2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
-I have found, on looking through the proof report of some remarks on the defences of Fremantle, made by me on Tuesday last when speaking on the Supply Bill, that I referred to a range of five miles, when I should have said 6,000 yards, a mistake which, if not corrected, would affect my whole argument.
– I noticed the statement, and thought it a mere slip.
Mr. EWING laid upon the table the following paper: -
Regulations under the Defence Acts 1903-1904, Statutory Rules 1905, No. 56.
TASMANIAN DEFENCE EXPENDITURE.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister of Defence yet obtained the information in reference to the defences of Tasmania for which I asked some days ago?
– At the end of 1900, the strength of the Tasmanian Forces was 2,554 men, and the expenditure of the State on defence £31,471. At the present time, the strength of the Tasmanian Forces is 1,214 men, and the expenditure on defence, in 1904-5, ,£39,907. Fuller information is given in the following return : -
The figures given as the strength on 31st December, 1900, are taken from the report of the Commandant ‘of Tasmania, dated 1st” March, 1 gol.
The expenditure for 1900-1 is taken from a statement furnished by the Commandant of Tasmania, on 13th March; 1902, and is stated to have been compiled from the two half years, viz., 1st July to 31st December, 1900, and 1st January to 30th June, 1901 The information was supplied in response to a request from the Commonwealth Treasurer, dated 22nd February, 1902.
Letters dated February 14, 16, and 26, 1901, from the State Minister of Defence, Tasmania show the condition of the Military Forces in Tasmania at time of transfer to the Commonwealth.
In a letter from the Premier of Tasmania, dated 26th June, 1903, lie urges that the proposal to introduce the system of partially paid Forces in Tasmania- on the same basis as’ in other States - and the consequent increase of the Estimates for the Military Forces, Tasmania, by £4,000, be ‘ deferred. Iri compliance with this request, the conversion of portion of the Volunteer Forces to Militia was suspended, the estimates being reduced accordingly.
Extracts from a Letter from the Minister for Defence, Tasmania, 10 the Minister of State for Defence for the Commonwealth, Dated 14TH February, 1901. . . I have no alternative but to say that it was apparent to me in the early stages of a searching inquiry, which I made into the condition of our Defence Department, that the service had been cut down to such an extent during the years of retrenchment- 1892, 1897 - that ft had become probably more a menace to the State than a security. I found that, from the Staff downWards, the Department had been so cut down that it was impossible to put it upon anything approaching a serviceable footing, without incurring very much expenditure.
The batteries had been allowed to drift into a slate of disrepair, necessitating, in the case of the Alexandra battery alone, a very large amount pf expenditure for the purpose of putting it in bare working order.
The whole (Infantry Forces) were badly equipped, many of the men being without uniform, others were in uniform which had been issued two or three times over, and quite unfit for use. Many were without belts and slings, some even without rifles. Then again, the Mar. tini-Henry rifles with which the Infantry, Force was armed had been in use some 15 years. The deterioration which had set up through such prolonged use, together, with the neglect they were subjected to through the insufficiency of periodi- cai inspections, had made them all more or less useless, and at the present I have reason to believe that an inspection would show that npt more than 23 per cent, of them are even fairly accurate.
The only branch of the service which appeared in anything like an efficiently equipped condition was the. Volunteer. Branch of the Artillery, and this was only due to the efforts of the officers1 commanding this, branch in both Hobart and Launceston.
Generally, I found that, we were deficient iri every article of equipment. In some instances dangerously so. For instance, we had not nearly sufficient tents.. Nearly half the force was without overcoats. The stock of ammunition was’ ridiculously low, so low that beyond the equipment stock for the purposes of the Martini-Henry rifles, we had scarcely any small arm ammunition on hand.
The above is a brief outline of the wretched condition of our Defence Force as I found it in October, 1899.
Firstly, the staff must be materially increased by the appointment of certain permanent officers. It is impossible for the Commandant to satisfactorily carry on his work under the existing ar..rangements, whereby, owing to the paucity of assistance, as described above, he has to spend a very considerable portion of his time in the office, dealing, with, matter .of detail and routine* which properly belong to subordinate officers, resulting in neglect and injury to the armament, administration, &c.
At the present time the system of partial payment had dwindled down to a nominal grant to the Artillery and the Engineer Corps attending annual training, but I now propose to establish a uniform rate of pay to all branches for annual training, and to provide pay for a certain number of whole day and half day daylight drills.
– The Prime Minister, last week, promised to obtain information in regard to the effect of Commonwealth legislation upon pearl shelling operations at Thursday Island, which. I assured him, could be obtained from the officers of the Customs Department. Has that information yet come to hand?
– It was at once asked for, but has not yet reached me.
– Before the motion for the third reading is moved, I desire to move, in accordance with the Standing Orders -
That the Bill be now re-committed to a Committee of the whole House, for the purpose of reconsidering clause 10, so far as it relates to the con.fiscation or forfeiture of the goods of Australian producers and manufacturers.
My reason for taking this step is that I desire to finally test the opinion of honorable members in regard to the confiscation of the goods of Australian producers and manufacturers intended for export, apart from any other issue. An extraordinary series of misstatements have been made respecting the action of the Opposition towards this clause, and a great deal of misapprehension exists as to the effect of the clause. This is evident in the statements in a recent leading article of a well-known Melbourne journal. The writer points out that this measure is - to provide a guarantee for the bona fides of Australian exports. It is a proposal to make false descriptions of goods such an offence as the law can reach.
I do not object to the clause in order to prevent the law from reaching such an offence as the applying of false descriptions to goods, but because it provides for the confiscation of goods intended for export, whose producers or manufacturers have unwittingly, carelessly, or negligently applied to them the wrong trade description. In the article from which I have just quoted, it is also pointed out that the Bill aims at - . securing for Australian exports in foreign markets the benefit of that enhanced reputation which springs from public confidence iti the trustworthiness of a trade mark. The consumer is to be guaranteed the genuineness, both as to quantity and quality, of what he buys.
We do not desire to injure the reputation of Australian goods, but we feel that the Australian producer and manufacturer who has made a mistake in describing his goods should not be liable to have them confiscated. It is stated in the leading article to which I have already referred that it is the principle of grading which has “ kept Parliament wrangling over the Bill for a month past;” but that statement is due to a total misapprehension of the reasons which have actuated the opposition to certain clauses in it, a misapprehension which has been to some extent conveyed by the remarks of the Minister of Trade and Customs and the Attorney-General. These honorable gentlemen have conveyed the impression that the clause with which I am dealing is a clause to penalize the application of false trade descriptions. Clause 11 imposes a penalty of ^100 on any person who knowingly applies a false trade description to any goods intended for export, or knowingly exports any goods to which a false trade description has been applied, and clause 12 provides that no goods to which a false trade description has been applied shall be exported, but that such goods shall be forfeited. Clause 10. however, which is the clause with which I am dealing, provides for the confiscation of goods intended for export to which a false trade description has been applied, ignorant])’, carelessly, or negligently, and, to my mind, places an outrageous power in the hands of the Minister. The Minister of Trade and Customs referred to” a number of State Acts which he said contained a similar provision ; but no Act passed by any of the States or by New Zealand provides for the confiscation of goods because an inaccurate description has carelessly been applied to them, and confiscation, even for a false description, is not provided for. The Victorian Export Produce Act was passed by a Government in which the present Commonwealth AttorneyGeneral was Attorney-General, but that Act does not provide for the confiscation of exports to which a false description has been applied, and no one dreamt of proposing to confiscate goods in regard to which a mistake in description was carelessly, ignorantly, or negligently made. The Attorney-General knows that, had such a proposal been put before the Victorian Parliament, the country constituencies would have been in an uproar, and I am convinced that it is only owing to lack of interest in the proceedings of this Parliament that there has not been an ebullition of feeling against clause 10 of the Commerce Bill. When the producers in the country understand that the clause allows the Minister to confiscate goods to which a false trade description has been negligently or carelessly, but not dishonestly or wickedly, applied, they will be strongly opposed to it, and clause 2 provides, in effect, that any accused person shall be presumed to be guilty until he has proved his innocence. Much of the produce of this country is exported directly, either by individual farmers or by associations and unions of farmers, managed bv persons many of whom are not accustomed to read Acts of Parliament and departmental regulations, on whom the provision will fall with undue severity. When it was proposed to apply the provisions of the Arbitration Bill to rural industries, the representatives of every farming constituency voted against it, and the farmers, when thev understand this clause, will attach the same importance to its amendment as thev attached to their exclusion from the Arbitration Bill. The effect of my motion will be to draw a clear line of demarcation between those who favour’ the confiscation of. the goods of producers or manufacturers who have been guilty, not of fraud, but of negligence, or carelessness only, and those who are opposed to such drastic penalties being inflicted. I have framed this motion in order that the division-list may show who are lighting the battle of the producers, and who are opposing their interests.
– I hope that the Minister will agree to the motion, and thus afford honorable members a further opportunity of reconsidering clause 10, and the disastrous effect it is likely to have upon the producing interests. The honorable member for Wannon is perfectly justified in directing attention to the fact that the producers of Australia will probably be subjected to verv serious loss. If we could feel assured that the Bill would be administered in a reasonable way we might agree to pass the clause in its present form, but, in view of the experience through which we have passed in connexion with similar Acts, we shall be exercising only common prudence in seeking to guard against undue harshness of administration. It is certainly desirable that a clear-cut issue should be submitted to the House, so that the producers of the country may be able to distinguish their friends from their foes. I think that the commercial community have a distinct grievance against the Minister of Trade and Customs, owing to his failure to carry out his promise that the scope of the Bill would be restricted to foodstuffs and patent medicines. The Minister yielded all too readily to the pressure brought to bear upon him by the Labour Party, and I regret that hu did not rely upon the members of the Opposition to assist him, and his immediate supporters, to resist that pressure, and to enable him to keep faith with the commercial community. The assurance given by the Minister misled the public, and lulled them into a state of quiescence. Otherwise a strong agitation would have been raised against the Bill, which is regarded in many quarters as likely to have the most pernicious effects. I suppose that it is useless to urge upon the Government and their supporters the claims of the producers to further consideration. Secure in their majority, the Government are apparently prepared to disregard all representations made in that direction. I cannot, however, refrain from pointing out that, in addition to having to overcome the difficulties inseparable from the nature of their occupation, our producers are to be hemmed in by all sorts of regulations and restrictions, and to be subjected to all kinds of pinpricks. I think that the title of the Bill should be altered. Strictly speaking, it is not a Commerce Bill, but a measure which is likely to restrict trade, and is, therefore, really an anti-commerce Bill. I think that we should reconsider the title, and therefore I move as an amendment -
That the motion be amended by the insertion of the words “ the title and clause r “ after the word “ reconsidering,” lines 2 and 3.
The object of the Bill is really to prevent the introduction or exportation of goods under false representations, and therefore the title of the Bill should be “ A Bill to prevent the exportation or importation of goods bearing a false trade description.” 1 do not for one moment suppose that the
Customs officers will wilfully place obstructions in the way of our export and import trade, but our experience has shown us that serious mistakes may be made by Ministers and officials actuated by the best of motives. The error committed in the six hatters case has probably cost us millions of money, and under the Bill we shall run the risk of mistakes being made which will inflict the most serious injury upon our trade and commerce. The present title of the Bill is absolutely a misnomer. Its real purpose is to prevent the exportation or importation of goods bearing a false trade description. I am aware that in Holland and other Continental countries trade has been developed by means of judicious regulation, but no such serious penalties are imposed there for breaches of the law as are provided for in this Bill. I can assure the Minister that there is no desire on the part of honorable members to obstruct the passage of the measure. At the same time I would point out to him that its present title does not indicate its true purpose.
– In seconding the amendment of the honorable member for Kooyong, I wish to indorse his appeal to the Minister to recommit clause 10. I can scarcely believe that the honorable gentleman is so obstinate that he will refuse to entertain a reasonable request of this character. The Opposition have not indulged in “ stone-walling “ tactics, and have no intention of so doing ; they merely desire to incorporate in the Bill some of their ideas,with a view to making it as perfect as possible. The measure deals with the application of false trade descriptions to goods, and should be called by its proper title. T consider that it is extremely necessary to recommit clause 10. To my mind the provision that a man’s produce shall be confiscated if, as the result of negligence, a wrong, description is applied to it, is an exceedingly harsh one. It very frequently happens that goods which are exported do not belong to the exporter. In that case I presume that the owner would suffer in the first instance. The Minister must recollect that many British firms now send out buyers to Australia to purchase goods for the English market, and that an article which may find favour in one particular locality will not be accepted in another. For example, in London, people prefer butter of a pale colour, whereas in Manchester they like it highly coloured. In the export of our produce we must endeavour to please the eye as well as the palate.
– Does the honorable member seriously think that this Bill will interfere with the export trade?
Mr. LEE. Most certainly I do. In the first place it provides for the establishment of a standard of quality.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– If a standard of quality be not established, how can the Department grade goods? ‘When the Minister was first asked whether he intended to. adopt the grading system, he replied that he did not, but at a later stage he said that that was his intention.
– I did not.
– [ understand that a certain mark is to be applied to our exports, and 1 say that that cannot be done unless they are graded. Great trouble has been experienced by English exporters on account of the fact that their goods did not conform with the requirements of their customers. They were too conservative ; and as a result they have lost a large amount of trade. On the other hand. American exporters have adopted quite the opposite policy. This Bill provides that goods shall be exported from Australia only if they bear the particular mark which the Minister wishes to attach to them, and if they do not bear that mark they shall be liable to forfeiture. I advise the honorable gentleman to recognise the difficulties which must inevitably arise under the operation of the measure in its present form ; and I trust that he will see the necessity of allowing clause 10 to be recommitted. This elaborate legislation reminds me of an attempt on the part of a small boy to teach his grandmother how to suck eggs. Instead of the effect of the Bill being to make commerce as free as possible, its result must be to seriously hamper it. I am sure that the Minister must see the necessity of wiping out the penalties which will attach to any person who, as the result of negligence, proposes to export goods under a wrong trade description, or who may desire to export them in a form which will comply with the requirements of his customers abroad.
– The clause which it is now sought to recommit is a very important one, and I appeal to the Minister to allow it to be amended in such a way as will insure that its effect will not be to hamper business in any way. There is no need to give this matter a party complexion. We are dealing with the machinery of a Bill of a most important character, and the Minister should feel that he is entitled to listen to the representations of those who wish to assist him to give, effect to its main object, which i’s to prevent false trade descriptions being attached to goods which are either imported or exported. I appeal to the honorable gentleman to allow the clause to be recommitted, because I think that the object which he has in view is fully covered by clauses 13 and 14.
– We have alreadyhad about six divisions on this clause, and in each case the Government proposal has been carried by a majority of two to one.
– I do not think that even at this late stage we should refuse to reconsider the clause if it can be shown that there are good reasons for amending it. Clause 11 provides for wilful misdescription, and I am satisfied that the House is at one with the Ministry in their desire to prevent anything in that direction. But surely there is a distinct difference between accidental misdescription or a failure to give any description at all, and a wilful misdescription. Upon further consideration, it seems to me that there is a serious objection to .our insisting that all -goods shall bear a description. I do not suppose that the Minister will endeavour to rigidly enforce the provision, but he has, nevertheless, the power to insist on an arbitrary description being applied to goods. We export many foodstuffs or products which have been produced for the purposes of food, and I can quite conceive that there are many lines which, although unsuitable for the purposes of food, have some value as an exportable commodity. Let us take once more the familiar illustration of butter which, owing to faulty manufacture or climatic causes, is absolutely unfit for human consumption.
– Inferior butter exported from Victoria is marked “pastry.”
– It might not even be fit for pastry.
– Then it ought to be marked “ axle grease.”
– I trust that the honorable gentleman will allow me to complete my illustration. There might be no market for such butter in Australia, and yet it might be used by manufacturers elsewhere for some purpose of which we have noknowledge. Under the clause, -however,, it would be necessary to place upon it a description which might have very serious consequences. It might happen that the placing of a description upon this commoditymight depreciate its value in the market - that this arbitrary act on the part of theMinister might depreciate its value, whilst doing good to no one. There may be many other lines of the same kind, and I submit that it would be unreasonable toinsist upon a description being applied tothem. It is well known that large quantities of various commodities are exported” without bearing any mark. They are sent, it may be, to London or to Hamburg tobe sold by auction on their merits ; and this measure may have a very detrimental effect upon such shipments. Honorablemembers who have not had experience of these questions may think that this is a very trivial matter, but the point is that the result of this interference on the part of the Minister might be serious. I donot think it is necessary to insist upon a description being placed on all goods. Even if the Committee adheres to its decision in that respect, we shall go very much beyond the necessities of the case if we insist that goods that are accidentally misdescribed or not described at all shall be forfeited. I concur in the proposal madeon Wednesday by the honorable and learned member for Corinella that instead of providing that goods which have been accidentally misdescribed or not described at all shall be forfeited when the Minister is satisfied’ that there has been no intention on the part of the persons concerned to do anything wrong, it would be reasonable to allow him the right to seize them with a view to insisting upon the exporter or importer, as the case may be, placingthe prescribed description upon them. There could be no objection to that. If we go beyond that we shall do an injustice, and place Australian commerce ina very unfavorable position, Certain classes of goods may be imported by people who are unfamiliar with the provisions ,of the Bill, or of regulations made under it. In many cases it would be impossible tosay, until the arrival of the goods in, Australia, what view the Department might take, and what description it might desire to be applied to them. In such cases - and I am assuming, of course, that the goods are not noxious, and have been honestly imported - the consignees should certainly have an opportunity, on their arrival, to comply with the regulations and,1 the Minister’s directions without running the risk of having them arbitrarily forfeited. I have already pointed out what should be done in regard to exports. If the Bill is to be inoperative no harm will be done; but there is always danger that a law which has become a dead letter may some day be applied most unjustly, because of the arbitrary action of a Minister or the intervention of an interested party. I trust that the Minister will give the Committee an opportunity to so amend Che clause as to provide that goods which are not marked as prescribed, or are not marked at all, shall be seizable only for the purpose of enabling the exporter or importer to comply with the regulations. If the person concerned persisted in refusing to comply with them, the goods could of course be forfeited, or otherwise dealt with. There is no doubt that if this ,power were vested in the Minister, instant compliance would be made with his demands. I trust the honorable gentleman will consider that the opinions that have been put forward by honorable members having experience and knowledge of these matters are sufficiently reasonable to warrant him in attaching some weight to them. If the clause be passed as it stands I shall hesitate to vote for the third reading of the Bill.
– Clause 10 has an important bearing upon the exporters of primary products, and I think that the honorable and learned member for Wannon is perfectly justified in asking the Minister to reconsider it. Recent events in connexion with the export of butter from Victoria have shown that iti would be very undesirable to increase the number of exports through agencies, but I hold that the effect of this clause must necessarily be to compel individuals to employ such agents instead of shipping thei’r own goods. Our object should be to give the primary producer every opportunity to obtain as much as he can for his produce, but this clause will have the opposite effect. It is provided that exports shall be in accordance with regulations to be framed by the Minister acting under the advice of the Comptroller-General ; but it will be almost impossible for a farmer, or the directors of a small factory in a remote part of Australia, to become familiar with all these regulations. The result will be that the export business will gravitate to centres where agents who have made themselves thoroughly acquainted with the law. and the regulations will be prepared to transact the business1 of exporters for a certain reward. In this way the profits of the primary producers will be reduced. Another very important point is that many men in a small way of business who do not fully appreciate the provisions ofl the law, may commit some slight breach of it, with the result that their goods will be seized, and loss occasioned by the consequent delay in shipping them. There should be no delay in placing our products on the market. Those engaged in. the butter industry in Australia are placed at a serious disadvantage in competing with the exporters of Danish butter on the London market, inasmuch as it takes them six weeks, as against one week, to send their shipments to EnglandIt must necessarily follow that considerable delay will occur if the power given to the Minister by clause 10 is exercised. The seizure of goods would probably make them miss the vessel by which it was intended to export them, and the consequence would be that it would take them perhaps eight weeks or more to get to the market. That delay might cause deterioration in the quality of the goods, and would certainly inconvenience the exporter by keeping him out of his money for a longer time.
– Does the honorable member think that there will be more delay than occurs under the Victorian Act?
– Yes, and I feel that if the Bill had been brought forward last session, the honorable member would have helped us to make things more easy for the primary producer.
– I want to get the dishonest man into gaol.
– Every one on this side of the Chamber is with the honorable member there. Any man who acts dishonestly in regard to either the export or the import of goods should be put into gaol.
– He should be tried first.
– Yes; although, under clause 2, ani accused person will be presumed to be guilty until he has proved him’ self innocent. Clause 10 does not deal with persons guilty of applying false trade descriptions, but affects only those who have carelessly applied inaccurate descriptions. I ask the Minister, who represents a rural constituency, if he does not know that those who are connected with our primary industries are men who are likely to be careless in these matters? But are they therefore to be made criminals, and subjected to the severe punishment provided for in the clause? I hope that all country representatives will give the clause their most serious consideration. The honorable member for Cowper has shown that in America and Canada the person who has produce to export, asks intending buyers how they would like to have it described, so that it may, be as acceptable as possible, and may obtain good prices. The same practice has been pursued to some extent in connexion with the export, of Victorian produce. I know that some of our factories send away their butter unsalted, while others export salted butter Under the Bill, however, the export of unsalted butter might be prohibited, although such butter obtains the best prices in the London market.
– The grading is. done there.
– - I have nothing to say against grading, but I wish to point out that, notwithstanding the grading done here, produce is re-graded when it gets to London. A short time ago I had a conversation with a London buyer, who purchases large quantities of ‘ butter for export, and he told me that, at the offices of his firm in Tooleystreet, samples of all butter purchased were taken and graded, and that the butter was sold according to quality.
– What is wrong with clause 10 ?
– In the first place, the operations of producers are, under it, to be governed by regulations of which we know nothing, and the clause allows the forfeiture of goods to which an improper trade description has been applied either unknowingly or negligently. Would the honorable member penalize farmers for negligence in regard to these matters ?
– Every man is penalized for negligence if he thereby violates the law.
– But under no State Act is produce forfeited for carelessness.
– The question is a very serious one, and I ask those who desire to further our export trade to give an opportunity for its reconsideration.
– The honorable member must have forgotten the evidence given before the Butter Commission.
– That evidence showed that it is undesirable’ to increase the number of export agents, which must be the effect of the clause if producers are to have their goods sent away as. quickly as possible. With regard to the ‘title of the Bill, I suggest that the measure might be called a Bill for an Act relating to false trade descriptions, and cited as the False Trade Descriptions Act of 1905. I ask the Minister not to increase the difficulties in the way of our exporters of primary produce.
– I shall oppose die recommittal of the Bill. The measure has already been recommitted once, and the other night several divisions were taken on amendments all centering round the very point which has been argued again this morning, the proposals of the Opposition being defeated by majorities of twentyeight to seventeen, twenty-six to twelve, and twenty-seven to nine.
– Does not the Minister see how desirable some amendment is in the interests of the primary producers?
– The statements which have been made in regard to the danger to primary producers are nonsensical, and when the measure has been in operation for six months it will be admitted that there is no foundation for the fears which have been expressed. What Minister or officer would try to hamper commerce? The supposition that that would be done is absurd. We have had nearly four weeks’ discussion on this measure.
– The Minister has changed his mind with regard to it on several occasions!
– I have not changed my mind in regard to it, though I. have been weak enough to accept one or two amendments to placate honorable members.
– Does the honorable member regret their acceptance?
– No; because I do not think that they are likely to have much’ effect. But, although nothing will induce me to recommit the Bill, I am not wedded to its title, anc I am quite prepared to consider the question of asking honorable members in. another place to alter it. However, I shall not bind myself by any promise. I do not wish to adopt a title which may work harm, though only in some remote way. Beyond that, I do not know of any other amendment that is likely to be suggested. I hope that honorable members will allow the Bill to pass without further delay. I can assure them that, so far as I am concerned, the Bill will not be recommitted.
– The Minister spoke very indiscreetly when he said that he was rather inclined to consider an alteration in the title of the Bill, but that he would not consent to have an amendment made here.
– I did not promise to alter the title; I said that I was not wedded to it.
– The Minister has held out a suggestion to us that work that ought perhaps to be performed here may be done in the Senate. That is an altogether wrong position to assume. We are not in partnership with the Senate, in the sense that we can go from one room to another, and consult with each other. We have to do the best we can with the Bills presented to us before they leave this Chamber, and if the Minister is disposed to alter the title the amendment should be made here. He would be well advised if he consented to the recommittal of the Bill for that one purpose, at any rate, because there is no doubt that the title “ Commerce Bill “ in connexion with such a limited schedule is an absolute misnomer. “Commerce” covers tens of thousands of articles of trade, and the limited scope of the Bill makes the title clearly inapplicable. It would be very much better for us to do our work properly than to, transfer our responsibilities to others. With reference to clause 10, I cannot help feeling that a very grave responsibility is being thrown upon the Opposition. As a general rule, when a measure not involving party issues is before this Chamber, the whole of the members direct their intelligence and judgment to its improvement. What, however, do we find on this particular occasion? There has been a conspiracy of silence 011 the part of honorable members on the Ministerial benches throughout the consideration of this measure. That is a most unhealthy sign in any deliberative assembly. Honorable members who could have helped us very materially in improving this novel measure have sat silent.
– The Bill was discussed for a fortnight before the right honorable gentleman arrived here.
– No doubt; but in going through the reports of the debates on the BillI could not help noticing the remarkable fact that, although the measure relates to most important questions, including some of great complexity, honorable members on the Ministerial benches have not responded to the appeals made to them. Take, for instance, the case of clause 10. If there had been any attempt to minimize the punishment to be inflicted upon those who are guilty of importing or exporting goods under false or deceptive descriptions, I could have understood honorable members sitting silent and stolid, and declining to listen to any appeal. It is an excellent thing to do all we can to prevent fraud, and, if we cannot prevent it, to punish those who are guilty of it; and if any one had desired to defeat that object I could have understood honorable members having listened in silence to any misguided appeals that might have been addressed to them. But with what object have the honorable and learned member for Corinella and the honorable and learned member for Wannon brought forward their amendments? They have not sought to make fraud less onerous, or to in any way minimize the punishments proposed to be inflicted upon those who are found guilty of fraudulent practices ; but their proposals have been directed to reducing the risks to which absolutely innocent persons might foe subjected. For example, a farmer might place a mark upon his goods, or might abstain from marking his goods, without the slightest intention to perpetrate fraud. And it is only in respect of such cases that members of the Opposition have endeavoured to minimize the severity of the Bill. It has not been sought to make it easy for exporters to avoid the fulfilment of their duty, or to prevent them from being compelled to obey what may be regarded as a salutary provision. Nothing of the kind. What is proposed is that if goods, to which this Bill will apply, are not described in accordance with the regulations, the authorities shall hold the goods and compel a proper description to be affixed to them. Surely, in the case of innocent persons, that is a sufficiently stringent provision. Even such persons will be put to a considerable amount of inconvenience, because their goods will be seized, and they will be compelled to describe them in the manner required by the Department.
What object can there be, in such circumstances, in preventing goods from going on to their destination? What possible vindictive, idle, mischievous motive can there be behind such a suggestion as that which honorable members of this side of the Chamber are putting forward? The penalties for false description are severe enough, but no one has attempted to reduce them. They have been allowed to remain, but an appeal has been made in the true interests of the great body of producers - men who are not well versed in matters of law, and who frequently become ruined when they get into the hands of lawyers. It is proposed under the Bill to establish a sort of Court, which will be full of terrors for honest producers, as well as for fraudulent traders. By all means, let it be made a Court of terror for those who are attempting to defraud the public, but not a Court of terror and oppression for the innocent producers and exporters of Australia. Just consider what lurks behind that word “ may.” What untold vistas of favoritism are opened up by such a provision. One man may come along, and upon finding himself in a difficulty may induce some influential friend to make representations to the Department,with the result that his goods may be allowed to pass through. Another man may come along, and his rival in trade may go to the Customs authorities - as was done in the case of the harvesters - and his goods may be seized and confiscated. Untold opportunities would be presented for, I will not say fraud and corruption, but for favoritism and mistake.
– It was at the instance of the Opposition that the word “ may “ was substituted for the word “ shall.”
– I can quite understand that members of the Opposition would not wish for the compulsory prosecution of producers. As against compulsory prosecution, optional prosecution is an improvement. The honorable member for Kooyong asked the Government to be merciful, in view of the large majority they possessed; but he put the case in the wrong way. The Government do not possess a large majority ; it is a large majority which possesses the Government. If the Government had a strong working majority, or any majority at all, the observation of the honorable member might have been apposite.
– The Government have a better majority than one or two.
– It is better to have a majority of one or two honest supporters than to be supported by a body of conspirators who have sunk their principles in order to prevent a redistribution of seats.
– The right honorable gentleman sank his principles when he formed his coalition.
– The Minister ought not to talk about principles, because they always mean interest with him. I must express my regret that the Minister is showing the worst aspect of his political disposition by obstinately refusing to entertain reasonable suggestions, all of which are made in the interest of the measure. I do not wish to take up any further time at this stage. I prefer to reserve my remarks until the motion for the third reading is before us. I shall give the amendment my strongest support.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the motion, as amended, be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
Mr. REID (East Sydney). - The importance of this Bill, and the shape in which it now appears, after very prolonged consideration in Committee, are such that it is my duty - and it may be the duty of other honorable members - to make a final protest against the manner in which a measure having a most excellent object has been overloaded by a number of unnecessary, dangerous, and harsh provisions. I suppose that there is not a single member of this Chamber who is not entirely in accord with its main object.
I do not wish to suggest for one moment that he would; but I do say that there never was a Minister in charge of a Department who made more mistakes oi this kind than the present Minister of Trade and Customs has done. We find the Massey-Harris Company anxious to go into a Court of Justice in order to show that they have been acting honestly, and that the Department is straining, if not breaking, the law, not to rob them, but to help Mr. McKay, the Ballarat manufacturer of harvesters. Whoever heard of such a transaction in the his.tory of the Customs of any respectable community ? Here we have two keen business rivals, the Massey-Harris Company and Mr. McKay - the former having to bring in their goods under the Tariff law, and the latter being inside the ring fence. Mr. McKay comes down to the Department, but my honorable friend the member for Gippsland - a true, straightforward protectionist, who does not do these little mysterious twisting things-
– Order ! The motion before the House is that the Commerce Bill be read a third time.
– I desire, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to point out the danger of intrusting the administration of the Commerce Bill in the form in which it stands to a Department in which such things are done. It is in that way that I make the reference. If this Bill set up some standard to which all men alike would be subject - if the question of whether they are obeying or breaking the law had to be so decided that every man would be subjected to precisely the same scrutiny, the position would be very different. But there is no attempt to embody in the Bill any principle of procedure which will apply absolutely to all persons alike. Let me refer to clause 10 as an illustration of what I mean. This is the clause to which so much attention has been directed. We find in it a prohibition of trade. That in itself is, in the eyes of an enlightened Legislature, one of the most serious steps that could be taken ; but in this case the prohibition applies not merely to trade inwards which some of my honorable friends would probably abolish altogether if they could - but equally to trade outwards. It applies to the fruits of the industry of our own producers and manufacturers. Surely in that sense this question ought to appeal to my honorable friends opposite. I know that they have just as great a desire as has any one on this side of the House to improve the prospects of our producers. I am sure their desire is not to increase, but to lessen their difficulties, not to hamper, but to free their productive energies. Honorable members opposite have, or ought to have, just as keen a desire as we have in that direction ; but the Bill proposes to hamper, not only the importer, who is regarded by some as a natural enemy, but also the exporter, to whom members of all fiscal parties look for the future greatness and prosperity of the Commonwealth. Matters of commerce are to be regulated and decided, not according to the intelligent consideration of the legislators of Australia in two Houses assembled, but in the office of the Minister of Trade and Customs, who, in his determinations, will have the assistance of his subordinates. That office is to become the Parliament where all these questions affecting our commerce are to be settled. Was there ever a more lurid light thrown upon the imperfect perception and intelligence of the Minister of Trade and Customs in matters of trade and commerce than is afforded by the fact that the honorable gentleman actually proposed to secure the power to legislate in his own office against the producers of Australia? He actually proposed to so buttress himself in his office, that unless both Houses agreed to negative the regulations made under the Bill, they should have all the force of an Act of Parliament. A more monstrous, ignorant proposal in connexion with the framing of regulations was never made by a Minister. I ask the House to consider what it means. . The power to legislate and to punish was to be absolutelyhanded over by this Bill to one man, acting behind the back of Parliament, except in the ordinary sense of Ministerial responsibility. That one man sought to so surround himself with powers, as against even this House, that he desired to have the right under the Bill to make regulations which should become the law of the land, even if this House unanimously rejected them, unless another place also agreed to their rejection. Was there ever a more monstrous attempt to establish a star chamber - to submit the producers and business people of Australia to the Ministerial thumb-screw. Even my honorable friends opposite, who have been so silent and acquiescent in this matter, had a slight interval of political conscientiousness, and were so shocked by this proposal that it was dropped. Then it must not be forgotten that the regulations may prohibit the exportation of any specified goods. The goods are specified in a subsequent clause; but this is a very serious power to be exercised on the initiative of the Minister. The power to prohibit this export or that, this article of human trade and industry or that, and this subject of Australian production or that, is to be absolutely vested in the Minister - unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character, relating to such matters, and applied in such manner, as is prescribed.
There is no definition of the kind of description that is to be applied; but there is to be a description relating to such matters and applied in such manner as may be prescribed. A more extraordinary provision will never figure upon the statute-book of any country. .Exportation may be prohibited unless a series of things are done which are not even specified in the Bill so that they may become known and nol or kms to the people of the country. The farmers and producers, of Australia are to be at the mercy of a knowledge or want of knowledge of the terms of regulations published in the Government Gazette. We know that some Acts of Parliament contain the sensible provision that a certain degree of publicity shall be given to important matters arising under them by advertisement in the public newspapers of a district. Iri this case, however, there is not the slightest obligation on. the part of the Minister to bring under the notice of the people, regulations relating to trade descriptions, or to anything else which the Minister chooses to put into them. There is not the slightest provision for making known through their insertion in a single newspaper in Australia regulations in which men will be under all sorts of pains and penalties. The regulations are to be buried in the Government Gazette - a publication that no Australian farmer ever sees. This is a fine instalment of the enlightened legislation which is to come from a Labour-driven. Government. Surely the matters in respect of which a trade description is required might be specified: in the Bill itself. I feel the greatest want of confidence in this Bill, for the reason that I believe that it will be rigorously administered against one set of persons, and perhaps become a deadletter so far as another s”t is concerned. There is a fine pretence of fairness about the Bill - it is to deal equally with imports and exports - but the provision that the Minister “ may “ make regulations in regard both to imports and exports, is such that the honorable gentleman may establish a set of regulations affecting imports that are absolutely different from those affecting exports. The Minister may frame a set of regulations affecting imports, and consider the propriety of making a set of regulations concerning exports. It is an anomalous and extraordinary position. It shows what .administration means according to the particular view of the Minister of Trade and Customs. We will take it that he entertains these views with the greatest possible sincerity andi enthusiasm ; but I ask the House to consider the extent of the powers that are placed in his hands. I ask the House to consider the enormous opportunities which the Minister will have to push these powers to the furthest extreme in order to establish a kind of protection other than that provided by the Tariff. He may by his administration exact proper and honest dealing - which we all wish to see - in regard to imports, but may fall short of doing so in regard to exports. No doubt the importation of shoddy and paper for the manufacture of apparel, boots and shoes, and so forth, will be ruthlessly and properly prevented; but my fear is that the manufacture of shoddy articles may be transferred to Australia, and that manufacturers of .shoddy may be sheltered by the administration of this measure.
– We have such manufacturers here now.
– I have seen that stated on good authority. I believe that on one occasion it was found that a certain supply of clothing was manufactured largely of shoddy.
– This Parliament cannot deal with the internal trade of the States; only the States Parliaments can do that.
– I admit that that is a fair answer. States industries must be the subject of States inspection, though goods manufactured in Australia will come under the Bill when they are intended for export.
– Honorable members could have provided for the application of the Bill to the trade between the States.
– I voted for that.
– Most manufacturers are opposed to the practices which are complained of ; there are a great many wrong things done which ought to be prevented.
– No doubt; but, under the Bill as it stands, the Minister may turn the screw on the importer of shoddy apparel, and refuse to turn it on the exporter. I do not think that that will be done, but the Bill makes it possible. The clause provides for the application of prescribed trade descriptions. But will honorable members consider for a moment the immense area of the Commonwealth, and the secluded life which many of our producers lead; will they remember the want of familiarity on the part of these people with Government notices and Customs orders and regulations? I ask them, when they have done so, if they do not think there will be, for a long time to come, an enormous number of cases in which the misapplication of a trade description will have been absolutely innocent ? Three months is given under the Bill to enable our producers to make themselves acquainted with what will be required of them.
– Not less than three months, as the Bill has been amended.
– I am sorry that the period fixed is not less than six months, because that is not a very long time in the life of a statute, though, of course, the Minister will be able to make the period six months. I earnestly urge the wisdom of giving at least as much notice as that. The prescribed trade description may be a most intricate thing. It may involve appliances which our producers have never yet had, and will find it awkward to get. In sending their goods for export, they will have to trust agents at distant ports to carry out the provisions of the measure, in order to save their produce from confiscation.
– They will be more than ever at the mercy of agents.
– Yes. The representatives of a pleasant little country like that from which the honorable member for Bass comes, which one can walk over in two or three days, and which, by some oversight in the plan of creation, was not made 500,000 or 600,000 square miles larger, and my honorable friends from Victoria, are limited in their legislative purview by geographical considerations. It is not difficult in Victoria and Tasmania to make known to the people a change in the law ; but the case is quite different in enor mous States like Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and New South Wales. I urge the Government, in their own interests - which I suppose is the strongest argument I can use - and in the interests of our exporters, to give the fullest notice of the proposed changes. I think, however, that the odds are that the officers of the Department will construct trade descriptions which no farmer will be able to apply, so that our producers will’ have to send their goods to an agent, trusting to him to comply with the provisions of the law.
– Is not that what is done now ?
– At the present time, if a man knows that his agent is not a rogue, he can send his produce to him with confidence, knowing that it will be shipped, and that he will duly receive payment for it. But under the Bill he will have to rely on his agent to place on the goods certain hieroglyphics to satisfy the regulations of the Department, and will run the risk of the forfeiture of the goods for some negligence, carelessness, or want of knowledge, for which he cannot be personally responsible. Forfeiture to the King sounds very patriotic, but it is really forfeiture to the king of the Customs Department. The Czar of Russia will soon have become a very powerless individual in. comparison with the honorable gentleman, judging by the way in which he is gathering to himself powers as administrator of the Customs Department. I am sorry that he has not chosen Russia instead of Australia for his experiments in connexion with the branding of produce, and forfeiture for noncompliance with his regulations. If one class of the community could be distinguished from another, I would say that the primary producers of Australia represent perhaps the largest and best class of all. But they are not versed in Customs mysteries, and hieroglyphic trade descriptions, nor are they used to being held up to public execration for tampering with a measure intended to prevent fraud. It is not pretended that offenders against clause 10 will come within what is called the mischief of the measure. It is not pretended that they will have done any moral wrong. They will not be persons who have applied to their goods a description intended to mislead, or who have used methods of packing, casing, or branding likely to have that effect in any of the markets of the world. But, notwithstanding, they are to be herded with persons guilty of fraud. One of the worst things about the Bill is that the names of such people may appear in the public prints of Australia as if they were members of gangs of swindlers, when their only offence has been non-compliance with a Customs regulation of which they had not previously heard, because their attention had not been drawn to it. The honorable and learned member for Corinella and others have over and over again contended that such offenders should not be associated with the crafty swindlers who, by their deliberate deceptions, are injuring the reputation of Australian produce. One of the worst features of modern legislation is its tendency to increase the number of criminals by branding as crimes acts which are not really criminal. The persons who offend against clause 10 will not be persons who are guilty of fraud, but persons who have innocently failed to comply with regulations of which they were ignorant. This is a new proposal, such as has not been heard of before in at least some parts of Australia. I know that in some of the States a system of grading has been applied to exports.
– It has been adopted in nearly all the States.
– Not in New South Wales.
– That is the only State which has not adopted such a system.
– I would ask the Minister whether the Government propose to adopt a system of grading under this Bill?
– Not in the sense in which grading has been referred to by the Opposition.
– I should like to know in what sense grading is to be applied.
– It will not be in a nonsensical manner.
– I should hope not. I think that since the House has left so much to the discretion of the Minister he should by this time have been able to make up his mind as to the principles he will follow in administering the measure.
– I fully explained the matter before the right honorable member came here at the beginning of the week.
– In reference to grading?
– Not in reference to grading, but as to the lines on which the Act would be administered.
– I do not wish to do the Minister any injustice. I confess that in reading through Hansard I pass by the dull speeches, and that I have not read the Minister’s utterances.
– The right honorable gentleman would not have understood them if he had read them.
– The honorable member is incapable of comprehending them.
– The Minister should not say that, because no honorable member makes more admirable speeches than does my honorable friend the member for Lang. If my honorable friend were a supporter of the Government, the Minister would embrace him several times a day. I wish simply by way of parenthesis to express my unbounded admiration for the promise which has been shown by the colts on the Opposition benches.
– I have no doubt that they do everything under the direction of the right honorable gentleman.
– I think that my honorable friends will bear me out when I say that I did not exchange a word with them during the four weeks I was away in Sydney. I had no need to do so, because I have the most implicit confidence in them. I regret that the honorable member for Denison does not give us the benefit of his experience. I am sure that he sympathizes with the views expressed by the honorable member for Franklin.
– During the debate on the Treasurer’s financial statement, he made one of the best speeches ever heard in this House.
– I am aware of that, and that is why I should like to hear the honorable member speak more frequently. No man in Australia has had a longer mercantile experience than has the honorable member for Denison. It is a most singular thing - and the fact is one to which due importance will be attached in business circles, if not here - that the most experienced men of business in the House have spoken in the strongest terms against the provisions of theBill. My honorable friends opposite have done one wise thing; they have concealed their want of experience by the very easy method of preserving silence. The Minister has stated that the Bill may be altered in the Senate.
– I said that I would consider the question of altering the title, because I was not wedded to it.
– I should hope not. Fancy such a title as the Commerce Bill for a measure which deals with boots and shoes, apparel, manures, and seeds. When the Minister started out he apparently found some print of a Bill in his office, and thought that it had originated with his predecessors, and therefore must be a good one. He had such confidence in those who had held office before him that he brought the Bill down to the House, and laid it on the table without reading it. Now it appears that the measure was prepared by some subordinates in the Departments.
– It was seen by the right honorable gentleman.
– I never considered the Bill. It was never brought before the Cabinet. I hope the Minister will not think that we left the draft Bill behind us as a trap for him.
– The draft Bill had no title.
– No; the draft Bill I saw had no title ; it had not reached that stage. It was the production of some genius or other who was not a producer of butter. The title of the Bill is, “ A Bill for an Act relating to Commerce with other countries “ - relating to world-wide commerce. What a marvellous achievement in butter and manure. I sincerely hope that the Senate, to which the Minister has referred, and which is composed of representatives of the whole of the States, will make some amendments in the Bill, although not in the way of smoothing the path of fraudulent persons, for whom we all wish to make the law as hard as we can. No one has raised a word to mitigate a single penalty provided against wrong-doing, because there is no doubt that a wrong committed in connexion with the branding of foodstuffs is a fraud upon the innocent public. Not a man on this side of the House would lift his voice against the salutary provisions of this Bill. Strong as are my objections to a number of its provisions, I am so determined to punish fraud and to put down malpractices which are a hindrance to health, or are intended to defraud the people, that I shall certainly vote for the third reading of the Bill. I should be sorry to see any one vote against the measure, because its object is a good one. I do not care how often the Bill hits fraudulent persons, or how thoroughly it provides for their punishment. I have so strong a feeling in favour of the main object of the Bill that I would not associate my name with an attempt to prevent it, in its good aspects, from becoming law ; but that consideration makes one all the more anxious to have its defects remedied. In supporting the Bill, we to a certain extent share with the Government the responsibility for all the provisions contained in the measure that we may regard as wrong, and that is a load of responsibility that we do not care to bear. My great hope is that when we see this Bill again the force of many of the objections which we have raised in the interest of the innocent traders and producers of Australia and of other countries will have been recognised. Now, what will be the effect of this measure upon the industry of hundreds of thousands of persons when that industry has been crowned by the production of an article which can be exchanged for money? What will be the effect upon a man who, having never heard of the provisions of the Bill, has failed to put a brand upon his produce, or upon a man whose agent neglects to brand his produce? Such a producer is not a thief, or a sneak, or a swindler, but an honest man who has done nothing wrong. It is provided in clause 10 -
All such goods to which the prescribed trade description is not applied -
That is to say, goods without a mark upon them, sent to market in a natural state without anything on them to convey any suggestion of fraud or deception. What is the result? -
All such goods to which the prescribed trade description is not applied, which are exported or entered for export, or put on board any ship or boat for export, or brought to any wharf or place for export, may be forfeited.
That really means “ shall be forfeited.” Let us consider the unlimited opportunities for favoritism that are afforded by the word “may.” Either the clause must be administered in absolutely the same way in all cases, and therefore “may “ must have the force of “ shall “-
– The word “ shall “ was used in the Bill as first drafted.
– Whilst it may be preferable to use the word “ may,” it really still means “ shall,” because I know that, if I were the Minister of Trade and Customs. I should shrink from taking the responsibility of seizing A’s goods because they were not marked, and of refraining from seizing B’s goods if they were not marked. I should like to know what position a Minister would occupy who would single out from amongst the agents or producers of Australia certain persons as the objects of his favour? The Minister is wide-awake enough to see that if, in one case where there was no trade description, he shut his eves and raked no objection to the goods being exported, and in another case he decreed that the goods were not properly described, and must be confiscated, he would expose himself to the strongest criticism. If such a process were often repeated, the scandals which were exposed by the Butter Commission would be as nothing to the scandals at the Customs House. The commissions paid in respect to exportations of butter, serious as they were, and objectionable as they seemed to have been, according to the report of the Butter Commission, were as nothing compared to the* in jury that might be inflicted by the exercise of the power to say to one man, “ You can, with impunity, walk through the Customs House with your unmarked goods and launch them upon the markets of the world “ j and to another man, who might happen to be an opponent in politics, “ We shall stop you. You are a pestilent fellow. You are a MasseyHarris man. You are not a McKay man ; not the real Sunshine article. You are from Toronto, and an opponent of ours, and altogether a bad fellow, and we shall stop your goods.” Under the provisions of the Bill, the Minister might seize the crops of all the farmers in the Commonwealth who did not happen to know what the Bill meant, or whose agents might have neglected their duty. I do not care how anxious the Minister might be to do wrong. Suppose that he were consumed with a desire to shut his eyes in one case and open them in another, he would still be bound to apply the law impartially to every case of failure to mark goods, an3 would be obliged to seize them.
– Certainly not.
– The Minister admits that “ may “ means “ shall.”
– No. I do not.
– Then my remarks apply. I wish to direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to this matter. I think it is a calamity that on many occasions we have not the assistance of Mr. Speaker in connexion with these measures of legislation. I know that many a good amendment must occur to the brain of the Speaker, of which he cannot give us the benefit. If we only had the advantage of Mr. Speaker’s assistance in dealing with matters of this kind, I am sure that our measures would assume a much better shape.
– What about the assistance of some other members from South Australia ?
– I suppose that the Opposition have no more bitter opponents than the honorable member for Boothby and the honorable member for Barker. But both those honorable members, who are connected with a great producing State, have thrown aside their political prejudices in their patriotic desire to prevent the passing of this Bill in its present shape. I hope that I am doing my” honorable friend, the member for Barker, no injustice when I say that while he is as keenly anxious as is any Minister or Ministerial supporter to have deception suppressed, he desires to separate the strictly innocent from the guilty, and not to include all the innocent producers of the country in the same category with those sharks who prey upon the public That was the point of the amendment in clause 10 proposed by the honorable and learned member for Corinella. My honorable friend did not seek to paralyze the arm of the law, but wished to provide that, even in the case of the innocent exporter, the goods should be seized until security was given that a proper mark would be attached to them before they were shipped. The course wh’ich the honorable and learned member for Corinella suggested in his amendment was a very much more satisfactory one than that which is provided by sub-clause 3 of clause 10. He was willing to allow goods which had been inaccurately marked to be seized by the Customs authorities, and held until the prescribed trade description had been applied to them. Nothing could be more drastic and effective in the case of an innocent omission than the proposal of my honorable friend. He was perfectly willing that the Department should have power to seize goods which were improperly marked, and to detain them until the proper mark had been applied to them under the direct supervision of the Customs authorities. It does seem to me that, in dealing with innocent people, that provision would be sufficiently stringent. It is supposed that under sub-clause 3, innocent persons will be dealt with mercifully. Sub-clause 2 renders any. goods seized under the circumstances to which I have referred liable to forfeiture, and subclause 3 provides1 that -
Subject to the regulations the Comptroller. General, or on appeal from him the Minister, may, in any case, and if in his opinion the contravention has not occurred either knowingly or negligently-
There are two elements introduced here. We have inserted in the Bill a clause which is intended to establish a certain state of things, but we make that provision subject to certain regulations. In other words, it is within the power of the Minister to frame a regulation entirely opposed to the clause itself. I recognise that it is impossible to provide in the Bill for every case which may arise, and that it is necessary that power should be given to deal with unexpected cases by regulation. But in all my parliamentary experience I have never known a provision such as this to be inserted in any measure. The clause purports to legislate in a certain direction, but makes that legislation subject to the arbitrary whim of the Minister. It is the most extraordinary thing in the world. I admit that it is usual to leave certain matters to be dealt with by regulation, but the regulations must always be consistent with the Act under which they are framed. In subclause 3. however, we lay down the law subject to regulations which may be made bv the Minister. In other words, we enact a certain law affecting the rights of individuals with this proviso, “Subject to regulations.” Under the Bill the Minister can frame a regulation which is absolutely opposed to the deliberate will of Parliament. We are, by making Parliament the creature . of the Minister, instead of the Minister being the creature of Parliament, revolutionizing the methods of legislation which are ordinarily adopted. Here is a provision under which the Minister can wipe out our legislation by one stroke of the pen -
Subject to the regulations, the ComptrollerGeneral, or on appeal from him the Minister, may in any case, and if in his opinion the contravention has not occurred either knowingly or negligently, shall permit any goods which are liable to be or have been seized -
This is one of the most extraordinary pieces of draftsmanship that I have ever seen. The Minister is compelled to do a certain thing only if he desires to do it. He can say that, in his opinion, the Act has been contravened “negligently.” If he does that, the word “shall” “in the provision in question will not apply.
– Those words were drafted by the right honorable member’s late colleague, the honorable and learned member tor Corinella.
– No doubt. It is just like patching a garment which is all holes. One may patch it as much as he likes, but he cannot make it a good garment. The object of the amendment was perfectly clear, but when it was tacked on to the subclause it became idle. Under this provision the compulsion is on the Minister, who has the option of thinking one way or the other. What sort of compulsion is that ?
– They were the AttorneyGeneral’s words which were inserted.
– The extraordinary feature in connexion with this Bill is that our legislation is enacted “subject to regulation.” In other words, the will of Parliament exists subject to the will of the Minister to wipe it out. Absolute power is given to the Minister to forfeit goods if he thinks that they have been improperly marked as the result of negligence. In this connexion the word “ negligence “ is open to two constructions. What is the first presumption that binds every person in our civil and criminal Courts? I admit that it works badly sometimes, but nevertheless it is an irresistible assumption. That assumption is that everybody knows the law. We cannot set up as a defence the plea that we are ignorant of the law. It would clearly be “ negligence “ - from the stand-point of that assumption - not to apply that proper trade description to goods which the law enacts shall be applied to them.
– I asked the AttorneyGeneral and the Minister not to insist upon the insertion of the word “negligently,” but they both insisted upon its inclusion.
– I can understand their desire to retain the word “knowingly,” because there is clearly another point involved there; but I cannot understand their insistence upon the retention of the word “” negligently,” because ignorance of the law does not excuse a Breach of it. If a man came along and said to the Minister, “ I am a protectionist, and have always supported you. I have a. lot of goods which you have seized for a breach of the law. But I did not know the law. I did not know anything about the scorpion brand to which you have attached a certain trade description, and consequently I committed a breach of the Act.” Then the Minister, with that lofty uprightness which characterises all his actions, would be compelled to say, “ In spite of the fact that you are a friend of mine, I must consider that you are presumed to know the law, and therefore I cannot help you. I am obliged to seize your goods.” But to knowingly commit a breach of the law is quite a different matter. Let us consider for a moment what will happen in this tribunal. Talk about the Arbitration Courts - they will be friendly gatherings compared with the business which will be thrown upon the Customs Houses throughout Australia, at any rate until this law comes to be understood.
– Yet the right hon: orable member intends to vote for the Bill.
– It contains several good provisions that I cannot avoid voting for. For example, there are the clauses which relate to punishment for fraudulent and deceptive practices. A man who would not support them would be unworthy of a seat in this House. The cruel position is that the good in the Bill is so obvious that we cannot associate our names with its rejection. But we are fighting against the proposal to penalize innocent persons who are not associated with a gang of swindlers - innocent traders and producers. That is the brunt of our attack. I may say at once that we might have to reconsider our vote upon its third reading if the present occasion represented absolutely the final stage in the consideration of the Bill. But I cannot help cherishing the hope that, so far as these innocent persons are concerned, we may ultimately see the measure in a shape which will enable us to give it our full indorsement. If this Parliament consisted of only one House, we might be called upon to seriously consider the advisability of voting against the third reading of the measure. But I hope there is a reasonable prospect that whilst the stringent provisions of the Bill which are applicable to misconduct may be preserved in their entirety, the wisdom of another place may suggest some more considerate treatment of those persons who do not knowingly attempt to defraud and deceive. Of course, I am aware that, in drafting a measure, lawyers very properly endeavour to make its provisions cover as much as possible. This is very evident in clause 15. In ordinary provisions connected with criminal offences, that endeavour may work out all right ; but. when it is proposed to make criminals of innocent persons, we must study the language we employ in reference to aiding and abetting. Clause 15 states -
Whoever aids, abets, counsels, or procures, or by act or omission is in any way, directly or indirectly, knowingly concerned in the commission of any offence -
This clause exhibits wonderful draftsmanship. We are getting a rich sort of literature in our statutes now. Surely if a thing is done “knowingly,” it must be done “directly.” How can a man “knowingly” and “indirectly” do a thing? It is all a question of ‘ knowledge. If he knows that he is doing a certain thing,, that is an end of it.
– He may get somebody else to break the law for him.
– Even if he does so, he “ knowingly “ does it.
– But it may be done “indirectly.”
– No. He must know that he is doing a certain thing, whereas the other person may not know it. Is it right to penalize the innocent instrument?
– He would not do it “ knowingly.”
– I agree with the honorable member. I do not see the necessity for using the words “ directly) or indirectly.” Let us suppose that fifty persons were engaged in one transaction. The word “ knowingly “ ought to apply to every one of them, and it would. We cannot “knowingly “ do a thing “indirectly.”
– We can, through another person.
– The word “knowingly”’ covers every act, including delegation, substitution, and procuring. There are a number of statutes in which that term isused, and this is the first occasion upon which it has been found necessary to employ it in conjunctionwith the words “directly or indirectly.” Let us take the case of a man who wishes, to break this law, and knows of an innocent person whose services he may enlist’ to carry out a fraud. Surely that innocent’ person, who was not aware of the provisions of this law, should not come under it. No one would wish a person to be punished who had been deceived, and had been made unknowingly the instrument of wrong. The person who set the fraud1 going, however, would always be caught by the use of this word “knowingly,”because he would have knowingly procured men to commit the fraud.
– But he might not do so directly.
– The word “ knowingly “ is quite sufficient to cover such a case.
– Does not the word “ knowingly “ qualify the words “ directly or indirectly “ ?
– If a man indirectly did something with a certain object in view, he would know what he was doing, just as well as if he directly did it. Let us take the case of an innocent man and a guilty one: The guilty man would commit the fraud directly. He would say, perhaps, “ Look here, Smith, I will give you a fiver to do this for me, in spite of the law;” or he might go to Brown, a perfectly innocent man, and say, “ I have a shipment of goods to send away and I wish you would look after it for me.” Brown, being perfectly ignorant of this law, might do what he was requested: to do without any intention to defraud. The man who appealed to Smith or Brown would be covered by this provision; because he would knowingly bribe Smith to break the law, or would knowingly make use of the innocent Brown for the same purpose. These words are quite unusual, and I do not think that they make the meaning of the clause any clearer. Where the instrument is consciously guilty of misconduct, it is quite right that he should be just as liable as the principal ; but I wish to point out what may be the effect of the use of the word “aids.” It will certainly catch innocent persons. Suppose that there is a consignment of butter made upon a particular farm in Victoria, that it is going to be shipped, and that there is a regulations which requires that the butter, or the cases which contain it, shall bear a certain description or brand. Let us assume further that neither the farmer nor his hands, nor the officers of the Railway Department employed in carrying the produce to Melbourne, are aware of these regulations. Nevertheless, if the description were not applied, all these persons would be aiding the commission of an offence against the Bill. The person who took the butter from the farm to the railway station, the men who looked after it whilst it was being brought to town by train, and those who removed it in carts from the railway depot to the wharf, would all be aiding in the carrying out of an offence against this measure, although they were perfectly innocent, and ought not to be subjected to punishment, as if they had wilfully committed the offence. It could not be said that they were “ directly or indirectly knowingly “ concerned in the commission of that offence. If those words had tobe read in conjunction with the word “ aids,” the objection would’ be removed ; but they are disjoined one from the other. If the clause simply provided that any person who knowingly committed an offence against the Bill should be liable to punishment, there could be no objection to it, but it declares that -
Whoever aids, abets, counsels, or procures, or by act or omission is in any way directly or indirectly knowingly concerned - in the commission of an offence, shall be punished. The word “ or “ in each case separates, instead of couples, the antecedents. The effect of the whole of these provisions is such that if the Government had paid a little more attention to the suggestions that have been made with regard to this part of the Bill, an amendment would have been agreed to. I am glad to see that the honorable member for Bass sees, on mature reflection, that there is something in my point.
– I can see that there is a “ stone- wall.”
– Certainly not. Compared with the “stone-walls “ I have seen, this is only an elegant picket fence. I have said all that I desire to put before the House in regard to this Bill, and do not wish to delay the third reading. The Minister is perfectly exhausted, and it is only right that we should endeavour to bring the discussion to a conclusion. I feel the satisfaction of having fairly and fully expressed my objection to those parts of the Bill of which I do not approve, whilst cordially supporting the excellent objects which it has in view. All its excellent features appeared in the original draft - the objectionable parts have been introduced since the last Ministry were in office.
Mr. KNOX (Kooyong). - Before the Bill passes out of our hands, I desire to enter a final protest against the inclusion of certain provisions which, in the opinion of those who will be very seriously affected by it, are likely to produce disastrous results. I am deeply grateful to the leader of the Opposition for having made a clear and exhaustive protest against those parts of the Bill to which I object, and I hope that it will lead another place to take decisive action with regard to them. The right honorable member has shown that we are prepared to support every step that may be taken by the Government to picvent fraudulent trade, or the introduction of goods likely to be injurious to the public health, or to deceive. Unfortunately, under the Bill as it stands, exporters will find themselves confronted at every turn by serious obstacles. We are proposing to subject the whole of the exporting community to irritating interference, in order that the Commonwealth may carry out work that is already being well done by the States, and which calls for no intervention on our part. On behalf of the whole mercantile community, as represented by the Chambers of Commerce of Australia, I emphatically protest against the passing of the Bill in its present form. In the opinion of these Chambers, the Bill is likely to prove a very serious menace to the trade and commerce of the Commonwealth. The deputation from them which waited on the Minister a few weeks ago left him with the feeling that he was determined to act with perfect fairness. The honorable gentleman made a promise to restrict the operation of the Bill to articles of food and certain medicines; but under pressure he has allowed an amendment to be made by which the Bill will apply to apparel and boots and shoes and other things. The deputation was disarmed by the promise that he gave. I took care that every commercial centre in the Commonwealth should be apprised by telegraph of the reply which, th’e honorable gentleman had given, my desire being that he should be placed in a proper light before the members of the different Chambers. But instead of offering any resistance to the amendment to which I have referred, the Minister practically accepted it. Had not the Chambers of Commerce been lulled into a false sense of security by ‘his promise, they might have taken more decisive action. Their request was so rational that I think it ought to be placed on record. Thev said in the first place that if such a measure were considered necessary, to be consistent its provisions should apply not only to imports and exports, but to Inter-State trade. But the Government have not endeavoured to make Wie Bill apply as far as possible to both internal and external trade, nor have they recognised that’ it was drafted in the absence of commercial experience; but they have obstinately and pertinaciously adhered to practically every line of it. The second point made by the Chambers was that they were satisfied from their experience that it would be impossible for all the details enumerated in paragraphs a to / of clause 3 to be supplied. These practical men, although they do not possess the legal knowledge of the right honorable member for East Sydney, considered the effect of every line of the Bill, and saw the practical difficulties which he has pointed out. They impressed upon the Minister the need for inserting some qualification in clause 3. They asked that the trade requirements of . other countries should not be interfered with. They desired special consideration for the Eastern trade, not so that fraud might be perpetrated, but that prejudice might not be created by the marking of goods in a manner which might give offence to foreign buyers. Under the Bill as it stands, every article of export, whether intended for the markets of the East or for the markets of the West, may be subjected to the criticism of an official of the Customs Department, who may exercise his power in such a way as to bring the trade and commerceof the Commonwealth into disrepute. It is true that these merchants made the representations to which I referred at the instigation of business necessity, but in endeavouring to increase their own business they are incidentally swelling the trade of the country. At the same time, they wished to assist in the achievement of the good objects underlying the Bill. They recommended that reasonable notice should Le given of any change in the law, and asked that a period of not less than six months be fixed. The necessity for such notice was strongly impressed on the Minister. The difficulty of apprising foreign, agents and buyers in other parts of the world of the effect of regulations issued by the Customs Department here was pointed out to him, and he was made acquainted with the- delays which would occur because of the long passages made by sailing vessels, and for other reasons. Consequently he somewhat reluctantly agreed that not less than three months’ notice should be given, though he expressed the view in this Chamber that such notice was unnecessary. The deputation had consulted the Attorney-General as to whether the Bill provided for the grading of exports, and that honorable and learned gentleman distinctly declared that that was not its intention. But there is now as vague an understanding of the meaning of the clause which deals with grading and standardization as there was when the Bill was introduced, and even the Minister of Trade and Customs would find it difficult to state definitely what its meaning is. He was asked by the deputation if the Government intended to fix standards, and his reply was -
I do not think that would be done. That would be grading. I do not think it is intended to grade 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.
A member of the deputation objected to the use of the word “ inferior,” on the ground that manufacturers would not desire to have their goods marked “ inferior.” To that objection the Minister replied, “ I would not care what the manufacturer desired. If his goods were inferior, I would have them marked ‘ inferior.’ “ The honorable gentleman seems to forget that there is a legitimate market for goods which are not of the highest standard, but it would be against all trade usage and custom, and would probably prevent business from being done, if “inferior “ were marked across any goods exported from Australia. The Minister fairly explained to the deputation his position in ‘regard to the Bill, and its members left under the impression that consideration would be given to reasonable suggestions for amendment. We did not expect that there would be the obstinate resistance to amendments and the determined retention of clauses which, if not amended, might have disastrous effects on ‘the commerce of the country, which we have seen. It is true that some of the powers given in the Bill may not be exercised, and if it is not intended to exercise them they should not have been asked for. A humane oversight of our importations and exportations is a reasonable thing, and I am glad that the word “may” was substituted for the word “shall” in clause 10. But if the powers given by the Bill are rigidly enforced, great mischief may be done, and a great number of experts will have to be employed. The Minister has promised that he will not object to the consideration of an amendment for the changing of the title of the measure when the Bill is before another place. I think that we cannot object too strongly to the placarding of a measure of this kind as the “ Commerce Bill” of Australia. The underlying purpose of the measure is a good one, and we are all ready to support the Government in trying to prevent fraud in connexion with both importation and exportation ; but to call a restrictve measure of this kind the “Commerce Bill” of Australia is to tell our customers in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Germany, Canada, South America, China, Japan, and other places that our producers and exporters are so unprincipled that our commerce must be regulated by a restrictive measure for the protection of those who purchase our goods.
– The title of the Bill is a slander on the country.
– It ‘will be regarded by foreigners in the way I have mentioned. Let us indicate in the title the real purpose of the Bill. Let us call it a Bill to prevent fraudulent importation and exportation. I hope that this measure will be very seriously considered in another place, and that provision will be made for its reasonable application. If it be allowed to pass in its present form, it will stand before the world as an indication that we are a corrupt people, that our transactions are fraudulent, and that it is necessary to impose the severest restrictions and penalties in order to insure honest dealing. Surely such a measure must do untold harm to the Commonwealth. On behalf of the commercial community of Australia I enter the most emphatic protest against the Bill being placed on the statute-book. I regret that the Minister has not seen his wa.y to accept’ the suggestions made by honorable members on this side of the Chamber, who have been free from any desire to defeat the object of the Bill. Dissatisfaction exists throughout the Commonwealth at the_ manner in which the Bil? has been dealt with. If its provisions are applied in the manner which appears to be contemplated bv the Minister, such an outcry will be raised that the Ministry will be swept out of existence.
– I desire to follow the example of other honorable members of the Opposition, and record once more my protest against the principle which . underlies the Bill. The strongest testimony that could be afforded as to the undesirebility of placing this measure upon our statute-book is furnished by the honorable member for Kooyong, who, as the representative of every Chamber of Commerce rn Australia, has perhaps made the most vehement speech that he has ever delivered in this House. I do not remember any previous occasion upon which the honorable member has failed to exercise that spirit of restraint which he generall v allows to influence him. The futility of the criticisms passed upon the Bill by honorable members on this side of the House is indicated by the fact that the Minister who is in charge of the measure either dozed, or appeared to cloze, during the delivery of the speech of the honorable member for Kooyong.
– I have heard the same speech about twenty times.
– The Minister seems to have reached such a condition that it may be said of him that he is impervious to ideas. But let me assure him that this Bill will bring far more curses than blessings on his head. The Minister may have become inured to that kind of thing, but I am sure that he will live to regret- that his name was ever associated with such a measure. I am not taking this opportunity to address the House in the spirit of an obstructionist. I do not approve altogether of the methods adopted in Australian Parliaments by members sitting in Opposition. I think that they cry “ wolf “ too often, and that consequently when the wolf comes it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince people that he is present. I do not approve of the practice of going on day after day and week after week obstructing every proposal that is introduced by honorable members on the opposite side of the House. I have seen that course followed in this House. But the whole of the opposition offered to this Bill has been thoroughly justified by the amendments which have been made. From the moment that the Bill was introduced, it was clear that it was a patchwork measure, which affected to be aimed at the morality of the commerce of this country. It does not, however, touch the morality, of commerce. In the first place, in attempting to deal with imports it affects to watch over the character of the materials brought into this country, and to see that they are properly described, but with what result? The honorable member for Darling showed us a number of samples of materials called leather, which were, however, composed entirely of paper. I have pointed out more than once that if the Minister had been anxious to guard the moral conduct of the commercial and industrial classes of this country, he would not have been satisfied to insure that a particular fraudulent manufacture should be properly described when it passed the Customs, but would also have taken precautions against its fraudulent use by the manufacturers of Australia. Under the Bill, a substitute for leather may be passed through the Customs under the description of brown paper. It may be transferred direct from the wharf to the stores of a boot manufacturer, and without impediment of any kind, be used in turning out children’s boots. Therefore, the fraud upon our own people will be worse in its last than in its first stage, because the material will bear the stamp of approval of our Customs officers. If the object be to secure a higher standard of commercial and industrial morality, the Minister should have exhausted every practicable means of securing that end. It will be useless to guard against the dishonesty of the importer, unless we at the same time check dishonesty on the part of our manufacturers. The Minister would have effected the high moral purpose he has im view if he had introduced a Bill providing against the use of improper material for manufacturing purposes. We are all anxious to introduce a high standard of morality into our industries. But all men of the world who have mixed in the business affairs of life, know very well that there is a limit to the practicability of any attempts that may be made ‘to force manufacturers and others to be honest. In order to make a small effort towards the attainment of an impossible ideal, we are instituting a state of affairs which must end in paralyzing the business of the Commonwealth. It has been suggested that, in order to deal with some’ classes of manufactures which appear to urgently call for condemnation,, the measure should have operated in regard to goods passing between the States, as well as to those being imported into and exported from the Commonwealth. But, I venture to say that if that circumlocutory method of disgusting the people with the Bill had been followed up, there would have been such a hue and cry throughout Australia as would have driven the Ministry out of public life. The fact that the honorable member for Kooyong, who represents the interests of the commercial community of Australia, has introduced more vehemence into his condemnation of this Bill than he has ever before been known to impart to his utterances, should have ‘ given the Minister pause and induced him to conclude that he was making a huge mistake in attempting to force this Bill through the House. It is a notable fact that amongst the members of the Government there is not one who can be said to have had any extended commercial experience. The reputations of Ministers are good, and their characters are honorable, but not one of them has gone through the fire of practical experience in such a way as to impress upon him the difficulties and complexities of commercial life. Ministers seem to think that the commercial work of a great country like this is carried on according to elementary rules ; but a very short experience of the difficulties, complexities, and sinuosities of trade would have shown them that the application of regulations, such as are contemplated under (he Bill would bring about a state of chaos. Why was the Bill introduced at this particular time? It is true that when Ministers took office they found a Bill which happened to have been prepared, not by the late Government, but for them ; but there was no obligation on their part to take up that measure. The Bill has had an improper title applied to it. It does not deal with the commerce of this country, but with only one or two features of it. If the measure had been introduced in some other form, and had been less ambitious in its objects, it might have been possible to deal with a number of important matters in a very much more satisfactory and much less injurious manner. When the Bill was introduced, I pointed out that it contained features which I should be very glad to support; but I also directed attention to the fact that it dealt only in part with the particular commodities which it affected to control. I pointed out- also that the control of the Customs authorities over imports would cease immediately they were allowed to pass into the Commonwealth. If the Minister will only pay proper regard to the criticism offered by the honorable member for Kooyong, he will hesitate^ before he allows the Bill to pass from this House in its present form and as a matured measure. Let me again point out what I suppose every man of business recognises, namely, that the consumer is being almost entirely lost sight of in this Bill. Once or twice I have been twitted with thinking too much of the interests of the consumer, and some time ago I had the pleasure of quoting the extraordinary doctrine which was laid down in the Age newspaper, that the whole principle of protection implied that we should look after the producer, and that the consumer would look after himself. I maintain that the consumers are the people, and that it is the duty of every free-trade representative in this House to look after their interests. I submit that in this measure the interests of the consumer are practically ignored. He has a sort of false security given to him, because he is assured that all importations will, in the interests of good government, be supervized by the Customs authorities. But whilst the Bill provides that all imports shall be true to their trade description, no attempt has been made to prevent the people of Australia from manufacturing fraudulent goods in our midst to the detriment of the consumers. In the Custom’s Act we exercise a good deal of supervision over the manufacture df a number of articles which come under the heading of “narcotics and stimulants.” What is to prevent us from responding to the invitation to supervize the manufacture of goods, the importation of which this Bill is intended to prevent? What is the use of keeping out of Australia boots made of paper, if similar articles can be manufactured here? The same remark is applicable to patent medicines. Where is the utility of excluding fraudulent goods of any kind if we permit them to be made within the Commonwealth? Consequently, I claim that this is a patchwork measure, which the. Minister will live to regret having passed. Much as I admire his administrative powers, I say that in allowing the impressive speech of the honorable member for Kooyong - who spoke as the figurehead of the commercial community - to pass unheeded, the Minister is not doing himself justice. I repeat that he will live to regret the introduction of this Bill.
– One fact in itself suffices to justify my opposition to this Bill, namely, the absolute power which it is proposed to place in the hands of the Minister. I suppose that we should have to go back in history at least 200 years to find a parallel to the present position. So far as English history is concerned, our efforts for many years have been directed towards lessening the power that is reposed in the Sovereign. The whole struggle has been to bring even the King himself under the control of the law. After many years that end has been achieved. Now, however, it is proposed to substitute a new form of despotism for parliamentary authority. In the old days there was some excuse for a despotism, in that it was always supposed to be used in a beneficent manner, and in accordance with the wishes of the great bulk of the people. As the masses at that time were unable to read or write, they were to a certain extent safeguarded by such a form of government. But in this Bill - despite the advance of civilization - an attempt is being made to make the Minister in his Department practically autocratic. Under its provisions, despite any injury which may be inflicted upon the producer or consumer, his decision cannot be challenged. It is not open to review. No matter how harshly he may administer the law, he has merely to say, “Such and such is. my opinion,” and there the matter ends. Some time ago, when certain measures relating to lands and mining were before the New South Wales Parliament, I took the opportunity of drawing attention to the fact that extraordinary powers were being vested in the Minister for the time being - powers that would inevitably lead to corruption. Nobody who is familiar with the history of that State can doubt that my prediction has been verified. Had the Minister’s decisions there been subject to review in a Court of law, the scandals which have occurred in the Lands Department would have been avoided. The great bulk of honorable members opposite do not appear to grasp that fact. It is unreasonable to assume that the Minister in charge of the Customs Department will always be immaculate and absolutely unapproachable. To my mind it is perfectly clear that men will have peace, and if they cannot secure it in any other way they will pay for it. Consequently, under this Bill we shall produce a deterioration in the standard of men who will administer the law. I think we should provide that if the Minister gives a questionable decision, that decision should be subject to review in a Court of law. What is likely to happen if we vest in the Customs inspectors for the time being the extreme power to grade all goods that are imported or exported? Undoubtedly the man who is prepared to pay those officers for shutting their eyes to irregularities will be able to get his goods through, whilst the individual who refuses to indulge in such reprehensible practices will not. Consequently we shall be offering a premium to dishonesty throughout our commercial world. No better illustration of the truth of my contention could be obtained than that which is forthcoming front America, where time after time -whole departments have been corrupted. The administration of the law there has been occasionally so harsh that men have set themselves to work to obtain relief, and being unable to secure ft at the hands of Congress, have sought it through corrupt channels. Who would have thought that the liquor law passed in New York to minimize the evils arising from the excessive use of strong drink would have been so administered as to render it impossible for an honest publican to carry on busi-ness ? But the fact remains that its provisions were so stringent - that so much power was placed in the hands of the police - that honest men had to go out of the business. Their places were taken by others who were ready to give bribes, with the result that their houses remained open day and night. As a matter of fact, in no other City in the world are life and property less secure than thev are in New York. This is due to the demoralization of the police. Such is the stringency of some of the laws in operation there, that many honest men, have been driven out of trades to which they apply, and their places have been taken by others prepared to secure relief by means of bribes. This, in turn, has caused men, ‘determined to live by blackmail, to join the police force. In our attempts to enforce a high standard of purity, we may bring about a similar state of affairs. We shrii place in the hands of the inspectors for the time being under this Bill such immense powers to restrict trade and commerce that men who are determined to carry on their business, despite this law, will be perpared to pay for the privilege of doing so. It is stated that in some of the departments at the present time certain prices have to be paid. I do not mean to suggest that there is open corruption in connexion with them, but it is said that attempts are made to soothe and allay the prejudices of officers, and to induce them not to attend to their duty as well as they might do. And yet we now propose to absolutely place the Minister outside the law. That is one of the strongest objections that could be urged: to tile Bill. If the Minister chooses, he may frame such stringent regulations that practically the whole of our trade for tha time being will be blocked. I ask the House to think for a moment of the injury that may be done to our producers by means of such a system before’ the law can be amended. We have pointed out these dangers; but honora’ble members opposite, in blindly following the Government wherever they may choose to lead them, are opening the door to new frauds. I strongly resent the extreme power that is given to the Minister, and have no hesitation in saying that the result will be injurious to the bulk of the producers of Australia. We are even trying to. regulate the sense of taste of those who wish to buy our products on the other side of the world. It seems useless to make any further protest, but I. for one, am certain that, unless there is a failure to administer the Bill a’s it mav be administered, the difficulties and dangers arising from it will be found not to have been unduly exaggerated by the Opposition.
-!; have patiently awaited an opportunity to s;peak to this motion. Representing as I do a community whose prosperity practically depends on its export trade, and the safeguarding of the interests of the consumers of its products, I do not intend to allow this Bill to pass without entering an emphatic protest against it. For my own part, I believe that while it does not go far enough in one direction, it goes altogether too far in another. It places too much power ‘in the hands of the Minister. We were promised that the Bill would contain a provision which would to a certain extent prevent unfair competition between the various States, but that promise has not been fulfilled. As an illustration of the unfair competition to which I, refer, let me point to the present position of the wine industry.’ The winegrowers of South Australia, by ‘ adulterating their wine for sale in their own State with sugar, are able to sell, by means of the profit thus made, unadulterated wine in the neighbouring States at a price below that at which the local vignerons can supply it. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent that practice. So far as I can see, its only effect will be to hamper the exporter and give no relief whatever to the importer. We were also promised that it would prevent the introduction of deleterious compounds and patent medicines harmful to the health of the community. The Minister will find, however, that the Bill is practically unworkable. If it is to be so administered as to prevent the importation of deleterious goods, an army of experts will be required. The only satisfactory way to achieve the object I have mentioned is to institute a system of Federal quarantine and to establish a Commonwealth Department of Public Health. I think that time will prove that this is but another example of the evils of party government. The Bill has been forced through the House by a Government which has not a majority of direct supporters, but is kept in office by a party, the members of which have shown by their silence that they do not approve of some, at least, of its provisions.
– -I do not wish to detain the House by joining in useless opposition to the passing of the Bill. I supported its second reading because I believed, as I still believe, that it contained a principle that we might very well adopt. But, as I said on a former occasion, it places in the hands of the Minister powers which are fraught with the greatest danger. The Opposition have failed to induce a somewhat stubborn Minister to adopt any amendment designed to make it a workable measure. On the contrary, the Bill has been made even more drastic than it was when introduced. If I were influenced by purely party considerations, I should be pleased to see it carried, because there can be no doubt that it will raise such a hornet’s nest about the ears of the Ministry that it will bring them’ to the ground. No measure yet passed by this House is calculated ro produce so much irritation as this will do if it be strictly administered. The Minister has either to stultify himself by allowing the great powers vested in him by the Bill to remain inoperative, or else to enforce those powers, and so prevent people from exporting certain commodities, which may, nevertheless, be consumed in our own country. So many difficulties will arise from the exercise of the powers vested in the Minister that I am satisfied that both he and the leader of the Government will regret the day that they submitted the Bill to the House. The cardinal feature in the measure at the outset was one of which we almost wholly approved, but throughout its consideration the Ministerhas made no response to the appeals of experienced business men, who have pointed out that the Bill, unless it is to be used as an instrument of tyranny, will be practically inoperative. The honorable gentleman has set himself up against the practical knowledge of business men in the House, who have no other interest in the matter than a desire to insure the well-being of the commercial community. Although he hasbeen asked again and again to say whether there has been any demand for this Bill, we have not been able to ascertain whence the request for itsintroduction came. It is only right that the public should be protected from the importation of deleterious commodities; but the Bill goes far beyond that. It seeks, in a ridiculous fashion, to protect the consumers of Australian produce in other parts of the world, and may thus do great harm to our commerce. I venture to predict that many of the provisions of the measure will prove inoperative, and will not be put into force, or, if they are put in force, the Minister will wish that he had never caused their enactment.
Mr. RONALD (Southern Melbourne).We, on this side of the House have been challenged over and over again to give a reason for thepassing of the Bill. Honorable members opposite speak as though Australian produce has no reputation to maintain. The purpose of the measure, I take it, is to keep watch and ward over the reputation of our goods, and to prevent fraud in connexion with either importation or exportation. That statement, I think, answers the whole of the objections to the measure.
– I wish to remind the Minister publicly of an omission of which I reminded him privately. As the Bill stands, a trade description includes a Customs entry. As honorable members know, the regulations may require that a particular trade description shall give particulars in regard to a great variety of subjects. Every ingredient in a complex article may have to be named, together with its place of manufacture, and many other things. While it may be perfectly right to demand the statement of such information on a label or invoice, it would be manifestly unjust and cumbrous to require it to be repeated on a Customs entry. I understand from the Minister, however, that in another place he will have carried out his promise that the statement of this information on the Customs entry shall not be required unless that entry is the only trade description.
– I shall not repeat the objections which have already been urged against the Bill. It is another instance of legislation for the accomplishment by indirect methods of what should be attempted by direct methods, and the result is that powers are given to deal with major offences which may be applied to minor offences. Another objection to the Bill is that a farmer or producer, reading its provisions, will not gain from them a knowledge of the requirements of the law. In my opinion, the measure should have dealt directly with deleterious and improper importations and exportations, and should have been so framed that those whom it is likely to concern could, by reading it, ascertain exactly what they must do. and what they must avoid doing. I trust, however, that improvements will yet be effected in it, and that when it becomes law it will be a much better measure than it is now.
– I must enter my protest against the Bill. I think that no measure of equal importance has ever been forced through an Australian Parliament in the way in which this measure has been forced through this House. Men who possess practical experience in connexion with exportation have shown conclusively that it will be impossible to put into operation some of the clauses of the Bill without absolutely stifling Australian industries. So that, as the honorable member for South Sydney has pointed out, a great part of the measure must remain a dead-letter, or, if applied, will do such damage that the next Parliament will find it necessary to amend it. Although the discussion of its provisions have occupied some time, that time could not have been better occupied. The measure, as originally introduced, was a very crude one. and Ministers showed that they possessed no knowledge as to what would be the practical result of the operation of its main clauses. The effect of the debates which have taken place, however, has been to secure the passing of amendments which have greatly improved the measure. I have been surprised to observe the utter want of knowledge of, ifnot of sympathy with, the operations of the producers of Australia, displayed by the majority of honorable members. If we are to progress we must increase our export trade. Our exporters, whether they send away wool, or wheat, or fruit, have to face the competition of the world. Last year, between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 apple trees were planted in the Commonwealth, 1, 000,000 trees being planted in Tasmania alone. The fruit which those trees bear must be sent for sale to the markets of the world, and within the next four or five years Australia will be exporting between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 bushels of apples. To attempt to regulate that trade means to run the risk of considerably harassing those engaged in it, and surely they have already sufficient difficulties to face. It is because I think that many of the provisions of the Bill will be intensely mischievous, if put into operation, that I have objected to them so strenuously, though I am not prepared to vote against the third reading of the measure, because there are other clauses prohibiting the importation and exportation of deleterious goods, and for the prevention of fraud, which I and other honorable members wish to have passed into law. The fraudulent importer or exporter has none ofmy sympathy ; but the Minister makes a great mistake in thinking that articles of export are necessarily increased in value by branding them with a Government mark. There are men in the export trade who would not exchange their private brand for any Government brand or certificate of quality that could be given to them. Their brand has won a name for their productions in the markets of the world, and no Government testimonial to the quality of their goods would increase the prices obtained for them. Notwithstanding the slurs which have been cast upon our exporters by some honorable members who, on every occasion, have shown an utter want of sympathy with them, the quality of their goods is such that it could not be improved by any Government grading, and I protest against the attempts which have been made to interfere with their business operations.
– I wish to enter my protest against the statement of members of the Opposition that those who support the Bill have no sympathy with the producers. My sympathy with the producers is as great as that of any other honorable member of the House.
– The honorable member has voted against them throughout the consideration of this Bill.
– I have on all occasions shown my sympathy with them. I have not called the manufacturers and producers of Australia robbers, as some honorable members who sit on the opposite side of the Chamber have done.
– They have never been called that.
– I know a little about the ways of dishonest importers, because I have been in business for twenty years, and I have had false invoices sent to me, in which the prices of goods were set out at 25 per cent. less than the cost prices. It is the duty of the Government to protect the revenue, and I protest against the insinuations that have been made against the officers of our- Customs Department. Honorable members have no right to speak against them unless they can bring forward and prove some specific charge of underhand dealing or dishonesty. It has been suggested that under the Bill we shall have in Australia the American system of bribery, but such aninsinuation is not fair to our officials. On one occasion during this debate. I suggested, by way of interjection, that the Committee should proceed to a division. I was thereupon told by a member of the Opposition that I was not prepared to listen to fair discussion. So long as discussion is fair, I am prepared to listen to it for a week ; but when once a matter has been decided, I do not think that honorable members should waste time in repeating day after day arguments which have already been exhausted.I have voted for the Bill because I thought that it would operate to prevent the importation and exportation of inferior anddeleterious goods.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Sir WilliamLyne) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I notice in this morning’s newspapers an advertisement to the effect that the Right Honorable R. A. Crouch, M.P., will deliver an address in the Town Hall this afternoon in answer to the Prime Minister. Is the gentleman referred to our own Captain Crouch, or some obscure member of the Privy Council ?
– I do not think it is fair for the honorable member to refer to a public insult to which I have been subjected. I do not know that the advertisement is libellous, but I am consulting my solicitor on the subject.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 September 1905, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19050929_reps_2_27/>.