16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W.M.Nairn) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Appointment on Australian Broadcasting Commission.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether David Takamaru, who was press attache to the Japanese Legation in Canberra, has received an appointment on the Australian Broadcasting Commission ? If so, is the Government satisfied with his credentials, in view of has long association with the Japanese Legation? Does it consider that it was wise to appoint him to the staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
– I am not aware of the circumstances. I shall place the question before the Prime Minister.
– In view of the shocking revelations of profiteering made yesterday by the Attorney-‘General, will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs give the names of the gentlemen who were the directors of the undermentioned organizations when action was taken against them by the Prices Commission: Myer Emporium Limited, O. Gilpin Limited, Evan Evans Proprietary Limited, and Robert Reid and Company?
– I shall bring the question to the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce whether merchants in Tasmania are distributing superphosphate to farmers, without a knowledge of either the price they will have to pay for it or the price that they should charge to the farmers? As this has been the position for some months, and the principal season for potato-growing is from July to October, will the honorable gentleman look into the matter with a view to correcting this most undesirable anomaly and removing the great inconvenience from which merchants are suffering?
– The honorable gentleman is aware of the intricacies of the existing position in relation to supplies of superphosphate. As the source of supply has been so indefinite, and the conditions governing procurement of supplies have been so difficult, it has been almost impossible to arrive at an estimate of the increased cost. The Government is doing all that it can do to protect the user of superphosphate. The department is attending to the matter. It will be further discussed at a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council on Monday. If finality be then reached, I shall let the honorable member have full particulars of the decision.
– I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether he has seen a report made by General Leane, Commissioner of Police in South Australia, that so far every effort of the Betting Control Board and the Police Department to enlist the support of the Commonwealth authorities in action against illegal gambling has failed, and that telephone betting can be dealt with successfully if there be this necessary cooperation ? In view of the importance of this statement to the austerity campaign, will the honorable gentleman consider affording the co-operation for which the State asks?
– I have not yet seen the press statement referred to. I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Postmaster-General, and let the honorable member have a reply as soon as possible.
– In the absence of the Minister for Labour and National Service, I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aircraft Production whether his attention has been drawn to a press report this morning that a stop-work meeting of 1,500 employees of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation will be held to-day at the factory to consider the alleged refusal of the management to recognize shop committees, this refusal having followed the recent demand for a governmental inquiry into the administration of the corporation? As it appeal’s to be the policy of the corporation to discourage shop committees, despite the fact that the workers have indicated their desire to co-operate with the management in facilitating production, and as it recently dismissed eight men, and later dismissed another man who was frequently ordered to be reinstated, on account of their having acted on shop committees, will the honorable gentleman intervene, with a view to preventing the development of the dispute, and take steps to have shop committees organized on a proper basis, in order to improve harmony, facilitate production, and establish a true basis of co-operation between the workers and the management in this government-owned industry?
– I have not read the report, but I undertake to have a look at it, and to bring to the notice of the appropriate Minister the matters raised by the honorable member.
– Some time ago, I asked the Prime Minister a question relating to the hold-up of trucks loaded with wool, at Darling Harbour over the week-ends. The right honorable gentleman informed me that the matter was being investigated and that a conference was being convened in order to see what might be done. I understand that this week a conference was held at Canberra between representatives of the Storeman and Packers Union and representatives of the Woolbrokers, under the chairmanship of the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister able to make a statement as to whether or not the matter has been satisfactorily determined?
– I understand that a conference presided over by the Minister for Labour and National Service was lipid. I have no knowledge of a complete report of it having been made, but I shall ask the Prime Minister to arrange to have the information supplied to the honorable member.
Report of Special Committee
– Can the Minister for Repatriation state whether the Government has yet considered the recom mendations of the all-party committee that was set up to inquire into repatriation reform and an increase of pensions for returned soldiers and their dependants? If so, will he state whether amending legislation is likely to be introduced to give effect to the recommendations? Will he also table the report for the information of honorable members?
– I received a copy of the report last Friday. The press has incorrectly stated that it has been in the possession of the department for nearly a month, and has not been considered. I brought officials from head office in Melbourne to go into the whole matter. I assure the honorable gentleman that the report is a very good one, and that every consideration is being given to it.
– On the 4th June last, representatives of certain newspapers were excluded from Parliament House. I have received from the general manager of Consolidated Press, Sydney, a communication in the following terms : -
Further to my telegram asking for the removal of the ban on our representatives, I am directed to inform you that the Daily and Sunday Telegraph will always upholdthe right of thepress to criticize the proceedings and conduct of Parliament. They have learned that an article published in the Sunday Telegraph on the 17th May last was interpreted as a personal attack on individual members of the Senate. This was not intended either by Mr. Richard Hughes, the columnist who wrote the article, or by the Sunday Telegraph, in which it was published. Nor was the article intended to imply disparagement of parliamentary institutions.
In view of this statement, after consultation with the President of the Senate I have invited the representatives of the newspapers concerned to resume their privileges in this Parliament.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 191 1-1932, and for other purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In presenting the budget, I informed honorable members that the Government would introduce a bill for the establishment of a mortgage bank department of the Commonwealth Bank at an early date. This bill gives effect to that promise.
The establishment of a mortgage bank is an objective that has been approved by all political parties. For a long time, it has been admitted that the absence of a mortgage bank was a deficiency in the Commonwealth’s financial structure. Its esstablishment will enable rural producers to obtain long-term loans at reasonable rates of interest, and at the same time give to borrowers protection against pressure for repayment in difficult times. It is hoped that the activities of the new mortgage bank will thus, at least in some measure, relieve the financial position of those primary producers who have been dependent upon overdrafts callable on demand or have been unable to obtain other than short-term loans of a. few years’ duration. The operations of the mortgage bank at the present time will, of course, be severely restricted, compared with the contribution that it could have made had it been established when first recommended by the Royal Commission on the Monetary and Banking Systems in 1936. At the present time, the financial policy of the Government is wholly directed towards limiting new investment in avenues other than those that make a direct, contribution to our wartime programme. The Government believes, however, that the mortgage bank, if established, can prove a powerful instrument in post-war reconstruction. It has therefore decided to push on with. it3 establishment in order that its organization, which necessarily will take som.? rime to set up, may be well established when hostilities cease and the task of reconstruction has to be undertaken.
In the meantime, even though its initial operations must of necessity be on a limited scale, it will be able to make a contribution to the problem of rural finance. The Government believes that the new Mortgage Bank will be able to exert an important influence in assuring in rural producers that their mortgage finance requirements will be provided, generally, at a reasonably low rate of interest. It will set a standard for longterm fixed loans of this nature, which it is hoped other institutions and private lenders will follow. Already, the Government has taken action to reduce interest rates over the whole range of finance. Maximum interest rates have been fixed for most classes of loans. Wherever possible, the rates have been altered downwards. The Mortgage Bank department of the Commonwealth Bank should also be able to exert its influence in this direction.
I am not. able to give to honorable members a good estimate of the amount of rural indebtedness in Australia, but, as a rough guess, I should think there would be something like £400,000,000, of loans and advances to rural producers, without making any allowance for indebtedness on account of implements and farming supplies generally, for which the sum owing would be considerable. In arriving at the amount of £400,000,000, I have allowed for £S0,000,000 of loans by State government instrumentalities, about £140,000,000 by banks on overdraft, and another £80,000,000 by pastoral. insurance and trustee companies, whilst I have put down private mortgages, of which no figures are available, at another £100,000,000. These figures will give some idea of the scope for long-term lending in rural industry and, at the same’ time, show how impossible it would be for a mortgage bank to undertake the raising of sufficient funds immediately for any rapid taking over of mortgage debts. It will, be realized that the extension of mortgage bank facilities must, therefore, be a matter of slow growth.
At the moment, there are certain manpower difficulties that prevent any rapid expansion of facilities through the creation of a mortgage bank. I refer to the staff difficulties being experienced by the Commonwealth Bank, in common with other institutions. The bank’s male staff has been depleted since the outbreak of war by over 50 per cent., and whilst it has been possible to replace some of this staff by women assistants, this depletion of staff, coupled with the extra work falling upon the bank in connexion with financial matters associated with the war, has created very real difficulties in the way of giving any extension of existing facilities.
Turning now to the Government’s proposals in connexion with the bill itself, it will be seen that the Mortgage Bank will be a department of the Commonwealth Bank, and be under the control of the Bank Board. In order that the Mortgage Bank might function effectively it is essential that it should have experienced, efficient and economical management, and that it should obtain funds at the best available rate so that it can, in turn, lend at reasonable rates of interest.
The Government considers that in the Commonwealth Bank it has an established institution, capable of successfully carrying out the functions of the Mortgage Bank. The board’s personnel includes men well acquainted with rural problems. The bank has a widespread system of branches and agencies, and many of its officers have already had experience of the kind of loan which the Mortgage Bank is intended to make. However, the new Mortgage Bank will be kept quite distinct from the central bank functions of the Commonwealth Bank. The present bill proposes the creation of an entirely separate department to provide appropriate long-term lending facilities. Strict safeguards have been framed to prevent the assets of the general bank from being used in the business of the Mortgage Bank department except to a very limited extent. The general bank may make advancesto the department, subject to the amount outstanding at any one time not exceeding £1,000,000. A special provision in the bill will prevent the funds of the general bank, and of the Savings Bank also, from being used in the business of the Mortgage Bank department, except as provided.
The capital of the proposed department, which is not to exceed £4,000,000, will be obtained from -
To furnish additional funds for the purposes of the Mortgage Bank department it is proposed that -
The Mortgage Bank department may only lend to persons engaged in farming, agricultural, horticultural, pastoral or grazing operations or in such other forms of primary production as the bank thinks fit. The loans shall be made upon the security of a mortgage on an estate or interest in land as follows: -
A loan made by the Mortgage Bank shall be upon first mortgage only. Except to the amount that money lent is used to pay off an existing loan, the money shall be used only for the purpose for which it was lent, that is, for use in connexion with primary production carried on by the borrower. Where a borrower misapplies money lent to him by the Mortgage Bank, provision is made for the money lent to become due and payable on demand. By this means it is hoped to prevent the misuse of any moneys made available through the bank. The mortgagor will also be required to obtain the bank’s consent in writing before further mortgaging or charging his estate or interest in the property mortgaged.
It is proposed that loans shall be made for periods of from three to 35 years, and that the bank shall fix the terms and conditions of such loans. Where loans are for long periods, it is possible that a condition may be included in the mortgage deed for amortization payments. Loans through the Mortgage Bank are not intended to provide working capital, as it is considered that ample provision already exists for short-term advances. Provision is made in the bill that loans shall not exceed 60 per cent. of the value of the property, or £4,000, whichever is the less.
It is not practicable to fix for all time the rate of interest at which money may be advanced by the department, and consequently, rates willbe left to the bank to determine. The Government hopes, however, that it will be possible for the bank to make loans at about 4 per cent. per annum, plus suitable amortization payments where applicable. Such a rate would be an improvement on the average rate at present charged by lenders on first class mortgages, and it is anticipated that the lower rate charged by the Mortgage Bank department will have a general tendency to reduce the mortgage interest charges made by other institutions and private lenders.
As the Mortgage Bank will not be run primarily for profit, it is not expected that any appreciable amount of profit will be earned. Provision has been made in the bill for all profits to be credited to a reserve fund in the mortgage bank department. Moneys in this fund will be available only for the purposes of the department.
As the Commonwealth Bank will incur certain overhead expenses in the management of the Mortgage Bank department, and possibly receive moneys that may be properly allotted to that department, the bill provides for an allocation of such portion of the general receipts and expenditure of the bank as the board considers is referable to the department.
Provision is also made for investment of any surplus funds, although it is expected that investible surplus funds will be very small at any one time. In fact, the probability is that the depart ment will usually have some advance on daily balance from the general bank.
As it will inevitably take the Commonwealth Bank some time to complete its organization of the department, it is proposed that the act, if passed, shall come into operation only when proclaimed.
In view of the many amendments that have been made in the Commonwealth Bank Act from time to time, and the consequent difficulties in connexion with the numbering of sections, as will be noticed in the section numbers in this bill, steps have been taken for the renumbering of the sections of the act.
No specific provision has been made for advances to co-operative societies, nor for ordinary home building, the reason being that under the reconstruction plan, housing will be undertaken as part of a much bigger scheme.
The general principles of this measure have been approved by all parties in this House, so that any differences of opinion will be in regard to detail only. The Government is prepared, if honorable members so desire, to refer the bill to a joint committee representing all parties, in the hope that the combined wisdom of honorable members will produce a satisfactory measure.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fadden) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Curtin through Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to encourage and regulate the employment of women for the purpose of aiding the prosecution of the present war.
Debate resumed from the 24th September (vide page 867), on motion by Dr. Evatt -
That the bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose this measure. We recognize that, since it is part of the Government’s financial policy to leave surplus spending power in the hands of the community, so that the people are bidding against one another for a limited supply of goods, some form of legislative action must be taken to prevent black marketing. However, the bill requires careful consideration, and possibly amendment in the committee stage, in order to remove the fear that business people of sound reputation and integrity may be implicated because of misdemeanours with which they have had nothing to do. A business of moderate size, with branches all over a State, or even the Commonwealth, presents a problem. It would, be a physical impossibility for those in control to watch the actions of all their employees in all parts of the country, and it would, therefore, be unfair to make them responsible for those actions. It would be equally illogical and unfair to render Ministers of the Crown liable at law for the delinquencies of departmental officers, including juniors, who perform acts of administration all day and everywhere.
– That is so. We shall make provision for that possibility.
– I am pleased to have that assurance. The bill may make criminals of reputable business- people, large and small, whose honesty has been proved by years of trading. Under this legislation men of unquestioned honesty may be imprisoned for technical offences which they were unable to prevent. In making that statement, I do not wish it to be thought that I have any sympathy for the dishonest trader who takes advantage of existing circumstances to profiteer and create black markets. For those persons, imprisonment is not an adequate penalty. But we must safeguard the innocent trader who may become liable for prosecution as the result of an action of an employee. The bill may cause business people of untarnished reputation, in selfprotection, to step down from their offices in order to avoid exposing themselves to the risk of being imprisoned for a technical breach. That would not be in the best interests of the community. By the application of harsh laws, the Government can endanger the prospects for postwar rehabilitation, which must depend to a large degree upon the continued honest conduct of thousands of businesses, large and small, to provide employment for Australians. It is impossible for men in charge of even small businesses to regulate to a precise margin the rates of gross profit on trading over a period of weeks or months. Until stocktaking verifies the results, they cannot know exactly what gross profits have been earned, over millions of separate transactions. Changing conditions, fluctuating prices, and a scarcity of commodities cause profit margins to vary from hour to hour. Yet traders with an unblemished record may become criminals in the eyes of a nation as the result of the application of this legislation in a harsh or partisan manner.
The bill is aimed at the “ blacketeer “. who works in the dark and who is hard to discover. With this man, the Opposition has no patience. He should be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. The operations of the bill, however, will inflict hardship and injustice upon the decent and honorable trader whose transactions are above board, but who may be unable to be personally responsible for the actions of his employees, no matter how. careful he may be in issuing instructions to them. Under the trading conditions of the past year, many traders have found it impossible to avoid an increase of turnover, because of the pressure of public spending power. Honorable members will recall the manner in which the public rushed the shops a few months ago and demanded goods which, in many instances, traders did not desire to sell quickly because of replacement difficulties. Moreover, in some cases where substantial profits have been made, the trader does not get the benefit because those profits are subject to taxes totalling 18s. in the £1. The trader merely becomes a collector of revenue for the Crown.
It is unfair to make the operations of the bill retrospective to the 20th February, 1942. About that time, the Government foreshadowed its intention to take all profits in excess of 4 per cent, on capital employed in a business. Not until the end of July were traders advised by government announcement that this plan would not be put into effect. Until then, they could only assume that they were, in a large measure, collectors of revenue for the Crown. Now, legislation has been introduced which may make criminals of business people and their employees because they earned substantial profits in past months. In many instances, they were unable to prevent that profit-making and were even advised by the Government that all profits in excess of 4 per cent. would not belong to them. Whilst the Opposition does not disagree with the principle of imposing the most severe penalties upon any trader who is guilty of profiteering during the war, it has a definite responsibility to protect the honest and honorable man who may be victimized by this legislation. For that reason, I shall move at the appropriate time two important amendments to the bill.
There should be no political association with the administration and control of this most important, far-reaching and, in certain circumstances, dangerous legislation. A committee comprising representatives of the Attorney-General’s Department, the Prices Branch, and the Departmentof Trade and Customs, or the Rationing Commission, should be appointed to decide whether certain traders should be prosecuted. If that course were adopted, the whole matter would be removed from the atmosphere of political control. This committee would conscientiously weigh all the circumstances, including government policy, and have regard to changing conditions since the outbreak of war.
– Does the Leader of the Opposition propose that the committee shall have authority to prosecute?
– No, the committee would recommend to the AttorneyGeneral that action be taken against a trader. The committee would remove from the right honorable gentleman an onerous responsibility, and the possibility of being accused, of political partisanship in connexion with the launching of prosecutions. My second proposal is that profits earned by traders shall be regarded as the amount which remains after the deduction of income tax, so that traders may not be branded as criminals for earning profits that are taken by the Crown.
– Does the Leader of the Opposition mean that the public shall pay the income tax of traders?
– I do not know who else is paying the tax to-day. In the final analysis, the producer and the worker pay all taxes. During the budget debate, some honorable members referred to companies that made profits of £40,000, after providing for depreciation totalling £17,000. Those statements must not be accepted at their face value. From the profit of £40,000 must be deducted taxation, and the net profit may be only £20,000. For that reason, the basis for determining “ blacketeering “ should be the amount that remains after the deduction of income tax.
– That goes back to the administration of the Prices Regulations.
– Yes. It is an excellent reason why the Attorney-General should adopt my suggestion to appoint a committee. The Prices Commissioner knows all the facts.
– The right honorable gentleman means that, before prosecutions are launched, those circumstances should be considered.
– Yes. The Opposition agrees that this legislation is necessary. At a time when our manhood is fighting so that we may hold the title deeds to this country, any profiteer or “ blacketeer “ should be shown no mercy. Even imprisonment is not an adequate punishment for such a crime.
– I have some knowledge of the circumstances that have led to the introduction of this bill. For some time I was in control of the Prices Commission, and was instrumental in “ declaring “ a number of profiteers. Whilst this legislation is necessary to strengthen the hand of the Prices Commissioner, we should not blind ourselves to the fact that present-day conditions differ greatly from those of the early days of the war when the Prices Commissioner, by “ declaration “, made effective use of his powers. The changed conditions call for legislation of this character. The Government by its failure to withdraw surplus money from the community has created the position which warrants such drastic action being taken as is provided for in this legislation. The introduction of this measure has also been made necessary by the irresponsible statements of Ministers with regard to shortage of certain commodities, thus creating panic buying with people trying to outbid each other for commodities about to be rationed. The fact that the people have more surplus money than ever before has enabled them to anticipate rationing, and the resultant heavy purchasing has had the effect of creating unnatural prices with consequent extra high’ profits. Earlier in this war, as Minister for Trade and Customs, I had occasion to declare eighteen butchers. The fixation of the price of meat was foreshadowed, and, immediately, there was an attempt by those butchers to profiteer. The Prices Commissioner took action which resulted in the declaration of those butchers, and they were brought under control. This power of declaration, however, is only half effective, because, sometimes, it confers a lasting benefit on the trader who is declared.
– What is the’ procedure of declaration, and what effect does it have!
– The effect of declaration is to put the whole of the prices under the control of the Prices Commissioner. He orders the refund to the public by means of reduced prices of the. extra profits earned by the trader concerned. That procedure confers: a benefit on unscrupulous traders, because reduced prices attract more business. But the reputable trading, firm regards declaration as. a blot upon its escutcheon that can never be erased. Therefore, declaration is only effective on scrupulous traders, whose offence may have been brought about by chance. It is sound business to buy in the lowest market, and to seE in the highest, but the zeal of some departmental managers to do that has sometimes landed their employers in trouble with the Prices Commissioner. With full appreciation of the situation, the Prices Commissioner has often given most sympathetic consideration to cases in which offences have been committed by inadvertence. Another difficulty about the process of declaration is that, whilst it confers benefit upon unscrupulous, traders, it imposes great strain on the Prices Commissioner and his staff. The Prices Commissioner has never had a staff sufficiently strong to be equal to the strain that must be imposed upon it by efforts to keep prices down. Every State branch of the commission and the central office have been working at a great disadvantage. The Prices Commissioner has been required to police the vast commercial interests of this community with an inadequate staff. The members of the branch staff are men of high capacity - the Prices Commissioner himself is a man of outstanding ability - but all the capacity in the world could not stem the tide of rising prices in the absence of sufficient officers to do the work. The Prices Commissioner has always been behind in the race. While I was Minister for Trade and Customs, I discussed with the Prices Commissioner a plan whereby he would be clothed with some additional powers. It had disadvantages, hut I believe that it could have been made effective. The substance of it was that the Prices Commissioner should work hand in glove with the Commissioner of Taxation. I believe that, if the Prices Commissioner had access to taxation assessments, his job could be more effectively done. I believe also that the Prices Commissioner should be empowered to impose fines for breaches of the prices regulations in the same way as the Taxation Commissioner is able to fine delinquent taxpayers. The fines would go into Consolidated Revenue and thereby assist in financing the war. I have always wondered why that power has not been conferred upon the Prices Commissioner. It has been effective in the hands of the Commissioner of Taxation, and I believe that it would be equally effective in prices control.
I agree entirely with the necessity for a bill of this kind. Profiteering cannot be condoned, especially now when we are fighting for our very existence and straining every nerve and sinew for the maximum war effort. That there are among us those who are so devoid of instincts of decency and patriotism as to exploit the nation in its hour of trial is deplorable. Their operations must be stamped out by the use of the most rigorous punishment’. Early in the war it was necessary that traders should be warned rather than punished, except in the most flagrant cases, but’ the time for warnings has passed. One mistake made early in the war waa that magistrates were too inclined to treat each case charged before them individually and to impose low fines as a warning. It would have been sufficient for the first few cases dealt with to be treated in that way as a warning to others, but, when the warning was not heeded, the highest penalties should have been exacted. Fines are not sufficient in a great number of cases. History shows that people who have tried to control prices have been treated most unfairly by the community. It is on record that some have been shot for their failure to keep prices down to a reasonable level. I am not suggesting for a moment that such an unseemly fate awaits our own Prices Commission. We are not living in days like that now, but we are living under a heavy strain, and no person should be allowed to intensify that strain by exploiting the earnings of the workers. This legislation which is designed to prevent that exploitation is commendable. I am in agreement with the amendment suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), and when the bill is in committee I shall direct the attention of the Attorney-General to some aspects of this measure which need further consideration. It is crystal clear that, if the Government will not draw from the community the surplus money in its possession, the people will attempt to spend that money, and the result will be competition amongst them for the reduced quantity of goods available to them, and a consequent rise of prices. This legislation will help to check that rise. There are two ways in which to reach thE mountain crest of surplus money, the short way right to the top and the long way by a winding path. I should have liked the Government to take the short cut and, by means of taxation and deferred pay for the citizens, curtail the spending power of the community, but it has preferred to take the more circuitous route, and I shall do any best to help it on its journey.
.- I voice my approval of this bill to prevent black marketing. In times of stress, such as those through which we are going, when the ordinary methods of supply and demand cannot be allowed to operate because of governmental restrictions, transport difficulties and other reasons, I think that the most demoralizing factor is the activities of those people who are so devoid of national honour that they will attempt to sabotage the efforts of the Government in trying to equalize supplies in the community. One of the most effective controls that we have impost i since the outbreak of war is. price fixing under the control of the Prices Commissioner. The Prices Commissioner has; attempted to do a fair job of work by allowing the commercial community to operate free from fear that his powers would be used unfairly, hut he has been limited in his control by virtue of the fact that he is subject to the limitations of the National Security Act, and the fines or penalties that may be imposed under that act are either ridiculously small, or so large, with regard to detention, that magistrates are unwilling to apply them with sufficient severity. In attempting to impose a penalty that fits the crime the Prices Commissioner has had to have recourse to forcing offenders to return to purchasers all profit made beyond that which is allowed under the regulations. This acts very unfairly. Instead of penalizing the offender, it sometimes acts considerably in his favour. A trader who has made large excess profits and is forced to return the money to subsequent purchasers, obtains, in effect, a free advertisement.
– And a contribution towards goodwill.
– Quite so. He adds to his goodwill by offering goods at lower prices. That is a penalty on his competitors who have observed the law, and it is bad enough, but a secondary effect of it in war-time that should not be overlooked, is that, instead of his actions helping the supply situation they have a contrary effect, for goods are offered to the consuming public at ridiculous prices. The public, naturally, is always ready to buy at bargain prices. This is serious in respect of goods in short supply. The Attorney-General has provided sufficient safeguards in this bill to enable the Prices Commissioner to deal with offenders. Looked at narrowly, the penalties appear to be somewhat dangerous, for, in certain respects, the provisions of the criminal code have been reversed, inasmuch as an offence is deemed to have been committed, and an innocent person, perhaps the director of a large company who has no knowledge of what is happening, may be sent to gaol because of the improper act of a servant. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that this point requires examination.
– That provision of this bill has become almost common in legislation of this nature. An accused person has to prove that he did not know of the act complained of, and that he took reasonable care to prevent such acts.
– I am not complaining about the inclusion of the provision, but I endorse the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that a committee composed of representatives of departments which will be involved in the administration of the provision, should be appointed to confer on cases.
– Before the conclusion of this debate, I expect to be able to make an announcement which will satisfactorily meet the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I am pleased to hear the right honorable gentleman’s statement. There should be some means of studying, before proceedings are actually instituted, whether an offence has been intentionally or innocently committed.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, too, that all possible steps should be taken to remove the administration of this law from the sphere of party politics, so that there can be no suggestion whatever of victimization in any prosecutions. The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition concerning the retrospectivity of certain provisions of the bill also deserve careful consideration. It is unfair to put into operation provisions of this kind of which the trading community had no warning whatever, particularly as such heavy penalties have been provided. It is human nature to bargain. The right to swap a horse on the best terms obtainable may be said to be a basic principle of trade in the British Empire, and, under existing conditions, we are taking away that right. It takes time to educate traders on such alterations of practice. Such changes come slowly to the knowledge of the general community.
Whilst there may have been some glaring offences against the prices regulations, the majority of the prosecutions have been for minor breaches.
– Only the small traders are prosecuted.
– It might impair the morale of the trading community if a law were passed rendering liable to prosecution a trader who, three or four months ago, sold, say, 1 lb. of potatoes at ½d. above the ruling price. The AttorneyGeneral should examine this point in the interests of the whole trading community, 95 per cent. of whom, I am sure, desire to observe the regulations and to do everything possible to destroy black marketing. It would be unfortunate if anything were done at this stage to destroy the spirit of goodwill that has been displayed by the trading community at large towards the Prices Commissioner, for he has a difficult job to do.
I am pleased that offences against rationing have been dealt with in this measure. Rationing and the control of prices and marketing are closely interwoven. Black markets arise primarily because there is a shortage of goods and a surplus of spending power, and because controls are not applied at the right time and place. Some honorable gentlemen seem to have an erroneous impression that the main purpose of rationing is to reduce the spending power of the people, and thereby make more money available for loans and taxation. Rationing may have that effect, but its chief purpose is to ensure that goods in short supply shall be fairly distributed over the community and that people who have time and money at their disposal shall not be enabled to hoard goods in short supply to the disadvantage of other people in the community. Rationing is required to meet shortages, whether they be real or artificial - that is whether they be due to goods not being produced, or to positive government action to cause a shortage. Shortages may be caused bya limitation of manufacture, or by transport difficulties. Every one knows, for example, that there is no shortage of sugar in this country. We have an ample supply of sugar to meet our own needs and also to comply with our obligations to Great Britain, New Zealand, the
United States of America and other countries which we have undertaken to assist for the duration of the war. Transport facilities are so limited in Australia, however, that the rationing of supplies appeared to be necessary to ensure that a reasonable quantity of sugar shall be made available in the southern States for all consumers and that stocks shall be accumulated in case our internal transport should be interrupted by enemy action. If strict government control were not applied to sugar when it passes from the Colonial Sugar Kenning Company Limited to the wholesalers, rationing would probably be of no effect whatever, for ways and means would doubtless be found by more or less unscrupulous traders to make sugar available under conditions which would amount to black marketing. Rationing must in every case be associated with a shortage of supply, otherwise black marketing will continue. I therefore urge the Government not to attempt to apply rationing to goods unless there is a definite shortage, in consequence of either the insufficiency of raw material or positive government action. I commend the bill to honorable members.
– I support the bill, but without any great enthusiasm. I do not deny the need for a measure of this kind, but I deplore the severity of the penalties. The measure, in its penal provisions particularly, smacks of fascism and nazi-ism. The penalties are comparable, in their severity, with those imposed in Great Britain, say, 200 years ago, for minor offences. During that period and perhaps for a half a century later, transportation for life was a common sentence for what we regard to-day as trivial offences. It appears to me that these heavy penalties have become necessary because of circumstances that have arisen from government policy. The presentation of this hill to the House indicatedhow greatly the Government fears inflation in Australia. Despite the efforts of the Prices ‘Commissioner, who is an efficient officer, there is undoubtedly a fear that, within the next few months, prices may break, and that, we shall find ourselves in a rising spiral of prices with a consequent depreciation of currency
Severe penalties of this character should not be necessary in a British democracy. As a general rule the Australian people, like Anglo-Saxons everywhere, are essentially honest, but there are exceptions; some people will not play the game. Instances of profiteering have occurred in Australia, but I am afraid that the financial policy of the Government invites a measure of dishonesty. Too much money is often a great polluter. It tends to develop profiteers and racketeers. I was assured while I was in the United States of America some years ago that prohibition had been responsible for the gangster and the speakeasy. If we create a set of conditions in which profiteering becomes practicable, we must, of course, evolve controls in order to prevent the exploitation of the public. J. have no doubt that government policy in the last few months has created conditions more or less favorable to profiteering. We are now told that 300,000 more people are to be withdrawn from civil production and put to war work, in these circumstances the supply of civil goods must necessarily become seriously depleted. At the same time a torrent of new money has been released in the community and this torrent must be dammed. During the income period. 193S-39 to 1940-41, people in the income ranges under £400 a year enjoyed an aggregate increase of income of £60,000.000. but their taxes have been increased by only £15,000,000. which means flint they are enjoying an increased ? pending-power of £45,000,000. People in the income range £400 to £1*000, enjoyed an aggregate increase of income of £20.000.000, and their taxes have increased’ by £14.000.000. People in the income range over £1,500 had an aggregate increase of income of £13,000,000, but their taxes increased by £2:2,500,000. Only 23.000 out of 3,000,000 taxpayers fall within that income group, i have been informed from reliable sources that our national income may rise this year to between £1,000,000,000 and £1.100,000.000. Even ‘with the best intention in the world, people who have available such a huge spend.ing power are likely to huy whatever goods they desire, if the goods are available through any channel.
The money is there, and the urge to buy is there. All human beings are liable to yield to temptation, and obviously, no matter what restraints may be applied, there will be a tremendous demand for available goods. We know that under the uniform taxation scheme, in Queensland, the Government relieved people earning up to £1,000 a year of as much as £37 in taxes. In such circumstances, there is a high premium on dishonesty, and to guard against breaches of the law, extremely harsh penalties must be provided. I admit that this must be done, but I hope to God that a lot of ordinary, decent, honest people will not be caught in the mesh of this bill. I know of a woman in a Victorian country town who has engaged in black marketing. The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) will be able to find details of the case in the files of his department, if he so desires. The offender had been an honest woman all her life, but yielded to the temptation to make illicit profits. Only this cursed set of conditions has caused her to break the law. I hope that thousands of other small tradespeople like her will restrain themselves from breaking the law. These penalties remind me of conditions in Great Britain hundreds of years ago or in Nazi Germany to-day. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) was right. There is a falling quantity of goods and increased purchasing power. This may lead to the offences which this measure is designed to prevent. These conditions beget the black-marketer. People cannot buy the luxuries that they want in the ordinary way to-day, because the supply is insufficient, but there are homes in which before the war the total income would be about £5 a week and to-day is £20 or £30 a week because the members of the families are working overtime at well-paid war jobs. I can understand the urge of these people to buy better furniture and all the little luxuries that all of us like to have in our homes. The urge is natural. People cannot obtain some classes of goods in the ordinary way because of short supplies, but they have the incentive to evade the prices regulations and compete in the black markets for those goods that are available. In considering these con- ditions, one cannot help saying, “Well, while that is the position we are not soundly or definitely balancing the budget. We are not getting the money that we require for the war.” We know surely that, in the post-war period, we shall want to unleash spending power in order to set the wheels of civil industry in motion. Then we shall expect the thousands of families who are to-day in possession of a vast amount of purchasing power to use their resources to build homes, to furnish them, to buy wireless sets, refrigerators and so on. We shall want that to happen in order to provide means of employing the thousands of men who will return to civil life from the war services. During this period of war, we must be careful to prevent uncontrolled increases of our costs and prices. We must not forget that the work of post-war reconstruction will be undertaken against a background of conditions laid down by the Atlantic Charter. If that charter means anything, it means that trade will be made to flow freely. That being so, any country that allows its cost levels or price levels to escape control owing to some easy but misguided financial policy will be confronted with many grave problems. It will add to its difficulties not only during the war but also in the post-war period. Australia can avoid this danger by the use of a little common sense and by withdrawing from the people, for the time being, the excess purchasing power which they now have and putting it aside so that it can be used sensibly after the war. If the money be taken now and held for them till after the war, they will benefit considerably. They will be able to buy goods, the manufacture of which will re-establish industry in a prosperous condition. I sincerely hope that some of the things which might arise from this bill will not occur. I hope that there will be very few cases in which the penalties prescribed will be enforced. The bill provides for imprisonment, without the option of a fine, for terms up to twelve months, and, when a conviction is recorded, the offender will be obliged to post a notification to that effect on his premises. These measures are necessary only because we have created conditions which encourage black marketing. I shall support the bill, but I have little enthusiasm for any policy which creates such a set of circumstances and makes imperative the harsh penalties provided in this bill.
– One thing that has been a ridiculous failure in the war-time organization of the Commonwealth has been the administration of the price-fixing system. It is well known that large business concerns have escaped in the circumstances which were detailed by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), because the prosection of such firms, with their complex business organizations, was too difficult to undertake. They have not only, escaped conviction, but have also been rewarded for their offences in the way described by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) in relation to the Myer Emporium Limited. That firm was told that it would escape prosecution if it returned to the public, by means of reduced prices, the excess prices which it had charged. The result was that the firm was given a tremendous advantage over its small competitors. The policy adopted by the Department of Trade and Customs, which is responsible for the administration of prices control, has caused the ruin of a great number of small trading concerns. My observation of the administration of the prices law has been that usually some small person who has been selling tomatoes, for instance, in excess of the fixed price, at the Sydney markets in the sight of God and man, has1 been prosecuted and convicted, whereupon the department figuratively thumps itself upon the chest and says, “ Look at the effectiveness with which our prices control works “. The only persons who have suffered under prices control are small traders. This bill represents an attempt to deal with the problem of black marketing. Before 1 discuss it, let me say what I consider to be the real effect of the system of prices control. It is like most things that are being done to-day. Everything is centralized in Canberra, and there is no delegation or diffusion of responsibility through the States or the municipalities. There is delegation to and diffusion among certain subordinate officers at the head office, Canberra, but none to persons who have to be in contact with the public and public opinion. I have always held the view that our great failure in this war has been the failure to use as agents of the Commonwealth such representative bodies as State parliaments and municipal councils. The bill provides elaborately for the prosecution of offenders, even for what has been done prior to the enactment of this legislation ; for breaches, not of a statute, but of regulations. A mass of regulations has already been made by the Commonwealth. There are particular matters in which I am interested; yet, I am not able to say what the law is in respect of them. Unless I am sure that I have the latest regulation, I am not able to advise clients upon the industrial laws of the Commonwealth. What, then, must be the position of an ordinary member of the public who never sees the regulations and cannot understand them? As a matter of fact, there are inconsistent provisions in our regulations. There are regulations containing provisions which one would naturally expect to find under some other heading. The people of this country do not regard regulations with the same degree of respect as they have for the statute law; and they are not able to ascertain the provisions of regulations with the same degree of certainty as they can ascertain the provisions of statute law. This measure does not itself insist that there shall have been a contravention of regulations, but merely relates to action “ not in accordance with “ regulations. All sorts of different offences are mentioned in it. Any person who, since the 20th February, has done any of the things mentioned shall be liable to be prosecuted, and new offences may be created by new regulations made under this law. If the offender be prosecuted summarily and be convicted, the punishment is to be not less than imprisonment for three months in respect of an individual; and if he be prosecuted upon indictment, the punishment is to be imprisonment for not less than twelve months. The Government considers that by severity of penalty it will achieve results it has failed to obtain in the past.
It complains of the lightness of the penalties imposed by police magistrates. The magistrates have considered that the offences warranted light penalties. Is it likely that convictions by juries will be obtained, when they will know that the result of conviction for an offence which public opinion very often does not .condemn will he imprisonment for twelve months? The attempt to have men sent to gaol for offences which public opinion, on the whole, does not condemn, will make very difficult the securing of convictions. The bill says that no man shall he prosecuted unless the Attorney-General consents to .that course being followed ; and the right honorable gentleman may not consent until he has received a report from the Minister administering the regulations. Here there will be another bottle-neck at Canberra. The Attorney-General being the person named as the authority that has to consent to the launching of a prosecution, I should say that the right honorable gentleman will not be able to delegate the authority to prosecute. If that, be not the intention, then mention of the Attorney-General would appear to be an idle safeguard. A person charged with the offence of selling, in contravention -of the regulations, tomatoes, butter, jam or peaches cannot be prosecuted even summarily unless the Attorney-General has bad; before him a report upon the matter from the Minister, and has authorized the prosecution. The effect will be that there will be no assurance that persons operating in a big way will be prosecuted. Prosecutions will be undertaken where conviction will be easy to obtain. If it be thought necessary to give retrospective operation to the act, I conceive it to be reasonable that the consent of the Attorney-General should be necessary in respect of offences committed before the passing of the act. I believe, however, that if it be provided that the consent of the Attorney-General shall be necessary in respect of every prosecution, very few prosecutions will be launched. The main fault that I find is that the bill does not describe the offences that are to be so heavily punished, except by reference to regulations. Moreover, it provides in clause 3 that, by subsequent regulations, an addition may be made to the number of offences, because it says. “ and includes any other act or thing done or omitted to be done, or any conduct in contravention cf the regulations which is declared by regulations made under this act to be black marketing “. The bill, if enacted, will authorize the Government to make regulations providing for new forms of black marketing; and when such regulations shall have been made, any person who breaks them will be liable to the very severe penalties provided. I do not regard this as an effective way of dealing with the problem of black marketing and the enforcement of price control. Price control can be effectively enforced by the delegation of authority and control to representative bodies such as State parliaments and municipal councils. The cause of our trouble is the bottleneck at Canberra, and that will be intensified by this legislation. I do not consider that this measure will prevent black marketing. The effect will be that a number of persons engaged in small businesses, who foolishly take advantage of the position - as the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) has described - will find themselves taken before police magistrates and sent to gaol for three months, and there will not be a real attempt to control the large profiteer. A measure of this sort should plainly set out the actual offences with which people may be charged., so that any person may know what the law attempts to forbid, instead of having to look through regulations, which he knows are changing every day. No one can be sure of what the regulations contain to-day. As the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) once said, every day a sugar-bag full of new regulations arrives. That would be ridiculous but for the fact that new crimes are daily being created and new penalties provided ; and the people whose conduct i? being regulated are quite unaware of what is being done.
.- I approve of the general principles of the bill. That there is not sufficient power under the present law to impose a check on breaches of price control regulations and black marketing is recognized. Nevertheless, it is the duty of this Parliament to examine very carefully the provisions of this measure. I have listened with considerable interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn). 1 support some of the views he has expressed. As a matter of fact, if the provisions of clause 3, which dennes black marketing, and clause 4, which relates to offences, were literally applied, the whole of the trading community would be upset.
– ‘What does the honorable member mean by “literally”?
– If they were applied whenever there was a breach of any of the various provisions of clause 3. That would be an impossibility.
– There is no difficulty in understanding what is meant.
– The honorable member for Bourke has very clearly stated that it has been impossible for people to know exactly what the regulations contain. Regulations are issued on a wholesale scale. After all, this legislation is to apply not only to the big companies but also to small businesses, and these latter are not in touch with the regulations that are issued from time to time. One of the most serious features of the bill is that the act is to operate retrospectively to February last. A little calm reflection must convince the Attorney-General that that is not altogether a fair proposal. Some time ago the Government issued a regulation which stated that certain action was to be taken in connexion with the control of prices, and fixed a date at the end of February. Subsequently another regulation was issued, which informed the trading community that on and after the 1st July, 1942, the rate of profit was to be fixed at 4 per cent.
– This bill does not affect that.
– I am not saying that it does. What I am concerned about is the unfairness of the provision that the act shall operate retrospectively to February.
– It will not affect anybody who is honest.
– It will affect some persons who had no intention to commit a breach of the prices regulations.
In addition to the penalties set out - to which I offer no objection - there will be forfeiture of the goods in respect of which a prosecution has been launched. Many of the directors of companies, particularly the smaller concerns, do not take an active part in the conduct of the business.
– Those who do not will not be affected.
– They will have to prove that they had no knowledge of the offence and did not take any part in the commission of it.
– They will have to prove, first, that they are not directly active in connexion with the business. Only those actively concerned in the management of the business will be affected. These will have to show that they had no knowledge of what was done, and took reasonable care to prevent it from happening. That is a very reasonable provision.
– That is satisfactory. However enthusiastic we may be in regard to certain legislation, we would be very unwise to rush it through without giving it our consideration. It is the duty of Parliament to examine the details of measures of thi? sort. The bill provides for the posting of notices outside the business premises of persons or companies convicted of an offence. Certain premises are occupied by more than one class of business. Who the guilty party was, will have to be made very clear; because it would be unfair to other persons carrying on business in the same premises if there were merely a general notice intimating that a conviction had been recorded for the offence of black marketing. I take it that the notice, would make it very clear who was the guilty party.
As the honorable member for Bourke pointed out, one of the greatest difficulties in connexion with price fixation in places remote from Canberra is the time involved in obtaining decisions. I realize the difficulties encountered by the price-fixing authorities, and I suggest that it might assist matters if more authority were delegated to the Deputy Prices Commissioners in the capital cities. This would be appreciated by the public, and would, in the end. be of great assistance to the department itself. I trust that the AttorneyGeneral will see his way clear to accept the suggestions of the Leader of the Opposition.
– I congratulate the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) and the Government upon this measure, which is a clear indication that the Government proposes to deal firmly with the evil of black marketing. The introduction of this bill will do much to allay uneasiness in the minds of the public, and to prevent them from continuing to be the victims of racketeers as they have been in the past. I believe that this measure will become historic. It is the most far-reaching measure of its kind that has been introduced in any part of the Empire or, for that matter, of the world. In New South “Wales, during the last Avar, the Government took steps to prevent profiteering, and a special department was set up to deal with the matter. However, the evil developed to such tremendous proportions that it got completely out of hand. An official, who was connected with the work, told me recently that no fewer than 25,000 cases were recommended for prosecution, and when the identity of some of the offenders became known, the Government was embarrassed.. I trust that the Attorney-General will not find it necessary to approve of anything like so many prosecutions under this measure. I do not think that he will, because this legislation should act as a deterrent,, just as capital punishment acts as a deterrent, in respect of the crimes to which it applies. Conviction for black marketing will mean practically the extinction from business of the offender, because,, apart from the fine or imprisonment imposed, the odium attaching to conviction’ will he very great. I cannot understand the statement of the Attorney-General regarding the treatment of the Myer Emporium Limited by the Prices Commissioner. This is what the Attorney-General said -
The recent declaration of the Myer Emporium Limited is a case worthy of special attention. The firm in question is the largest retail establishment trading in a single centre in Australia. A careful investigation disclosed an increase of about 3 per cent, on the pre-war average gross profit margin charged by the company on all goods sold during the .first two years of the war. Owing to the large turnover of the company this meant an excess profit of approximately £250,000 during the two years over and above what- the profit would have been had the gross profit margin operating in the pre-war year been observed.
It is important to note that the excess charge on individual transactions was very small, estimated to be less than twopence on each transaction. There were, however, over 40,000,000 transactions involved, and the problem was whether to prosecute the company or to “ declare “ it and thus to ensure that the excess profits were returned to the public.
To have prosecuted the company effecttively would have meant proceeding on an enormous number of small transactions. If 100 instances had been chosen, the total excess profit would probably have been less than fi.
In my opinion, the amount involved is not the main consideration; it is the principle that is important. For instance, a person who overcharges on the sale of matches would overcharge by only a very small amount on each transaction, but his offence would, nevertheless, be a serious one. The fact that, in the case of the Myer Emporium Limited, 40,000,000 transactions were involved, was no reason why the firm, should be let ofl without punishment. On the Attorney-General’s reasoning it would appear that the greater the. number of offences the less the risk of suffering punishment. I do not know why the Prices Commissioner did not prosecute the Myer Emporium Limited. It was no punishment to make the firm restore to the public the amount by which they had been overcharged. On that principle, a burglar, even when caught,, would be merely required to return the goods he had stolen.
– The honorable member should realize that, there was no legal power by which the Treasury could impound the. £250,000 which represented the amount by which the Myer Emporium Limited had* overcharged the public. The position has been corrected in this measure-
– Nevertheless, I cannot understand why the Prices Commissioner did not prosecute Myers on a certain number of selected cases, just as many small traders have been prosecuted. Had that been done, a heavy penalty might have been imposed.
I suggest that, before the AttorneyGeneral accepts the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) to set up an outside advisory committee to consult with the Crown Law authorities regarding prosecutions, he should consider the matter very carefully. It is claimed that such an advisory committee would be free of political bias, but we have no guarantee of that. Presumably, the members of the committee would be drawn from the business community; and if so, they would, no doubt, have political leanings. I believe that the matter should be kept in the hands of the Attorney-General’s Department. The Crown Law officers are free from political influence, and they understand the legal principles involved.
– We propose to establish a committee on the lines suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden). It will be representative of the various agencies mentioned by him, and its duty will be to report to me. Final responsibility will rest with the Attorney-General, but he will have the assistance of the committee. It is obvious that action under this provision must be confined to flagrant cases. On that understanding, the Leader of the Opposition has agreed to facilitate the expeditions passage of the bill, which is regarded as urgent.
– I do not believe that it will be physically possible for the Attorney-General to consider all the cases that may arise. Therefore, I suggest that his authority in this connexion might be delegated to magistrates, or district court judges, in the various States. They would understand the principles of law involved; they could sift the evidence, and decide whether or not prosecutions should be launched. This would lift a great load off the AttorneyGeneral.
I realize that this bill is intended to have a deterrent effect. Unfortunately, there are always persons in every community against whom it is necessary to provide penal measures. However, I look forward to the time when we shall have a better social system under which people, instead of living on one another like parasites, will live for one another.
.- I agree with the views that have been expressed by the Leader of the Opposi tion (Mr. Fadden) and other speakers regarding the necessity for stamping out black markets. I have no objection to the principles of this bill. No patriot will disagree with legislation which attempts to abolish profiteering and to protect the public against black marketing. Nor have I any objection to the penalties which are prescribed, provided that, in the administration of the bill, the penalties are applied only to people who deserve to be punished. I hope that severe penalties will not be inflicted on people who do not deserve the stigma that will attach to their name as the result of prosecution. I sense that this measure is intended largely as a deterrent and I believe that it will achieve that purpose. But, whilst the bill is intended principally as a deterrent, the machinery for launching prosecutions is always there, and it may happen that at a future date people who do not deserve to be stigmatized as “ blacketeers “ will suffer. If the bill operates fairly and achieves the purposes for which it is designed, a great service will be done to Australia. I make that statement because I regard the future as more important than the past.
On one matter I disagree with the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles). He expressed the view that rationing should be confined to merchandise in short supply. The honorable member and I see this matter differently. He has far more experience in merchandise than I have, whilst I may have a wider financial training than he has. I expect that the Government will be obliged to extend the present system of rationing without delay, not only to ensure that goods in short supply shall be fairly distributed among the public, but also as an adjunct to its financial policy. Unless taxation be extended to the lower ranges of income, or a system of post-war credits be introduced in the near future, the only means by which the Government will prevent the public from spending money so freely will be increased rationing. The more rationing is extended, the greater will be the opportunity for black markets. Ration coupons are a new kind of currency. I do not criticize them, because they are necessary. In my “ pin ion, rationing should he extended ; but there is a danger that when the coupon system is more widely applied greater opportunities will be created for black marketing. For that reason, I view the future with concern, and I welcome the bill because it should prevent the exploitation of the public.
The Leader of the Opposition expressed the hope that care will be exercised to ensure that no injustices shall be inflicted upon traders. I have listened carefully to the replies which the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) has given from time to time to questions about black marketing, and I am sure that he is alive to the need for circumspection. The Attorney-General declared that at a later stage he will remove the provision to make the operations of the bill retrospective to the 20th February, 1942. It is possible, that in the course of administration people may be penalized for something that they innocently did months ago. T hope that no injustices will be inflicted. Previous speakers mentioned that last February the Treasury announced that profits in excess of 4 per cent, upon capital would be absorbed by taxes. In other words, the trader would be acting as an agent for the Crown. A few weeks ago that plan was abandoned. If the trader honestly believed that the_ excess profits would be absorbed; by taxation, it is difficult to understand how he can now be charged with malicious intent in making profits. We all understand what is meant by “ blacketeer “. He is not the honest trader whose books are open to any authorized person to examine. The “ blacketeer “ works underground. If this bill abolishes black markets, it will be a wonderful addition to the legislative enactments of this Parliament. But itwill not be successful in all cases. I advocate the introduction of another bill which will assess excess profits. I have never agreed that one official, no matter how capable or experienced he may be, should be empowered to determine what constitute excess profits, and that Jones or Brown had been dishonest in earning profits in excess of a certain percentage. That is contrary to my conception of the principles of taxation and justice. Parliament should define excess profits, and the Government knows from my attitude towards its taxation proposals that I shall raise no objection to tie most severe legislation, provided it is specific. 1 submit that suggestion to the AttorneyGeneral for serious consideration. I realize that the proposal cannot be given effect at short notice, but it would be a valuable adjunct to the bill .now under consideration and would give to the trading community a feeling of security. Today, business men are very uneasy. Each fears that unconsciously he may have committed a breach of the -law. But he is not a “ crook “ who unconsciously overcharges the public. He may have fought his way uphill, and earned the reputation for being an honest businessman. He is anxious to preserve that good name. He will not know, until the close of the half year, whether he has made a few thousand pounds more than he thought he was making, but he does not intentionally defraud the public. He should not be branded as one who had robbed customers in war-time. Specific legislation would allay that uneasiness. Parliament should authorize the Commissioner of Taxation to administer a law which defines excess profits and authorizes the excess to be collected for the Consolidated Revenue. I agree with the statement by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) that it is wrong that the profits of a trader should be determined by any authority other than Parliament. As I do not know the Myer Emporium Limited, I can speak impersonally on the matter. Some time ago, the press reported that this firm had made excess profits totalling £250,000, and had been compelled to refund the money to the public. That imposed no penalty upon the Myer Emporium Limited. Assuming that these were excess profits, the £250,000 should have been paid into Consolidated Revenue for the purpose of helping to finance the war effort.
– To refund the £250,000 to the public, the Myer Emporium reduced the prices of many goods and was thus able -to undersell its competitors.
– That was an extraordinary paradox. Tn addition, the refunding of the money reduced the taxes thar the firm -was liable to pay on its profits, with the result that the Treasury was disadvantaged. I have not been able to understand the system. Perhaps Parliament or some department is at fault. 1 shall not try to assess the blame, or say that the Prices Commissioner did not do his best to cope with this very difficult problem. But it was certainly the responsibility of some one to see that a properly defined method of assessing excess profits was laid down.
– The Prices Commissioner was hamstrung by the regulations.
– His actions are limited by the regulations. If the price of an article is fixed at a certain figure the seller knows his responsibility. I have a great deal of sympathy for the businessman who does not know exactly what is required of him, and who fears that legislation now introduced may describe as an offence an act that he committed months ago. I welcome the bill, and the assurance of the Attorney-General that he will -i p point a committee to assist him to administer it. I do not share the views of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan). In my opinion the number of prosecutions will not be large. The intention is not to punish a men who charges a few pence more than he should for an article. The Prices Commissioner will deal with him. The purpose of the bill is to hit the man who deliberately creates a black market.
The Prices Commissioner need not think that I am criticizing his work, because I am only desirous of being constructive. The Government should examine the Prices Branch, and increase the strength of the organization. The system of price control is most, important. It involves the industrial structure for the future, and the administrator of this legislation should have at his elbow officers of great experience and training. I do not think that those officials have always been provided, or that their number is sufficient to-day. The matter deserves the urgent attention of the Government.
Sitting suspended from .12.^5 to 2.15 -p.m.
.- I congratulate the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt-) on the work, of which we have seen some evidence in- recent, sittings of this sessional period, and on the work, of which wo know from the announcements made by him and the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), in connexion with the Statute of Westminster and the proposed referenda bills, to which he has been giving his attention since his return from abroad. This legislation is very necessary. One thing that can create discontent, and maybe disaster, upon the home front is public feeling that some persons in the community are able to make money out of the war effort. There is a well-grounded feeling that some will emerge from this war richer than they were when the war started. The German defeat in the last war was, according to history, due to the economic collapse of Germany on the home front, or, in other words, the collapse of the morale of the German people, as much as to the defeat of the German armies in Prance. Legislation of this sort, if enacted earlier, would possibly have saved Australia from the experience of having cases like that of the Myer Emporium Limited flaunted before this Parliament and the country when the fate of the nation was really hanging in the balance. This firm, as every body knows, was enabled to make huge profits out of the war situation and was obliged to hand back only the amount which it had wrongfully taken from the people - not, of course, to the people from whom it was actually taken, because that would be physically impossible, but to the public at large. The fact that it was made to disgorge that sum gave to the Myer Emporium the very great advantages, to which honorable members have drawn attention, not only over their competitors in Melbourne, but also over their competitors in their particular line of business throughout the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) said that the Myer Emporium received £250,000 worth of cheap advertising. It. could not possibly have got such a good advertisement by paying a like sum for it. I am afraid that this legislation, admirable as it is in its general intent, will not enable this Government to obtain a conviction against the Myer Emporium for anything it did in connexion with wrongfully obtaining that f 250,000.
I hope that the legislation will be administered with care and discrimination. The bill contains a valuable safeguard requiring the approval of the AttorneyGeneral to any prosecution. It could happen, if this legislation were passed without such a provision, that a number of very small people would suffer penalties under the proposed act while the bigger game would escape. That, of course, would not be satisfactory to the general public, nor would it be equitable. As far as the legislation aims at preventing wholesale exploitation of the public it is very good. Insofar as the smaller people are concerned, I hope that the AttorneyGeneral will continue the practice of prosecuting them under the National Security Act, so that the lesser penalties provided under that act will be inflicted for minor offences. The penal clauses of this legislation should be reserved for the wholesale exploitation of the public and for flagrant, deliberate, and continuous attempts to flout the wish of Parliament and the nation that there should be equality of suffering aud deprivation as far as possible. This involves doing without some things, first, in order that the soldiers might be supplied with what they need, and, secondly, in order that as far as possible the community at large might obtain the things necessary to maintain health and sustain life. I hope that there will be little need of prosecution, and that the very fact that the legislation is on the statute-book will be sufficient deterrent to prospective and actual malefactors.
I do not think that the inflation or threatened inflation referred to by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) is the root cause of black marketing. Black marketing, whatever of it there is - and I do not know that it is so very widespread after all - is largely caused by the destruction of small businesses during the rationalization process enforced by the Department of War Organization of Industry. The son all people, feeling that their opportunity for livelihood is vanishing, are prone to save as much as they can from the threatened wreck. I do not think that the average small business man who
Mr. Calwell. has been guilty of overcharging is deliberately anti-social in his outlook. He might feel that his action, after all, could never be so bad as that of the big emporium which was able to rob the community of £250,000 and, by way of penalty, was only required to repay its excess profits.
I hope that householders will not be made subject to this legislation. There was a case in a police court in New South Wales yesterday of a mother of nineteen children ‘being charged with stealing. She pleaded in extenuation that she had to try to provide for that large family, that she could not obtain the things she wanted otherwise, and that she had to have recourse to a breach of the law. Though it was a breach of the law, in my opinion it was no moral offence. I do not believe that a person must go without if there is a superfluity of goods in the possession of other people. My views as to the morality of a lot of offences that are legally punishable may be different from those of a lot of other honorable members.
– Is the honorable member enunciating a new principle of morality? .
– No. I think that if a man and his family are starving because he cannot get work, he is entitled to take his needs. The community has no right to starve him or to keep on the statute-book rotten laws which do not give him the right to work. I think that work is an inalienable right and, if the community will not give that right to a man, he is entitled to obtain the necessaries of life by what is legally regarded as theft. This unfortunate mother of nineteen would, if this bill were law in its present form, be liable to be sentenced to three months imprisonment if the act which she committed had been an act against any one of the econmic organization regulations. Of course, in such a case, the Attorney-General would not launch a prosecution; but we should not have on the statute-book a law which says that a person must be punished for an offence and not have the law administered. If she were found guilty, the magistrate would have no alternative but to sentence her to three months’ imprisonment. I want to safeguard against situations’ such as that and against the possibility of unduly penaliz-ing a housewife, who may have made a wrong statement, when the regulations originally came into foi-ce; for instance that she had a certain- quantity of tea.. If she were, found guilty and this legislation were in force in its present form, she would have to go to gaol for three months. Such a penalty in such circumstances would be an outrage onpublic opinion. I do not. want to see maladministration of justice or laws passed which the public conscience will not agree with. This bill should be passed’, but several clauses might be amended. I think that the woman whose- case is now before the court in New South “Wales should be congratulated upon the- fact that she has reared nineteen young Australians at a time when many women much better situated economically have preferred bridge and golf parties and the like to the performance of a natural and national duty.
Unfortunately, the economic regulations of February last are not well understood by the community. I doubt whether the regulations are known to one-tenth of 1 per cent., of the community. It is unfortunate that the divided powers of the Commonwealth Parliament and the State parliaments do not enable this Government to do more by legislation and less by regulation. I hope that the day may not be far distant, when the Commonwealth Parliament will be clothed with far greater powers than it has and that it. will pass legislation rather than the Executive make regulations - of which we have seen,, figuratively,, bucketsful. They cannot be read in their entirety by members of this Parliament who are so busy these days. So many of them, too, are amendments of previous regulations, and honorable members cannot spare the time- to keep tracing back for the original regulations in order to understand the purport of the various changes.
– And the act as well?
– <Yes, and very often the act, too. So many regulations and amendments of regulations have been promulgated since the original National Security Act was passed that there is a real need - and I press this upon the Attorney-General - for a consolidation of all regulations, issued to date. I. hope that he will instruct departments to arrange for all regulations issued by them to be consolidated immediately, so that honorable members, will be able to advise those of the many thousands- whom they represent - the average member represents something, over 60,000 people - who seek advice as to what the regulations really mean. If it be difficult for the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn),, with his legal training,, to advise his clients, how can we laymen make even a guess at the meaning, of some of the complicated regulations which have been issued? I am sure that the Attorney-General, indefatigable- as he is in the discharge of his duties, will listen sympathetically to the appeals of honorable members. As the honorable member for Bourke has said, there is no popular respect for regulations. They are not. treated, in the same way as acts of Parliament, and it is desirable that, as far as possible, their provisions should be made the subject of bills so that honorable members, could move for their amendment, instead of having to take the more drastic action of moving for the disallowance of the- whole statutory rule, as is necessary now.
– We should have to sit continuously.
– I see no evil in that. The United States Congress refused to disperse in 1941 when the President wanted it to do- so. It sat. for eleven and a half months out of twelve, and I believe that it did the American nation a. great benefit by doing so. As the honorable member for Bourke has said, it is much easier to get things done when Parliament, is sitting than when it is not sitting. The British House of Commons sits much more frequently than does this Parliament, and if that can be done in a war zone where there are far greater perils and difficulties than there are here, we could endeavour to emulate that excellent example.
– Does not the honorable gentleman consider that we have done a lot of continuous sitting this week ‘(
– My remarks arc subject to certain qualifications with regard to this series of sittings. It is not desirable that we should have such long continuous sittings as we have had this week, and it ought to be possible for Parliament to observe reasonable hours, even if that involved an extension of the sessional period by a week or two. I hope some day to see an amendment 01 the Standing Orders to prevent either House of the Parliament from sitting for longer than twelve hours continuously. That would certainly not harm the nation. The difference between this bill and the hill which was introduced by i: previous government, is that its provisions are made retrospective in regard to actual crimes that have been committed against the nation. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr Spender), when he was Minister for the Army, introduced a bill to amend the Defence Act, which made certain act which had not been offences when they were committed two or three years previously, acts of conspiracy and punishable. At that time, the Labour party, under the leadership of the present Attorney-General, endeavoured to amend the bill. Unfortunately, it became law without amendment. That legislation was introduced for the purpose of dealing with two firms in New South Wales which had been accused of anti-social acts. Both firms were prosecuted under the act, but, in spite of the fact that the cases went to the High Court, and then, strangely enough, down to suburban courts, the Government was unsuccessful and the legislation was ineffective. The Attorney-General’s proposal to create new penalties for acts which were punishable but which took place prior to the introduction of this bill is inspired by the failure of magistrates to impose adequate penalties under the existing law. He complained with just cause of the attitude of magistrates in lightly penalizing persons who had been guilty of acts which could have had grave consequences to the nation. But there is a weakness i’ his case. It is that those firms which have already been convicted, and pun ished with minor penalties, will not besubject to further action by the Commonwealth, whereas those which escaped prosecution for acts committed between February last and the present date wil be unfortunate enough, if they are prosecuted, to incur the higher penalties. We may find that big firms will escape with penalties of £5 or £10, or whatever fine* were imposed on them, whilst smaller people will be sent to gaol for three months. The public conscience would not approve of that, and I do not believe that the Attorney-General desires to brim’; about that state of affairs. We cannot prosecute the Myer Emporium Limited for what it has done, but we can restrict its sales in the future so that it will not be able to get the great number of coupons that it is at present getting as the result of the reduction of prices which it has been compelled to make on account of previous over-charging. It should not be allowed to secure or maintain that advantage over its competitors. That was never contemplated when the Government compelled it to give back to customers, by means of reduced prices, the sum r £250,000 which it had unlawfully received by way of excessive prices. The Prices Commissioner may be able to take some action under existing regulations to give effect to my suggestion. If so. that firm would be prevented from con tinuing to benefit by its misdeeds. The Attorney-General might well accede t’ the request made by several honorable members to eliminate the retrospective provision in the bill. The passage of this legislation will emphasize to magistrates the serious view which the Parliament takes of acts which are offences under the Economic Organization Regulations. Therefore, it is logica] to assume that they will take a more serious view of offences which come before them in future. In these circumstances, retrospectivity is not of great importance, and I ask the AttorneyGeneral to agree to the deletion of the clause which gives retrospective effect to the bill. I hope also that the right honorable gentleman will agree to eliminate clause S. This clause is unsatisfactory to me. It states -
Any person who does any act or thing preparatory to the doing of any act or tiling the doing of which would constitute the offence nf black marketing shall bc guilty of the offence of black marketing.
With all due respect to the persons who drafted that clause, I say that it seems to be perilously close to the offence under the Japanese penal code of “ harbouring dangerous thoughts “. People should not be prosecuted merely for an attempt to do a thing which will become an offence.
The title of this bill is, “A bill for an act to provide for the prevention of black marketing “. One of the casualties in this war, as in every war, is the English language. In every crisis, we start to murder the language by conjuring up new phrases or concocting words which seem to express the views or emotions of the moment. As the Attorney-General has said, “ black marketing “ cannot be found in any dictionary. The language is not so poverty stricken, that we have to invent such words and phrases as “ blacketeering “ and “ black marketing “, any more than we had to invent “profiteering “ during the war of 1914-18.
– We have also adopted German words like “blitz” and “ strafe “.
– That is so. During the last war we borrowed many foreign words. In legislation of this sort, we ought to pay some respect to the purity of the language and not lightly introduce words that are harsh and certainly not euphonious. We might extend the austerity campaign to this matter. I introduced the subject of the treatment of the Myer Emporium Limited in this House before any other honorable member, and it is strange that, at the moment when I was protesting against the failure to impose any penalty on the firm, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) was stating in the Senate the official view as to why the company should not be prosecuted at all. Whether the official view was right or wrong, public opinion did not sand lon it, and this legislation will be more in accord with what the people believe to be the right attitude to adopt towards firms and persons who are guilty of the acts enumerated in the bill. The Attorney-General will find, probably, that there will not be an overwhelming number of prosecutions under this measure because the seriousness of the war situation has now impressed itself upon the people. In my view, what happened immediately after Japan entered the war was not so much the result of criminal intent as of carelessness and a certain amount of justifiable ignorance of the law on the subject. The publicity which the Minister’s speech has received in the daily pres3 will cause any who may be contemplating offences to think twice. I hope that in the administration of this measure the authorities will be more concerned about the present than about the past.
.- I approve of the general principles of this hill, though I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) that the title leaves something to be desired. Such a title as “ Commodities and Services Exploitation Bill” would be more dignified. I regret that the Government has been so slow to mee certain requests that were made many months ago. The much neglected report of the Joint. Committee on Profits which was presented in October, 1941, contained the following paragraph : -
Schedule “ 1) “ to this report contains a list nf prosecutions instituted against traders, and the result of the prosecution in each case, ft has been represented to us that the penalties imposed are on the whole lighter than the offences justify. We do not feel it would be proper for us to criticize decisions reached by judicial authorities in relation to matters us to which they are the ultimate judges, but we think that where deliberate breaches of the regulations and orders are proved, it is in the public interest that such iiffuiu-.es should bc regarded as grave breaches of the law, and treated accordingly.
Seven months ago, in March, 1942, the committee, in its second report, made the following observations: -
In schedule “ D “ to this report we set out details of prosecutions between August, 1941, mid the third day of March, 1942. A perusal of this schedule indicates that the penalties imposed in many eases have not been heavy. Without detailed information of the evidence placed before the tribunal in each case, which is not within our knowledge, we are not competent to express any opinion as to the adequacy of the penalties imposed in such cases.
We entertain- some doubts whether the serious nature of offences against the regulations is fully appreciated throughout the community, and we think that this is reflected in the comparatively small penalties which at times are imposed. We again stress the view expressed in our first report that deliberate breaches of the regulations should not be regarded lightly, and we think heavy penalties are necessary to ensure that unscrupulous traders do not benefit at the expense of their rivals and the community by evading the obligations imposed on them by the regulations.
I turn now to the .second-reading speech of the Attorney-General, which may give rise to the impression that business firms in Victoria have been the chief offenders in profiteering. We all have heard a’ great deal about the case of the Myer Emporium Limited. Of the thirteen cases cited by the Attorney-General five concerned Victorian firms.
– They were not selected on that account.
– The -second report of the Joint Committee on Profits included a list of the first 45 prosecutions in Australia. Of these 32 concerned firms in NewSouth Wales and thirteen firms in the other five States. Possibly that proportion has been altered since the report was made, but my figures will correct any false impression that may have been left in the minds of honorable members by the Attorney-General.
– It would be interesting to know the number of firms declared in New South Wales and Victoria respectively.
– Two or three provisions of the bill are disturbing. The honorable member for Melbourne referred to the retrospective character of the legislation. Retrospectivity is a dangerous principle to apply in such .a measure as this. I am glad that the Attorney-General has intimated that he will accept the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment of an independent committee to report upon cases. The placarding of guilty firms introduces a very old principle of punishment. It is a return to the medieval practice of branding criminals on their forehead with a red-hot iron. If placarding should prove successful in preventing war-time offences m relation to marketing it could possibly be applied in some other ways.
– What about obliging non-unionists to wear a button?
– Or stringing an aluminium tag through their ears.
– I intended to suggest that employers and employees found guilty of participating in war-time lockouts and strikes might be forced to wear a button depicting the Japanese flag. The fixed penalties prescribed for offences are rather savage. A fine of £1,000 on conviction by a magistrate and £10,000 on conviction after indictment are extremely severe. The evidence submitted to the Joint Committee on Profits indicated that some business people, including proprietors of small country stores, had considerable difficulty in understanding the Prices Commissioner’s averaging system. The whole capital of such firms might not be £10,0,00, jet .such a fine would have to be imposed on conviction after indictment. The case of the Myer Emporium Limited shows that extremely complicated questions arise in relation to big firms. I have been told, at second-hand, that officers of the Prices Commissioner are now entering the departments of big business firms with the object of obliging the firms to make restitution of excess profits.
Some cases of real hardship have occurred. I have in mind .an Adelaide firm which was convicted of an offence. Its directors aTe a most honorable body of men. That firm has not made excess profits. In fact, it has been so jealous of its reputation for fair trading that it has not been able to pay an ordinary dividend to its shareholders for a number of years. The Prices Commissioner involved that firm in the loss of hundreds of pounds by his arbitrary action in relation to the price of tea, of which commodity the firm had large stocks. Later the firm was prosecuted and severely fined because it slightly increased the price of matches. My last information about it was that it was facing a world-shaking problem in relation to the price of carraway seed. The recent history of meat prices in Adelaide gives food for thought. A few weeks ago the Prices Commissioner pegged the retail prices of meat in the metropolitan area of Adelaide, but took no action in respect of the price of meat in country districts. Owing to the shortage of stock, the country butchers advanced their prices, and city butchers were required to pay lOd. per lb. for lamb which had to be sold at the pegged price of 8d. The result was that the public had to be satisfied with low-grade meat, although city butchering firms were losing from £20 to £25 a week. Ill-considered action may give grave inducement to so-called profiteering. Finally, a meeting of 350 butchers was convened to consider a proposal to discontinue operations. At the last moment the Prices Commissioner agreed to increase .the price of meat by Id. per lb., and the firms were able to continue trading.
Although I agree with the general principles of the bill, I wish to make reasonably sure that their application will not create a bureaucratic tyranny backed by savage penalties. I am glad that the legislation will deal with coupon frauds. There is a strong opinion in the clothing trade that frauds are being perpetrated in respect of clothes coupons. It is being said openly that clothes coupons may be purchased in Sydney for 12s. 6d. a sheet. I hope that the Government will investigate these statements. If they were proved to be true action should be taken against offenders.
Because of its importance I wish to say a few words about the future - a subject referred to by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner). The Prices Commissioner, the Joint Committee on Profits,, and many business firms, are much, more concerned about the future, than about the present. The post-war period will probably be one of falling prices. The Prices Commissioner has intimated that in such circumstances he intends to apply his averaging system with a downward tendency. That will lead to more danger of fraud than exists at present. To help firms through this dangerous period, when ruin may face many of them, the Joint Committee on Profits, after receiving a great deal of evidence from business people, advised the Government to take: steps to apply a proportion of current business profits to the accumulation of post-war credits, instead of taking the money in a straight-out tax. Labour members on the committee were so impressed with the strong case that was made out for postwar business credits that they signed the report on the subject I hope that the committee’s recommendation will receive the careful consideration of the Government.
Whilst I agree with the bill generally, I hope that some of its provisions will be amended. It is particularly desirable that the danger of a bureaucratic regimentation of business supported by a complicated system of control involving severe penalties shall be countered by wise parliamentary action. Hitherto the great majority of the trading community has co-operated splendidly with the Prices Commissioner. This point was dealt with as follows in the last report of the Joint Committee on Profits : -
We think it fair to say that the trading community in general’ has displayed a readiness; to co-operate with the Commissioner and his staff which is commendable and. has contributed in no small measure to the smooth working of an extremely difficult undertaking.
In view of that statement the Government would be most unwise to sacrifice the goodwill of traders by harsh injustices. If business people are assured that they will be fairly treated their present co-operation will doubtless be continued.
.- I approve of the bill generally. Every body recognizes the necessity for and the value of it. Such legislation is long overdue. Being unacquainted with legal procedure, I cannot determine whether any person, having been convicted of an offence, will have the right of appeal. I am particularly interested, because employees may be placed, in a false position by unscrupulous employers laying on. them the blame for any offence committed.
– The rights of appeal, in relation to this, matter will be those that apply to all Commonwealth law, namely, there will exist practically all the appeals that are open under State law.
– That is excellent. The provision that notice of a conviction shall toe displayed on the business premises of the- person or firm concerned is absolutely necessary. The proposed heading to such a placard is “Black Marketing Act”. I consider that that should be prefaced in large lettering by the words “Defaulter Under”. Otherwise, passers-by may conclude that the notification relates only to certain regulations. I would cancel for a period of three months the trading licence of any one convicted, were it not that such action might injure many employees who depended on the individual or firm for their livelihood. I am concerned about the proposal to broadcast particulars relating to offences and convictions. Under it, grave injustice may be done to innocent persons. The notice published in the Gazette should be the only statement that should go over the air. The right shouId not be given to any commercial broadcasting station to deliver a homily to the relatives of employees of the firms convicted. The power given to the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) to issue notices should be so restricted that the difficult statement shall be observed in the spirit and the letter. A broadcasting station that delivered extraneous matter in relation to a conviction or an offence should be made culpable also.
The “ declaring “ of the Myer Emporium Limited did not penalize but conferred a very great advantage on that firm, because the reduction of its prices in order to offset the excess profit of £250,000 enabled it to dispose of large stocks, and thereby obtain coupons wherewith it was able to procure fresh stocks at prices that were pegged, and thus obtain larger supplies of materials than its competitors. This legislation will act as a deterrent of profiteering. But there are hound to be anomalies in connexion with the classification of primary industries, liquid fuel activities, and, particularly, raw materials supplied by agents and warehouses.
– I support the general principles that are embodied in the bill, with the reservation made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) in regard to the appointment of a committee, and the objection to the legislation being made retrospective to February. The majority of the offences will relate to rationed goods, because no goods were rationed last February. During February, March and April, traders generally were in a most uncertain state of mind. They did not know exactly what limitation was to be placed on the profits that they could earn; nor did the
Prices Commissioner and his staff. Government utterances led them to believe that their profits were to he limited to 4 per cent., and that they would merely be receiving agents for the Taxation Commissioner in. respect of all profits in excess of that rate.
The bill implements some of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Profits, of which I arn a member. That committee made its first report in October last. It then mentioned the difficulty which the Prices Commissioner and his staff were experiencing. That was due in no small measure to the neglect of this Parliament to enact legislation giving effective control over prices. The Prices Branch has been functioning under regulations that have been amended almost every week. I learned from my work on the committee that the Prices Commissioner and hi3 staff were called upon to educate traders, merchants, manufacturers, and the public as to what was expected of them. I agree with the honorable members for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) and Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), that statutory enactments should be substituted for many of the regulations in order that the people may understand what is required of them. Tin; honorable member for Bourke said that price fixation had been one of the ridiculous failures of our wartime legislation. I am not quite sure what he meant. I regard it as one of the outstanding administrative departments operating under war-time legislation. 1 wish that some of the other war-time administrations were half as efficient and effective as the Prices Commissioner and his staff have been in carrying out the enormous task assigned to them. Members of the committee found that, they had the confidence of practically all the people with whom they were dealing. 1 believe that that state of mind still prevails throughout Australia. The commission has been remarkably efficient in preventing prices from rising. By reason of our policy, the task has been made much more difficult, because money has been poured into circulation and there has been a mad clamour to purchase goods in short supply. Members of the staff are well trained, and are not allowed to operate outside until they are thoroughly competent. The staff consists mostly of qualified accountants, and each, man is becoming a specialist in the particular branch that he has to investigate. As a member of the Joint Committee on Profits, I place on record my appreciation of the wonderful service they are rendering to this country.
I welcome this legislation, because it will deal with the wholesale profiteer and racketeer. I sincerely hope that those convicted of minor offences will be dealt with as they are at present. Because he fails to understand the regulations, a man may easily, though unconsciously, commit a breach of them. If there has been any failure of the administration, it would be entirely wrong to lay it to the account of officers of the Prices Branch. Rather should it be directed to those members of the judiciary who have dealt with prosecutions, because of the trivial fines they have imposed for what has been regarded as a serious offence. The statement of the penalties in this legislation will act as a deterrent such as has not existed in the past because of the leniency of police magistrates. I am pleased that the Attorney-General is prepared to accept the recommendations of the Leader of the Opposition.
– I congratulate the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) on the introduction of this measure, which is long overdue. Only by such means may profiteering and black marketing be prevented. A? previous speakers have pointed out, persons convicted in the past have been treated far too lightly. Evidence placed before the Joint Committee on Profits disclosed a large number of cases of not only overcharging but also fraudulent practice with the object of covering up overcharges that had been made. The fines imposed were unquestionably too light. The Attorney-General has cited one of the worst cases, that of R. Donaldson and Company, jute merchants, of Melbourne. This firm had two convictions recorded against it in respect of jute prices, and one conviction in respect of false returns. In each case, a fine of £5 was imposed, with costs amounting to £3 3s. I understand that the officials were engaged on their investigations for five months, checking the practices of the firm in order to obtain details that would enable them to launch a prosecution. The cost to the Government amounted to hundreds of pounds. Yet the total amount of the fines was only £15. That was entirely inadequate. Goods had been purchased prior to the war, and in an endeavour to mislead the Government inspectorsthe books were falsified in certain respects. Other cases of a similar nature were brought to the notice of the Joint Committee on Profits. The maximum penalty of a fine and imprisonment would be the just desert of a firm acting in that manner. I hope that if a firm is found guilty of such practices it will be dealt with severely under this measure. In this way, its punishment will act as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to offend. If the act be fearlessly administered from the start, I do not think that there is any danger that the AttorneyGeneral and his staff will be called upon to investigate a large number of cases. Indeed, it will probably be found that one will be able to count the number of offenders on the fingers of one hand. Thepractice of “ declaring “ a firm which has overcharged the public was never of much use because, although the firm was ordered to reduce its prices so as to return to the public an amount equivalent to that by which the purchasers had been overcharged, the trouble was that the money did not go back, to those from whom it had been taken. Unscrupulous firms were disposed to take the risk of detection and punishment, because the profits derived from overcharging were usually greater than the fine that was imposed. This matter was investigated by the Joint Committeeon Profits, which recommended that the amount by which a firm overcharged the public should be confiscated to the Treasury. That is now provided for under this measure, and thus one of the strongest inducements to profiteeringwill be removed. Indeed, it has been argued that it was no punishment to “ declare “ a firm, and to compel it to reduce its prices. For instance, a wholesale house which was compelled to reduce prices would probably secure increased business from those who were on the lookout for cheaper goods. Iri any case, I do not think that those firms which have been “ declared “ have suffered much as a result.
I do not agree with the honorable member for Melbourne that clause 8 of the bill should be omitted. The clause was inserted to deal with such firms as Donaldson and Company, which tried to falsify their books so as to be able to sell at a higher price. In my opinion, the falsifying of books may be a more grievous offence than that of overcharging. There can be no doubt of guilty intention when books are falsified, whereas overcharging may be an honest mistake.
– Cases of the kind to which the honorable member refers could be dealt with under the Crimes Act, apart altogether from clause 8.
.- This bill has met with the almost unanimous approval of the House, and any objections raised have been in respect of minor points only. I oppose the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) that a committee should be set up to advise the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) regarding prosecutions. There is already sufficient prospect of delay without the setting up of still another committee. I speak as one who comes from a distant State, and I know that it would make for delay if the particulars of an offence committed in Western Australia or in northern Queensland had, after being reported to the Attorney-General, to be then investigated by a committee.
I believe that the Prices Commission has done very valuable work; but it has, of course, like most of the other authorities set up since the war, made mistakes from time to time. The Deputy Prices Commissioner in Western Australia told me recently that he was snowed under with work, and that he could not get sufficient staff because the military authorities had called up his men. Repeated complaints have been made in Kalgoorlie that certain firms have been overcharging the public, and. receipts have been forwarded to the Deputy Prices Commissioner in Perth in support of the allegations. He, however, replied that the matters were too trivial to justify action. I regret the necessity for a measure of this kind, because he is a poor sort of man who will, at a time like this, take advantage of a scarcity of goods in order to rob his fellow citizens. Unfortunately, however, such persons exist; hence the need for this legislation.
– in reply - I thank honorable members on both sides of the House for their reception of this bill, and their suggestions for its improvement. I believe the bill will act as a deterrent, as it is intended to do.
After consideration, I have decided to adopt two of the suggestions which have been put forward. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) suggested that, before a prosecution was launched under this legislation, and before the Attorney-General gave his consent to it, he should be armed with an independent opinion on the facts for and against a prosecution. I appreciate what the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) said about the possibility of delay, hut I believe that a little delay at that point might prevent the perpetration of an injustice. I assure honorable members that, once a prosecution is decided upon, the proceedings will be very swift indeed. This measure will be reserved for clear-cut cases, and for bad cases. I have told the Leader of the Opposition that I propose to accept his suggestion. However, we cannot appoint a statutory committee for this purpose. I undertake to appoint a committee which will be representative of my own department, and of two other departments - probably the Prices Commission, and the department affected by the proposed prosecution. Action will be taken when this committee recommends to the Attorney-General that the case is of sufficient gravity to warrant proceedings under the act. This procedure will, I believe, be a safeguard, and will be of great assistance to me. In all instances the facts will be investigated carefully before proceedings are taken.
The other suggestion which I propose to adopt was put forward in the first place by the Leader of the Opposition, and concurred in by several other speakers, notably the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles). It has to do with the retrospective provisions of the bill. Whilst the proposal of the Government can be justified in principle, there are factors which make the deletion of the retrospective provision advisable. It is not as if persons who committed offences against the regulations prior to the passing of the bill will escape. They can still be dealt with under the National Security Act. If, as I hope, the bill becomes law without delay, magistrates will probably take a more serious view of some offences than would be indicated by the cases that I cited yesterday. In committee, I shall submit an amendment for the purpose of bringing the measure into force from the day on which it receives theRoyal assent.
With suggestions for the control of prices I shall not deal at any length, the Prices Commission has had a most difficult job, and on the whole, it has done good work for Australia. The suggestions of honorable members will receive careful consideration. Of course, the scope of the ‘bill is not confined to the prices branch, but extends, for instance, to rationing. Broadly, it relates to all the schemes which control the economic life of this country in these days of restrictions.
– Will this legislation cover attempts by traders to undercut their competitors?
– I can imagine cases that may be covered, but I do not propose to express an opinion upon the matter at the moment.
The honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price) criticized the term “ black marketing” in the title of the bill. But the term is not created by the bill; it already exists. It has come into use as the result of actual trading operations. Honorable members will recall that in the last war, the word “profiteering” was coined. When the title of the bill aptly describes the subject of the legislation, I consider that it is quite appropriate.
– The bill may operate very well, without being operated at all.
– In that paradoxical sentence the honorable member aptly sums up the principal object of the bill, namely, to prevent black marketing, by deterring persons from engaging in it. In a bad case, the special committee will certainly recommend prosecution, and the culprits will be severely punished. The deterrent effect of the bill will always remain.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This act shallbe deemed to have come into operation on the twentieth day of February, One thousand nine hundred and forty-two, being the date on which the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations came into operation.
– To carry out the assurance thatI gave to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Fadden) to remove the retrospective provision, I move -
That all words after “shall” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal assent “.
– I appreciate the spirit in which the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) has met the constructive criticism and suggestions of the Opposition. This is a most refreshing experience. The right honorable gentleman recognized that the amendments were submitted for the sole purpose of improving the bill. This legislation will have a distinctly beneficial effect on business morality. Whilst we hope that it will not be necessary to utilize the powers contained in the bill, we are pleased that authority has been given to enable action to be taken against dishonest traders.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 3 (Definition of black marketing).
– I move -
That the figures “ 1939-1940 “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following figures and words: - “ 1939 or under that act as subsequently amended “,
The reference in paragraph i of the clause is to the National Security Act 1939-1940. Some regulations were made under the National Security Act 1939 before it was amended. For that reason it is considered desirable to use the words .National Security Act 1939 or under that act as subsequently amended”.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Offences by bodies corporate).
.- During the second-reading debate, the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) assured me that prosecutions would not be launched against the directors or the staff of a company unless it could be proved that they were parties to the offence. As I interpret this clause, the moment a prosecution is launched against a company, the directors and officers will be involved.
– A director or an employee of a company will be liable only if he is actively concerned in the conduct of the business, and even then his defence will succeed if he proves, first, that he had no knowledge, and. secondly that he exercised reasonable care to guard against the occurrence of the alleged offence.
– That is the ordinary responsibility of such a person.
– That is true. The broader answer to the honorable member’s question is that the bill will be enforced only under the safeguards that I have mentioned, and will be applied only in bacl cases. It will not always be sufficient to penalize the company. A duty devolve.* upon each officer to avoid the commission of this kind of offence.
– The Attorney-General’s answer means an innocent person will not be called upon to prove his innocence.
– Only where the circumstances are peculiarly within his own knowledge.
– But there is a “saving” clause, in the bill.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.
Any person who does any act or tiling preparatory to the doing of any act or thing thi: doing of which would constitute the offence of black marketing shall be guilty of the offence of black marketing.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) suggested that the imposition of a penalty for “ any act or thing preparatory to the doing of any act or thing the doing of which would constitute the offence of black marketing “ is unnecessary and undesirable. After consideration, I agree with his contention. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) cited a good case for punishment, but that will be covered by the general provisions of Commonwealth law, which make an attempt to commit an offence itself an offence. I accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Melbourne, and ask honorable members to vote against the clause.
Clauses 9 to 13 agreed to.
Clause 14 (Particulars of conviction may be broadcast).
Dr. EVATT (Barton- AttorneyGeneral [3.41]. - I was impressed by the comments of the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) on the content of the announcement for broadcasting, but this provision will be utilized only when it is deemed necessary in extreme cases. I do not think that there will be any lack of publicity in the case of a conviction, but I hope that it will not be necessary to use the provision. The honorable member’s suggestion will receive consideration.
– Who will prepare the matter for broadcasting?
– A general power to regulate matters of that kind is contained in clause 18.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 15 to 19 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report * - hu leave* - adopted.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- 1 ask the Attorney-General to give urgent consideration to the necessity for consolidating all the regulations which affect the economic structure of the country, and to bring to the notice of all departments the advisability of consolidating all regulations. People complain to honorable members about their inability to interpret many regulations, and we have difficulty in advising them. These representations should be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.
– I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s suggestion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I am sure that honorable members will desire me to express to the father of the House, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) their felicitations upon his attainment of his 78th birthday to-day. The right honorable gentleman, as I have said, is the father of the House, but he had a parliamentary career before he came into the Commonwealth Parliament, and, uninterruptedly for 48 years, he has been a representative of the people, in either the Parliament of New South Wales or the Parliament of the Commonwealth. The facts of his career are so well known that I shall not dwell upon them, but I am confident that all honorable members will join with me in congratulating him upon having passed another milestone. We extend to him our sincere good wishes for very many happy returns of this day.
– In endorsing the sentiments voiced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), I express on behalf of the Opposition an appreciation of the kindly thought which prompted him thus to signalize the 78th birthday of our Deputy Leader, and Leader of the United Australia party, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The right, honorable gentleman has spent in public life more years than I havebeen on this earth. He has had a picturesque career. Australia is his adopted land, but none could deny that he has proved himself to be one of the best Australians that this country has had. I visited the right honorable gentleman this morning, and it was gratifying to find him happy and reading the morning paper without the aid of glasses. That he is in full enjoyment of his faculties we all know; in fact, he is more alert than are many honorable members of this House, and I include myself. The right honorable gentlemanis a national institution. He has had experiences, industrial and political, that very few men have shared. He has worked in most of the industries of Australia and travelled by all means of transport from wagon to aeroplane, and his journeys have taken him not only into the remote outback of Australia over dusty and sandy tracks but also to many places overseas. I am confident that all honorable members wish that he may be spared to enjoy many another birthday.
.- I welcome the privilege of associating myself with the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) in wishing the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) many happy returns of the day, and of paying tribute to his long record of distinguished public service. The right honorable gentleman has been an Australian legislator uninterruptedly for nearly 49 years. The Prime Minister has referred to him as the father of the House. He might almost be called the grandfather of the House, for the nearest approach to his record of continuous service in Parliament is the 23-year term shared by the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin), the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) and myself. Other honorable members have had longer service than we, but not without interruption. I have been closely in contact with the right honorable member for a great many years, both in active opposition and in collaboration, and I am able, perhaps better than most, to speak with authority about his service to this country. The right honorable gentleman has been a notable fighter for better conditions, especially of health and work, for the people. He has also been enthusiastically devoted to the cause of constitutional reform. In the last war, as Australia’s representative in the British war councils, he became not only an Empire leader but also a world figure. Australia has reason to be grateful for having had in its councils for so long a period such an enthusiastic, energetic, and far-sighted public man as the right honorable member for North Sydney.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.51 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he make available in each State library, State parliamentary library and university library a copy of the evidence tendered to joint standing and joint committees of the Commonwealth Parliament when such evidence is printed?
– I shall confer with Mr. President and Mr. Speaker with a view to. seeing whether it will be practicable to adopt the suggestion contained in the honorable member’s question.
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
t asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y. - On the 9th September, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 September 1942, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1942/19420925_reps_16_172/>.