 of the present Bill, and clause 15 of the old Bill is nearly the same as clause 11 of this Bill. Clause 14 of the old Bill is the same as clause 12 of this Bill.
The only clauses which the Minister says have been omitted -or altered in any material respect are clauses which merely; provide the manner in which samples for analysis shall be taken, and were placed1 in the Bill to protect the owners of goods, so that they might have an opportunity tohave separate analyses made to check the departmental analyses. But there is a greater difference than the Minister stated.. The real difference between the twomeasures is that between clauses 7 and 10. Sub-clause 1 of clause 7 of the old Bill provides that -
The Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the importation or introduction into Australia of any goods which do not comply withthe standards prescribed by the regulations or by the proclamation.
Sub-clause 1 of clause 7 of the Bill now before the House provides that -
The Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the importation or introduction into Australia of any goods specified in the proclamation, unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character relating to such matters, and applied in such manner, as is prescribed by the proclamation or by the regulations.
The intention of the old Bill was to protect the health of the people, and to provide in regard to important articles iri” connexion with which reliability is needed that good’s of a certain standard of quality shall be imported. The intention of the present Bill is to allow all classes of goods to comein, no matter whether thev are up to a standard or not, so long as they have affixed to them a trade description of whichthe Minister of Trade and Custom’s approves. That is the main difference betweenthe two measures.
– Is there anything in the Bill which can be construed bv a sane man as a provision for the compulsory gradingof butter?
– I will deal with that question when I come to it.
– There is nothing of the kind in the Bill.
– Here we have another Minister who does -not know the powers for which the Government are asking. I will ask the House directly tojudge of the accuracy of his statement. The Bill is first of all a Commonwealth Adulteration Bill- that is to say, it provides that everything that comes into or goes out of the Commonwealth must be, if the Minister so desires, described1 truly and exactly.
– There can be no objection to .that provision.
– I do not object to it. If the Minister of Trade and Customs does his duty, every person in the community will be able to judge by the descriptions attached to goods what their nature is. The Bill is also a Merchandize Marks Bill. It provides that the Minister may cause to be imposed on articles of export a certain mark or brand, showing source of origin and other particulars, and may exclude from the Commonwealth goods branded or marked in what he considers an objectionable manner. Lastly, the Bill is a Grading Bill, since it gives the Minister power to compel exporters to have graded such goods as he thinks should be graded.
– To what clause does the honorable member refer?
– Subclause 1 of clause 10 provides that -
The Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the exportation of any goods specified in the proclamation, unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character, relating to such matters -
I will show directly what these matters are - and applied in such manner, as is prescribed by the proclamation or by the regulations.
Does the Vice-President of the Executive Council contend that the Minister could not under that clause say to an exporter, “ You shall apply the term first-class to this quality Of goods, second-class to that, and thirdclass to the other;” or that he could not compel the examination of all exported goods ?
– The clause only requires that the statements made by an exporter shall be accurate.
– If the honorable gentleman will turn to clause 3 he will find what are the matters to which the trade description referred to in clause 10 may relate.
– The word “grade” is expressly mentioned in paragraph a of clause 3 in relation to “ trade description.”
– Subclause1 of clause 7, which I have just read, sets forth the powers of the Minister in regard to imports. If the Minister will turn to clause 3 he will find that unless the contrary intention appears - “ Trade description,” in relation to any goods, means any description, statement, indication, or suggestion, direct or indirect -
The Minister may. demand that the trade description shall state whether an article is pure, or, if there is an adulterant in it, what that adulterant is, and how much of it is contained in the article ; and may require that goods shall be marked first, second, or third class, or first or second grade.
– That has nothing to do with Government grading.
– Of course it gives power for Government grading in connexion with exports. These provisions seem very simple until they are looked into. If honorable members pay attention to the provision in regard to country of origin they will see that it is possible to embody in regulation the strong provisions of the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill that goods imported here from England, and bearing on them the name of London or Liverpool as the place of origin, may be refused admission if there is not in addition the name of the country in which those cities are situated, supposing that there should happen to be a town of the same name within the Commonwealth. Of course I know that this provision has been borrowed from the English Act, but the circumstances of England are quite different from those of the Commonwealth. England is one of the great countries of the world, and when London, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Liverpool are mentioned anywhere throughout the world it is understood that the English towns of those names are referred to, unless the contrary is indicated. There was a special reason for the provision in the English Act, inasmuch as foreign manufacturers, in the endeavour to pass off on the English public as goods manufactured in England goods which had really been made abroad, marked them with the names of large English cities. Sometimes the goods had been made in or near small villages abroad, bearing the names of large English cities, or there were towns of the same name in the countries from which the goods were exported, and the description as. to origin was therefore not altogether false, unless the goods had not been made in such towns, though it was absolutely misleading. But it would be absurd to require under our legislation, because there is a Liverpool in New South Wales, and perhaps a London in one of the other States, that goods of a house likethat of Crosse and Blackwell, London, which have been known for a century, should be branded “England” in addition to the name of the city of manufacture. The Bill does not say that goods shall be so branded, but it gives the Minister power to say so, and that was the intention of the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill. In this measure far too much is left to regulations. We ought to know a great deal more of the intentions of the Ministry in regard to the measure, and of the real scope of the provisions of the Bill ; and before we allow it to become law, we should provide that these extreme and dangerous powers shall not be exercised by regulation. Then the trade description may’ be required to furnish particulars -
As to the manufacturer or producer of the goods or the person by whom they were selected, packed, or in any way prepared for the market; or -
As to the mode of manufacturing, producing, selecting, packing, or otherwise preparing the goods; or
As to the material or ingredients of which the goods are composed, or from which they are derived.
That is a most extensive provision. It might be exercised quite properly in some cases, but we are asked to grant the Minister power to apply these conditions to every article imported into Australia.
– How could we particularize one or more commodities, and avoid making the provision general in its application ?
– That is the point. The Minister of Trade and Customs said that it was not proposed to apply the provision generally. He gave us a li.st. of articles to which he thought it would be applicable. The information required might be’ easily supplied in regard lo some articles, and it might be desirable that such information should be made public. But in some articles a hundred and one materials or ingredients are used.
– It is not reasonable to assume that the Minister would not exercise discrimination.
– The honorable member now says that discrimination should be exercised.’ He asked me, in the first instance, how this provision could be applied to one article and not to others.
– I meant in the Bill.
– I have shown the honorable member that the Minister says he intends under the Bill to exercise discrimination in regard to imports. The trade descriptions which I have quoted are those which, according to clause i) the Minister may require importers to supply. Particulars may be required not only as to the manufacturer or producer, but as to any or all of the matters to which I have referred before the goods are admitted to Australia. ‘ Now, as regards exports, the trade description has to be supplied, if the Minister so wills it, and as far as he so wills it. The goods cannot be exported unless that condition is complied with. Secondly, under this provision he may enforce grading. I think that the VicePresident of the Executive Council will now see that it is possible to> make this a grading Bill, and to’ enforce the grading of any article the Minister may select.
– No sane man out of Parliament would think that.
– The Minister is reflecting seriously upon his own colleagues. He will find that in the course of the speech delivered by the Minister of Trade and Customs in introducing the Bill, he seemed to propose what I am stating. At any rate, he is seeking, under the Bill, full powers to begin and continue the compulsory grading of our exports if he chooses. Under these provisions, he could grade wool, or grain, or anything.
– And the Government could resign.
– According to the statement of the Minister of Trade and Customs, I take it that the powers of grading proposed to be conferred by the Bill could be applied to .wool or grain - to anything and everything. That is a very extraordinary power to give, and I do not know whether those honorable members who represent m’ore fully than I do the leading industries of Australia are prepared to clothe the Minister with such powers without some limitation. In New Zealand they have an Act that applies to butter and cheese only. Here power is being asked to grade all classes of produce, and to insist upon certain descriptions as to quality being attached to every export of goods.
– That might apply to leather, for instance.
– Yes, that is one of the articles included in the list, and I am not sure that there is not good reason for it. But it is proposed to go far beyond that. We are to grant this power in the faint hope that every man who occupies the position of Minister of Trade and Customs will be reasonable and wise, whereas our previous experience shows us that we should be very careful to restrict the powers of Ministers. I never knew Acts of this kind of universal application to be passed, giving indiscriminate power to a Minister over the whole trade and industry of the community.
– Was not that proposed in the Bill which the Reid Government intended to introduce?
– The honorable member is asking me to repeat what I have already fully stated. I pointed out that that Bill had never been brought before the late Government, and that it was unusual for any one to try and shelter himself behind a Bill found in the Department.
– No one has done that in this case.
– We shall differ as to that, of course; but if the Attorney-General had read the speech of his colleague the Minister of Trade and Customs, and did not feel that he was in a position in which he was bound to defend him, he would probably agree with me.
– I feel bound to defend my honorable colleague, merely because he is not here to defend himself.
-I am not making any personal attack upon the Minister of Trade and Customs, but I am merely saying that as a matter of political etiquette a Minister should not endeavour to shelter himself behind a Bill found in the Department in order to cover some of his own proposals that are supposed to be drastic. All I can say is that the late Cabinet never approved of any Bill, and that no Ministry can be held responsible for a measure until it is introduced by it into Parliament. I presume that it is intended to grade exports under this Bill. Perhaps the Attorney-General would inform us whether that is the intention, because I think that it is due to us that we should be told.
– The honorable member said that the Bill meant that every article of export would have to be graded.
– Thehonorable member should not put words into my mouth that I have not used. I said that the Bill proposed to give power to grade everything. Whether that is meant must depend upon the Minister or Ministers. I ask now whether that is the case, but, of course, if the Attorney-General says that that is not his business-
– I shall take an opportunity presently to state what I think about it.
– WhatI ask is - Is this intended to be a grading Bill, or not?
– It is intended in certain cases where it is found necessary to protect the public that a proper description shall be applied to goods.
– But what I ask is whether it is intended to grade goods for export?
– That all depends upon the meaning attached to the word “ grade.” It is not intended to dictate to people as to what they shall import or export.
-That is not the question. The grading does not prevent people from exporting. Under a system of grading, it will be competent for persons to export what they please. In Victoria, for instance, butter may be exported with the word “ pastry “ placed upon the box by way of description. That does not stop the exportation of the article. Surely the Ministry have some intentions. Some of the States have been grading, and some have not ; and I ask whether it is intended that all our exports, or certain of them, such as the Minister may decide, shall be graded by the Commonwealth? That is a matter upon which we should have information before we proceed to discuss the Bill. Why should I be kept herediscussing that aspect of the question if it is not the intentionof the Government to adopt this system of grading? It is only right that I should know the intentions of the Government in this regard, and I ask the Attorney-General to say now whether it is intended to grade throughout Australia butter, cheese, and other articles which are now graded in some of the States. There is no answer from the Minister. That is the way that Parliament is treated when the Government have a majority sufficient to carry a measure. I contend that Parliament has a right to know the intentions of the Ministry in connexion with this measure.
– We shall not stand much more of this kind of treatment.
– Surely the honorable member does not presume that Parliament will accept the Bill unless its intentions are madeclear.
– No; but I think that before speaking on this measure I have a right to know what is meant. I have stated what I think the Bill means, but one Minister has stated that the Government have no such intention as I have indicated.
– Who said so?
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council.
– It is only a question of what the honorable member means by the word “grading.”
– I ask is it the intention of the Ministry to place such marks on all the butter, or cheese, or any other article exported from Australia, as will indicate its grade or quality, as is now done under some of the State Acts in regard to butter and cheese. Now I hope that I have made my meaning clear. Will the Minister explain?
– I shall address myself to the question presently, and explain myself as well as I can.
– But I want to know now.
– I can only repeat that it is the intention not to dictate to any person as to what goods he shall export or import. But in certain cases, where the public safety and advantage require it, it is intended that the truth shall be told.
– The honorable member for Boothby spoke in support of the Bill, on the ground that it provided for the grading of produce intended for export. We should know at the outset the intention of the Government. From my reading of the speech of the Minister of Trade and Customs, I thought that it was intended to grade produce for export. That impression of mine was questioned by another Minister who said that the Bill did not bear the meaning which I applied to it. , Now we have another Minister who will not say what it means. This is the most extraordinary position of affairs. This seems to be the Bill, not of the Cabinet, but of one Minister, who is absent.
– What is the honorable member’s objection to grading?
– I am not objecting to grading; but the honorable member has a right to know - and, if he knows, I have a right to know - whether under this Bill Commonwealth grading of exports is to be adopted.
– I know.
– Then perhaps the honorable member will, in the absence of the Minister of Trade aand Customs, give me an answer.
– The Government are responsible for their own Bill.
– I cannot obtain an answer, even from an honorable member who says that he knows. I never saw such a condition of affairs in any Parliament. I never knew of a House being asked to indorse a measure of this kind without an explanation as to the intention of the Ministry in regard to such an important matter. If we are to be treated in this way, the Commonwealth Parliamentwill be the most subservient that ever sat. As I cannot get an answer now, I hope that the Attorney-General, who is at present in charge of the Bill, will avail himself of an opportunity to consult the Cabinet before he replies to my inquiries, and that he will inform us whether it is intended that Commonwealth officers shall grade the exports to which the measure is to apply. We have a right to this information - it should have been given to us before - and I hope that it will be supplied before the motion for the second reading of the Bill is carried. I notice that one very important department of trade is not covered by this Bill. It is not to apply in any way to Inter-State trade. Truthful descriptions are to be given, and purityis to be insured in the case of goods imported or exported, but goods bearing all sorts of false description and containing all sorts of injurious ingredients may. seemingly pass to and fro as between the States without check or hindrance.
– Is that customary?
– I am not saying whether it is or not, but I feel satisfied that the Adulteration Acts of the several States would not be in operation if such laws were unnecessary. I should like to know whether the omission to extend the provisions of this Bill to Inter-State trade is intentional or accidental, and, if it is intentional, . the. reasons for it. If such a measure as this is to be passed, there is very important work in connexion with the InterState trade which may be carried out through its agency. . At present, in some of the States, advantage is being taken of certain local laws relating to health and agriculture to practically exclude the products of other States. That is a matter that would be within our control in passing such a measure as this. It is highly desirable that whatever is properly admitted into one State and prohibited in another should be admitted or prohibited, as the case may be, throughout the Commonwealth. In other words, there should be uniformity in this regard. This system of admitting in certain States and excluding in others may be due really to a desire on the part of the State authorities who exclude to free their producers from the competition of others beyond their borders ; but this is a case in which the Commonwealth should step in and endeavour to establish just relations between the States. The Bill ostentatiously omits all reference to Inter-State trade. I do not know why the people should be permitted to do what they like, so far as trade between State and State is concerned, while at the same time we impose severe restrictions upon their trade as between Australia and any other country. There may be some reason for the position taken up by the Government, but it has not been mentioned by the Minister in charge of the Bill. I would ask him also to furnish an answer to this’ question, when replying at the close of the debate. .As the Government propose to exercise the strong powers to be conferred upon them by the Bill over one class of trade, why do they not seek to avail themselves of our constitutional powers over another class ? To my mind, if grading is to be adopted by the Commonwealth, it should, at the outset, at all events, be made optional. If, as has been stated during the debate,’ the result of Government grading has been to secure enhanced prices for goods treated in that way, how foolish any one producing a good article for export would be in refusing to have his produce graded. First of all, we desire to know, however, whether there is to be any grading. The Minister will not tell us. The exports to which this Bill is to be applied should be stated in a schedule to the measure itself. I see some difficulty in the way of dealing with imports in like manner ; but if there is to be grading - and here again I may be beating the wind, because it may not be the intention of the Government to provide for anything of the kind - the Par- liament . should keep in its own hands the power to determine what goods shall be dealt with in that way. If the Ministry wished at any time to add to the list, the ‘addition should be made only byresolution of both Houses of the Parliament. That would be only a very reasonable and proper safeguard. If an illustration of the necessity for this proposal be required, I can supply it, by referring to the two lists of imports and exports which the Minister placed before the House in moving that the Bill be read a second time. In the course, of his speech he said -
I have a list of the articles likely to be affected by the provisions which are intended to prevent the exportation of inferior goods to the detriment of our export trade.
I ask honorable members to note the difference between this statement and that which, the Attorney-General has made. The importance of this measure does not seem to have been grasped by the Ministry. They have brought it before Parliament, evidently, without being at one as to its meaning, and without- giving that full explanation, which, in a second-reading speech, covering such an important measure as this, could not be compressed into the two or three pages of Hansard that are occupied by the report of the speech of the Minister. The Minister of Trade and Customs spoke, as quoted, of provisions in the Bill that were intended to prevent the exportation of certain articles, and yet we have been told by the Attorney-General that it is not intended to prevent the export of anything. I think the House will bear me out when I say that that was the statement he made. According to the Minister of Trade” and Customs, biscuits and confectionery are among the articles likely to be affected by the Bill. Why they should have been selected out of the thousand and one articles of manufacture which we export, I do not know.
– The Government are thinking of the children.
– But the Bill is to apply to biscuits sent out of the country. The reason suggested by the honorable member may be right, but we have had no explanation on the subject from the Minister. Another item mentioned in the list is fruits. The words used in the Tariff, “Fruits, raisins, bottled,” are- employed. Those are the only kinds of fruit with which the Bill is intended to deal according to this list, but a doubt as to the accuracy of that list is raised by the further statement made by the Minister that -
In connexion with the export of fruit from Hobart, for instance, the Collector of Customs would receive notice of a proposed exportation, and would have to satisfy himself, through inspection by his officers, that the fruit was such as should be exported.
In this, as to preventing exportation, we have another contradiction of the state, ment made by the Attorney-General, and it would appear that it is the intention of the Government that the Bill shall deal with fresh fruit, although in the list of goods which the Minister read, only “fruit, raisins/, bottled,” is mentioned. We find apparel, boots,” and shoes, and furniture, in the list of exports to which the Bill is to apply. I fail to understand why these goods should be specially selected. Some furniture, for instance, is largely constructed of iron. We have all sorts of other iron manufactures, and it may reasonably be asked, Why is the Bill to apply to one class and not to others? Then, again, certain other furniture is constructed almost entirely of wood. There are various Australian industries in which wood is largely employed, and why should those industries be omitted? Meats, preserved an’d concentrated, are also to be dealt with under this measure, but I see no provision for rabbits, or for meat in carcase. No reference is made to meat of this description in the 1 ist read by the Minister. In the list of imports, to which this measure is to apply, both preserved and concentrated milk appear. We produce preserved milk in Australia, and I should like to know why only concentrated milk is mentioned in the export list quoted by the Minister? It seems to me that all these facts show that the Bill has received no consideration, and that it would be dangerous to allow it to pass from, our Rands in the absence of any clear indication on the part of the Government as to what is intended. Coming to the list of imports quoted by the Minister of Trade and Customs, we find that it comprises woollen goods, but that those articles are not included in the list of exports. Salt is also included in the list of imports, but is excluded from the’ exports.
– Are we exporting salt?
– South Australia exports salt to New Zealand; but I have never known of salt being adulterated.
– Perhaps it is thought that sand might be mixed with it.
– But why is that article selected in this way from a whole host of others ? There are many other articles mentioned in the list to whose inclusion I might take equal objection. I am sure, however, that I have satisfied honorable members, whether they be for or against the measure, that Ministers have not considered it properly. The very statements prepared for the information of the House, such as these lists of exports and imports, to which it is proposed the Bill shall apply, shows that there has been no fixed principle behind the Government proposition. They have submitted it without having made up their minds as to the basis on which they are going to deal with these goods. Yet we are asked to put these stupendous powers into their hands without any reservation or safeguard. I think we ought to protect the exports of the Commonwealth, and the large industries which depend on them, from serious danger, and that, so far as grading is concerned, if that is intended the goods to be ‘dealt with should be stated in the measure, and no addition to them should be made, except by resolution pf both Houses of Parliament. I go further, and support the proposal made by the deputy leader of the Opposition, to refer this Bill to a Committee. Honorable members may think that this is for the purpose of obstruction, but it is no such thing.
– It is simply to help on business.
– I desire that those conducting the business of the country shall be given the opportunity to which they are entitled, to throw light upon the possible operation of a measure such as this.
– Has not the Minister of Trade and Customs sufficient information to go upon?
– If, after my half-hour’s exposure of the lack of information on the part of the Minister, the honorable member still thinks that the honorable gentleman has sufficient information in connexion with this Bill, all I can say is that he would risk the industries of Australia on very little information.
– I think that the Minister has better information than ex parte information, such as he .’would get from interested persons.
– It would not be exparte at all. This is a measure which does not affect trade alone. It must affect, for good or for ill, the whole of the industries of Australia. Surely those conducting those industries, in the first place for their own benefit, and, secondly, for the benefit of Australia, and who are in a position to say whether this industry should be dealt with and that should not, whether this produce should be graded, and the other should not, are entitled to a hearing before action is taken, and not afterwards, when it will be too late? I do not know of any other Parliament that would refuse to give them that opportunity. In the New South Wales Parliament, Bills dealing with matters of this sort must, under the Standing Orders, be referred to a Committee. In the British Parliament there are Law Committees. Trade Committees, and other standing Committees to which Bills dealing with certain Questions must go before they are dealt with by Parliament.
– Is the honorable gentleman’s statement concerning the New South Wales Standing Orders correct?
– It is correct.
– I never heard of it.
– The honorable member will find it in the Standing Orders of New South Wales. I see that the Attorney-General has proposed the very same thing. The honorable and learned gentleman has, at the present time, a motion on the business-paper, dealing with the subject, and, if it had been carried before this Bill was submitted for a second reading, the measure would have been referred to the Committee, for which the honorable and learned gentleman desires to make provision.
– That would not necessarily follow.
– This is the motion which the Attorney-General has tabled -
Surely, if that Committee had been ap pointed by this House, one of its purposes would be to consider a measure of this kind. What a farce it would be, if, after appointing such a Committee, Parliament were to say, “We shall make no use of the Committee; we shall pass it by, whenever we have a measure submitted with which it is especially appointed to deal.” I agree with the honorable member for Bland, that the Committee, if appointed, might be passed by, but it is surely the intention of the motion tabled by the Attorney -General, that such measures as this should be remitted to it. Honorable members must admit that this measure proposes to put the grip of the Minister of Trade and Customs on every export and. import, and that means that all the industries of the country which depend on imports, or which are benefited by the developmentof exports, will be affected by the passing of the Bill. It is not too much to ask, in the circumstances, that those engaged in our industries should havean opportunity to put before Parliament, through a Committee, what they think would be the effect of such a measure, what they have to suggest to improve its provisions, and, if there is to be a grading provision, in what way its application would result in advantage or injury to the industries affected. For instance, suppose the Minister proposed to grade wool or wheat, do honorable members think that any advantage would follow from that? Might it not involve serious drawbacks ?
– It would save the owners a lot of trouble.
– That would depend entirely on the way in which the grading was done. There are two distinct considerations in connexion with grading.
– Is not the American wheat export system based on a system of grading ?
– It is based on a standard weight per bushel, fixed each season, but that is not what is proposed by this measure.
– The American standard deals with weight only, and not with quality.
– The honorable member for Moira must remember that the Commonwealth Government could not deal with exports of wheat in the same way, as they would only begin to touch the goods when they came to be exported, and grading them for standard purposes then would be absolutely useless. The practice in standardizing has been to have specimens of the crop collected all over the State at an early stage, and on these to fix the export weight per bushel, so that there may be a fair deal between the exporter and the buyer abroad. The Commonwealth Government could not do anything of, that -kind, because they can only begin to deal with the matter when the goods reach the wharf for shipment, and a quantity of wheat at any one time on the wharfs would not represent an average of the crop of the whole of the State. I quite recognise the importance of this subject to the honorable member for Moira, and his constituents, and I trust the honorable member will be able to get from the Minister more information concerning what is intended by the Bill than I have been able to get. From lack of that information, I am. at a great disadvantage in dealing with the question. I have concluded, from the remarks of the Minister of Trade and Customs, that grading is intended, although I do not know that the honorable gentleman has absolutely said so in so many words. I have concluded that, also, from the powers asked for in the Bill, but I do not know now whether -it is intended or not. It is highly desirable when we propose to legislate on such matters that we should get the fullest light on the subject to be dealt with. I am unable to see how a committee, inquiring into this measure, and its possible effects upon exports and the industries of Australia, which they represent, could do any harm. I am certain that the investigations of such a committee must do good. They might alter the opinion of honorable members on some points at any rate, and would tend to the benefit of Australia.
– We can all look with some degree of confidence to the opinions on practical business questions of an honorable member like the honorable member who has just resumed his seat. We should always be pleased to hear from him practical suggestions - either by way of criticism of a
Bill, giving reasons why it should not be passed or making suggestions for its improvement. I regret that we have not heard something more practical from the honorable member for North Sydney than we have heard. In the first place/ 1 should like to say that I do not pretend to the knowledge of these matters, possessed by that honorable gentleman and by my honorable colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs. I should much have preferred that the Minister of Trade and Customs should have been here to-night, in order, however informally, to give information to the honorable member for North Sydney in answer to his inquiries. I should like to say that it is of importance to know the source of this Bill and its history. It is of importance to know that, although honorable members opposite call it a drastic Bill, it is very much less drastic than any measure of the kind that has been before this Parliament. It interferes, or purports to interfere, with trade in a much less degree than did the measure which came from another place, or the measure which we found on the stocks prepared by some member of the preceding Government.
– It takes all the powers without naming them.
– I must be forgiven if I do not agree with the honorable gentleman. One point I should like to emphasize is that in the Bill which we found there was a provision which has already been referred to.
– That is the draft Bill which was not considered by the last Government.
– It must be recollected that it w0as not a new measure, but one which must have been before the late Government for full consideration, and after discussion on the subject had taken place in the Senate. Honorable members cannot imagine for a moment that the measure did not receive a certain degree of mature consideration by the late Government, and yet we found a provision in the Bill, drafted by one of their number, which was intended to dictate to the mercantile community of Australia what goods they should, or should not, import.
– The honorable member for North Sydney has said that that Bill was never considered’ by the Government.
– The Government are again sheltering themselves behind an old Bill.
– We do not intend to shelter ourselves behind anything which the late Government did. It would be a very poor shelter.
– It would be a poor shelter.
– The actions of the late Government could not shelter the honorable member and his colleagues, so that we are not going to take advantage of them. I refer to their Bill, not by way of example, but by way of warning. We have departed from it in the direction of protecting, without unduly harassing merchants, the very people whom he and his friends are always holding up as needing protection - the consumers of Australia. Now, the honorable member has not a word to say about the consumers of the goods imported here. It is we who are going to defend them.
Mr.Dugald Thomson. - That is not correct. Will the Minister quote any words of mine which bear that meaning?
– That portion Of the Bill which relates to imports is designed to protect the consumers of Australia.
– The honorable and learned gentleman cannot quote words of mine to the effect that I do not wish to see them protected.
– The honorable member did not say anything about their protection.
– I said that I favoured the exclusion of improper goods.
– But the Bill has three functions - first, to put down with a strong hand any expressly dishonest statements regarding goods; secondly, to prevent the omission of any statement necessary for the telling of the truth ; and, thirdly,to prevent adulteration.
– What about grading ?
– Am I not to have an opportunity to put together a few connected sentences? It was in regard to that part of the measure which restrains what I may call the suppression of the truth that the honorable member did not say a word on behalf of the consumers.
– I said that I am in favour of putting down any dishonest practice, and of preventing any false description.
– The next point I wish to make is that the honorable member said that the House should not give “such enormous powers to the Minister as would be conveyed by the Bill. Does he not know that still more enormous powers have been conferred upon Ministers by Acts already on the statute-book? By the Customs Act of 1901, section 52, paragraph g, it is provided, after the mention of a great many things as prohibited imports, that - all goods the importation of which may be prohibited by proclamation - shall be prohibited imports. There is absolutely no restraint there on the power of the Minister.
– Yet the Minister said that he wished for greater power.
– Section 56 of the same Act permits conditions and restrictions to be imposed in regard to the importation of goods which are not absolutely prohibited, in these words -
The power of prohibiting importation of goods shall authorize prohibition subject to any specified conditions or restriction and goods imported contrary to any such conditions or restriction shall be prohibited imports.
Under the Act there are penalties and there is forfeiture. With regard to exports, section in provides that -
No prohibited exports shall be exported.
There is an absolutely uncontrolled power to prohibit the exportation of goods.
– Then why is power asked for in this Bill ?
– We do not require power to prohibit the importation of goods, or to prohibit their exportation, whatever the goods may be. The Customs Act, as I have shown, allows us to prohibit the importation of goods, not only absolutely, but also in some cases subject to conditions and restrictions ; but while we can prohibit the exportation of goods absolutely, we have no power to prohibit exportation subject to conditions and restrictions. Therefore we require power to control exportation without absolutely prohibiting it, and in asking for that power we have made the Bill regular and systematic by dealing also with imports, to prevent any objection being urged against the measure on the ground that it did not deal with both imports and exports. So, in the first part of the Bill, the provisions in regard to false trade descriptions relate to the application to goods of descriptions which are misleading. Of course, no honorable member, no matter where he sits, would tolerate the application of false descriptions to goods. With regard to imports, we do not say for a moment that we are taking power in the Bill to prevent importation.
We do not need such a power. Neither are we asking Parliament to re-confer the power of absolutely prohibiting importation, or of dictating to any person what goods shall or shall not be imported. Further, we are not taking the power to create qualities, grades, sizes, weights, or ingredients.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs in his second reading speech said that the Government were taking that power.
– We are taking it for granted that certain qualities, grades, sizes, weights, &c., exist in the various trades, and we are not creating new ones. All we say is that we know that from time to time goods come into this country or go out of this country as to which it is necessary that the truth as to weight, size, quality, or grade shall be told. All we ask is that the Minister of the day shall have power to name those goods. It is not an unlimited power, because when a proclamation is issued, or regulations are made, Parliament has control over the whole matter. Parliament has not the same control over a proclamation as it has over a regulation ; but I have no objection, subject to what my honorable colleague may think in regard to the matter, to alter the word “proclamation” to “regulation.”
– Either the AttorneyGeneral or the Minister of Trade and Customs is humbugging the House. They are contradicting each other.
-Will the honorable member for Parramatta withdraw that statement ?
– I do not think that the honorable member really meant what he said.
– I mean that there is a direct conflict between the statements of the two Ministers.
– I am trying to explain the Bill as I best know how, and I am sure that my honorable colleague did the same.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral finished what he has to say in regard to grading?
– I am Irving to answer the honorable member’s questions. We do not intend to create grades.
– The Government do not intend to grade, to have a Commonwealth grading?
– It all depends upon what the honorable member means by grading.
In the Parliament of Victoria, I have taken part in the discussion of a measure which was intended to provide for the grading of products. That measure was a measure to create grades, however. We are not doing that by the Bill.
– TheMinister will have the power to do it.
– Under what clause?
– Under clauses 10 and 3.
– I do not consider that he will have the power. Suppose that the first, second, or third grade of any article is known ?
– Say, of butter.
– If such grades exist in the trade, why should not power be given to the Minister to compel Australian producers to tell the buyers of their produce that the produce is of such and such a grade? For the honour of the country we must have some power of the kind.
– Now we are coming to grading.
– The honorable member may term it grading or anything else; it is intended that the truth shall be told to the world as to the nature of our products. We constantly read cablegrams containing comments made at home as to the quality of our products. We read that they are getting into disrepute because of adulteration, or because they are of improper quality. We want to prevent that. We know that in the majority of cases our produce does not deserve such a reputation, and we desire to protect the grand body of producers in this country from improper manipulations of the market of every kind.
– Then the Government intend to grade butter and cheese ?
– I am not going to have those words thrust into my mouth by the honorable gentleman. I have stated halfadozen times what I mean.
– The Minister’s meaning is as clear as mud.
– I have now shortly described the object of the Bill. Can any honorable gentleman say that it is not a proper object? Will any honorable member deny the right of the Government to insist, in the interests of the consumers of Australia, upon a proper statement of the purity, weight, size, and quantity of goods if in any particular instance it is found that deception is being practised in regard to commodities imported into Australia?
In what better way could this be done than in the manner provided for by the Bill ? Whether it is done by proclamation or regulation is immaterial.
– In this respect it is material.
– If it is to be done by regulation, either House of Parliament will have complete control. That is whyI have suggested that honorable members should consider whether it should be done by regulation or proclamation. The Acts Interpretation Act of 1904, in section 10, provides -
Where an Act confers powers to make regulations, all regulations made accordingly shall, unless the contrary intention appears -
take effect from the date of notification, or from a later date specified in the regulations.
be laid before both Houses of the Parliament within thirty days of the making thereof, or, if the Parliament is not then sitting, within thirty days after the next meeting of the Parliament.
But if either House of the Parliament passes a resolution, of which notice has been given, at any time within fifteensitting days after such regulationshave been laid before such House disallowing any regulation, such regulation shall thereupon cease to have effect.
If any regulation made by a Minister was calculated to affect the Australian export; trade - it could not kill it in a few minutes - ample opportunity would be given for either House to pass a resolution disallowing it.
– But the Government could act on the authority of the regulation during recess.
– I think so. At the same time it is not to be supposed that the trade of Australia would be killed even within a few months by any regulation. I think it is rather far-fetched to imagine for a moment that any measure would be introduced by a Minister that would have the effect of injuring our trade. It is to be supposed that every Minister of Trade and Customs would be actuated by a desire to benefit the country. This proposal is not being put forward by the members in the Labour corner, but is being submitted in the interests of the producers and of the general body of consumers.
– Why do not the Government give them an opportunity of being heard?
– Are they not sufficiently represented in this House? Does not every honorable member in a greater or less de gree represent the consumers and the producers of Australia? If we had to send every Bill to a Select Committee, what good purpose could be served by our coming here?
– How about the Minister’s proposal for the appointment of a trade committee?
– That proposal is not made for the purpose of relieving this Parliament of its proper function. It is not proposed to refer all Bills from this Parliament to that committee. If we had such a. committee itwould be able to furnish us with information from time to time upon matters relating to the general welfare of the Commonwealth. The Bill before us has in some shape or form been under discussion for many months. It has been under the consideration of every Government that has sat on these benches, and has been thoroughly well thrashed out in the other Chamber, where there was, so far as I am aware, no talk of referring it to a Select Committee. It has been sent down to this House, and has been remodelled by two Governments, and I do not think there is any excuse for referring it to a Select Committee. We are not at all averse to receiving - in fact we inviteesuggestions from any Chamber of Commerce or any member of such a chamber, or any individual, and we promise to consider any representations that may be made to us. We are not rushing this measure. We are giving it proper consideration, and we are averse to referring it to a Select Committee because we think that if that course were adopted we should never get any work done. If anything was to be done in that direction why did not the previous Government appoint a Commission and have the measure inquired into during the recess?
– They had not touched the measure up to that time.
– They touched mighty little. I think there is ample justification for this Bill, because it will protect the public, and will also have the effect of increasing the reputation of our Australian products. It is necessary that some measure of this kind should be passed in order to protect the interests of our producers in the wine and in other trades.
– The Minister has stated that it is not proposed to interfere with trade, but I trust that trade will be interfered with if it be fraudulent.
– I hope it will not interfere with trade ; I do not call fraud trade. We are not going to risk inflicting harm upon any industry. We want to purify trade and to insure that the public shall get full value for their money. We want the public to know what they are getting from abroad, and to tell our customers at the other end of the world what they are getting from us. We are not assuming to dictate to producers or merchants how they shall put up their goods, what class of goods they shall put up, what size of packages they shall use, what weights they shall adopt, or anything of that kind; but we intend to insist upon the truth being told when we see that it is necessary that that shall be done.
– Why are not these provisions applied to the Inter-State trade?
– In the first place, we have been considering the provision in the Constitution to the effect that trade between the States shall be absolutely free. We do not know exactly what that means. It undoubtedly applies to duties, but we do not know to what else. But the main thing is that with regard to goods that are merely, passing from State to State, there is no danger of the reputation of our products being imperilled.
– I should like the Minister to say—–
– I notice that honorable members on either side of the House seem to regard themselves as obliged by some sense of duty to make constant interjections when an honorable member is expressing opinions opposite to their own. I would ask not only that interjections should be refrained from now, but that when honorable members of the Opposition reply, interjections should equally be abstained ‘from- They are irregular at all times, and are specially objectionable when they are of such a character as to disturb the course of an honorable member’s speech.
– I have very few words to add. I have really sought to answer every question that has been addressed to me.
– The Minister has not answered one yet.
– With all respect to my honorable friend, I think I have done so. With regard to Inter-State trade, I would say that every State has- it in its own power to protect its own people. When it gets products within its own borders it has the power to deal with them as it thinks fit. We want, above all, to guard against goods being exported as Australian produce unless such goods are honestly marked. Therefore, we feel that 5t is our duty to see that Australian goods go into the markets of the world with no false reputation. With regard to both exports from Australia and importations into Australia, I think the Bill will confer desirable powers which should be placed on the statute-book without very much delay.
– I fully realize that this Bill is of very considerable importance to the whole of the people of the Commonwealth, be they consumers or producers, and it came upon me somewhat as a surprise when the honorable member for Cowper stated that there was no demand whatever for a measure of this kind, but that it had emanated from the departmental officers. If his statement be true, it is strange indeed that this is the third Government that has taken the matter in hand in one form or another. We have only to look at the records of our courts in order to find that proceedings have been instituted against traders for selling goods which were not what they purported to be. Viewing this matter, in the first instance, from the stand-point of the consumer, what reasonable man can object to the Customs authorities demanding that where necessary .a trade description shall be applied to imported goods, defining what they are. The records of the police courts of Victoria show that some imported condensed milk, which is used largely for feeding infants, has been little better than poison, and I think that it is absolutely necessary that the Government should have the power to take samples of such goods at the time of importation and have them analyzed. We know, furthermore, that those who buy socalled linen goods from our warehouses often find that the articles are made up largely of cotton. Then again, in regard to woollen piece goods, similar frauds are perpetrated. . When the Tariff was under discussion we . were told that alleged tea, which was practically Ceylon mud, was being imported into the Commonwealth.
– The Customs authorities have the power to deal with inferior tea.
– Then it is strange that the late Government had some difficulty in deciding whether they had the power to take samples.
– They did it.
– I know that that has been done, but we want to have the matter placed beyond any doubt. The Government should be empowered, in the interests of the consumers, to demand that trade descriptions shall be affixed of such a character that the public may know what they are really buying. I know from experience that coffee, which is supposed to be a highly desirable beverage, is sometimes made of dried Bullock’s liver. I know that not only imported goods, but also some articles of local production, are a. fraud, and not what they purport to be. But one thing at a time. Considerable stress has been laid on the contention that it is proposed to unduly interfere with the rights of exporters. Judging from the experience of the States, however, we cannot be too careful in dealing with our products for export if we are to preserve the reputation of our goods, ft has been said that a Commonwealth’ system of grading- butter! might result in injury to the producer. Victoria alone has an export trade in butter the value of which’ approximates to 7 50,000 per annum, and those who declaim against the right of a Government to intervene in matters of this kind must, surely forget that Government supervision has been exercised for some years over the export of butter from Victoria. As far back as 1898 the Victorian Legislature passed the Export of Products Bill, providing for -
The inspection of live stock, meat, dairy produce, fruit, and other products intended for export, and to regulate the exportation thereof.
The State Government have availed themselves of that Act to mark all first-class butter as “ approved for export,” while the second grade is classed as “pastry butter.” It is well known that pastoralists in Victoria and New South Wales have suffered severely from the absence of supervision over the frozen meat trade. The trade was practically brought to a standstill for some years, and it is only because some supervision has recently been exercised over it that it is retrieving its position.
– Very slowly.
– Our export of frozen meat has been restricted by conditions over which we have had very little control, but it is to be hoped that those conditions will soon disappear. T remember a time when shippers of frozen meat - not the sheepgrowers, but those engaged in the export business, comprising, for the most part, commercial men - used to think nothing of shipping home as “ Australian mutton “ carcasses that should have gone to the boilingdown works. These men were indifferent to the reputation of Australian meat. In confirmation of this statement, let me quote some remarks made by Mr. R. ‘Farrell, and published in- the Sydney Mail on 1st of June, 1904, which, were quoted by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs in this House on 20th October last. These remarks, which were made by a gentleman who is said to have travelled very considerably, will be found at page 5865, Vol. 22, of Hansard, 1904 -
That is no exaggeration, and I greatly regret to state that Australia was not represented, except by the writer, and when asked the reason - “ Why we cannot depend on your meat (New South Wales). We like your Queensland beef in handy sizes, no waste; but if some of the people knew it was Australian they would not have it. We do not want anything or anybody Australian.” The whole cause of this hatred is summed up in a very few words. These people have been swindled in business through the great quantity of fraudulent and not up-to-sample or quality of goods imposed upon them under glowing and flaring brands that had no right ever to be allowed out of the Colonies, but’ should have been condemned straight away. Tinned meats are to be seen in auction rooms for anything you dare to offer. In the wholesale and retail grocers’ windows you only see well-known American and English brands. Why ? Because they are sold under the United States of America Bureau certificate, and are always sought after, and it is found that Australia has no such -hall-mark to guarantee her products.
– Does the honorable member favour Commonwealth grading ?
– No, I do not think the question of Commonwealth grading is raised in the Bill. I was anxious to hear the interpretation placed upon it by the Attorney-General.
– Was the honorable member satisfied with’ it?
– I was. So far as my judgment goes, there can be no attempt on the part of the Commonwealth Government to grade goods for export except where a mark or classification is adopted by those engaged in any particular trade. In such cases the Commonwealth Government, through the Department of Trade and Customs, could compel some trade description designating a particular class of product to be applied to goods for export.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs said, in moving the second reading of the Bill, that butter should be brought up to a prescribed standard.
– We have to deal not with the intentions of the Minister, but with the Bill itself.
– And it is impossible to misunderstand it.
– I think it is our duty to ascertain the exact intention of the Bill.
– If butter described as “ first quality “ were examined by a Government inspector and found to be unsound, would not that examination be equal to a system of Government grading?
– It would disclose a fraud.
– Let me cite a typical case. In Victoria those engaged in the export of butter have a classification which is approved for export. The first grade is described as “first quality,” while the second is called “pastry butter,” and butter leaving Australia without bearing either of those trade descriptions could, in my opinion, be stopped by the Government tinder this Bill. I do not think, however, that it would be competent for the Commonwealth to go further, or that butter classed as “approved for export” could, by any stretch of imagination, be graded by its officers into another class.
– How would they deal with New South Wales butter?
– I understand that there are certain factory brands in that State, and the Commonwealth Government could require those brands to be placed on butter for export purposes.
– A lot of butter goes out without branding.
– Then there is no fraud.
– I can hardly conceive of any of our staple products being exported without bearing some descriptive brand or trade mark. The abuses that have crept into our butter trade, as well as into other branches of industry, have not been due to the producers themselves. Little, if any, of the corruption that exists in these States can be traced to the producer, although it is quite true, as the honorable member for Cowper has said, that inferior butter is sometimes produced owing to ignorance or inattention on the part of the manufacturer. In these days, however, it is recognised that it is essential to the very existence of the producers that absolutely good butter should be made. The same remark will apply to all our producers. They must turn out agood article in order to secure success. It is those who wish to secure an illegitimate profit who damage our export trade and injure the reputation of our. products. As soon as any particular product has made a reputation for itself in the markets of the world these men will come in with the intention, if the opportunity offers, to ship off an inferior admixture in order to gain a temporary pecuniary advantage. They soon go out of the business, leaving those who remain to bear the odium of their bad practices.
– There is not a word in the Bill about a Government brand of any description.
– What about clause 10?
– That clause relates to exports. Strange to say, very few of our producers, in the first instance, attempted to ship for themselves.
– They do in New South Wales.
– With the exception of the co-operative companies, most of our producers do not ship for themselves.
– Most of the apples exported from Tasmania are shipped by the growers themselves.
– Where our producers have formed themselves into co-operative companiesthey ship for themselves, but practically none of those who raise sheep or lambs export frozen carcasses on their own account. The same may be said of Victorian producers of butter, with the exception of one or two co-operative companies. Surely, honest traders can have no objection to a particular description where necessary being applied to a particular class of goods. A great deal will depend upon the administration of this measure. When the honorable member for North Sydney was speaking, I interjected that it would be very difficult to place within the four corners of the Bill a provision stipulating to what particular class of goods it should apply.
– It was only in the event of the Government proposing to go in for grading that I made that suggestion.
– I think I have clearly shown what, in my opinion, is the intention of the Bill.
– There cannot be the least doubt about it.
– Will the honorable member look at clause 3?
– That clause practically defines “trade description” as any description -
As to the nature, number, quantity, quality, purity, class, grade, measure, gauge, size, or weight of the goods.
– Read the word “ grade “ in conjunction with clause 10.
– Clause 10 provides that-
The Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the exportation of any goods specified in the proclamation, unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character, relating to such matters, and applied in such manner, as is prescribed by the proclamation or by the regulations. . . .
I take it that it is not within the province of the Commonwealth Government to create grades of exports, but assuming that this Bill becomes law it would be within their province to say that a description shall be attached to goods defining what they are. If we take woollens as an illustration, I think that the Commonwealth Government under this Bill would have power to ask an exporter of woollen piece-goods to apply to them a trade description certifying that they are woollen piece-goods, and if they are half cotton, it would be essential that they should be so defined in the trade description attached to them.
– According to the statement of the Minister of Trade and Customs, it is not intended to bring woollen piece-goods into the export part of the Bill.
– It is immaterial what the Minister may have said on the subject ; we have to deal with the Bill as it is before us, and the Government take power in it to prescribe a description for all goods, of import or export.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs said that it could be applied to apples, to show that they were of first quality. How could that be done unless there were provision forat least first and second qualities?
– As I have already said. I did not hear the speech of the Min ister of Trade and Customs. He may have made such a statement by way of illustration. I understand that those engaged in the fruit trade do attempt some classification or grading of their products, and have some marks applied to their packages describing the grade or qualities of their contents.
– They have a system of very careful grading.
– They do not put” inferior “ on any package.
– In Victoria there is supervision of the fruit exported, under a State Act. Broadly, what is intended by this Bill is that where there is any attempt to defraud the public, the Government shall have power to say to an exporter, “You shall define what your goods consist of. If you are shipping apples of first quality, you must take the responsibility of applying a trade description of that character to them.” As the consequences of this Bill may be very far-reaching, I frankly admit that we are entitled to give it the closest possible scrutiny. No matter how honest our intentions may be, we shall not be able to justify our acceptance of the measure on the statement of the Minister, if it is subsequently found that by passing such a Bill we shall have done something which will injuriously affect the producing interests of Australia. The objects of the measure are in my opinion most worthy. It is intended to protect the interests of the consumer, by enabling him to know what he is purchasing. It is an effort to protect those engaged in the export of produce of various kinds ; and it is an effort to maintain a fair standard of quality in a general way for our staple products. . The measure will have little or no application to a considerable number of our products. We know that those engaged in producingwool, for instance, have the best experts the world can produce for the classification Of theirproduct. It is not reasonable to assume that the Government would intervene between those experts and their employers to impose any further classification of wool. Wheat is another large staple product of export, and, were it possible, there is no doubt that those engaged in the wheatgrowing industry would find it to their, advantage if some standard were fixed in connexion with wheat. Unfortunately, up to the present time they have not been able to obtain anything of the kind. Those engaged in the business to-day know from bitter experience that when they go to the trouble of cleaning and making their samples as perfect as possible, it is on very rare occasions indeed that they can get a better price than the more careless farmer secures for his comparatively inferior article. I do not know that the Government could intervene for the classification of this product.
– Only in respect of what is exported.
– I doubt very much whether they could intervene in respect of what is exported. I do not think they could attempt to grade or classify wheat.
– They could do so under clauses 3 and 10.
– If some attempt were made to ship as wheat something that was not wheat,the Minister could intervene, but not otherwise. So far as I know, there is in the Commonwealth practically no classification or grading of wheat as an article of export. In Victoria the corn section of the Chamber of Commerce yearly fix the weight of the bushel of wheat, and that is all that is done. The admission was made by the honorable member for Cowper, when dealing with a particular class of export, that, speaking particularly for the State of New South Wales, no intervention by the State was necessary for the supervision of the export other than the enactment of a strict Dairy Supervision Act, under which information and education could be given to the producers in the first instance.That would be a step in the right direction, and such action is being taken in Victoria. I believe it is contemplated also in New South Wales. The supervision, however, is exercised at the port of export, and that is where the experts of the Agricultural Department are brought into contact with the producer in the first instance. Every consignment of butter sent from Victoria is examined by the experts of the Department as soon as it is admitted into the cool stores. If it is not up to the required standard, the attention of the factory manager concerned is immediately directed to the fact, and if there is no improvement in the next consignment from the same factory, an expert is at once sent into the factory.
– That is a very wise provision.
– What would be the use, even of the most strict dairy supervi sion, if the product were not followed into the market? The experts can know nothing of the results of their previous supervision, unless they follow the product into the market.
– The farmers market their own stuff in Sydney, and see to its quality.
– The difficulty in Victoria in connexion with the butter and fruit industry is that no matter what may be the intentions of those engaged in production, we have the illegitimate manipulation of the trader coming between the producer and the consumer. I have no word of condemnation for the agent or middleman, as he is termed, because he is a necessity in our system of conducting business. But it is such dishonesty as has been revealed by the evidence submitted to the Victorian Butter Commission that this class of legislation is designed to prevent. If honorable members will look at the report of the Butter Commission, they will see that they recommend just such’ action as is now being taken by the Commonwealth Government. They say, amongst other things -
A measure of success that has attended Victorian butter in the London and foreign markets is due to the fact that the product is made from the milk of cows fed upon natural pastures. The attractive flavour of the butter is due to the natural pasturage, which also adds to its keeping qualities. These favorable qualities, and the supervision of Government experts, have been specially noted by buyers, and have been the means of obtaining a high price, as compared with some other Colonial and foreign butters.
It is, to an extent, due to the advantageous geographical position of Victoria, where the spring and summer seasons fit in with the European winter months, and the supervision organized by the Government, that have, in a degree, protected the producers against the practicesadoptedto secure for the middlemen the bulk of the profits from this important national industry. . . .
The export trade for Victorian butter is now established, and to advance and guard its reputation on London and foreign markets requires such restrictive legislation, and, as a means of suppressing certain trade practices to which the industry has been subjected, this legislation is as urgent as it is necessary.
That is the recommendation of a Commission appointed specially to inquire into the conduct of a particular industry. Those engaged in any industry are well aware that restrictive legislation is not directed against the honest man. This legislation is in every instance designed to protect the honest trader, employer, or producer, and to restrict and restrain the operations of the dishonest trader or employer.
– Is there no State legislation in Victoria to deal with such matters ?
– We have no legislation to deal with some of the objectionable practices which have been found to exist. We have no legislation with regard to the manipulation of brands, secret commissions, and that sort of thing. But here is a report from a tribunal specially constituted to inquire into the conditions of an industry, and they recommend Government action with regard to restricting, not honest traders, but those who are dishonest. And it is that class against whom this legislation is directed. It is not to be supposed that the honest trader will be interfered with in the slightest degree under this Bill. It is the man who comes into illegitimate competition with the honest exporter who will be affected. It is the man who exports goods which resemble woollens, but which are three parts cotton, and brings them into competition with those of the man who exports pure woollens, against whom this legislation is directed. The same applies to the man who exports lamb, trades on the name which our exporters have built up in London, perhaps sells a consignment on the water, and leaves it for the purchaser to find that he is “landed.” Naturally the purchaser so treated damns the whole Australian meat trade. I see no course open to us but to give some discretionary power to the Minister. I would, if it were possible, insert a schedule to the Bill containing the articles to which the measure is to apply. But I cannot conceive that that is possible. I think that the better course to pursue will be to follow the suggestion of the Attorney-General, and deal with the articles affected by regulation. Everything will depend upon the wise discretion exercised by the Minister ; and I have yet to learn that power is proposed to be taken to compel any exporter of produce to classify it according to the decision of the Minister for the time being. It will be obligatory for the exporter to attach to goods for export such a trade description as will define them and give information to the purchaser or consumer as_to what they really are. To give such a description is, in my opinion, all in the way of fair and honest business. The States Governments have had to consider legislation for n similar purpose. We have an illustration in the State of Victoria, where the Government, pressed bv public opinion, have introduced an Adulteration of Foods
Act. Such a measure will deal with locally manufactured goods. The Commonwealth Government can best take action with regard to imports. The Customs Department is the proper authority to exercise control over such goods, in the first instance; the proof that there is a necessity for such legislation is the fact that, during the last few years, three Governments, in succession have made attempts to deal with the subject in one form or another; either by means of a Merchandise Marks Bill, a Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill,, or a Commerce Bill, such as we have before us. The suggestion of the Attorney-General gives Parliament absolute control over a tyrannical or despotic Minister or Government. Any action of the Minister can be brought under review by this House, and if he transgresses his authority or injures either consumers or producers, Parliament will bring him to book. But, as far as my experience goes, I do not think that any Minister will, in the slightest degree, attempt to affect injuriously either the producers or the consumers of Australia.
– May I ask the Prime Minister whether, at this stage, he will consent to an adjournment of the debate ?
– Are there any other speakers ?
– I know of two besides myself, and I shall occupy some time.
– Can the honorable member finish by 11 o’clock?
– I am afraid riot.
– I would ask honorable members opposite and on this side of theHouse, who desire to criticise the measure,, to make a point of concluding the debatein good time to-morrow night. It is animportant measure, and I do not desire tohurry it ; but we have other important measures to deal with, and there will be ample time for the further consideration of thisBill when we get into Committee. I hopethat under these circumstances, honorable members will support us in bringing the deflate to a conclusion to-morrow.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Johnson)’ adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.38 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 August 1905, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19050816_reps_2_25/>.