2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Report from the Standing Orders Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives upon the Standing Orders of the two Houses relating to the resumption of proceedings on lapsed Bills.
Ordered to be printed.
Contract between the Commonwealth and the Orient Steam Navigation Company Limited, for the conveyance of Australian mails.
The Clerk laid upon the table:
Return to an Order of the House, dated10th August, relating to the mail tenders of the Orient Steam Navigation Company Limited and Messrs. Scott, Fell, and Company.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral lay on the table the correspondence which’ has passed between the Department and the Orient and other companies in reference to theEnglish mail contract?
– That correspondence is contained in the return to an order of the House which has just been laid on the table by the Clerk.
– Has the Treasurer definitely decided to make his Budget statement on Tuesday next?
– When will the correspondence between the Justices of the High Court and the late Attorney-General be laid on the table?
– I understood that it had been laid on the table, or would be laid on the table immediately. Perhaps the preparation of extra copies for the Senate has delayed matters.
– It is stated in the newspapers this morning with regard to the travelling expenses of the Justices of the High Court that when one Justice travels alone he is to receive ?2 2s. a day ; but that when the travelling is being done on Full Court business the expenses shall be ?55s day. Does that mean that ?5 5s.1s . to be divided between the three Justices ?
– The honorable member is referring to the old scale of allowances. The present rate is ?3 3s. a day as the maximum under any circumstances for a Justice and his associate ; but the amount paid is to be that actually expended by the Justices.
– Are we to take it that the statement on the subject in today’s newspapers is substantially correct?
– I have not read that statement; but I can lay on the table the Orders in Council dealing with the matter.
– When Parliament is sitting we should know all about these matters.
– The Orders in Council will be published in the Government Gazette as a matter of course.
Debate resumed from 16th August (vide page 1052), on motion by Sir William Lyne -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I am very glad that the Minister of Trade and Customs is present this morning, as he may be able to furnish the House with information concerning the meaning of certain provisions of the Bill which has hitherto been sought in vain by various speakers from other members of the Ministry. We have had the strange spectacle of no fewer than three members of the Ministry giving different and contradictory replies as to the intentions of the Bill, and I hope that the Minister in charge of it will now be able to give us some satisfactory information on the points in regard to which questions have been asked.
– What points are they?
– I desire that the Minister shall explain the purpose of the Bill. He should tell us what goods it is intended to affect, and whether the Government have in view the grading of various exports, notably butter.
– The honorable member should have read the speech I made in moving the second reading.
– I have read it ; but I have not seen anything in it which answers the question asked by the honorable member for North Sydney the other night. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that it was not intended to provide for the grading of butter for export, though, to my mind, a study of the Bill supports the view that that was one of the things specifically aimed at. The honorable member for North Sydney asked the AttorneyGeneral the other evening, as he was in charge of the measure at the time, to state definitely whether that was the intention, and although the honorable and learned member in his reply supplied a good deal of information on other matters about which no one had particularly expressed a desire to be informed, he carefully avoided answering the specific questions put to him by the honorable member for North Sydney. Therefore, I ask for information from the Minister of Trade and Customs on those points.
– I cannot speak as to the intentions of the Bill until I rise to close the debate.
– I trust that the honorable gentleman will give us full information then. There should have been a schedule to the Bill, specifying the goods to which its provisions would apply.
– I gave a list in my second-reading speech.
– The honorable member gave a list of the goods to which he suggested the Bill might apply; but, when the measure becomes law, the Department will have to carry its provisions into effect without regard to any statements which may have been made here by the Minister, and the Bill as drafted permits their interference with every article of commerce. What is wanted is a schedule containing a list of the goods to which the provisions of the Bill will apply.
– Such a list would be unsatisfactory, because it might be desirable at any time to bring other goods under the operation of the measure.
Mi, JOHNSON. - The original and very laudable purpose of the Bill was apparently the prevention of the importation of goods adulterated with ingredients harmful to the public: but the measure is now so loaded with other provisions which invite attack and criticism that those who would have warmly supported a Bill confined to the original purpose of this one, do not feel justified in supporting the present Bill, with its drastic powers of interference with the whole of the country’s commerce. Another matter upon ‘ which I should like information is as to whether it is intended to interfere with imports and exports to the extent of prohibiting them.
– No; but thev must be marked in accordance with the provisions of the measure.
– It is a good thing that articles of commerce should be properly described, for the protection of the public, but there is a very grave danger of the provisions of this measure being used to unnecessarily interfere with and hamper trade and commerce in (regard to both imports and exports, and although clause 1 states that -
This Act may be cited as the Commerce Aci 905.
T think that, in view of the provisions to which 1 have taken exception, it should be cited as the Destruction of Commerce Act.
– Then, in Committee, the honorable member can move to amend the clause.
– The 3111 gives a dangerous power to the Minister - a power which may or may not be exorcised wisely. He will have absolute and despotic control over the industry and commerce of Australia, a power which should not be placed in the hands of one Minister, or any set of officials. It is a power which, wisely applied, might work smoothly, but we have to remember that a Minister not overburdened with wisdom, and whose opinions were largely biased by fiscal predilection, might be called upon to exercise it. We have had some evidence quite recently of what may be done in such circumstances.
– Every one tells me that I did absolutely right in that case.
– It is not competent for me to discuss that matter at the present time: I am aware that the Minister acted in accordance with the recommendations of his officers, but that fact involves another objection. This Bill seems really to have been suggested by officials anxious to obtain greater power than that which they already possess. The natural trend of officialdom is towards despotism and unnecessary interference with the rights of individuals. I have no desire to attack our public officers, but the whole history of officialdom teaches us that it generally displays a spirit of unnecessary interference with private individuals and a desire to harass them in regard to petty details. It is a natural process of development inevitable from the system, and requires to be kept in check with a firm hand to minimise injustice. Under section 52 of the Customs Act, the Minister and his officers already have ample powers in that direction, and there is no reason why those powers should be so enlarged as to cover cases which were never contemplated when that Act was under consideration. Under cover of paragraph g of section 52 of the Customs Act, which reads -
The following are prohibited imports-
– The officers have seen the necessity for such a power.
– I think it is right that the Department should have power to interfere, in order to protect the public against adulterated goods, and more particularly against food supplies containing ingredients likely to prejudicially affect public health. That is a very proper direction in which the provisions of a Bill of this kind might well be applied.
– Is it not necessary also to protect the public against such things as boots made with card-board instead of leather soles ?
– It is because of such cases that I hold that we should insert a schedule to the Bill, enumerating the list of articles to which it shall apply.
– Surely it is necessary to look after the boots to be worn by our own people as well as those to be sent out to the foreigner?
– It is necessary that we should prescribe to what goods these provisions shall be applied, instead of leaving the whole matter entirely in the hands of the Minister and his officers.
– Can the honorable member name a class of goods that should be exempted from the provisions of the Bill ?
– I could name a number of goods which should be so exempted. We ought not to interfere in any way with’ commerce that is legitimately carried on.
– The Bill will not do that.
– I hold that it will. What is the meaning of sub-clause 3 of clause 5 ?
– We had an illustration the other day of how legitimate commerce may be held up by a Minister.
– have already referred to the action taken by the Minister in regard to the importation of harvesters as showing what officialdom will do when the opportunity offers.
– It does its duty.
– Its duty is not to impose additional taxation on the people behind the back of Parliament.
– Its duty is to protect the revenue.
– There are provisions in the Customs Act which provide for the due and efficient protection of the revenue in a totally different way.
– This is one of the means of protecting the revenue, to which the honorable member objects.
– The provisions in question were evidently inserted in the Bill, only to be used in the last extremity, and to give the responsible Minister a discretionary power in extreme cases on the assumption that he would exercise it wisely. The incident of the valuation of imported harvesters is another’ illustration of the necessity of safeguarding powers .Of this kind, so that everything shall not be left absolutely to the discretion of a Minister. When we have evidence that even while Parliament is in session that discretion is liable to be abused, perhaps as the result of the fiscal bias of the Minister or his officials, surely there is a danger of the power being abused to a more marked extent when Parliament is in recess, and the actions of Ministers cannot be brought immediately under review in Parliament. I express this opinion irrespective of what the fiscal views of a Minister may be. Discretionary power might be exercised by a free-trade Minister to lower duties just as a protectionist Minister might avail himself of it to increase them. I do not desire to see the powers given in the Customs Act to the Minister and his officials extended in any way. I rather desire to see them safeguarded by other provisions that will protect the interests cf the public without unduly harassing those who are engaged in the commerce and industry of the Commonwealth. Paragraph 3 of clause 5, to which I was about to refer when interrupted a few moments ago, reads as follows: -
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 things necessary to enable him to carry out his powers and duties under this section..
– Does not the honorable member think that the officers of the Department might do these things under another Act?
– If they can, why is it necessary to make these specific provisions ?
– Because the officers might have to take action in connexion with matters arising under the Bill.
– They have sometimes to avail themselves of this power in connexion with certain matters specified in section 52 of the Customs Act, but this Bill would extend it far beyond the sphere contemplated by the Customs Act, and under its provisions every case of goods in the hold of every ship entering, port could be broken open. Such a power it is monstrous to place in the hands of officials.
– Section 5.2 of the Customs Act would not meet the cases contemplated in this Bill.
–It specifies, at all events, certain things which are considered to come within the category of prohibited imports. The officers are given power under the Customs Act to break open any packages, and so forth, for the purpose of seeing that prohibited imports are not introduced into the Commonwealth. I can conceive that such a power may be useful under proper conditions, but it should be used only when there is a reasonable suspicion that an attempt is being made to introduce prohibited imports.
– This Bill does not “ prohibit.”
– If that be so, I should like to know what the Minister meant, when, in moving the second reading of the Bill, 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.
Surely that is a clear indication that under certain conditions the intention of this Bill is to prohibit the exportation of goods.
– If goods were improperly branded their exportation might be prohibited. They will have to be branded to show what they are and what is their condition.
– There must be a trade description
– I take it that under certain conditions it is intended to prohibit imports and exports.
– No, the provisions as to branding might have the effect of prohibiting certain goods.
– Then the Bill will have the effect of prohibiting certain importations or exportations ?
– But the Government will not prohibit.
– Action might be taken by the Government, under this measure, to prohibit certain imports and exports.
– Under this Bi’.I, exporters will have to place certain marks on their goods, and if those marks or trade descriptions are untrue the Government will be able to step in.
– Then the Minister admits that the Government will be able to step in and prevent the export or import of goods.
– If the brands or trade descriptions are not true.
– A statement was made on Thursday evening by the AttorneyGeneral that this Bill was not intended to prohibit exports - that it was intended only to prevent fraud.
– The effect of the Bill will be to prevent .goods being exported in certain circumstances, because, under its provisions, they cannot be sold if they are marked as being of inferior quality.
– Goods of that class then could not be landed in Australia?
– Would not the honorable member punish a man for giving a false description ?
– That is what we propose to do under this Bill ?
– Ought not a trade description to be true?
– Any statement or trade description ought certainly to be true, but is it proposed to prevent the importation or exportation of goods because of a misstatement in regard to them?
– The consumer or the purchaser has to take a certain risk in that regard, and must protect himself so far as he can. It is very proper that the Government should have the power to step in and say, with regard to goods, the use of which might prejudicially affect the public health, “ We will not allow these goods to come in.” The question of the application of this Bill to the exportation of fruit has been referred to by the honorable member for Parramatta.
– It has been referred to by every honorable member who has spoken during the debate.
– It is a matter to which reference must be made, because it shows the impracticability of applying this Bill in its present form to certain cases. Clause 6 provides that -
Every person who intends to export any goods of a kind or class required 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. Penalty : Twenty pounds.
This clause is altogether too comprehensive. It does not provide against certain conditions that are sure to arise. Reference has already been made to this point by the honorable member for Parramatta, who represents a fruit-growing district, and also by the honorable member for Franklin, who said -
The point that I wish the Minister to bear in mind is that the vessels which convey these shipments to England arrive at Hobart, and make their stay there as brief as possible. The persons who enter into contracts with them have practically to purchase, beforehand, the space which they think they will require. For instance, they may say, “ We will ship 50,000 cases of apples by this boat, and 30,000 cases by, the next.”
He goes on to say that they have to take up a certain amount of space, and that, if they find that they have not sufficient cargo to occupy the whole of it, they have to wire to the fruit-growers to send them down more fruit, in order that they may enlarge their consignments. The honorable member for Franklin said : -
He has immediately to telegraph to the Huon district, “ Send me “ at once 4,000 or perhaps 5,000 cases of apples.” A small steamer takes these apples down the Huon River to Hobart, and directly alongside the English vessel, to which they are transferred. Under these circumstances, to delay a shipment until an examination could be made would be fatal. The shipments must be sent away speedily or not at all.
In such a case, the provisions of the Bill could not be complied with, because time would not permit of notice being given to the Customs authorities, and an inspection of the fruit being made. As the honorable member for Parramatta pointed out, certain kinds of fruit have to be taken from the trees and shipped immediately,. In these cases also there would be no time for inspection such as is contemplated by the Bill. Moreover, the opening up and repacking of. the fruit might involve damage to it.
– The fruit could be inspected at the time of transhipment.
– An Act is now in operation in Victoria which imposes conditions similar to those contemplated by the Bill, and no difficulty is experienced in administering it.
– I am not sufficiently familiar with the conditions existing in Victoria to discuss that point ; but it seems to me that in such cases as I have, mentioned, and in many others, absolute harm might be done to an industry; by imposing conditions such as are proposed in the Bill.
– Not so much harm as is done by unscrupulous shippers sending away inferior produce.
– There are many other points to which I might refer at some length, but in view of the time that was occupied in discussing grievances last night, and the desire of the Government to get on with the business as speedily as possible, I do not propose to dwell unnecessarily upon defects with which we shall have to deal in Committee. I suggest, however, that a schedule should be attached to the Bill indicating the goods that are to be dealt with under its provisions. The Bill, needs very drastic amendment, and I have no doubt that it will be considerably altered during its progress through Committee. I favour the idea of referring the Bill to a Select Committee.
– It is a very simple measure.
– If that course is not adopted, honorable members must exercise to the full their right of proposing amendments.
– The Minister has just interjected that this measure is a very simple one. I quite agree that it is very, simple if, indeed, this House is content to delegate its supreme authority in matters of commerce to a few officials in the Customs Department ; for we are asked to consent to a Bill for the purpose, not of clearly defining the will of the people, but of placing in the hands of the Minister and a few officials in his Department, who are far from infallible, powers with which the people would not care to intrust them. Now, sir, as to the urgency of this measure, I hold that the Government should bring in measures in the order of their urgency. Can any honorable member contend that a Bill of this character is of anything like the same urgency as the definite settlement of the Federal Capital Site question or the basis of Commonwealth representation in this Chamber ? Our most important obligations under the Federal bond, by virtue of which we hold our places here are as yet unsettled. The questions to which I have referred demand our earliest consideration. This Chamber is supposed to represent the people of Australia on a population basis, but the present distribution of electorates is a mockery of the principle embodied in the Constitution.
– On a point of order, I desire to know whether we are dealing with the Commerce Bill or a measure for the redistribution of seats.
– The question before the Chair is the second reading of the Commerce Bill, and no discussion of any other measure would be permissible. I understood the honorable member for Wentworth to merely suggest that this measure was not so urgent as some other matters, but if he discusses the question of representation or the selection of the Federal Capital Site he will be out of order.
– I had no thought, sir, of doing any such thing. I was pointing out that this measure had been taken out of its order of urgency, and that, before asking the House’s consideration for it, it was the duty of the Government to honour the bond contained in the Constitution. Even’ if we look beyond that document, which should be our first inspiration of duty, it should be the object of the Government to proceed in a manner calculated to insure the mutual goodwill of the people of all the States of the Commonwealth. The people of New South Wales are very) much embittered against the Commonwealth Government just now owing to the delay in settling the just claims of that State under the Constitution. Instead of being a subject for jest on the part of Ministers who are representatives of New South Wales, the settlement of the Capital Site question should be one of the first considerations of the Government. Although, in our advocacy of the interests of New South Wales, we New South Wales members have not shown any petty parochial spirit by endeavouring to block business until the questions to which I have referred are settled, the time is fast approaching when the people of New South Wales will expect us ‘ to see that no measure is proceeded with until their prior claims have been conceded. The Bill before us is called, “A Bill relating to Commerce with other Countries,” but I do not think that it has been properly named. It should have been termed, “A Bill to grant the Minister of Trade and Customs unlimited power to bring into operation on his own ‘authority, or on that of his officials, numberless Acts of Parliament, without consulting this House or the people of Australia.”
– That would be a long title.
– It would be a more correct one than that which the Bill now bears. The object of many honorable members who desired to have some such measure as this brought forward - although not in the present form- was to prevent the importation of patent medicines which might, when indiscriminately used, prove deleterious to the public health, and to insure that correct weights and quantities should be stamped on certain commodities exported from the Commonwealth. This Bill, however, does not deal simply with those simple questions.
– Yes, it does.
– It deals with those questions, no doubt, but it also proposes to deal with a thousand and one other important matters extending into every ramification of trade. We are not asked to deal with these questions ourselves, but we are’ required to recognise that the Minister has more intelligence in all the varied phases of commerce than is represented in this House. In formulating a scheme to carry out the simple objects I have mentioned, the closest attention should have been directed to securing in the administration under the law the full expression of the democratic principle so dear to the people of Australia. That principle demands first, that the people’s representatives should clearly define the collective will of the people, and secondly that the elect of the people’s representatives - that is, the Government - should be intrusted with the administration of the people’s will. It has been recognised that the Government of the day, actuated by personal or private considerations, might easily seek to delude the people as to their intentions or acts, and that a majority of the people’s representatives, also acting from private and personal considerations, might aid and abet them in such a course ; and consequently the very rules framed for the conduct of legislation and the carrying on of the country’s affairs insure that the utmost publicity shall be given to the intentions of the Government. Our very Standing Orders, sir, provide that no matter shall be included within any Act of Parliament which is foreign to the title of the measure. Does the title of this Bill properly describe its contents? It is called a Commerce Bill. But does it pretend to regulate commerce? Certainly not. It seeks to confer on the Minister of Trade and Customs, or some officials of the Customs Department, the power to pass untrammelled a series of Acts of Parliament on their own initiative and responsibility, without reference to this House or the people of Australia, and without consideration for the democratic principles on which we hold our places here today ! That is the first point I desire to make against the Bill in its present form. It is wrongly described. It proposes that the people of Australia shall invest the Minister of Trade and Customs, and a not infallible official of the Customs Department, with powers which they would not intrust to them if they were openly asked to do so. I shall now direct the attention of honorable members to the five main objects with, which the Bill professes to deal. First it proposes to stop the importation of goods falsely described. What is a “ false description “ under this Bill ? It is not a description which this House says is false, but a description which the Minister of Trade and Customs shall decide is a false description, if this House is sufficiently foolish to give the power here proposed.
– No. It is a false statement by the person who applies it to goods.
– But does this House decide what is a false statement, or is it not under the Bill to be determined by the Minister of the day ?
– No, it is a question of fact in each instance.
– The Bill defines a “ false description “ as any misleading description in relation to anv goods, as to the “nature,” “number,”” “quality,” or “ purity “ of an article.
– That is a false statement.
– Who is to decide the “quality” of an article? Under this Bill it is to be the Minister. How is he legitimately to decide that ? Are not the persons who can best decide the quality of an article those who consume it, or those who make it?
– Then children are to decide whether condensed milk is of good quality.
– It will be decided by the certificate of death.
– If the consumer is not to be allowed to decide the quality of an article which he consumes, could not the Public Health Departments of the various States be intrusted with this high duty. We know exactly what may be done by a Minister to whom is intrusted1 the power to decide the quality or value of any article. We know that a Minister may be approached by trade rivals of an imported harvester, for instance.
– If the honorable member is referring to me, I was never approached by a trade rival.
– I am referring to the Minister only in his capacity as the head of the Customs Department.
– I never was approached.
– I am equally willing to say that we know that the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs may be approached by a trade rival of an importer, and if he could be so approached to assist him in deciding the value of an article, how much more easily could . he be approached to enable him to decid’e its quality? This Bill proposes to place in the hands of the Minister a power which he should not possess. It will not be conducive - and I am not making any personal reference now to the present Minister of Trade and Customs - to the proper administration of a most important branch of Commonwealth affairs. The Bill next proposes to keep out some goods altogether, but it does not specify those goods. It simply gives the Minister of the day a genera] authority to prohibit the importation of goods. If the Customs Department can be so considerate of the views and wishes of the trade rivals of importers in the matter of harvester values, which are so easy to assess, what could be easier than for a Minister of Trade and Customs to say that some goods shall be kept out altogether when their importation interferes with the local productions of persons to whose representations he would like to yield? The Bill next proposes’ that all prescribed goods shall be examined. What goods are to be examined? Not goods which this House says shall be examined, but any goods prescribed by the -Customs Minister ! How are these goods to be examined? In manner laid down by this House? No; but in manner laid down by some not infallible official of the Customs Department, or by some not infallible Minister of Trade and Customs ! Another of the powers of this Bill enables the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs, and the Minister, to take samples of such goods “ as he prescribes “ - not such goods as this House might desire ! And how are these samples to be taken?
– Does the honorable member think that they should be brought up to the House?
– In taking the samples, the Minister, or his officer, is not to do what the House says he shall do, but what he himself “ prescribes “ should be done ! Again I say that it is possible that samples may be taken at the dictation of some local trade rival of the importer. As though these powers were not sufficient, the House is asked, finally, as an act of grace, to permit the Comptroller-General to deliver to consignees goods seized for the infringement of statutes drawn up, not by the House, but by the Minister of « Trade and Customs-
– I desire to call attention to the state of the House. Quorum formed?^
– I am sorry that honorable members should consider the delegation of these important powers and duties to the Minister of Trade and Customs a matter of so little consequence. I must say, however, that I feel deeply for the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who has just given us one of his valued interjections. I can appreciate the honorable member’s sufferings at being told that any wrong-doing might possibly result from the passing of this measure. I should be the last to insist that the honorable member should do his share in the Chamber of the duty of looking after this Bill. I feel for the honorable member all the more because I recognise that the consideration which he gives to this question is entirely disinterested and public spirited. He is, alas, not yet a Minister, but if it had not been for an unfortunate set of circumstances, we should perhaps have had the honoraBle member now himself introducing this measure, or, at any rate, occupying an important position on the front Ministerial bench. In view of the way in which the honorable member’s claims to office have been treated, I am bound to admit that he displays marked public spirit in attending here to listen to speeches against the policy which he supports. I have shown that the object of the Bill professes to be to keep out goods falsely described, while, in effect, it gives to the Minister absolute discretion as to what shall be considered a false description. I have shown that another object is to keep out prescribed goods altogether, and here again the Minister is given complete authority to prescribe. Its next object is to have all prescribed goods examined, and the Minister is again to be the person to decide what goods shall be prescribed. Another power given to the Minister under the Bill is to take samples of prescribed good’s, not in a way laid down by the House, but in a way laid down by himself. Then the ComptrollerGeneral, and, of course, that means the Minister, is given power under this Bill to deliver to consignees goods seized for the infringement of statutes drawn up, not by this House, but by the Minister, provided that the consignee agrees to describe his goods, not according to a scheme laid down by this House, but according to a scheme laid down by that accommodating Customs despot himself ! I have described the Bill which we are now asked to pass. It is not a Commerce Bill, but a Bill to give unlimited power to a Minister already burdened with too great powers under the Customs Act. This House does not even lay down the date at which the Bill shall come into operation. It is to be started by proclamation, and it is to be carried on by proclamation, perhaps in a way which this House would not approve. I hope that it will be relegated without delay to the waste paper basket, which it would so appro’priately adorn. This measure should not be called a Commerce Bill. It should be given some short title, such as “A Bill for an Act to enable the friends of Mr. McKay, perhaps, or other local manufacturers, to frame a series of Commerce Bills on the recommendation of those interested, as occasion arises, and as the exigencies of their business demand !” Any power which gives such a loophole for maladministration is one which Parliament should be very loth to confer ; and if we permit such a delegation of legislative authority as is proposed, we shall establish a precedent which cannot but lead to the demoralization of parliamentary usefulness. The House will stultify itself, and make manifest its unfitness to perform the functions allotted to it, if, instead of doing its own work, and taking direct responsibility therefor, it authorizes others to legislate on its behalf. We have been sent here to perform certain work, and if we cannot do it, either let us go to the country - which we should have done months ago - or let us close the doors of this Chamber for a few years, and allow the affairs of the country to be administered at the sweet will of the Ministers and their official colleagues. I have now “ dealt with the most dangerous feature of the Bill.
– Dealt with it ?
– If I have not made myself sufficiently clear to honorable members, it is because, for the sake of brevity, I have curtailed my remarks ; but I am prepared to go through the Bill, to support every statement I have made in regard to its probable effects by the quotation of its provisions. As I have -shown, the Bill empowers the Minister to keep out of the country goods which are falsely described; but I would like honorable members to refer to clause 3, in which “ trade description,” in relation to any goods, is denned to mean any description as to the “nature, number, quantity, quality, purity, ingredients,” and so on of the goods. Now, how can any but the manufacturer know the “ ingredients “ of an article whose manufacture is a trade secret?
– Take a sausage, for instance.
– I will take something easier of investigation; I will take the sauce which is needed to make a sausage palatable ; say, for instance, a sauce like that of Messrs. Lea and Perrin. With regard to the correctness of the trade description of that sauce, as far as its nature was concerned, the Department would be absolutely at the mercy of the importer, because its ingredients are a trade secret, and the makers would not risk their world’s trade by publishing the secret of manufacture for the benefit of our Customs Department. Neither the Minister nor his officials could say with certainty what are the ingredients of that sauce. And, again, sir, it is obvious that, in many cases, unless the words “ nature and quality “ are omitted from the definition of “trade description,” the Minister will be able to arbitrarily, and perhaps unfairly, decide that a “ trade des.sciption “ is a false “ trade description.” But as to the absoluteness of his power to keep out of Australia any goods that he may desire to exclude, let me refer honorable members to clause 8, which says -
No person shall import any goods -
What goods? -
To which a false trade description is applied.
And to clause 9, which says -
All goods to which any false trade description is applied are hereby prohibited to be imported.
Under those provisions the Minister will have power to prohibit the importation of a whole host of things. That is a power which Parliament should keep in its own hands, and not delegate to a Minister, to be exercised at his own sweet will, and, perhaps, at the instigation of trade rivals of the prescribed article.
– What would the honorable member suggest?
– I suggest that Parliament should state definitely what the goods are to which the measure shall apply. The Bill pretends to deal with patent medicines likely to contain ingredients deleterious to the public health, and to regulate exportation, so that light-weight goods shall not be sent out of the country, to the injury of our export trade; but these are matters for which Parliament can definitely provide without allowing them to be the subject of regulations framed by the Customs Department.
– Why does not the honorable member let the Bill go into Committee, and then move amendments ?
– Will the Minister give favorable consideration in Committee to these points?
– I will give reasonable consideration to them.
– Will the Minister forego his claim to the powers of prescription which he here seeks?
– I am always very humble in these matters.
– Then there has been a marked change in the honorable gentleman” since he took office ! Before he accepted a portfolio he could not be spoken to, even in the most reverent fashion, without an out-, burst; but now, in his anxiety to get the Bill into Committee he is all suavity. When he was in opposition, he always insisted on the fullest discussion of the motion for the second reading of Bills, because he recognised that it was a means of educating honorable members in regard to their provisions in anticipation of the Committee proceedings. Not only, sir, has the Minister power to keep out goods altogether, but he has power to require the examination of goods, under clause 5, which says -
An officer shall inspect and examine all prescribed goods which are imported, or which are entered for export or bought for export to any wharf or place.
The officer may, where practicable, fake samples of any goods inspected by him pursuant to this section, and the samples so taken shall be dealt with as prescribed.
I do not think any words of mine could put the intentions of this’ measure more clearly than they have been stated in the
Bill itself. The Minister is to inspect and examine all goods “ prescribed.” This is not a discretionary clause, but a mandatory, one. “ An officer shall inspect and examine “ all “goods. It would be manifestly impossible for a Customs administration to make such widespread arrangements as would enable all goods prescribed to be examined on the wharfs of Melbourne or Sydney. The proposal is ridiculous. The word “ shall “ in this clause must be altered, and I hope this will be among the amendments that the Minister will be prepared to accept in Committee. The Bill does not definitely set forth the class of goods to be dealt with, and how can we expect to have them dealt with in these circumstances? It simply gives the Minister and his officers power to make as many laws as may seem in their judgment fit and .proper, or as may best conduce to the trade interests of the rivals of importers. I come now to another important bearing of this measure. What is its object ? The original proposal was that the Bill should be in the interests, first of all, of the health of the people of Australia, and, secondly, in the interests of our export trade. But the Bill, in the way in which it has been drafted, has departed from that intention. At the outset we had the idea of protecting the health of the people. “Will this Bill have that effect? It certainly will not, for, whereas it makes definite proposals to keep out certain goods, which” the Minister shall have power to say shall be shut out, it makes no provision whatever to safeguard consumers in Australia against the wiles of Australian patent medicine manufacturers. From the point of view of public health, it deals only with goods imported, and not with those of local manufacture. Although some honorable members who, like the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, albeit strict temperance men, may think that the manufacture of brandy and its protection are matters of national importance, I do not believe this House will hold that the manufacture of articles distinctly hurtful to the people of Australia should be protected - not by an honest, straight-out duty, but by such an engine as this Bill proposes. to put in the hands of the Ministry. The consumer of patent medicines must be protected against those of local manufacture, if he is to be protected against those from abroad. The only wm, in which the Commonwealth authority can deal with this matter is by working in conjunction with the .States. The States have in their keeping and control the public health of the people. They have their Public Health Departments, and those departments could arrange for the examination of all medicines, in order to see whether advertisements published in regard to them might lead to their constant or indiscriminate use injudiciously. Instead of asking the Parliament to pass such a measure, giving such powers, opening such loopholes for maladministration, and providing for a delegation of authority such as no representative Chamber should concede, the Government should deal with the question of protecting the public health of Australia by consulting the States, with a view to see whether they cannot induce the Public Health Departments to examine all articles, whether locally manufactured or imported, that may affect the people’s health. They should deal with the question, not for the good of the patent medicine manufacturers of Australia, but for the well-being of the people.
– I think it is a matter upon which we cannot congratulate ourselves that for the last quarter of an hour the debate on this Bill, which affects the whole of our oversea commerce, valued at about£60,000,000 per annum, has been carried on in the absence of a quorum.
– Order! Ring the bells. [Quorum formed.]
– How many of those present were members of the Opposition?
– A goodly section. During the discussion initiated by the honorable and learned member for Angas, who made, if I may be permitted to say so, a most excellent speech upon this Bill, there has rarely been a quorum present, and the members of the Ministry have been conspicuous by their absence. It does seem to be somewhat of a travesty upon representative government that a Bill which is possibly as important as any that has ever been before this Parliament should be treated in this perfunctory manner by the Ministry and the House generally. This Bill affects the commerce of the whole of Australia - a commerce that is valued, as I have said, at£60,000,000 per annum, and which we hope will steadily increase - yet these interests receive but the most scanty consideration that it is possible to imagine. If the Bill be passed in its present form, the bulk of those who are engaged in the producing, manufacturing, or other export industries, will be affected by it. The whole control of imports and ‘exports will be placed in the hands of the Minister of T.rade and Customs and his officials-. The Attorney-General has been good enough to say that the Government are prepared to substitute for legislation by proclamation a scheme of legislation by regulation, and that the advantage ofthe latter is that regulations have to be laid” on the tables of both Houses, and can be suspended by either House. Although that is some slight concession to the Parliament, I do not think it is sufficient.I go so far as to say that the power to prohibit imports or exports under regulation should not be exercised by a Minister, and that any decision of a Minister which would have that effect should be laid upon the table of both Houses, and should not become law until one House, at least, has by resolution indorsed it.
– It ought to require really the sanction of both Houses.
– I agree with the honorable member that the prohibition of exports or imports is not a matter for Ministerial caprice, but for deliberate decision by both Houses of Parliament. Since my advent into politics, I have become more than ever convinced that the system of government by regulation is a very great evil. The honorable member for Perth yesterday made a most excellent speech upon the dangers and difficulties of party government,andIcertainlythinkthat government by regulation has also many evils attaching to it. It means that a trade rival may go to the Customs Department with some information which is not first nor second hand, that he has filched under circumstances which are dishonorable, and, by urgent representations, induce action to be taken by that Department. That has happened, and will happen again, if the Minister be given the power asked for under this Bill. It is greatly to be deprecated that the control of our exports and imports, upon which the livelihood of the great bulk of the people of this country depends, should be in the hands of any departmental bureau. After perusing the remarkably brief speech with which the Bill was introduced, I think I am justified in saying that it bears out the allegation of the honorable member for North Sydney, that the Ministry were in a great hurrv in bringing down the Bill to shelter themselves behind their predecessors. In the very third sentence of his speech, the Minister of Trade and Customs referred to the Bill of “ the late Government “ ; and thereafter, whenever challenged with regard to any proposal, he . replied by saying, “ It is not so bad as that which the late Government proposed.” The honorable member for North Sydney has completely exploded that statement, and has shown that the late Government had no Bill of this kind. The honorable member mentioned that the draft of a Bill was prepared during the term of office of the late Government, but was not considered by the Cabinet, and that when he received it he prepared a series of memoranda for submission to his colleagues. To say, therefore, that there was a Bill of this kind prepared by the late Government is to make a statement which is not in accord with facts. A very important question has been discussed by the honorable member for North Sydney, and those who followed .him, as to whether the Government intend to institute a system of grading. The VicePresident of the Executive Council has stated emphatically that the Government do not, but the irresistible inference to be drawn from the remarks of the Minister of Trade and -Customs is that the Government do intend to introduce it. Either the Minister of Trade and’ Customs or the VicePresident of the Executive Council does not know what is really the intention of the Ministry in this regard, or one of them has made a statement which, unintentionally, no doubt, is greatly misleading. At page’ 633 of Hansard the Minister is reported as having stated with regard to the inspectors, that -
If they realize that by allowing any inferior goods to be exported to other parts of the world they will, if the charge can be sheeted home to them, be held blameworthy, they will probably exercise still greater vigilance. I have known cases in which inferior fruit has been placed upon the English market, to the detriment of a better class of fruit from New South Wales and Tasmania.
The honorable and learned member for Parkes took objection to grading, and the Minister interjected -
Perhaps the honorable member is not aware that the very course we propose to take is adopted by the Government of South Australia in reference to fruit.
The Minister, in his efforts to justify the practice of grading, stated that the course the Government proposed to take was now being followed in South Australia, and he led the House ‘to believe that the Government intended to adopt a system of grading for exportable products.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– The Minister made the statement which I have just quoted, and the honorable member for Boothby afterwards pointed out that grading was in operation in South Australia. Therefore, the inference from the Minister’s remark was irresistible. The honorable and learned member for Werriwa objected to the grading of butter, and the Minister, instead of denying that it was the intention of the Government to grade butter, or other products, stated that the provision for grading was contained in the Bill prepared by the late Government. Then subsequently the Government whip, who, though not in Cabinet secrets, occasionally gets a tip as to what he shall say and do, said much the same thing. From what I have said, it will be seen that there is a distinct conflict of opinion between the Minister of Trade and Customs and the Vice-President of the Executive Council. In clause 3, sub-section a, it is provided that the trade description shall include a statement as to the quality or grade of* the goods. That amounts to grading. When the Attorney-General entered the chamber the other evening he was challenged as to the intentions of the Government, and, instead of replying directly to the questions which he was asked, made a Pecksniffian speech on the subject of truth. The practice of grading will not insure the telling of the truth any more than it secures anything else. If the Government had wished to provide merely that articles intended for export must correspond with their descriptions, I do not think much objection would have been raised to the measure, but when they propose to grade goods, and affix to them marks indicating their quantity, quality, size, weight, and so on, they are going too far. I do not object to the prohibition of the exportation of goods unfit for human consumption, but I must enter a very strong protect against any attempt to prevent the exportation of inferior goods.
– There is nothing to” prevent the exportation of inferior goods, but the goods must be marked in a proper way.
– Do I understand that the Government do not intend to prevent the exportation of inferior goods.
– No; but they will have to be branded.
– They will have to be graded ? I ami very glad that the Minister has admitted_ that the Government propose to adopt the system of grading. That fact has been denied bv the VicePresident of the Executive Council, and the Attorney-General eluded all the efforts that were made to induce him to give a correct answer to that question. I am glad that we now have the blunt statement of the ‘Minister that the Government do intend to grade.
– We intend to grade in this way : The exporter will have to mark his goods as what they are - that will grade them.
– That will not wash. Clause 10 provides -
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.
Therefore, unless the mark prescribed by the Government is on the goods they cannot be exported. The grading is prescribed by the Department, and not by the exporter.
– The honorable and learned member is mistaking,; or misinterpreting my words. The grading is practically done by the marks that are placed on the packages by the exporters.
– The Minister distinctly stated that the Government meant to grade.
– I did not. I said that the goods would have to be branded.
– I understood the Minister to say “graded.” I happened to be a member of the Victorian Assembly when the Export of Products Amendment Bill was before that House. An Act had been passed in 1898, providing that agricultural produce unfit for human consumption should not be exported, and that butter should .be stamped either “ Approved for export,” or “ Pastry.” That practically amounted to grading the butter, because pastry butter would naturally be of an inferior kind. That is the only grading that is required under the Victorian law. In 1901, a Bill was introduced for the purpose of making the grading provisions more strict, but I am glad to say that it did not pass. I strongly objected to the amending Bill, because I knew it would prejudicially affect many persons in my electorate. Rabbit trapping in my district and elsewhere has enabled a large number of men to make very fair wages for a considerable period of the year, and has been of considerable help to many of the most needy persons in the community. Under the Bill to which I have referred the officials of the Export of Products Department sought permission to grade rabbits and other products and to reject them if they thought they should not be exported. The power of rejection was to apply not only to rabbits unfit for consumption, but to rabbits which were considered by the export officials to be too small for export, on the ground that they might injure the market for better goods. I adopted the figures quoted by the Minister in charge of that Bill, and I made a calculation which showed that 40 per cent, of the rabbits designed for export would be rejected, and that the incomes of the trappers and others would be very seriously affected. Ultimately that Bill was rejected, and the trappers still have an opportunity to send all their goods to market. It is perfectly idle to say that only the best goods should be exported. There is a market for all classes of goods, and so long as inferior produce is not marked in such a way as to deceive the public we should not object to its exportation. Even inferior produce is the result of the labour of men who are entitled to the reward of their industry. The honorable member for Grampians has furnished me with an excellent example in support of the. contention that no special value attaches to a Government brand. My honorable friend wished to export some lambs, and a neighbour of his also desired to send some away at the same time. The officials at the Export of Produce Department told the honorable member that they could not brand his lambs, as approved for export, because they were not good enough. His neighbour’s lambs, however, were approved by the Department. My honorable friend sent his lambs away without any brand, and they were sold in competition with his neighbour’s lambs, and brought a higher price. Under this Bill the honorable member would be treated as a criminal if he attempted to do any such thing. I am informed by the honorable member for Grampians that these lambs were sold on the same day, and by the same auctioneer, so that there can be no question of a different market or a. different time. This case clearly disproves the statement that a Government brand is going to be a safeguard for those engaged in agricultural production.
– Then why are the AgentsGeneral of the different States continually communicating with their Governments asking them to grade produce and send it through Government Departments?
– Because they know nothing about it.
– I do not pretend to say that all the statements made by AgentsGeneral are either correct or incorrect. I refer honorable members to the evidence as to the practice of grading which was taken a few days ago by a. Commission sitting in Sydney One of the largest buyers there gave evidence that his firm did not care twopence what Government brand was on goods, as they bought them on their merits and not on any brand.
– Was that Davidson Brothers ?
– It was one of the largest firms doing business in Sydney, and their statement to that effect should carry weight. It is still somewhat doubtful whether under this Bill grading is to be permitted, whether inferior stuff is not to be exported, on the ground that it might interfere with the market for the best stuff. Personally, I arm looking to the time when everything exported from Australia shall be of the very best character and quality. But we cannot shut our eves to the fact that there is a market for inferior as well as for superior goods. The man who is unfortunately forced by lack of capital, lack of appliances, or the possession of inferior land, to produce inferior goods, should not be shut out of his market, and should not be debarred from getting any reward for his labour.
– He should not brand his goods as first-class.
– I admit that, but it is not a case of exporting his produce as a first-class article. He sends butter or meat Home to be sold on its merits in the London market. Honorable members must admit that the buyers in the London market know as much about the grading of butter as we do, and probably a great deal more. Surely those men can look after themselves? I hope the honorable member for Bass is not under the impression that the great merchants and buyers of London are so ignorant or stupid that they are unable to protect their own interests in the conduct of their affairs, and require the assistance of the Commonwealth Parliament. I should like also to point out to honorable members that the old maxim that “ honesty is the best policy “ applies, to a very great extent, in connexion with this matter. It is to the self-interest of producers to put a good article on the market. There is no teaching so effective, and none whose impressions are so lasting, as are the teachings of experience and self-interest. If a man loses money through not putting up his goods properly, or through not producing a good quality of goods, he receives a lesson which is far more effective than any teaching by Act of Parliament can possibly be. Take the case of the great wool industry of Australia. There is no Government grading needed in that industry. The pastoralists, wool-brokers, and others engaged in the industry grade their wool for themselves. All the Government brand’s in the world would make no difference in the case of wool ; if we were to put even the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, with a portrait of the present Minister of Trade and Customs, ora top of a bale of wool, it would not make a solitary fraction of difference in the price that would be obtained for the article, because it would be sold on its merits. If we were to attach to a bale of wool a portrait of the whole of the Ministers, with that of the Vice-President of the Executive Council thrown in, it would not add one-sixteenth of a penny to the value of the wool in the London market.
– Would not a Government brand be a guarantee, for instance, that meat exported was free from disease ?
– I have already stated that I think we ought to take the power to prohibit the export of diseased products or goods unfit for human consumption. I am prepared to support, up to the hilt, any proposal submitted to give the Government power to prohibit the export of diseased products.
– That could be done by a very much less comprehensive measure than this Bill.
– It certainly could, but while I would agree to that, I cannot agree that inferior stuff should not be exported. I gave a simple instance in connexion with the industry of the rabbittrappers in my own electorate, which showed that their livelihood would have been seriously reduced in 1901 if grading provisions had been adopted in Victoria. I do hope that whatever differences there may be amongst honorable members on other matters, they will, in a matter of this kind, realize that it is generally the men in poorer circumstances who produce the inferior article, and who, if their market is taken from them, will suffer the severest penalty. il he wealthy man - the big capitalist possessing the best land and the finest machinery - is less liable to be injured by the operation of this Bill, because his products are nearly all of good quality. I would ask, further, why all the inferior stuff should be kept in Australia for Australians to eat, and all the good stuff sent away. I can see no special virtue in our eating all the bad stuff ourselves and sending all the good stuff away. Personally, I like a good joint of meat and good butter as well as does any Englishman, and I think I am entitled just as much to them. The Attorney-General recently, during one of his rare attendances, said of this Bill that it was less drastic than any measure that had yet been before the House. All I have to say is that the honorable and learned gentleman must give a totally different meaning to the word drastic than that which is given in the dictionary, or is inferred from its use by other honorable members. The Minister of Trade and Customs made no such statement. That honorable gentleman admitted that this Bill conferred greater powers upon his Department. According to the Attorney-General it will confer less power upon that Department.
– It is rather a roundabout way of doing that.
– It is certainly an exceedingly roundabout way of giving the Customs authorities less power when it proposes to give them the power to prohibit the importation or exportation of any single article, unless it has attached to it a trade description or Government brand of some kind or another. I do not wish to labour the matter any further, but I trust that the system of government by regulation will not be extended, and that before any prohibitions of exports or imports are put into force they shall be approved by a resolution of both Houses of this Parliament. If these matters are dealt with by a deliberate vote of Parliament, that will be found to be the greatest possible preven tive of backstairs influence. While these powers are placed in the hands of a single individual backstairs influence is inevitable. It cannot be kept out of politics in any part of the world. The more legislation we have by Parliament and the less by regulation the better it will be for the country. I hope that steps will be taken to prevent all possibility of grading under this measure. No one can object to voluntary, grading. A manufacturer may brand his goods as he pleases. I agree that we should prohibit the export of diseased stuff, or of articles that are unfit for human consumption, but to attempt to go beyond that it seems to me is calculated to imperil our vast trade, which as I have said is estimated at £60,000,000, and which I am sure we all hope will steadily increase in value. It is that trade which keeps the country going, pays interest on our indebtedness, and maintains the great bulk of our people. We should, therefore, be very chary about taking any steps whatever which might result in injury to it.
– We have heard many addresses on this Bill, and have listened to the views not only of those representing the producing interests of Australia, but also of those representing our trading interests. If the Minister of Trade and Customs could have made it convenient to be present on the last occasion when this Bill was discussed, the honorable gentleman would have been convinced, by the criticism of the measure offered byl the honorable member for North Sydney, that this Bill is likely to ‘do more harm than good, and he would possibly now be in the humour, if not to withdraw the measure, at least to allow it to go before a Select Committee.
– I do not think so.
– The Minister may know a great many things, but I think he wilt admit that in matters of trade and the intricacies of commercial business, the Federal Parliament has on many occasions been indebted for much information to the very able remarks which have been made on various measures by the honorable member for North Sydney. The honorable member for Wannon strongly reminded honorable members of the danger of surrendering our legislative power to Ministerial control and direction. That is a most serious thing to do at any time. The Minister of Trade and Customs from his experience, not only in the Federal Par- liament, but in the State Parliament of New South Wales, must be aware of the extreme danger of arming Ministers with such powers of control as are provided for in this measure. If we agree to the surrender of the powers of Parliament to Ministerial control it will only be a short step further to the closing up of Parliament. On this point I honestly believe that if we are to goon introducing experimental measures, as the Federal Parliament has been doing for the last two or three years, it would be to the interests of the Commonwealth that it should be closed for five years. The fault in this matter does not lie at the door of any one Ministry. It has been our experience that immediately upon the acceptance of office by a new Ministry we have been invited to consider some new measure to meet some new cry, with the result that the Federal Parliament has in the course of a few years passed measures of a mol drastic character than any that are known to the States legislatures. This. measure is far more drastic than anything of the kind attempted in the States legislatures, or even in New Zealand, the home’ of experiment and advanced legislation. There is nothing on the statute-book of that Colony to compare with the measure which the Minister of Trade and Customs now asks this House to adopt. In my opinion, the political digestive power of the people of Australia is about, exhausted. I believe that the traders of the Commonwealth, together with many others who are not traders, are nervously wondering what the next experimental measure introduced into this Chamber will be. No honorable member could have dealt more cautiously with the subject matter of the Bill than did the honorable and learned member for Angas, who gave us the benefit of his legal knowledge, and showed clause by clause that almost every provision in the measure would be ineffective, and could be evaded by traders. I can understand the desire of honorable members to prevent dishonest trading, and to promote commercial honesty ; but the Bill will be useless if its provisions, however drastic they may be, can be evaded. The Bill is being supported by the members of the Labour Party and other advanced radicals, simply because they have been told that it is a measure for the prevention of fraudulent importation. There is, however, nothing to prevent the importer of goods which have come here under a proper label or trade description, from removing that label to other goods to which it does not rightly apply, thus leaving the public without protection. In my opinion, in dealing with this measure we are trenching on the powers of the States. If the object sought to be achieved is the protection of the health of the community, it would be better for the Legislatures of the States to pass effective Health Acts, prohibiting the adulteration of foods. I should like to know from the Minister whether this is not really a Bill to provide for the grading of butter. Labour members and others are supporting it in the belief that it does provide for the grading of butter, because they think that buyers in London should know that in purchasing Australian butter they are not getting an inferior article.
– The Bill gives power to the Minister to have inferior butter marked.
– I interpret that interjection to mean that the Bill provides for the grading of butter.
– Other Ministers have said that it does not.
– Exactly. I shall presently quote the remarks of the AttorneyGeneral on the subject. There is a hopeless confusion in the minds of Ministers as to the meaning of the Bill.
– The honorable member is trying to confuse everything that is said.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs has admitted that the Bill provides for the grading of butter, and that I myself believe to be its intention.
– I did not say so.
– At any rate, it gives the Minister power to provide for the grading of butter.
– The Minister has said that it gives him power to provide for the marking of inferior butter, which he must admit means the grading of butter
– The effect of the marking is to grade it.
– The ‘Minister having given that answer, I ask those of his supporters who are so warmly opposed to the grading of butter, what they think of the measure now,
– I do not think that the Minister knows what is the meaning of the provision under discussion.
– Such a statement from a supporter is insulting to the Minister.
– Yet the honorable member for Maranoa, and the party to which he belongs, sit dumb whilst this mischievous legislation is being considered.
– Yes. Is it to go forth to the trading community that the Minister who asks to be armed with these large powers does not know what the Bill means ?
– I know perfectly well what the Bill means.
– The honorable member’s warmest and most powerful supporter says that the honorable gentleman does not know what it means, and the honorable gentleman’s colleague, the Attorney-General, when asked point-blank by the honorable member for North Sydney if the Bill provides for grading, would not admit that it does. I should like to know how the VicePresident of the Executive Council .will stand before his electors, when it is known that the Bill provides for the grading of butter.
– With a majority behind me.
– It is a degrading thing if all the honorable gentleman cares about is the support of a majority. It may be objected that there are very few farmers in the Dalley electorate, and, therefore, I need not concern myself about this matter. But, in my opinion, the proposed legislation is most dangerous, and if ever there was a measure which should be sent to a Select Committee this is one. The Minister of Trade and Customs, who has two colleagues in direct opposition to him on the subject, says that the Bill provides for grading.
– I did not ; the honorable member should not misinterpret what I say.
– The honorable gentleman said that the Bill provides for the marking of inferior butter, which comes to the same thing.
– So that the purchaser shall know what he is buying.
– After the Minister has prescribed the standard according to which the goods shall be marked.
– If ever there was a measure which justified criticism by an Opposition, this is such a measure. . The excuse put forward for it by the Minister of Trade and Customs is that it is a Reid-McLean Bill.
– It was never considered by the Reid-McLean Cabinet.
– It is very early in the career of an opponent ot that Ministry tq justify his actions on the ground that the measure he is introducing is a remnant of their policy. I said, when speaking on the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply, that those who succeeded that Ministry would take up its measures ; but the Attorney-General almost ignored the statement. Now we find this Government claiming support for almost the first Bill it has introduced, on the ground that it is a ReidMcLean measure. As a matter of fact, it is not a Reid-McLean measure. As honorable members know, Bills are first drafted by the officers of a Department, and then sent to the Minister, who submits them to the Cabinet for consideration and indorsement. Until a measure has had the approval of the Cabinet, it cannot be considered that the Cabinet is in any sense responsible for it. The Reid-McLean Administration was certainly not responsible for this Bill, which is a premature production, whose parents no one seems to know. The Minister of Trade and Customs has tried to put the blame for it on the shoulders of the Reid-McLean Ministry.
– I have not blamed any ohe for it.
– Then, I will say, the honour. The measure contains some of the provisions of the Merchandise Marks Bill, which was before the Senate ; some of the provisions of the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill, and some other provisions; all of which have been thrown together under the seductive title of the Commerce Bill. In moving the second reading, the Minister of Trade and Customs said -
I -find, however, after having consulted the officials of my Department, that this Bill is necessary to make the intentions of the Customs Act perfectly clear, and to confer greater and more discretionary power.
Our experience of the use which has been made of the discretionary power vested in Ministers does not encourage us to confer the extended authority and discretion contemplated by the Bill. I do not speak with’ any special reference to the Minister of Trade and Customs, but on general principles I regard it as most dangerous to arm Ministers with extensive powers. All the States Legislatures have steadily set their faces against clothing Ministers with powers which would render them independent of the Parliament, and in the Mother of Parliaments measures which would seriously, affect trade and commerce are invariably re-; ferred to committees in order that expert opinion may be obtained. However good the intentions of the Government may be, this measure should’ be forwarded to a Select Committee for full inquiry and consideration. We have a sufficient number of honorable members in this House, possessed of technical information to form a capable committee. In this connexion I would suggest the names of the honorable member for Denison, the honorable member for North Sydney, the honorable member for Grampians, and the honorable member for Kooyong. We could also select other members from the ranks of the Labour Party, from the direct Ministerial supporters, and from this side of the Chamber, who would be able to give us the benefit of their knowledge and ability in shaping a workable measure. At present we are being asked to accept the mere statement of the Minister as to the intentions of the Government. We are not being supplied with that information which should be afforded to honorable members before they are required to consider a measure of this kind. There is extreme danger in submitting a Bill which may have a serious effect upon commercial enterprises to honorable members who are not acquainted with such matters. The measure is being forced upon us under circumstances which prevent us from giving it proper consideration. It has been subjected to the most peculiar treatment. Some honorable members have even gone the length of using classical phrases in connexion with it. The honorable and learned member for Parkes told us that the principle of caveat emptor should apply to conditions such as those with which’ the Bill proposes to deal, and I would suggest that the maxim of festina lente might also be followed with advantage. The measure is nothing but a mere placard, a pretence to accomplish certain results which cannot be achieved. We have been appealed to to pass the Bill in order to prevent patent medicine and unwholesome infant foods from being imported, but it would not accomplish that object. What is desired in that direction could be effected more readily bv means of more drastic provisions in the Health Statutes of the various States. The honorable and learned member for Wannon pointed out that so far as exports are concerned Ministers appear to be more concerned for the welfare of the foreigner than for that of our own people. Protectionists who have always howled “at free-traders as foreign traders are support- ing a; Bill which is designed to protect the interests of foreigners to the total exclusion of all consideration for the home consumer. It is proposed that the foreign consumer shall have every assurance that the produce we, sell to him is of the highest quality, whereas no provision of a similar character is to be made in regard to the goods offered for sale in our own markets.
– The proposal is to preserve the home market for the rubbish, and to give the best of our produce to the foreigner.
– Exactly. I have no special objection to provision being made for insuring that the weights of the contents of packages shall be correctly stated. Although the Bill pretends to comply with requirements in this direction, its provisions cannot be effectively applied. In connexion with the practice of giving false weights, the history of ‘the butter trade affords us evidence which must be so fresh in the minds of .honorable members that ‘ I need not refresh’ their memories. The extent to which short-weight packages have been sold has been simply scandalous, and it is our duty to prevent the continuance of the practice. The provisions of this Bill are supposed to be designed for the public good, but the Attorney-General, who was in charge of the measure on Wednesday evening, and the honorable member for North Sydney were in absolute disagreement as to the probable effect of its provisions. The clauses which have been taken from the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill might very well have been retained in that measure, and dealt with apart from the other provisions now placed before us. It is. proposed to give the Minister the most extraordinary power to deal with the nature, number, quantity, quality^ purity, class, grade, measure, gauge, size, or weight of any goods. The Minister would not be able to look after all these matters personally,and the powers proposed to be granted by the Bill would have to be exercised by the officers of the Department. In my opinion, ths less legislation we have of this kind the better it will be for this Parliament. If we willingly surrender our powers of control and legislative action bv placing all matters under departmental control, wo shall be called to account by our constituents. If we pass this Bill we shall be working in the direction of making the Customs and Excise Department more powerful than this Parliament. The system of departmental control is the very worst that we could adopt in the administration of public affairs, and a measure of this kind should not be permitted to pass until every article to which it is intended to apply is specified. The Minister gave us a list of articles which he thought would probably come within the scope of the Bill. These number, roughly, about ninety, and one .can well imagine the time that might be wasted in a full discussion of the various items if honorable members were disposed to adopt obstructive tactics. In discussing this measure. I have had to make some references to the Minister of Trade and Customs. I am not one of those who think that the honorable gentleman would do what no other Minister occupying the same position would do. But I begin to realize that, perhaps, I have said one or two harsh things which in cold type might appear to be too severe, and I now make the statement that my references to the honorable gentleman have not been personal, but have had regard to his official position. I should have made the same remarks concerning the honorable member for Gippsland if it had been that honorable gentleman’s fortune to have introduced such a measure. In dealing with the criticisms passed” upon the measure, we are entitled to consider the character and judgment of honorable members by whom they are made, and I would remark that we ‘ have had honorable members possessed of legal knowledge pointing out the dangers inherent in this Bill, and contending that it would be a fruitful source of litigation. I need not remind the House of the inimitable way in which the honorable and learned member for Parkes put this matter. The honorable and learned gentleman quoted Butler’s
History of Civilisation to show that measures of this character had been common on the Continent of” Europe. “The honorable and learned member for Werriwa, another legal luminary, adopted a somewhat similar course in dealing with the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and emphasized the dangers of over-legislation affecting trade and commerce. The honorable and reamed member quoted the extreme attitude adopted in the sixteenth century in the United Kingdom in regard to legislation on cognate matters. Some honorable members were led to believe that the honorable and learned member was endeavouring to make a burlesque of the serious subject with which he was dealing, but I am satisfied, on reflection, that the honorable and learned members tor Werriwa and Parkes were performing yeoman service to the House by directing attention to such matters. No one more ,readily recognises than I do the necessity of doing what we can to prevent dishonesty in trade, and no one more readily apprehends the dangers which follow from the consumption of adulterated food ; but these are matters which I think can be more effectively dealt with by State legislation. I have learned during the debate that the Minister of Trade and Customs and his learned colleague, the- AttorneyGeneral, are absolutely at variance in their reading of this measure.
– It is not fair of the honorable member to say that. It is not correct.
– It is quite correct.
– I am not one of those who think that the Minister would say that a statement was not cor.rect if he thought otherwise.
– The honorable gentleman does not know.
– L believe that is the explanation, because the honorable member for Maranoa, one of his strongest supporters, has said that the honorable gentleman does not understand the measure which he is in charge of. I really think that the Bill should be submitted to a Select Committee.
– That is just what those who wish to kill the Bill would like to do.
– That is an extraordinary charge to make. I shall not be found desiring to kill any measure that is likely to be of use to the community. On the contrary, [ should prefer to facilitate its passing. It is an objection to this measure that no time is fixed at which it shall’ come into operation. There is danger in that, because we know that daily thousands of tons of goods which are proposed to be dealt with by this measure are in transitu. This can in no sense be considered a party measure, and I think it will not be contended that any honorable member would be so lost to political decency as by obstruction, to make use of it as an engine of party warfare. The measure contains no schedule of the goods with which the Minister is given power to deal. The list of exports to which the Bill may be applied, contained in the Minister’s speech, is a pretty lengthy one, and the list of imports is still longer, but we have nevertheless no guarantee that these lists are in any way complete. We are really being asked to legislate in the dark. The Minister tells us that the Bill is to apply to the various articles which he has mentioned, but a week after it had become law we should probably learn that the Department had decided to apply it to other articles, and we should find that we had absolutely deprived ourselves of any power to interfere in the matter. If the Minister is himself to determine the quality of the various goods to which the’ Bill is to apply, tea-tasting will be an occupation of no consequence compared with his duties. He will become head taster to the Commonwealth, and, for the sake of his own health, we ought to prevent him from being placed in such a position. To do full justice to one’s constituents, one ought to take the whole list of articles with which the Minister has furnished us, and discuss the applicability of the provisions of the measure to them one by one. I might well ask how the Bill will affect the biscuitmaking industry, and how it will affect the furniture industry. What is furniture? Does the term apply to articles of wood, or does it apply 1 also to the iron articles which I see in the stores here?
– Does it cover majolica mantelpieces, such as Mr. Wise had fitted up in the Attorney-General’s Department in New South Wales at a cost of ^400 each ?
– The honorable member is more acquainted with such luxuries than I am. I am afraid that I should not know a majolica mantelpiece from the Minister of Trade and Customs. What we require is a definition of the term “furniture.” It is surprising to find1 a protectionist seeking to impose restrictions on exportation. The Minister by his action is hampering the very industrial concerns which he has fought so assiduously to establish. Can it be imagined that leading articles would appear in the protectionist Age, advocating the placing of restrictions on the exportation of boots and shoes, so that the foreigner may not be taken in? Beer is mentioned in the Minister’s list; but would any one charge the Minister of Trade and Customs with being a judge of beer? The statement that he was a judge of beer would be an insult to him. But under the Bill he must be a judge, not only of beer, but of jams, jellies, wine, articles of apparel, furniture, and many other things. In Barataria a member of Parliament would probably take the Minister’s list, and deal with the articles therein contained seriatim, in order to “ stone-wall “ but, of course, nothing like that would be done here. I ask the Minister, however, to give us more time for the consideration of this measure. Let him put it on one side for a few years.
– Or send it to a Select Committee.
– Yes. That would be as good as putting it on one side for a few years. Although I may appear to be obstructing the measure, I am fighting in the best interests of our people. I do not think the Government should go on with the measure until they are agreed as to the meaning of its provisions. Legislation of this kind is going back to the times of Henry VIII., when Parliament interfered in all sorts of private concerns. If the Minister is so anxious to protect the public, why does he not bring in a Bill to protect confiding investors against designing brokers ? If such a measure were introduced,! we should have the honorable member for Kooyong telling us that all brokers are not designing. Similarly, I say that all traders are not dishonest ; and are dishonest practices on the part of a few to be punished bv the placing of restrictive legislation -on trade generally ? Those who represent the producing interest in this House are adverse to this Bill, and as I have said a good deal in support of their attitude, let me now say a few words in the interest of my own constituents. In the electorate of Dalley not many persons are engaged in agricultural operations, but there are many engaged in trade, and very many interested in shipping. This Bill will still further handicap the shipping of Australia, and will strike a particularly heavy blow at the trade of Port Jackson. This Parliament by passing a protectionist Tariff has done what it can to prevent goods being brought to the Commonwealth, and now, by prohibiting the export of goods, will injure the shipping industry still more. In my electorate there are hundreds, and there were thousands, of persons whose livelihood is dependent upon the shipping business. They have already been injured bv the lessening of employment caused by our legislation, and they will be still further injured if the Bill is passed. The Government seem to have taken a dead set at the shipping interest.
Why they should be picked out I d’o not know, except that unfortunately they can never hope to be strong in their1 representation in this House. Nevertheless, their operations are of great value to the community, and have an enormous effect upon thousands of electors. I have never known of any Bill in which so much danger was wrapped up in so small a compass as is the case with this measure. Within these two flimsy sheets, innocent in appearance, attractive in title, there are provisions of the most mischievous nature. Let honorable members turn to the clauses dealing with penalties. They are clauses 7 and 8. One provides that goods must be described in conformity with a proclamation issued by the Governor-General ; the other that the description must be true. These penalties remind one of the provisions of the Customs Act, which is celebrated, not only throughout Australia, but throughout the world, for the excellence of its draftsmanship. That Act also is noted for the staccato manner in which it imposes penalties.
– The honorable member must discuss this Bill.
– There is a connexion between my remarks and the Bill under discussion, because I am trying to show that the penalties imposed by this Bill are similar in their severity to those imposed by the Customs Act, which was the work of the right honorable member for Adelaide. Under clauses 7 and 8 the importer may give a perfectly accurate description of his goods, but if that description is not in accordance with a proclamation issued by the Governor-General they may be forfeited. But if the goods are falsely described, there is only a penalty of ,£100. Surely a false description is a more serious offence than an accurate description which does not conform with a proclamation issued by the Governor-General. I ask the Minister whether it is intended to enforce both of these penalties at once, or merely one at a time. Property to the extent of £10,000 may be at stake, but because it is not described in conformity with the proclamation it may be forfeited. On the other hand, property worth £20 may be wrongly described, and the owners maybe fined £100. Why does not the Minister give me an answer to my question ? Is it because the Government are so confident of their voting strength that they do not need to reply to fair questions? Are we to treat manufacturers and merchants as bands of robbers, who are unworthy of proper treatment? Can we wonder that those concerned in the commercial industries of Australia are anxious about this measure, when Ministers refuse answers to ordinary questions? I think I have broken new ground with this point. I have not heard it touched upon before, and I should like to hear some of the legal luminaries with regard to it. He said he had been asked by Mr. Beale and by Dr. Mackellar to see that the importation of adulterated foods was restricted. I quite agree that steps should be taken to prevent the sale of pernicious foods, as well as of injurious patent medicines ; but I suggest .that that question can be better dealt with by the States than by means of this Bill. The honorable member for Melbourne, who as a medical man has some experience in these matters, made a suggestion the other day in regard to medicines. He suggested that we should require to be printed! on the packages or bottles a statement of their contents, as is done in Germany. That would meet the case. But nothing of the sort is provided for in this Bill. The very protection that the public require is neglected by the framers of the measure. The Minister in his second-reading speech referred to provisions that were intended to. prevent the exportation of certain articles. When that statement was canvassed, the Attorney-General some time afterwards said that the measure would not prevent the exportation of any articles. Which of these statements is_true? In regard to the provisions as to the ingredients of goods, any honorable member who had a faculty for ridicule could show the absurdity of what is proposed. Some articles of commerce may contain 100 or 200 ingredients. The honorable member for Wentworth referred to this point, although he did not dwell upon it. But it offers a great field for speculation. Take the case of a sausage- a most mysterious thing, and known to history as such. Will the Minister, amidst his multifarious duties, be called upon to discover the ingredients of that savoury article? An army of inspectors would be required to carry out the work contemplated by the Bill. I object to it, owing to the manner in which it has been introduced, and also because it is a “crib” from various other measures. I think, moreover, that it will utterly fail in the objects at which it pretends to aim. This Parliament has been working so rapidly, and turning out so much legislation, that the electors are becoming confused. We have passed a number of measures without full consideration of their probable effect, and the consequence is that our reputation as a Legislature is suffering more and more every day. The Bill is badly drawn, it is a “hotch-potch,” and it does not meet the requirements of the case. If it be carried in its present form, it will undoubtedly hamper trade by introducing conditions similar to those which existed in the earlier days of our history. I trust that it will be referred to a Select Committee, and that its dangerous features will be eliminated.
– I shall be very brief in replying to the various criticisms which have been directed against the Bill. Although several long speeches have been made, I cannot complain that they have been vicious. A great deal has been made of the supposed intention to introduce a system of grading. If honorable members will look at clause 10, they will see that it is provided -
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 -
If there is a true trade description, the exportation of the goods cannot be prohibited - of such character, relating to such matters, and applied in such manner, as is prescribed by the proclamation or by the regulations.
A brand must be affixed to the goods, showing their class or description, and that is the only grading provided for. The Bill which was left in the Department by the late Government contained a clause worded somewhat differently from that in the present measure. Provision was made for fixing a “standard,” and evidently it was the intention that the goods should be graded in order that a standard might be arrived at. I objected to the use of that term, and hence adopted different wording. I have stated time after time that, in effect, grading is provided for, but that the exporter will have to grade the article and mark it according to its proper description. Take butter, for instance. If certain butter is branded as first class, and the inspector comes to the conclusion that it is not first class, the brand will have to be altered.
– Then the inspector will grade the article.
– The goods must be marked according to their proper description. If they are first class they will be allowed to pass as first class. If, on the pther hand, they are inferior, they must be so marked.
– The Customs officer may not be a judge of the article.
– That may be so, but efforts will be made to secure the services of men who understand the articles with which they have to deal. Take, for instance, apples grown at the Huon and intended for shipment to England ; the cases would probably be marked by the grower. All the inspector at Hobart would have to do would be to look at two or three cases, and if he found that the apples were properly described by the mark upon the cases no obstacle would be placed in the way of their shipment. If, however, apples of an inferior character were branded as superior, the inspector would have to step in.
– That is all the graders do now.
– I do not think that trade will be in any way hampered by these provisions, because what we propose to do is now being done under much more stringent provisions in Victoria and Tasmania.
– Does the Commonwealth Government intend to take up this work in addition to what is already being done bv the States authorities?
– I think that these matters can best be dealt with by the Customs officials who are always on the spot.
– We do not find it so in Tasmania.
– The most convenient and least expensive way of providing for inspection such as that contemplated will be by arming the Customs officials with the necessary authority. If I found that the Customs officer at Hobart did not know sufficient to enable him to express a reliable opinion upon the quality of fruit, I should see that some expert, probably from the Health Department or from the Fruit Quarantine Department, was employed. The exportation of articles which are properly described will not be interfered with unless they are unfit for human consumption. In the same way with regard: to imports, our object is to preclude the importation of any articles that are unfit for human food. The question of short weights will also receive attention.
– All the goods to which the Bill is intended to apply should be enumerated in a schedule.
– So far as I am personally concerned, I should not object to attaching a schedule to the Bill, if it were practicable to embrace every article to which the measure could appropriately be applied. But there is a danger of our omitting from such a schedule, perhaps, an article with which we might most desire to deal. I produced a list of the articles to which the measure was most likely to apply.
– And that was a most extraordinary selection.
-Iasked the Department to furnish me with a list, and I produced it here. Before we get through Committee with the Bill, I shall direct the Department of Trade and Customs to let me have a very carefully thought-out list.
– Why not postpone the further consideration of the Bill?
– That would mean killing the Bill. I shall be as reasonable as I can with honorable members, and try to make the Bill as complete as possible. It is not intended by me to be an engine of tyranny, but an engine of safety. As the honorable member for Hunter interjected when I was moving the second reading, the importation of impure foods should be stopped. The interpretation clause contains a word which is not to be found in the measures from which the Bill was taken, and that is the word “purity.” The reason for inserting that word in paragraph a is to enable the Department to deal with all imports, liquid or otherwise, which are deleterious and injurious to health.
– Will the Minister make any provisions in the Bill for examining the ingredients of patent medicines?
– When the Bill was drafted, I asked specially whether it would cover that point, and I was informed that it would, in conjunction with a certain section of the Customs Act. Where medical or professional men satisfy the Department that it is improper to bring such medicines into the community, their importation can and, I think, should be prohibited, as is done in New Zealand, I believe. I do not know that there is any other point of importance to refer to. The principal argu ment, such as it was, centred round the question of grading.
– No time is fixed for bringing the Bill into force. It is very important that a time should be fixed.
– Unless a time were fixed, no doubt the Bill would come into force the moment it was assented to by the Governor-General. It would not be fair to apply the measures to any articles which have left the port of export. In Committee, I shall be quite willing to fix a date which would allow such goods as are now in transit to be landed before the measure was brought into operation. I propose to take the second reading to-day, and when the honorable member for Kooyong submits his motion for the appointment of a Select Committee I shall be quite willing for the debate thereon to be adjourned till next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– In accordance with the notice I gave, I desire to move -
That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, consisting of the following members : - Sir W. J. Lyne, Mr. Lee, Mr. Brown, Mr. Glynn, Mr. Fisher, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Salmon, Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Mcwilliams, and. the mover.
I wish to speak at some length on this question, but in view of what the Minister has just said, I trust that I may be allowed to defer my remarks until Tuesday next.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate, with amendments.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Groom) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to the census and statistics of theCommonwealth.
Bill presented and read a first time.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I wish to remind honorable members that the delivery of the Budget will take precedence on Tuesday next. After its delivery I may ask the House to deal with the standing order which was laid upon the table to-day, which will be circulated by that time in substitution for the present standing orders relating to lapsed Bills. We shall also proceed with the debate on the second reading of the Manufactures Encouragement Bill, and that I presume will suffice for Tuesday evening.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 August 1905, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19050818_reps_2_25/>.