8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What werethe total importationsin lineal feetofkinematograph films forthe year ending 30th June, 1921, from - (a) United States, (b) Great Britain, (c) France, (d) other?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What were the quantity and value of wax candles from Burmah imported into Australia for the five-year periods ending 30th June, 1910, 30th June, 1915, 30th June, 1920?
– The information sought is as follows: -
For five years ending 30th June, 1910, 354,085 lbs., valued at £6,573; for five years ending 30th June, 1916, no imports; for five years ending 30th June, 1020, no imports.
SenatorPRATTEN asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the total quantity of galvanized iron imported into Australia, together with its approximate value, for the years ending 30th June, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, and 1921 respectively?
– The informationsought is as follows : -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 26th July, vide page 10578) :
The Board may on its own initiative inquire into and report on any of the matters referred to in sub-section (2) of section 15 of this Act.
– I propose to amend the clause so that it shall read -
The Board shall inquire into and report on any matters referred to in sub-section (2) of section 15 of this Act when requested to do so by the Minister.
Sub-clause 2 of clause 15 says that the Minister may refer certain specified matters to the Board for inquiry and report; but the Committee last night placed a limit on the expenditure of the Board, and it is necessary that it should see that responsibility for the conduct of the Board is fixed on the Minister.
– We have settled that question.
– I intend that the Bill shall be so drawn that there can be no misunderstanding, and that the Government may not be able to say later that we agreed to a Bill allowing the Board to make an inquiry on its own initiative. If the Board had power to do that, it could travel anywhere inthe Commonwealth ; and yesterday the VicePresident of the Executive Council told us that it would cost £153 for the Board to visit Western Australia alone ? The taxpayers have a right to insist that the Minister, who is responsible to. Parliament, shall be answerable for the proceedings of the Board.
– Has not this Committee limited the expenditure of the Board to £4,000 per annum?
– Yes, but I wish to fix on the Minister the responsibility rightly belonging to him.
– The honorable member would make the Board a departmental one.
– The honorable Senator may put that interpretation on my amendments if he thinks fit. The taxpayers have a right to insist that an inquiry shall not be made by the Board except on reasonable grounds, and that the Minister shall be responsible for what is done. If the Minister receives com plaints, and finds that there is justification for the reference of them to the Board for inquiry, they should be referred; but the Board should not be continually touring Australia making inquiries and inflicting pin-prick annoyances on the manufacturers of the country. At the start, the Board may be rather energetic, with something of the thoroughness of the new broom, and at the end of six months it may have spent the sum set apart for its work.
– Like the Public Works Committee.
– The honorable member throws a brick at the Public Works Committee because he is not a member of it.
– Is that why you are throwing bricks at the Tariff Board?
– No. I think that Senator Reid will admit that Iwould make a useful member of the Board.
– It is too late. The Bill is against that.
– It is often the last hurdle that brings down the horse, and the Bill is not yet out of the Senate.
– Personally, I take no exception to the honorable senator; I think that he would make a good member of the Board.
– The amendments which I shall move will fix on the Minister direct responsibility to Parliament. Were the clause passed as it stands, the. Government, should the Board not prove the success that is hoped for, would have a way out; but Ministers must take full responsibility for the Board. The taxpayers have a right to know that there will be reasonable justification for every inquiry made by the Board. It may seem a simple thing to require a manufacturer to give evidence before the Board, but the preparation of his evidence might impose on that manufacturer weeks of labour. If the taxpayers are to be put to that expense and inconvenience there should be a good reason advanced for the investigation, and the Government should take the responsibility. If the Minister “ may “ refer matters to the Board, there must be subsequent provision in the Bill under which the Board “ shall “ inquire into those matters.
SenatorRussell.-If the Minister were to refer a question tothe Board, is it conceivable that it would refuse to inquireandreport?
– The Board might not deemit wise or necessary to make such an investigation.
– That is nonsense.
– The Commonwealth may not alwaysbe as fortunate as at present, either in the personnel or with respect to the political views of the Ministry. In this measure Parliament may be giving, some future Government scope to continually harass the commercial community. There must be a Board, and’ it is the duty of Parliament to make it effective. I want to be sure that the Government shall accept responsibility for their own actions, and for those of the authorities created and controlled by them., I move -
That; the words “may on its own initiative “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ shall.”
– Honorable senators appear to be curiously divided upon the Bill. One section of the Committee argues that the
Board should be, in effect, a departmental committee and independent of control or influence by the Government. Another section prefers that the Government should accept full responsibility for alldecisions following upon recommendations, of the Board. This clause would be ofno use if the amendment . were agreed to Senator Wilson may achieve the same object as that which underlies his amendment if a majority of honorable senators vote against the clause as it: stands. I remind the Committeethatthe matters to bereferredtotheBoard, under clause 15, are distinctly divided. There; is; a series concerning’ which the Minister “ shall “ refer to the Board, while there, are others which he “ may “ refer. With respect to the latter, if he does not refer them to the Board for inquiry and report, clause17 provides that the Board may take action upon its own initiative. It may be taken for granted that the Board: will not be composed of fools.
– I have known a lot of fools to be selected by the Government for such appointments.
- Senator Wilson has. succeeded, in placing a. limitation upon the expenditure which may be annually incurred by the Board, but it will not travel to another State at its own coat. Travelling expenses will be drawn, and these mustnecessarily,andin the ordinary course, be officially voted.
SenatorWilson. - The Minister admits that the Board must ask the permission of the Minister for Trade and Customs beforesettingout to makeinvestigations in anotherState,and,sincethatisso, why should there not be specific reference intheBill?
– The Government have accepted a limitation of £4,000 per annum. Not more than that sum will be spent withoutthe approval of Parliament., If the travelling expenses of the Board carry the total expenditure far any one year above the limit, parliamentary authority will be sought for the additional outlay. I call attention to the precise matterswhich the Minister “ may “ refer to the Board,butwhich,ifhedoes not do so, the Board may inquire into upon its own initiative; and, in making this reference I remind honorable senators that the Board will be acting always in the capacity of a watchdog. It may, upon its own authority, keep in touch with -
– Is that not wide enough ?
– The Board, no doubt, will keep in touch with matters: covered by those references throughout the whole of its activities.
– And. the Government will be keeping the commercial community constantly “on the. jump.”
– Not so. The Government propose to co-operate with thecommercialandmanufacturing community;Weintendtoassistthemtohelp themselves. The matters into whichthe Board may inquire of its own initiative are not matters upon which a decision can be reached in five minutes.
– But the honorable gentleman must admit that his argument is killed by the provision which is contained in paragraph d of sub-clause 2 of clause 15.
SenatorRUSSELL. - That paragraph provides that the Minister may refer to the Board for their inquiry and report -
Any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff.
That provision is merely intended to cover any primary industry. We cannot anticipate what will be the primary industries of Australia in ten or twenty years. Take, for example, the production of power alcohol. Recent tests have demonstrated that industrial alcohol which can be produced in Australia from a number of our natural grasses is more powerful than is petrol.
-It will kill a man quicker.
– I am talking of denatured alcoholfor power purposes, which is quite different from the alcohol that is produced for human consumption. Ifthis particular industry be established in Australia, we shall be able to produce alcohol which will be a third more powerful for the driving of internal combustion engines than is petrol. The production of this spirit would, therefore, become a primary industry in Australia, because we grow certain grasses from which it can be obtained. The provision in the Bill to which exception has been taken is of an all-embracing character, and is intended to cover any new industrial developments.
– I take no exception to it, save that I hold that tha Minister should accept responsibility for the actions of the Board.
– The Minister will do that. He may refer to the Board certain matters for their inquiry and report. If the members of the Board have any time upon their hands, I think that they should be required to inquire into the development of new industries in Australia.
– Reasonable conditions couldbeimposed in connexion with!’ such inquiries.
– To say that the Board shall have no power to initiate inquiries upon their own account is simply to treat its members as perfect fools. A very effective check has already been imposed upon their actions by limiting the total annual expenditure of the Board to £4,000.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council will admit that there have been numerous Boards which have been allowed to run “upon their own.”
– This Board has already been shackled by the limitation to which I have referred, and the honorable senator now wishes to still further hamper its operations. I understand that he has agreed to the suggestion that the effect of anegative vote upon this particular question will be the omission of theclause in its entirety.
– I am prepared to accept the division upon the first part of the amendment as a test vote. I ask honorable senators to adhere to the clause as it stands, because we regard it as an essential portion cif the Bill.
. -I am rather pleased that the Minister intends to stand by the clause. The Bill itself is rather a useless one,but the absence of this particular clause would render it still more useless. One reason which has been advanced forthe creation of the Board is that as certain Customs duties have been imposed for the purpose of protectingour manufacturers from outside competition, it is necessary to- insure, as far as possible, that our consumers shall not be charged unduly high prices. What individual ismost likely to bring a case before the Board? Obviously, it is the consumer.
– Howwill the clause give him that opportunity?
– It will certainly afford him an opportunity to present his case to the Board, whose membersmay thereupon inquire into it.
– Presumingthat they intend to inquire into that particular matter.
– Decidedly. Senator Wilson has stated that it is quite possible that the present Minister may not always be in office.
– There may be a more virtuous Minister.
– The time may come when it may suit the Minister not to have an inquiry into a certain matter. In such “circumstances, if this clause were deleted, the Board would not be able to inquire into that matter. Seeing that we are to have a Board, we should most certainly retain this clause.
– I cannot follow the honorable senator’s argument, seeing that he is of opinion that the Board will be quite a useless body.
– There are some honorable senators who desire to make the Bill as stupid as possible, with, a view to rejecting it upon the motion for its third reading.
– Who has made that suggestion ?
– Some honorable senators are of that opinion. As a mat- ter of fact, I am a little inclined to view the matter in that light, myself. But it is quite possible that we may not be able to reject the Bill upon the motion for its third reading. Consequently, we ought to make it as good a measure as we can. The clause is one of the few useful portions of the Bill, inasmuch as it will ensable the Board to discharge certain duties without reference to the Minister. I am very glad that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) is opposing the amendment, and I trust that his action will be supported by a majority of the- Committee.
– I regard this clause as vital to the Bill. In considering the amendment I ask honorable senators to pay due regard to’ the obligation which is imposed upon the Board by a subsequent clause, to. report comprehensively to the Minister each year concerning the operation of the Tariff and the development of industries. I cannot see how it .is possible for the Board to do that unless its members are free to. make such inquiries as they may deem to be necessary. If the clause be amended in the manner that is proposed, or if it be omitted, we shall divest the Board of every particle of independence, and practically reduce it to the level of a political body, which possibly will deal only with such matters as the Minister may consider desirable for party or other purposes to refer to it. By limiting the expenditure of the Board to such a small sum as £4,000 per annum, we have already shorn it of much of its usefulness; and if we amend the clause as now proposed we shall make it impossible for the Board to render useful service to the community.
– I desire to put before the Committee a further aspect of the amendment. I followed the Minister (Senator Russell) very closely in his reply to the mover of the amendment (Senator Wilson), but I think he failed to grasp the involved position of all the so-called productive and industrial helps to Australia that now appertain. I ask the Minister to consider how that situation is to be met. The mover of the amendment, so far as I can see, wishes to confine the ambit of the Tariff Board within certain well-defined limits. In the first place, he desires to prevent the Board from having a roving commission to do anything it pleases, quite apart from any instruction issued to it by the Minister. As * ‘ the clause stands, the Board on its own initiative, subject to the limitations imposed by the amount set apart for its purposes or such other votes as may be passed by Parliament, may inquire into anything it pleases.
– Subject to the limitations imposed by the Bill.
– Subject to the amount now placed at its disposal, and secondly to the limitations of the additional amounts that will be placed at its disposal, and, of course, subject, always to the limitations of the Bill. I draw attention, however, to the relation which this clause has to sub-clause 2 of clause 15, my object being to put before honorable senators an aspect of the question that has not altogether been foreseen. We already have a Commonwealth Board of Trade presided over by Senator Russell, and of which the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) is a member. Mr. Whitton, the Comptroller-General of Customs, is secretary of that Board, and at times Major Oakley has acted as secretary.
– Whilehe was Acting Comptroller-General.
– That is so. One of the functions of the Commonwealth Board of Trade is “generally to consider and advise the Government upon all matters affecting the trade and industry of the Commonwealth.”
– That may be amended. The Board of Trade is a purely honorary body, and we shall amend its constitution if the Tariff Board is to relieve it of Tariff matters.
SenatorPRATTEN.- We have another institution, also under the control of the Minister for Trade and Customs. I refer to the Bureau of Commerce and Industry, which is presided over by Mr. Stirling Taylor. One of its functions is the encouragement of new, and the further development of established, industries. In order to amplify the statement of. its functions, I would refer honorable senators to the annual report of the Bureau for 1920. The first part of it deals with general matters; the second with proposals in connexion with the development of the woollen manufacture industry; while the third part, much to my surprise, is headed “ General Instructions to Australian Trade Commissioners.” I thought- that, so far, we had only one Trade Commissioner. It will be seen from this report that the Bureau covers almost the entire ambit of the second part of clause 15 of this Bill. There is yet a third institution already in existence, namely, the Bureau of Science and Industry, of which Mr. Knibbs is the Director. This, again, is under the administration of the Minister for Trade and . Customs. Its work, amongst other things, comprises the collection and dissemination of information regarding industrial welfare and questions relating to the improvement of industrial conditions. I noticed in the daily press the other day a statement that it was hoped that at an early date Mr. Knibbs would report upon the question of the development of manufactures or industries within the Commonwealth during recent years. In this Bill we have provision for a fourth institution, to which is to be . allotted duties exactly- agreeing with those I have mentioned as being carried out ‘by three
Boards or bureaux already in existence. Thus, unless- this amendment is carried - unless there is some control exercised by the Minister - the new Tariff Board may of its. own initiative overlap and duplicate a good many of the activities already being carried on by these bodies.
– That is absolutely so.
SenatorPRATTEN. - That is the point I wish to make.
SenatorCrawford. - But it may do that only to the extent provided for in sub-clause 2 of clause 15.
SenatorPRATTEN. - I would remind my honorable friend that paragraph d of sub-clause 2 of clause 15, read in conjunction with clause 17, provides that the Board may on its own initiative inquire into and report on “ any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff.” Is there not likely to be some overlapping as shown by me?
– The blowfly pest, which is among the matters being inquired into by the Bureau of Science and Industry, is not mentioned in the Tariff, but it is one of the most important questions affecting the meat industry to-day. Neither does the Tariff deal with the question of freight.
SenatorPRATTEN.- I am talking, not of the blowfly pest or of freights, but about the overlapping that is likely to take place unless the amendment is carried. I have not risen in any spirit of unfriendliness to my honorable friend in this connexion, but only to justify the amendment. If we are to have three or four sub-departments or sections of the present Customs Department, presided overby the Minister, all in some respects doing practically the same work, is it not better to pass a Bill under which the discretion of the Minister shall be exercised in connexion with a roving Commission ?
– And the Minister would probably in a single memorandum refer all these matters to the Board.
– Then what justification is there for the remaining activities to continue? All this confirms again and again the attitude taken up in this Chamber, that duplication may take place and money may be wasted. If the clause remains as it is, there may possibly be a
Tariff Board; an Institute of Science and
Industry, a Bureau of Commerce and Industry,: and a Board of Trade inquiring about similar things at the same time. I put that as a possibility in connexion with the established Commonwealth activities.
.- This is one of the most important, clauses of the Bill. Honorable senators have decided that there shall be a Tariff Board.
-brockman. - Not yet.
– They have accepted the Bill- so far with very slight amendment. We have to deal with the Bill as we find it, and cannot anticipate events’. Up to the present the Committee has accepted the principle of establishing a Tariff Board. I want to see it made as effective as possible. I am just as anxious as the mover of the amendment’ for economy, and just as keen on it aa is any other honorable senator, but there are two ways of advocating it. One may advocate a reduction which may not lead to economy at all. The fact of saving £100 here or there on certain items, if it means incurring expenditure which will bring in no return, cannot be classed as economy. I not. only want to see the Bill’ made as effective as possible, but I want it administered as economically as possible. By a. previous amendment we have taken out of the hands of the Minister “the control of the aggregate expenditure, by fixing a limit of £4,000 per annum. This clause gives the Board the power on its own initiative, to inquire into certain’ matters which are absolutely vital. Not even the mover of the amendment could suggest that the four paragraphs in sub-clause 2 of clause 15are not essential to the whole procedure. We must retain them, . and the Bill, gives power to the Board to initiate inquiries under them. I take it that whoever are appointed members of the Board will- be competent.
– There has been a lot of talk about this, but. it does not lead to much, because the Board can approach. the Minister, if, necessary, and he will request them to make inquiry.
– If the Board make the inquiry without consulting the Minister, should this amendment be carried., they willgo beyond their powers.
– But the honorable senator has already taken: away from the Minister . the responsibility as. to the amount of money . to be- spent, annually, by the Board . He-said,” We will decidethe amount.”
– Is not that a wise precaution?
– Yes, and I supported it; but let us be consistent, and f ollow the lead which the honorable senator set yesterday. Let us refrain from putting onthe Minister an unnecessary responsibility: We appoint the Board in order that we may have; as far as; possible,, an effective-Tariff, and if we rob the Board of the power of- initiative we shall practically clip- its wings, and cannot expect it to do. the good work that would otherwise be- done. I would not give the Board full power in every direction,- but the four paragraphs in sub-clause 2 of clause 15 are essential, and every inquiry under them which can be initiated by the Board must have a direct relation to the Tariff. Although Senator Pratten has, on the- face of it, made out a fairly good’ case in justification of the amendment regarding the possibility of duplication: of work, I claim that, although there may be some duplication, that does not justify the carrying of the amendment. If the Bureau of Commerce and Industry are engaged- on an investigationinto certain phases of trade and commerce in Australia, and the Tariff Board’ is brought into existence by the passing- of this Bill, surely- the intelligence of the members of the Board will- prevent them from making an- inquiry in exactly the same direction . They, will be able, to get. thedetails to. a certain point from the work of the Bureau, and. deal in their inquiry with the evidence obtained by the Bureau only as it affected the Tariff’. Senator Pratten. - Would it not be an exception to find one Government Department taking any notice of what another is doing?
– This is not going to be a Government Department in the ordinary sense of the term .
SenatorDrake-Brockman. - What else is it ? It is not a private Department.
– In the early stages of the consideration of that Bill, numbers of us showed our opposition tothe Board beinga departmental, Board, and we have the. Minister’s assurance that it will not be.
SenatorDrake-brockman. - It . will be a Department.
– It will be a. very differentkind, of Board . from what . is usually known as a departmental ‘Board composed of -public servants. I take it that the best brains available ‘will .be secured for the -purpose, and I have .sufficient confidence in -the Government to be sure that they will not appoint men who will duplicate work unnecessarily. If work is duplicated, we can find it out .by the very first : report furnished to Parliament, and then Parliament will be in a position .to amend this legislation.
– Why wait?’ Why not -make sure now that there will be no duplication ?
– I do riot want to wait. I wish to make the Bill as effective as possible. I would be only too glad to support Senator Wilson, or any other honorable senator, in an amendment which I thought desirable; but I feel that if this amendment were carried it would practically destroy the possibility of effective work being done by the Board.
– The Board can make any inquiries that the Minister thinks desirable.
– We -were talking a little while ago of all Ministers being overburdened with work, and there is no doubt they’ are. We advocated that they should be relieved of a certain portion of their work, and to that end limited the expenditure of the Board ; but now we are attempting to impose on the Minister an extra burden. We are ignoring the fact that we can reasonably anticipate the appointment of a Board composed of men who will know their work, and that whatever they do will be in the direction, not of duplication, but of original inquiry into matters which can ,-be intimately connected only with the working of the Tariff.
Senator SENIOR (South Australia) [3.52J. - I do not -agree with Senator Benny that .the amendment will in any way -strengthen the ‘Bill. According to clause 15, there are a -number of matters which the Minister must refer to the Board for report, and then, in sub-clause 2, -there, is a further subdivision of matters all having relation to the Tariff, on which, the Board must report. In the clause under discussion, it is provided that the Board may act of its own volition, while clause 18 sets forth that the Board shall present an annual report covering the whole of their transactions. The effect of Senator Wilson’s amendment is to deprive the Board of any power of initiative, and to provide that the motive force must come from the Minister. Whether the Board acts on its own volition, or at the Minister’s request, the Minister will have to take the responsibility.
– Not at all; if Parliament give the Board power to act on its own initiative, we cannot hold the Minister responsible.
– If the Board is to do nothing except when moved by the Minister, it will be useless.
-Because there might just as well be three departmental officers without any Board - one to look after the incidence of taxation as affecting the -revenue, another to pay attention to the effect of taxation as affecting industries in Australia., and so on, no one being empowered’ to look at the subject as a whole. I point out to Senator Pratten, what he seems to have forgotten, that it is quite possible for one circle to enclose several other circles, as a glance at the face of his watch would show. That honorable senator desires to bring all these Boards together, though each looks at the matters for inquiry from a different angle. “The Tariff Board must be seized of .the effect that the Tariff has on Commerce, industry, and manufacture, atd it has to take a larger and more general view than that taken by any other Board. I am not going to deny that it might be better to have one measure dealing with all these bodies, but we are now dealing with only one, and must take things as they are, and not . as we would like them to be. As I say, the adoption of Senator Wilson’s amendment would take all initiative away from the Board, and leave the Minister burdened, as he is to-day, with an immense” amount of work that should be done by his officers, or by some Board; indeed, the amendment makes the Board ineffective,’ and we might as well do without one, and save £4,000 per year.
– There is a way out - vote against the Bill.
– If the honorable senator does not like the idea of a Board let him vote against the Bill ; but, if there is to be a Board, we ought not to shear it of its strength and usefulness. The initiative of the Board is restricted distinctly to inquiry as to the effect of certain happenings in relation to the Tariff and the revenue.
SenatorWilson. - Paragraph d of sub-clause 2 of clause 15 is quite comprehensive - there is not much left out?
– If Senator Wilson will look at sub-clause 1 of clause 15 he will see that it is much wider in its scope than sub-clause 2. Sub-clause 1 has regard to the general aspect of affairs, while sub-clause 2 has relation entirely to the Tariff; and the proposed Board is a Tariff Board. I am surprised that Senator Wilson does not see that the Board is asked to concentrate itself on the effects of the Tariff in relation to, say, bananas - to what has been the effect of the duty on the revenue, and so forth; and it is in regard to such matters that the Board may act on its own volition.
– I ask the Committee not to accept the statement that has been made and repeated that the different Boards mentioned perform the same functions. Whiles that has been asserted by many speakers, there has been no endeavour to prove the assertion. This clause in its operation is strictly limited to the Tariff itself.
– The Bureau of Commerce and Industry is not limited in that regard.
– That Bureau was established simply for the purpose of Organizing existing businesses, and taking collective action in regard to overseas exports and the development of Australian trade generally; it is to deal with the marketing, and not the manufacturing of products. The Institute of Science and Industry has for its object the application of science to industry; and, as. I have said many times in my place here, lias, in the matter of the treatment of wheat, mainly through the efforts of a South Australian scientist, saved this country hundreds of thousands of pounds; it has prevented loss more than will be represented by the cost of the Institute in the next ten years. Let us be honest about these matters.
– That is an excellent institution, but it does not justify the Board proposed now.
– Scientists are not required on this Board, and yet it is suggested that all the Boards ought to be brought together. If I desire an investigation into the diseases of wheat, I do notgotoa Customs officer, but to a scientific expert.
SenatorVardon. - None of ushas made such a suggestion.
– Honorable senators have talked about appointing a scientist on the Tariff Board. Scientists should be appointed to Boards dealing with scientific questions, and business men associated with the trade and commerce of the Commonwealth should be selected to act on a Tariff Board. A scientist would not be worth 30s. per week on a Tariff Board.
– Why not deal with a bogy which does exist, instead of with one which does not?
– I am answering the point raised by Senator Pratten, who said that much of the work at present undertaken by different bodies could be performed by one Board. The Board of Trade, which is an honorary Board, has performed excellent work, and I believe 99 per cent. of its recommendations have been accepted by the Government. The members of the Board of Trade are busy commercial men, who do not receive any salary, and as their work is of an advisory character, reports are not published. The members of the Board of Trade have a lot to do; but if it is possible for the members of the proposed Board to undertake some of the work now performed by the Board of Trade, that will be done.
– If they are overaggressive no one will be responsible.
– The Government are always responsible.
– Ministers are always anxious to pass on the responsibility.
– Has the honorable senator ever heard of a Minister sheltering behind his officers? A Minister would be a cur if he shirked his responsibilities.
SenatorDrake-Brockman. - If Parliament places the power in the hands of some one else, the Government are not responsible.
– The Government always accepts the responsibility. There may be a slight overlapping in connexion with certain details, but it is unreasonable to suggest that the work of the Tariff Board should be undertaken by the Board of Trade, the members of which act in an honorary capacity.. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the Board of Trade should surrender some of its powers to the proposed Tariff Board. During a most critical period . the Board of Trade rendered veryvaluable service, and the value of its work has been generally recognised. I ask honorable senators not to support the amendment, because the simple issue is to give the Board power to initiate certain inquiries within the limitations prescribed in the Bill.
SenatorREID (Queensland)[4.4].As one who voted for the retention of the Tariff Board because I believe it can perform very useful work, I do not intend to support the amendment moved by Senator Wilson. In the two previous clauses the Minister has all the necessary powers to refer specific questions to the Board. Sub-clause 1 of clause 15 provides that the Minister shall refer certain matters to the Board for inquiry and report, and sub-clause 2 provides that the Minister may refer certain questions to the Board for a similar purpose. This is the onlyinstance in whichthe Board is given independent power to act, and that is why I intend to support the provision. The Board is responsible to the Minister for Trade and Customs. During the course of its investigations it may discover that inquiry is necessary in certain directions, and it should, therefore, have the authority to act on its own initiative. I desire to ask Senator Wilson on what information does the Minister act?
– It is difficult to imagine on what information the Minister does act.
– Any one who has had experience in approaching Ministers knows that the information on which he acts is supplied by his officers. . If the Tariff Board discovers information that may be of service to the Government it will pass it on to the Minister. I do not think any Minister would object to a Board submitting requests for inquiries if there were sufficient reasons, because the Board would be able to support its suggestions with evidence. There is such a thing as political influence.
– Would not the Board be subject to political influence?
– Members of the Board would be less liable to be influenced than a Minister who is a member of a political party.
– I doubt it.
– I do not. My political experience supports my contention that it does not matter how independent a Minister may endeavour to be, there are occasions when he has to consider questions of political advantage.
SenatorPratten. - Why not use the word “ expediency “ instead of “ advantage “ ?
– The honorable memtor can use whatever word he desires; but Ministers are at times subjected to pressure, and do certain things in consequence of political influence. Senator Pratten paid a very high tribute to the capabilities of Major Oakley, who, we understand, is to be the chairman of the Board ; and if a gentleman with the qualifications of Major Oakley is to occupy that position, he should not be compelled to act merely at the request of the Minister, but should be allowed some freedom. The Minister should be guided largely by suggestions of the Board, and in most cases would support the recommendations of experienced business men. Senator Wilson, apparently, wishes to kill the Bill.
– Theonorable senator isquite wrong.
-That is what the amendment means.
– I haveaccepted vote of the Committee in favour of a Board, and, as there is to be such a body, I now wish to protect the interests of the taxpayers.
– The amendment will not do that.
– I cannot remember the honorable senator voicing his disapproval of South Australia’s extravagance in the Northern Territory.
– This has nothing to do with the Northern Territory.
– Senator Wilson’s efforts to protect the taxpayers may be all right from his point of view, but it is a reflection on the Board to suggest that they will waste the taxpayers’ money, and that a Ministerial check is necessary to prevent them taking free trips. If the Board put up a fair ‘case, no Minister would refuse to adopt their recommendation. If a Minister acted in defiance of a unanimous recommendation by the Board, he would show that he was not fit for his position, because the members of the Board will have experience which in nine cases out of ten the Minister will not have.
– The honorable senator is making out a good case for the amendment.
– I. am defending the clause, and am trying to show how foolish is the effort of Senator Wilson to save the taxpayers’ money. His proposal will not help one iota. .
– I am a -little confused by the last two speakers. The Minister in charge of the Bill said that the Cabinet would be entirely responsible for the actions of the Board, but Senator Reid argued that the Board will be entirely independent of the Minister.
-Isaid that this clause will give the Board power to act independently.
SenatorRussell.- Only to initiate an inquiry. The Board’s report must be sent to the Minister.
– I desire to see the whole power retained in the hands of the Cabinet, who are responsible to this Parliament. If wegive to the Board the power proposed in the clause, and the Board should be doing something of which this Parliament did not approve, how could we stop them ? The Minister will have no power to discharge the members of the Board immediately.
– He will have power to reject their report.
– And to suspend them.
– That would be done only in a grave emergency. Parliament is imposing a high Tariff in the hope that it will stimulate manufacturing industries, and this Bill is brought forward for the purpose of strengthening the Tariff. What man would invest a lot of money in a new manufacturing business if there was always overhanging him a threat of interference by the Board, withthe possibility of being called before them and compelled to explain his business transactions ? Thatisthe policy that is being followed by Labour Governments, in connexion with their price-fixing devices, but it has been abandoned by allNational Governments. The proposalin this clause is nothing but a price-fixing device, which experience has proved a failure. The only influence that will cope with abnormally high prices is the law of supply and demand.
– We have not interfered with wool. We have fixed the prices with an upward, tendency, and that has saved the wool-growers this year.
– Yes ; but there was no demand for wool. When prices are high the position is different. I am sure we shall destroy entirely any good which might result : from the Tariff if we allow this Board to continually interfere with manufacturers, probe into their businesses, and drag them before the public. Any good that is derived from the high Tariff will be discounted in that way.
– Surelywe ought to inquire into the doings of a man like Collins.
– I do not wish to inquire into anybody’s business, and I know nothing about Collins. No good will result fromthis sort of motherly legislation by which’ Boards are appointed to inquire into Everything. Irecommend to the Ministerthe example of the
Committee of Public-. Works, which acts only on matters referred, to it by Parliament,, on the motion of the Minister’ for Works. Thus the principle of Ministerial responsibility and parliamentary control is preserved. The War Service Homes Commission is another very instructive illustration. That Commission is allowedto act on its own responsibility.
– The Commission can act, and has not to report to the Minister.
– And the Tariff Board would act similarly.
– No; the- Minister., and not the Board, would have the. power to act.
– We should follow the procedure adopted in respect of the Public Works Committee. It has done admirable work, but always on matters referred toit by the Minister ‘for Works. We do not wish to lose parliamentary control of the Tariff Board, but if we allow them to act on their own initiative, they will be absolutely out of our control. If we disagree with anything they do, we may take remedial measures, but the damage will Have been already done.
– Read sub-clause 3 of clause 18.
– But the manufacturer will have already been put to inconvenience in supplying evidence to the Board.
– Yes; and the manufacturer will have been- subjected to all sorts of disabilities. If the clause is agreed to as drafted, it will undo the whole of the good which we expect to be derived from the high Tariff.
– I regard clause 17 as quite unnecessary, and I shall vote for the amendment because the Minister has admitted that if it is carried he. will ask that the clause be struck out. ‘ The clause empowers the Board to initiate inquiry into certain matters specified in sub-clause 2 of clause 15, but their activities would be to some extent limited- by reason of the fact that we have restricted their expenditure in any oneyear to £4,000. These matters, however, may still be inquired into, because the Minister will, if he thinks they are of sufficient importance to be inquired into,direct the Board, to make an inquiry. into them,. Therefore,there is no virtue in retaining the clause as it stands, and I am surprised, after all that has been said about the duplication of the work of. Boards, that the Minister has not induced Cabinet to . come to some decision as- to what is to be done in respect of them.. I think we are entitled to some statement from the Government, on- the point after all that has been said in this chamber during the last week or two. .
– It would considerably shorten the discussion on this. Bill.
– Quite so. I shall support the amendment.
– Apparently, the purpose of the amendment is to limit the Board’s discretion to inquire into any of the matters set out in the. latter part of clause 15, that is to say, to limit its inquiries to any matter submitted to. it by the Minister of the day.. On the other, hand, we aretold that it is necessary to give the Board certain discretionary power in order to enable it to discharge its functions and fulfil the usefulness expected of, it. But. clause 15 and clause 17 seem on the face of them somewhat contradictory: Our object should be. to make the intention of Parliament as clear as possible. Nothing is more confusing in our Law Courts: than the haggling of lawyers as to what has been the intent and true purpose of: Parliament in passing certain legislation. There is nothing mandatory in the latter part of clause 15 declaring that when the Minister does refer certain things to the Board for inquiry and report the Board must take them into consideration, and inquire into them on the spot, and may not choose to conducttheir inquiry at a later date. It has. been well said by Senator Fairbairn that other Boards, have no option, but must inquire into matters specially referred tothem; and if it is the intention of the Government that this Board shall have no option, but must inquire into a matter specially referred to it, then that intention is very vaguely expressed in clause 15. The vagueness is confirmed by the fact that clause 17 arms the Board with discretionary power to act on its own initiative.
– Clause 17. merely refers to sub-clause 2 of clause 15, which, sets out certain clearly-defined subjects upon which the Board will exercise itsdiscretion in making inquries.
– Quite so; but; that sub-clause really contains the kernel of the whole position, because it includes a drag-net paragraph which says that the Minister may refer to the Board for their inquiry and report “ any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff,” leaving to the imagination suchan infinity of scope and space’ that.it is very hard to say what might not come under that heading. This drag-net paragraph is almost as expansive as the subject of a lecture I once saw advertised in London, “ The Universe and Collateral Subjects.” The power proposed to be given to this Board may not be quite so ramified as the scope covered by that lecture, but it is in the neighbourhood of it. It certainly leaves to the Board a power of imagination which I am not prepared to give it. We have had not only Boards, but also Ministers, with keen imaginations, and I do not think the interest of the public would bo served. very greatly by allowing these keen, lively imaginations to have full scope. I have been comparing previous legislation with the present proposal, and I find that the functions of Boards previously created to furnish reports have been laid down, as Senator Fairbairn has mentioned, and that any subject upon which thev were empowered to make an inquiry had first to be referred to them by Parliament or the Government of the day. These Boards have no option but to make the particular inquiry they are directed to make. If we had amended clause 15, and provided that the Minister must refer certain matters to the Board for inquiry, and thereupon the Board must do so-and-so, it would have obviated the necessity for clause 17 with so much ambiguity in it.
– Clause 15 covers important questions of policy which may be referred to the Board, but clause 17 merely deals with administrative matters.
– When we read clause 15 and clause 17 side by side, we find that one arms the Minister with power to refer certain things to the Board and the other empowers the Board to act on its own discretion if the Minister may make default in referring any matter to it. Is that hot so?
– Then it is a clear abdication of Ministerial responsibility.
– Of course, it is.
– Then, I do not want that. I am not anxious to see a Board created which will be superior to the Minister, and which in turn will be superior to Parliament, yet the Minister has admitted that this will happen.
Senator- Russell. - Ihave not. I merely say that clause 17 applies only to administrative matters.
– The language employed leaves no other conclusion to be drawn but that the Board can, on its own initiative, as Senator Russell has admitted, inquire into a matter, although the Minister has not referred it to them; and, as Senator Russell has also admitted, this simply means an abdication of Ministerial authority. I am not prepared to assent to this. This Parliament must be superior; and a Minister, as its servant, should be its responsible mouthpiece. No Board, no matter how wisely constituted, should be able to override a Minister, or rob him of that responsibility which is justly his as a servant of this Parliament. In fact, I am inclined to strengthen his position, and as, so far as I have been privileged to understand it, Senator Wilson’s amendment seeks to strengthen rather than weaken Ministerial responsibility, I am inclined to give it my support.
– Many attempts have been made to give a wrong impression as to the meaning of this clause. Clause 15 in the first part of it covers questions verging on policy, such as the operation of a preferential Tariff, and such matters, which must be referred by the Minister to the Board for a report. The latter portion of the clause deals largely with the administration of the ordinary- laws under the Tariff.
– Which the Minister may refer to the Board.
– Yes. If something comes under the notice of the Minister of an awkward nature, which he considers should be fully inquired into, he may immediately refer it to the Board for a report, and when he receives that report he may, or may not, act upon it. We pass on from that stage to inquiries into matters which are of an administrative character! The Board may be of the opinion that under a regulation a certain course must be taken. It, of course, could not amend that regulation, but it could report to the Minister that, according to the law as it stood, the position was such and such, and that, in the Board’s opinion, the law needed alteration. The Board could, too, determine of its own initiative to inquire what alteration was needed, and, after inquiry, could recommend to the Minister the alteration which it thought necessary in the interests of justice or departmental convenience.
– If the Board reported to the Minister that an inquiry was necessary, he would at once consent to it.
– I am sure that he would; but there is no reason why the Board should not immediately make the necessary inquiry on its own initiative. In doing that, it Avould not supersede the Minister, because it would have to report to him, and it would be the Minister who would be held responsible for any alteration of the law. The Board is only an advisory body. The “Wool Board was not interfered with by the Government, though we were at all times ready to give it any assistance that it might ask for. We entered into arrangements with other Governments on behalf of the Wool Board, but we did not interfere in any way with the internal management of the Wool Pool. Those appointed to the Board were appointed because of their expert knowledge, and the Government did not interfere with them in matters of detail.
– Perhaps that is why the Pool was such a success.
– It is. The Government do not desire to interfere in the affairs of these Boards; we desire that the experts appointed because of their special knowledge shall accept their responsibilities, and perform the duties devolving upon them. The Tariff Board has no power to take any action ; all it can do is to advise the Minister, who will be responsible for accepting or rejecting its advice, and must each year report to Parliament regarding the action he has taken on the Board’s reports. He may then be asked, “Why did you not do this or that?” The Board’s reports cannot be pigeon-holed, andParliament will have a full opportunity for discussing the
Ministerial attitude towards them. The Bill in no way takes power from the Minister to give it to the Board. The Board will not determine anything.
– It may determine for a manufacturer many sleepless nights.
– It may determine, in spite of the Minister, what job it will take first.
– The Board would not do anything in spite of the Minister. I have had experience of Boards. . The Business Management Board of the Defence Department often conferred with me, and I was glad to confer with it Sometimes I made suggestions to it, and was, given reasons why they should not be adopted, and sometimes I gave it reasons why its suggestions should not be adopted.
– Was not that a departmental Board? The Tariff Board is not to be a departmental Board.
– The Board to which I refer could make independent reports if it so desired; but it was always glad to confer with the Minister, and I was glad to confer with it. I hope that the Committee will allow the clause to remain as it stands. If the Tariff Board is to run to the Minister for Trade and Customs for instructions regarding every detail of its work, his time will be even more fully occupied that it is now.
– In my opinion, the Minister has not met the argument against the clause. I agree that, largely, though not entirely, the making of the proposed amendment would be tantamount to the negativing of the clause; but I am opposed to the Board having such wide powers of initiative in the matter of inquiry as the clause gives it. The Minister says that the Board should not run to the Minister for Trade and Customs about all kinds of minor matters; but the matters into which it may inquire on its own initiative are, many of them,. major matters of extreme importance to the people of Australia.
– The Board can only inquire; it cannot come to any decision.
– An important consideration is the fact that the clause gives the Board the right to determine the priority of its investigations. Subclause 1 of clause 15 specifies a. number of matters which, the Minister shall refer to the Board for inquiry and report, and sub-clause 2 contains a list of other matters, equally important and comprehensive, which the Minister may refer to the Board, or into which the Board may of its own initiative make an inquiry. What has happened in the administration of the War Service Homes Commissioner shows the danger of removing Ministerial control from a Department. The War Service Homes Commissioner was given very wide powers.
– He had power to act ; but the Tariff Board will have power merelytoinquire and report.
– The Minister for Repatriation could not, because of the way in which the War Service Homes Act. was framed, control the Commissioner for War Services Homes. This clause proposes to give to the Tariff Board very wide powers of initiative in regard to inquiries ; and to inquire is to act. The Board is to consist of two business men, and a departmental officer. The business men might care nothing for the authority of the Minister, and. be animated solely by the desire to do what is best for Australia. In these circumstances, the Board, on certain facts being placed before it, might, determine to make inquiry into, say, the general effect of the working of the Customs Tariff in relation to the primary industry of wheat production. The business members of the Board might be interested in this matter, though not pecuniarily.
– The- Bill would not allow them to deal with any matter- in which they were- personally interested.
SenatorDUNCAN.- Their interest might be in no sense personal’; but they might think- that the effect of the Tariff was to give the wheat-growers of Australia a rough spin, causing them, it might be, to pay too much for their agricultural machinery. The Board might, therefore, decide to initiate’ an inquiry into the effect of the- Tariff on wheatgrowing: Such an inquiry might engage it for sixmonths, requiring it to travel to the various States to ascertain the conditions oft the farmers, the cost of production, and the like:
– A Minister that would allow the Board to devote itself on itsowninitiative, for six months, solely to any one question, to thedisregard of other business, ought not to continue’ in office.
– The. Bill does not give the Minister, power to prevent such an inquiry. The Board might,have every justification for such an inquiry, as I have suggested; but, whilst, engaged in it, important matters of departmental administration might arise . with, which the Minister might wish it to deal, and it might decidethat those matters must await its pleasure.
– How long would’ a Minister stand that ?
– The Minister wouldhaveto stand it, unless he was’ prepared to go to Parliament, and say that he had determined to get rid of the Board, or of certain of its members.
– The Minister has power to immediately suspend members of that Board.
– Yes; but that would be- a very serious step- to take, and it would be better to- make it clear in the Bill that it is the- Minister, and not the Board, who shall, determine the priority of investigations.. We shall do wrong if we give the Board the right to say what inquiries it may make, whether the Minister likes it or not. In the best interests of the Government it would be wise to agree to the amendment. Acceptance would not harm the Bill, although the objection has been advanced that it would destroy it. The effect would really be to make the Board more workable, and control would be retained in the hands of the Minister.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out be left out (Senator Wilson’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . .1
Question so resolved, inthe negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 18 agreed to.
Clause 19 -
For the purposes of this Act any member of the Board maybywriting under his hand summon any persdn to attend the Board at a time and place named in. the summons, and then and ‘there to give evidence and to produce any books, documents or- writings in his custody or control which he is . required by the summons to produce.
– This clause should he prefaced by the phrase, “On resolution , of the Board.” It was probablynot intended by the Government that an individual member . should have the power, without consulting his colleagues, to summon a person to give evidence and produce books. I : move-
That the words “On resolution of the Board “ be inserted ; beforethe word “ For.”
– I welcome the amendment for the reason, among others, that its effect willbe to provide a quorum of two members.As a matter of convenience of course, a memberof the Board should haveauthority, with theconsent of his colleagues, to administer the oath to a witness. I suggest that the words proposed tobe inserted should follow the word “may,” so that the clause would read, “For the purpose? of this Act any member of the Board may on resolution of the Board, . . . summon any personto attend . . . .”
Amendment amended accordingly, and agreed to.
.- I suggest the wisdom of inserting a new sub-clause to provide that, upon complaint being madeto the Board under the terms of paragraph h of sub-clause” 1 of clause 15, and a person being summoned to attend a sitting of the Board, the accused should have the right to call upon the Board to send; for witnesses in his behalf. At present the accused may not subpoana a witness.
– Any individual in the community may volunteer to give evidence.
– But the Board may not see fit to hear- that witness.
Power should -be provided -whereby an accused person -would have the right to compel the attendance ofa witness.
– The practice of the Board will be to rely, as far as -possible, upon the voluntary attendance of witnesses. However, there is force in the -point raised by Senator Elliott that an accused person should have the same right as under the common law to subpoena a witness. It will be well to postpone further consideration of the clause until the Grown Law authorities have been consulted.
Clauses 20 to 22 agreed to.
Penalty : Five hundred pounds.
.-I desire to direct the attention of honorable senators tothe very severe penalty which is provided in this clause and -inseveral succeeding clauses. -As there are degrees of guilt, the penalties provided should be varied accordingly. I suggest that the penalty of £500 should be reduced to £100.
. -I am not an advocate of the imposition of severe penalties; but I desire to stress the seriousness of the offence for which the penalty of £500 is provided in this clause. I can scarcely conceive of a graver offence than the destruction by an accused person of incriminating documents which are in his possession for the purpose of defeating the ends of justice. The clause appears to me to be a thoroughly sound one; A man who defies the Board by refusing to produce any documents, books, or writings in his custody should be liable to a fairly severe punishment.
SenatorCrawford. - Is £500 the maximum penalty ?
– Yes; but for a technical offence an accused person may be fined only half-a-crown.
– I do not object to the clause if the penalty provided for in it is the maximum penaltywhich may be inflicted.
– Under our Acts Interpretation Act the penalties set out in any of our Statutes are maximum penalties.
– This provision is identical with the section in the Inter-State Commission Act, which gave rise to the action which was decided by the Privy Council, and to which I alluded yesterday. It is just about as ultra vires of our Constitution as that particular sectionwas declared to be by the Privy Council. However, the Committee have determined to insert in the Bill all these unconstitutional provisions, which will only serve to create a lot of work for legal gentlemen. From my personal standpoint that is the only satisfactory feature of the measure. At the same time, I should like the maximum penalty which is set out in this clause to be substantially reduced. At present it is big enough to frighten the small man and small enough to permit the large man to defy an Act of Parliament. A penalty of £100 inflicted upon a small merchant who has not the means to enable him to appeal to the Privy Council would be severe enough, whilst a penalty of £500 would cripple him. I therefore move -
That the word “Five” be left out.
– I do not think it is the desire of a democratic Parliament like this to impose extreme penalties. Whether a citizen be poor or rich he knows that under British law he has no right to defy constituted authority. The penalty of £500, which is provided for in the clause would not be inflicted upon the individual who merely rommits a technical offence as the result of ignorance. But we should be chary about substantially reducing the penalty in the case of a man who has important documents in his custody and who refuses to produce them when called upon to do so by the Board.
– I shall support the amendment. The impression which I have gained during the debate upon this Bill is that ac cording to the Ministerial view the Board will deal only with Tariff matters. That being so, even if no penalty were provided for the offence which is set out in this clause, sufficiently drastic punishment could be inflicted upon a recalcitrant individual by a reduction of the Tariff duties which have been imposed upon particular articles.
– Suppose that there are 100 manufacturers engaged in an industry, and that only one man refuses to produce the evidence’ which is’ required by the Board, should the other ninety-nine be penalized ?
– The members of the Board would be well able to arrive at a decision upon the evidence of the ninetynine, and they would not need to bother about the testimony of the one individual. But I would point out that the Board are not expected to make a criminal of any person.
– No. The man makes himself the wrongdoer.
– And for his misdeeds he is to be punished upon the advice of the Board, and through the recommendation of the Minister to Parliament. I do not like the proposed penalty of £500, and I. suggest that the maximum penalty should be £100.
– If the Committee are agreeable to accept a compromise I am prepared to reduce the maximum penalty by one-half. In the interests of justice I do not think that I can go farther.
Amendment agreed to.
– I am willing to accept the compromise suggested by the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell), and therefore I move -
That after the word “Penalty:” the word “ Two “ be inserted, and that after the word “hundred” the words andfifty “ be inserted.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 24 -
If any person appearing as a witness before the Board refuses to be sworn . . . or to answer any question relevant to the investigation ……. he shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty : Five hundred pounds.
Amendment (by Senator Drakebrockman) proposed -
That the words “ Five hundred “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “Two hundred and fifty.”
– Is provision made as to the secrecy of evidence given before the Board?
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Senator PRATTEN (New South “Wales) (5.20]. - It is provided in sub-clause 1 of clause 25 that -
Where any person has on any day done or omitted to do something and his act or omission amounts toan offence against either of the last two preceding sections, and does or omits to do the same thing at any meeting of the Board held on some other day, each such act or omission shall be a separate offence.
This is a very drastic provision, and I would ask the Minister to insert after the word “ day “, last occurring, in subclause 1 the words “ for which he has been duly summoned “. My desire is merely to safeguard any person from being declared in his absence to have committed an offence.
– The necessary safeguard is provided in clause 23, which refers to “ any person served with a summons to attend the Board “.
– But some misunderstanding might arise as to the attendance of witnesses at an adjourned meeting of the Board.
– The person concerned would be punishable only when he was unable to give a reasonable excuse.
– I raised the point to secure greater clarity, but if the Minister thinks the provision is already sufficient safeguard, I will not press my proposal.
Amendment (by Senator . Drakebrockman) proposed -
That the words “ Five hundred “, lines 7 and 8, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Two hundred and fifty.”
– The maximum penalty for an offence under clause 23 or clause 24 is £250; but here we are providing under the clause as it stands for a minimum penalty of £500 and a maximum of £1,000. The point that I wish to make is that whereas a magistrate would be at liberty to impose a fine of £5 for an offence under clause 23 or clause 24, in this case no discretion is allowed him in so far as the minimum penalty is concerned. Under the clause as it stands, be could not inflict a fine of less than £500, or under the clause as proposed to be amended a fine of less than £250. I think it would be sufficient to provide for a maximum penalty of £500, leaving to the discretion of the Court the determination of what penalty within that limitation should be imposed in any case. I would also ask whether action is not to be taken in regard to theprovision for imprisonment.
-Bbockman. - We can deal with that later, but to do what the honorable senator suggests it would be necessary to secure the recommittal of the clause. We could not go back.
– We will agree to recommit the clause so as to enable the Committee to accomplish what it desires.
– Very well. Does that promise apply also to the question of imprisonment?
– The Committee will be able to deal with the whole clause on recommittal.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 26 -
Nothing in this Act shall make it compulsory, for any witness before the Board to disclose to the Board any secret process of manufacture.
– I should like the Minister in charge of the Bill to give us some information in regard to this clause. It would appear that it is designed to take away from the Board power to compel a witness to disclose a trade secret, but it is silent as to the right of the Board to divulge information given to it by witnesses, the publication of which might injure them in their business. The clause would appear to be too narrow in the one case and too wide in the other. The importance of the Bill has been stressed in another place as well as here. The
Board will cover -the whole of the ramifications of industry throughout the Commonwealth.
-. - I -would- invite the honorable senator to read clause 9, which deals fully with the point raised by him as ‘to the non-disclosure -of information given to the Board.
-Clause 9, which deals with the oath or affirmation of allegiance and office, imposes the usual stereotyped injunction. It requires every member of the Board to swear that he will not divulge any information furnished to him or to the Department in connexion with matters which are being or may be dealt, with by the Board. It also provides for -every member of the Board taking an oath that he will not divulge such information except in the course of his duty.
– So that a member of the Board “ in the course of his duty “ could tell the Minister .everything he had learned, and the Minister “ in the course of his duty.” might tell the House of it.
– That is so. It is clear from clause 26 that no power is given to the Board to obtain- a trade secret from a witness. The Board, so far as the trade and industry of the Commonwealth are- concerned, can exercise powers which vitally affect the interests of all the people engaged in them. Still, it has not the power to inquire into a trade secret, if that should become necessary.
– It is not so much trade secrets as the secret processes of manufacture. One manufacturer may ha.ve -evolved some process which is peculiar to the industry in which he is engaged as the result of his own inquiry and brains. Surely you would not make him ‘throw it open to all his competitors !
– There is no virtual or substantial -difference between a trade secret and a secret process of manufacture. While I do not know what the exact functions of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) are, I venture to say that he has very often to be put in possession of trade secrets before he can hold the scales of justice fairly between contending; parties. This- Board is to be his right hand, his adviser^ but the Bill gives the Board no power to do what the Minister may, I presume, already do. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act, passed in 1904, and amended eight times since?, contains a provision- ‘empowering the Arbitration ‘Court to obtain trade secrets if the purposes of the Court so require, but it .also -enjoins on the Court the observance of secrecy ‘when put in possession ?of such information. This Bill creates a body which is -practically superior in the field of industry to the Arbitration Court, but it ‘does not give it the same -powers. We deny to the Tariff Board a power which we have already cheerfully conceded to the Arbitration Court, and confirmed on at least, ‘eight separate occasions. At the same time, -we give -the Board, either by implication or by failure to provide the contrary, an extra power to divulge secrets in defiance of the wishes of the party concerned in such a way as may ruin him. We should put both bodies on the same footing in both respects in the public interest. The public interest will often demand the disclosure of trade secrets to the Board, and demand also that the Board shall preserve inviolable silence about them.’ The .public interest stands supreme, and no trade secret should be withheld from the Board; but the Bill allows it to be withheld, even if the public interest requires the contrary. The Bill is drawn in a slipshod way, and is so sparing in the use of language, in this instance, .that w.e can well afford to substitute the plain , and unambiguous language of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I urge the Government to take into consideration the advisability of doing so.
ji5.3’7i). - The functions of a ‘Board such as this and of an Arbitration ‘Court, are entirely different. A manufacturer using a -secret process may be making large profits and paying lower .wages .than he should, and the Arbitration Court should have the right to know .it. I was .once the champion rabbit skin-man in Australia in handling rabbits that were wanted for export by the British Government, mostly for hospitals, and on one occasion I had a dispute .with a ‘hatter… I suggested that we should go -to the Denton Hat Mills to settle the point; but when we. got there they said to me, “ We will gladly admit you, senator, and give you any information at our command, and even let you see one of our machines for treating rabbit-skins - a machine that no other hatter in Australia possesses.”
The otherhatter recognised- that that was quite fair, and’ waited until I, had inspected themachine and seen itworking. We ought not to publishbroadcastinfor- mationto secret processesofthatsort among hundreds of trade rivals. The Patents.Actgivesinventorsallsortsof privileges to, protect them . An the useof now and secret processes. . The protection given: to, a man. who makes, an original discovery inchemical lines is wonderful. A manufacturer who. has. greater enters prise than his rivals, and. invents ways to increase his production, ought not to be compelled to . publish the details, to all his trade rivals.
– What is done in the Arbitration Court, where power is given to the Court to ascertain trade secrets ?
– Only so far as they relate to the question of wages. If a man, by the use of a machine, reduces the cost of production of an article from 20s. to 14s., the other side has aright to ask for particulars of the cost of production in relation to wages. If a man makes a big profit in that way, he should consider his employees. This is an entirely different matter. The object is to prevent information reaching trade rivals through loose publication or disclosure by individual members of the Board.
– What about a further provision about publishing, information which may affect a man’s business?
– The members of the Board, will not do that ; they will be pledged to secrecy.
– They may disclose it in their report. (Senator RUSSELL. - The honorable senator should look at clause 9.
– If. they are pledged to secrecy, you must accept their report without question.
– Not necessarily. The report goes officially to Parliament. Senator Wilson. - You can call on traders to give this information to Parliament. Parliament is not very likely to treat itas private, is it ?
– I shouldsay not ; but the Minister would probably ask that certain things should . not be publiclyreported, and Parliament would respect his wishes.
– There is. in the Bill no power to enable the Board to get a tradesecret.
-Under . clause 9 the members of the Board pledge: themselves not to divulge any information furnished to them or to- the Department,except in the course of their duties, in connexion with the matters, which are being, or may be, dealt with by the Board. The exception is made to enable, the members of the Board to discuss the information across the Board table, but that is very different from publishing it broadcast for the information of business rivals. The Minister is free to do what ha likes; but I have never known any Minister to be charged with such lack of discretion as to drag a man’s secret principles of manufacture into open discussion in Parliament. I do not believe Parliament would tolerate such conduct from any Minister. I hope no amendment will be made in a clause which, after all, . seeks to do the fair thing by protecting the progressive and inventive citizen. The established practice of all civilized countries is to- encourage the inventor and the man of enterprise.
.- I hope that the Minister in charge of the Bill (Senator- Russell) will not go quite so far as Senator Lynch desires, but that he will see the desirability of acceding to thelatter part of the proposal. I suggest that a new sub-clause be added providing that no evidence relating to the profitsor financial position of any witness shall be disclosed except to the Board, or published without the consent of the person entitled to the non-disclosure. That would eliminate inquiry into any trade secret.
– The clause as it stands is more comprehensive- than the new sub-clause suggested.
– The clause refers to secret processes, but not to the financial position of airy business, and it might be of great importance that the finances of a business should notbe published.
-The object of the Board is to inquire whether a manufacturer is making excessive profits, and if he is the fact ought, certainly, to be pub- lished The publication of such a fact is the mosteffectivewayofstopping profiteering,thepublicwilldotherest
– But a man might be absolutely ruined by the disclosure of the financial position of his business.
– The Board will have no object in ruining any man. It is not appointed to inquire and report whether or not a man is in financial difficulties ; the whole conception of the Bill is co-operation to help the manufacturing industries of Australia.
SenatorWilson. - I think it is a queer sort of help.
– Many of us have doubts on the point.
– If a manufacturer is “ deadbroke,” the Board will very likely report in favour of increased duties, in order to enable him to earn a decent living.
– And in order to convince Parliament that higher duties are necessary, the Board may deem it to be its duty to publish all the information it has obtained relating to his financial position. If a manufacturer is willing to have such a disclosure made, then it is all right, but he ought to be the judge.
SenatorReid. - If a manufacturer is making excessive profits, he willn ot agree to the publication of the fact.
– The same remark might be made in relation to the Arbitration Court. I am quite prepared to support Senator Lynch if he moves an amendment of the kind, relating to secret processes.
– I entirely agree with the Minister that the clause should be accepted as it stands. I fear that Senator Elliott has, to some extent, misconstrued the meaning of the provision, which is really intended to protect the manufacturer from being compelled by the Board, under any circumstances, to disclose any facts relating to his secret processes, if the disclosure may be inimical to him. It will be remembered that within the last three or four years, in spite of parliamentary enactments, Mr. Knox, the manager of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, successfully defied the Inter-State Commission, and refused to disclose secret processes, which had cost much money and research to discover, onthe ground that the disclosure would seriously prejudice his company. I again- point out that this Bill is connected with the Tariff and all matters appertaining thereto ; and witnesses, I take it, will be called for the purpose of recommending either a raising or a lowering of the duties. If a witness is an applicant for higher duties he will, of course, be willing to give the fullest possible information in support of his case ; and if he be called by the Board, with a view to showing that he is extracting too much profit from the community, and he refuses to give evidence, that refusal will, more than anything else, be likely to prejudice him. I think that the clause should be carried in its entirety as a very proper one in a Bill of this sort, in viewof all the surrounding circumstances. What would bo the good of a Board asking a manufacturer how he gets the glossy sheen on his hats or how he gets the beautiful colour on his biscuits, and so makes them that they retain their freshness over months; or whatrecipe he uses in making his beautiful marmalade? These are the secret processes, I take it, contemplated in the Bill.
– I am afraid that the Minister has either not got the “hang” of my contention, or is trying to mystify the position. What I said was that we have created, on the one hand, an Arbitration Court, to which any fifteen men who form an industrial organization ‘ may apply. On eight occasions that Act has passed through Parliament and has been amended in various particulars, but one section has remained untouched. We have armed that Court with power to ask for and obtain information regarding tradesecrets, but - and this is the proviso that the Minister (Senator Russell) did not emphasize- those trade secrets must not be made public property except for the express purposes of the Court. Power is also given to the Arbitration Court to call for the disclosure of the financial facts, with the proviso that, if the parties to the suit think that it would be injurious to their interests, the Court is not free to make the facts public property. If this Board is of the importance that the Minister asserts, I do not see why it should be put on an inferior plane as compared with that of the Arbitration Court.
– The Arbitration Court is presided over by a Judge, whereas on this Board there will be two outsiders.
– I am not going into a detailed comparison of the two bodies, but the section in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to which I refer has stood the test of time. The Board to be created under this Bill is armed with no. such power. The Board has no power to obtain any trade secret, but it has the power to make public financial facts relating to those who come before it, though the disclosure may be prejudicial to them, and they may not be consenting parties. That is where I say this Bill is wrong. Clause 9, to which Senator Russell has referred, is merely the stereotyped provisionwe find in every Act of Parliament, namely, that for the purposes of carrying out the measure certain information shall be kept secret; but the Board is given discretion whether it make the information public or not. I contend that the Board should not have this . discretionary power. In the Arbitration Court, as I have pointed out, it is. left to the parties to say whether the financial side of any dispute shall or shall not be published; and I wish to open the eyes of honorable senators to the manifest discrimination made between the proposed Board and the Court. The public interest requires that everytrade secret shall be made known, although not made public property.
SenatorPratten. - It would bo unfair to the business community.
– The honorable senator is entitled to his opinion, which I respect; but it has been the deliberate intention of this Parliament to act in a manner directly opposite to that suggested by the honorable senator. If he believes that the withholding of a trade secret is in. the public interest, I flatly and totally disagree with him, because the public interest in this country must remain supreme. Inthis clause wo are providing that a trade secret shall be withheld, and that is detrimental to the interests of the people. The disclosure of trade secrets has been adhered to in the past; but we are not doing it in this instance, because the Board will not be armed with sufficient power to compel witnesses to disclose secret trade processes. The Minister (Senator Russell) slid over various pointsand emphasized the danger of making certain features public property.
– I did not.
– The Minister referred to rabbit skins and other things, and dealt with the question of making certain information the property of the people.
– That is not so.
– Then I shall leave it to honorable senators to judge.
– And I shall leave it to Hansard.
– When the Minister was referring to the disclosure of certain financial features of a business concern, he was arguing on wrong premises. If the holder of a trade secret believed that it should not be made public it could be treated as confidential, if the holder so desired. If the Committee think that this provision is fair in the public interest, I canmerely lodge my protest; but it is altogether different from that embodied in the Commonwealth Arbitration Act in which the Arbitration Court is given power to compel a witness to disclose the information. If the Board is to successfully exercise its functions in the industrial arena, and compel competitors to toe the mark by carrying on their business according to upright standards, it must have the power to insist on the disclosure of a trade secret, otherwise it will be able to say that it is placed on a lower level than the Arbitration Court, and denied the authority which that Tribunal possesses. If there is any reason why information of this character should be withheld, perhaps Senator Pratten will be prepared to supply it. The crystallized opinion of the representatives of the people is that the public interest should stand supreme; but that does not necessarily involve the disclosure of a trade secret unless the owner so desires. If this provision is allowed to stand, the Board will not possess greater powers than a casual observer in the street.
Senator RUSSELL (Victoria- VicePresident of the Executive Council) [6.61. - I was not under any misapprehension when I said that there was a distinct difference between the Tariff Board and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The Government do not desire the Board merely out of curiosity to make investigations concerning the details of every man’s business, but to have a Board sufficiently strong to enable it to secure all the information essential for successfully conducting its inquiries. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court may .desire the disclosure of a secret process to enable it to ascertain, what it represents to its holders. It frequently happens in our Courts that a witness asks for protection in giving evidence, and, in some instances, statements are handed up in writing to the Judge in order to preserve secrecy. Occasionally a Court is cleared while evidence is being given to enable a witness to make a confidential statement. A witness may desire to give the evidence, but not necessarily for publication. A witness before the Tariff Board may be -willing to disclose certain particulars; but we do not desire to compel him to -divulge something which may be injurious -to his business. Large sums of money have been expended in perfecting secret- trade processes.
– In many cases the information would not be required.
– Quite so. If we desired power to compel witnesses to disclose such information we would take it under this Bill, but we do not wish to possess authority that is not required.
Clause .agreed to;
.- I. move -
That the following -new clause he inserted to stand as clause 26a: - “ No evidence “relating to the profits or; financial position of. any witness or manufacturer as to whom any complaint is made under paragraph (A)- of sub-section (1) of section 15 shall bc disclosed, except -to the Board, or published without the consent of the person entitled to the non-disclosure.”
That is a similar provision to section 85 of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act. Although it may be necessary to obtain certain information concerning a man’s business, it- should not be disclosed when, it- may do him -injury. The- Minister (Senator Russell) has said that the Board will exercise only certain functions; but it must be remembered that. two of the members of the Board are to be business men, -who, after retiring from the Board, may be ‘competitors with others, and it may suit them to have the financial position of others disclosed. The business community should be protected by a clause such as that I have moved.
.; - I do not wish to impute motives ; but it appears to me that the proposed new clause has been submitted .’in the interests of the profiteers whom we wish to control. There is a strong desire for legislation compelling the publication of the balance-sheets of certain trading concerns; but the proposed new; clause, if adopted, would prevent it. If, as the result of inquiry, it was shown- that a business undertaking was returning only a reasonable profit, it would be of no interest to publish its financial .position ; but if, on the other hand, a firm was charging exorbitant .prices, and was making a profit of 50 or 100 per cent, instead of 12 or 13 per cent., the position should be divulged. An amendment such as that proposed would protect the profiteers, and would be of no benefit .to another business man who was in a less f favorable position. The Board would be prepared to sympathetically listen to applications from men in a somewhat weak position, but it could not ‘be expected to refrain from publishing -‘the balance-sheet of ia firm making excessive profits. The pre posed new clause, if adopted, would be of advantage .to the unscrupulous man, and I am surprised at Senator Elliott endea- publishing to assist those who are exploiting the -people. The Board is pledged to secrecy,, land it has to -report ‘to -the Minister, who will use his discretion as to what is published.
– In the meantime, the damage is done.
– If damage results, and the Boa-rd is responsible, it will be the duty of the Government to act.
– Would it be satisfactory if the information were disclosed only to the Minister ?
-No. The Board has to report to the Minister.
– The Minister will realize the difficulty when public state ments are made concerning the financial position of any individual or firm.-
– It will have to be left to the Minister. If an individual is selling au article protected under the Tariff., and making excessive .profits, he should not be allowed to remain in the country.
– That; is what the Board is appointed, for.
– Yes; toinvestigate such cases I ask honorable senators toopposetheproposednewclaused,and inthemeantime;Ishallseeiftheprovision concerning the reports from the Board to the Minister is sufficiently clear; and if not I shall have the matter reconsidered.
SenatorElliott. - The proposed new clause cannot be recommitted..
– The Government do not desire to protect those making excessive profits.
– If Senator Pratten is present when a division is taken, I shall claim his vote in support of the. proposed new. clause. The. amendment seeks only to establish a principle which Parliament has thought wise to insert in the Arbitral tion Act. The Minister has stressed profiteering as an argument in opposition to the clause, but there are conceivable cases in which the person concerned would be desirous of keeping secret, not profiteering, but his acute financial embarrassment. Senator Elliott has proposed that whenever an individual tenders evidence about the finances of his concern, the Board must keep such evidence secret if the witness so requires. That is the practice in the Arbitration Court. The principle has been longrecognisedby this- and other Parliaments, that every Tribunal is entitled to arrive at a con- clusion,asmuchontheevidence, it re- ceives in camera as on the evidence it receives in public. That principle has been in operationso many years, that it cannot be ignored now.
SenatorRussell. - It is a right principle. But if a manufacturer is making; 100 per cent. profit, as some men have been doing, he should be exposed.
– In the Bill as drafted the non-publication of evidence is entirely in the discretion ofthe Board.
SenatorRussell.If any member of the Board, made public the evidence he had heard, he would bebreakinghisoath.
– I desire that the wifelesswhodoes not wish his evidence to be madepublic shall be master of the situation:. I am not in favour of giving the Board discretionary power.
– The Board can only submit the evidence to the Minister.
– Somes honorable senators: are inclined tolook on the Board, as likely to be possessed of almost angelic virtues; to. believe it willdo nothing wrong, and will be, in, fact, slightly above the. calibre of ordinary men. I believe that it will have the. human liability to. err. The Minister’s argument is. that we must trust the Board, but I say that any manufacturer or other witness before the Board shouldhavepowertodemandthat his evidence shall not be published. I am not content to give the Tariff Board any greater power than is given to the Arbitration Court. A witness should have the powerto prevent himself or his business being publicly injured.
– I have not argued that the Board must be trusted. My contention has been that the Board will have no power to make any public statement. They will be bound, on oath to observe secrecy in regard to matters that come to their knowledge. But I have pointed out that the Minister is the avenue through which publicity might occur. The Board will report confidentially to the Minister, but the Minister will have discretionary power to strike out certain evidence before he submits the report to. Parliament. He may not do that ; he may allow the whole of the facts to go to Parliament, and I say that in certain circumstances he should allow them to go to Parliament. For instance, if a. manhas been deliberately profiteering under cover ofthe Tariff, Parliament should be. so informed, but in other circumstances I do not think that the evidence should be made public if it would do injury to an individual. The Minister will not be submitting to Parliament reports upon individual firms; he will be dealing with the trade or industry collectively. He will not submit to Parliament JohnBrown’s balance-sheet in order to prove that his industry is not prospering, but in order to help that industry he may ask Parliament to sanctionan increase of duty.
– If that is so, the proposed new clause will do no harm.
– But there are certain men whose transactions should be publicly exposed.
– Then the Minister would submit to Parliament the. balancesheet of an individual ?
– No. The Board and the Minister need not publish anything if publication would, in their opinion, be opposed to the public interests. I do not suppose the Board will publish any evidence, but they will publish results.
– The new clause will not prevent them doing that.
– If the proposed new clause does nothing more than is already provided for in the Bill, why insert it ? Senator Elliott argued that the Minister has no power to prevent information being published. I say that he has, and if that opinion is wrong, I shall be’ willing to recommit the clause. No Minister would submit to Parliament a report that made a personal attack upon any firm; but any firm that takes advantage of the Tariff to charge excessive prices should be exposed in Parliament. The amendment will give protection only to those who should not have it, and, therefore, I oppose it.
Question - That the proposed new clause be inserted (Senator Elliott’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 8
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
Clause 27 -
The Board may inspect any documents, books, or writings, before it, and may retain them for such reasonable period as it thinks lit, and may make copies oil such matter as is relevant to the inquiry, or take extracts from them.
– I think the words “ and may retain them for such reasonable period as it thinks fit” ought to be omitted from this clause, because the Board has in. other directions ample power and opportunity to derive from documents and evidence all the information it desires, without it being necessary to retain the books of any merchant or manufacturer for any reasonable or unreasonable time.
– By taking possession of the manufacturer’s books, the Board may save him hours of time.
– Yes. But that might also cause the manufacturer a great deal of work. It would not be so bad to take possession of documents or writings, but no manufacturer could carry on his business without his books.
– The honorable senator does not imagine that the Board would keep a man’s books if he required them.
– But what is a reasonable period ? It may be necessary for the Board, in order to arrive at a wise conclusion upon a manufacturer’s books, to go through them pretty fully.
– The time occupied in doing so would then be reasonable.
– No doubt it might be from the point of view of the Board, but it would be a small manufacturer whose books could be gone through in two or three days. I am afraid that it would be necessary to retain the books of a fair-sized manufacturer for four or five days. What would the manufacturer do in the meantime ? No doubt the Board would make provision for the safe custody of his books.
– It would be responsible.
– But it would be a poor return to the manufacturer to compensate him . in cash for the loss of his books. It is more a matter of the inconvenience he would suffer if his books were kept for what might be a reasonable time in the opinion of the Board, but what might be from his point of view quite an unreasonable time. There are other ways in which the Board can get all the information it desires without retaining the books needed by the manufacturer. It could appoint an accountant to attend at the manufacturer’s office and go through his books.
– That is the usual practice now. Wherever there is a possibility that the retention of the books of a manufacturer or business man may cause undue delay to him, copies of them are made, and an officer of the Customs Department is sent down to certify to them.
– Surely that is good enough. On the Minister’s own argument, there is no need to retain a manufacturer’s books for any period at all, seeing that the Board would have authority to send an accountant to his place of business and make any copies it requires.
– Where will the Board get that authority?
– Full authority is given in this Billtothe Board to inspect any books and make copies.
– How can it make copies if it is not given the right to claim possession of thebooks for a reasonable time ?
– It may inspect the books, and during that inspection may make whatever extracts from them it requires.
– In order to do that it must havepossession of the books for a reasonable time.
– That is not necessary. Under certain legislation Government officials have power to inspect a factory. Is it contended that they should have power to take possession of the factory while they make that inspection?
– Some people, when they learn that there may be an inquiry into their conduct, may be only too delighted to burn their books if the Board is not given power to take possession of them. That may be an extreme case, but it is quite possible.
– The matter is safeguarded in another partofthe Bill.
– A similar provision is in operation every day under the Customs Act, and has occasioned no trouble.
– As I can foresee that trouble is likely to arise, I move-
That the words” and may retain them for such reasonable period as it thinksfit “ be left out.
– The practice of nearly all Government Departments is to send officials to examine books. I had a dispute the other day with the Land Tax Commissioner with regard to the value of certain land,’ and as he wasanxious to see my firm’s books in order to ascertain what profit had been made, he sent two of his officers to inspect them, and make extracts from them. That is the most convenient way of dealing with the matter.
– And it is the usual practice.
– Then, why retain this extra power ?
– It is the policeman.
– I know that the Government always keep power over the individual. But I would like to see the individual have some power left to him. I know that most Government, officers are perfectly reasonable, but now and again one comes up against an officer who is not reasonable, and gives as much trouble as he can. I want the business community to have some safeguard against such a man. To give the Government the tremendous powers so often given them on the assumption that they will be wisely exercised is not a conciliatory way of conducting affairs. It is a serious matter for the manufacturer to part with his books. How is he to know that they will be properly looked after, or that all kinds of secrets may not be disclosed by the person who has them in his custody ?
– This power, which is now spoken of in such awesome tones, has been operating to my knowledge for over a quarter of a century, and I have not heard a word of complaint about the way in whichit has been used. It operates under . the Customs Act, and I venture to say, in all the Law Courts. Judges have the power to take books and impound them, and we never hear of the exercise of that power in such an arbitrary and reckless fashion as to cause trouble. Senator Fairbairn has given an instance of the way in which Government Departments armed with such power exercise it. He says quite frankly that they exercise it in a very reasonable way. Why, then, should we expect that this Board, which will be so closely under the scrutiny of Parliament, will go to the uttermost extreme in the exercise of its power to wilfully annoy those people into whose affairs it is compelled to inquire? Theconstitution of this Board has been approved by the Senate; much to thedislike of individual senators,. I admit, but I. ask. them to be entirely honest in the matter, and, having assented; to the creation of a. Board, not to emasculate it. and leave itwithout power to discharge the duties which the Senate has concurred should, be thrust upon it.
– A copy of books should be just as good as the books themselves.
– But how can the Board make- a copy unless it has the legal documents? In order to make an inquiry into the affairs of a manufacturer it may be necessary for the Boardto look at certain invoices or see what profits have been made, and it cannot do that unless it has access to those documents.
– But it is proposed elsewhere to give it that power.
– There is. only one way to do it, and that is to give the Board the power to take possession of these documents for some time.
– The men who inspected. my books came every day for- a fortnight;
– When departmental officers are pondering over a man’s books they have possession of. them, they are in a position to make copies of them, and in orderto see. that the authority to do this is not in any way impaired or side-stepped, this Bill gives thepower already contained in the Customs Act to take abook for the purpose of extracting from it such information as the Board may requireIn practice, this is not actually, done, because the person concerned, recognising the existence of this power, creates no trouble when the Department sends an officer along; but if no such authority is given; trouble might be caused. I ask my friends who have been raising bogies to instance one case of late years where any one has purposely and unjustifiably been inconvenienced by the exercise of this power to take possession of his books and documents. It is doneevery day in the Courts. Thispower to send for papers is given to Royal Commissions and to Committees of Parliament, and in an experience of twenty-five years. I have never heard of it being misused.
– I have listened to the arguments for, and . against this clause, and I agree, with the. Minister for Repatriation, that it. should be passed as it. stands. It may be that the Board will have to deal with cases of. palpable fraud, and it should have the power to impound books as. evidence.
– And to hold them for months, if necessary.
– I might be that forged documents werer being used, and the Board should have power to discover all the facts. Although I am opposed to the establishment of the Board, I desire that the Bill, if passed’, shall be as perfect as we can make it, and I feel that if the power conferred by this clause be not given to the Board, it will be without the authority necessary to deaf with cases of fraud.
– It is right that the Board should have the power given to it by the clause; but I do not know that it should be permitted to delegate its authority to any accountant. There is nothing in the Bill which places upon a person employed by the Board to go through the books of a firm, the obligation not to divulge infor- mation which will rest on the members of the Board.
– The same thing might be said of the employment of accountants and others by the Law Courts; but the Judges in appointing them take from them the assurance that they will preserve secrecy.
– There is nothing in the Bill requiring the Board to: impose upon those whom it employs the obligation to observe secrecy.
– The responsibility would be on the Board if a leakage of information occurred.
– The membersof the Board will not make a personal examination of the books of a firm; they will giveauthority to special officers, who will be responsible for the preservation of secrecy.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 28 to 33 agreed to.
Clause 34 -
Penalty : Five hundred pounds, or imprisonment for one year.’
.- The offence with which this clause deals is not comparable with those dealt with in clauses already passed, and the penalty therefore seems to meexcessive. I ask the Minister if he will agree to reduce it.
– I am willing to follow the previous reductions.
– Then I move-
That the words “ Five hundred “, in subclause 1, be struck out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Two hundred and fifty.”
– As I have already intimated, I do not favour these extreme penalties, which may be regarded as Piddingtonesque, having probably been lifted from the Act which brought into existence the Inter-State Commission. The functions ofthe Tariff Board will differ entirely from those of the Inter-State Commission.
– That is a good job.
– It is. The scope of the Tariff Board’s activities will be limited bythe operations of the Tariff. If asection of consumers or of primary producers are of opinion that certain duties are too high, and oppress them unduly by diminishing their purchasing power or hampering their avocation, it will be the duty of the Board to inquire into their complaint; and if it be alleged of a protected manufacturer that he is charging too much for his goods, he must either assist the Board by giving evidence before it, or risk an adverse report. If, on the other hand, a set of manufacturers consider certain duties not high enough, andallege that their industry is being destroyed by foreign competition, the Tariff Board mustinvestigate their complaint, and they would, as a matter of course, put before the Board all the information they could get to substantiate their case.
– What the Committee is considering is a proposal to reduce the penalty provided for in clause 34.
– As this is my last opportunity to speak about the penalties provided for in the Bill, I rose to saythat the functions of the Tariff Board are dissimilar from those of the InterState Commission, from whose Act it seems to me that the penalties in the Bill have been copied, and I shall therefore support the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
SenatorELLIOTT (Victoria) [8.26].- I draw attention to the wording of subclause . 2, which provides that if at any time after a witness has given evidence before the Tariff Board he is “ prejudiced in -his employment” whatever that may mean, his employer shall be regarded as guilty of an offence.
– The clause practically says that the employer shall be deemed tobe guilty until he is proved to be innocent, which is contrary to British jurisprudence.
– Yes. And he may be deemed to be guilty at anytime during the period thatthe employee remains with him.
– What provision would the honorable senator make?
– If a man is charged with a crime; there is a proper and regular way of proceeding against him, but it is not usual under British law to assume the guilt of the person who is charged. If the period within which a prosecution under the clause mighttake place were limited to six months, there might not be so much objection to the clause ; but as the clause stands, an employer might not be proceeded against until twenty years had elapsed, when he could not produce evidence in rebuttal of the charge. As the Minister does not seem inclined to suggest a limitation, I move -
That sub-clause (2) be left out.
– I support the amendment. There is a growing’ tendency in legislation to ignore the good old principle that no man shall be deemed to be guilty until he has been proved so. It is all very well to say that that principle has been violated in other Acts, such, for example, as the Gaming Act and the Insolvency Act. So much the more shame to the Legislatures responsible!. If a man is guilty of murder, whose duty is it to find him so? Is it his duty to come forward and confess? Is it not the duty of the Crown to search for evidence, and to tender it before a Court? Whereupon, if the evidence is not deemed sufficient or satisfactory, the accused is dismissed. In this clause, one is asked to assume .from the outset that the accused is guilty. The tendency of modern statute law is to ignore the old common law principle. Honorable senators should take a stand against that tendency. The Government should be required to accept the onus of proving that a person is guilty. And I am bound to say, in this connexion, that if the ..accused party can get out of it, good luck to him!
– The concluding remark of Senator Benny sheds light, perhaps, upon’ the whole of his reasoning. But I ask the Committee to consider the facts. A Board is to be created, and it will be given instructions to inquire into certain matters. Power will be provided for the Board to call witnesses. Let me put the following hypothetical circumstances : The Board proceeds to call before it an employee. Unless this clause is retained, the employee will go before the Board in fear and trembling, realizing that if he tells what appears to him to be the truth, he may get into the bad books of his employer. All that is laid down in the clause is that an employer shall not dismiss or prejudice the employment of an employee who has given evidence. The latter should be able to attend before the Board without fear of reprisal.
– Quite so!
– Then I claim the honorable senator’s vote.
– It becomes the duty of the Board to prove that the employer has dismissed a witness unjustly.
– Honorable senators talk about British justice. Provision similar to that contained in clause 34 may be found - framed in almost identical words - a dozen times in Commonwealth Acts. To throw the onus of proof upon the injured party would be tq invite the impossible. How could an employee who had been dismissed tender evidence concerning the reason for his dismissal ? The only man who could say why he had been dismissed would be the employer who had dismissed him. I remind honorable senators of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In that Statute, in order to protect employees who are officials of unions, and others as well, from the disfavour of their employers, there are embodied these same words. The Bill will become a farce if the amendment is agreed to. No honest employer would dream of dismissing a man for haying given truthful evidence. But, unfortunately, there are employers who, not being honest, would do so; and those are the parties in respect of whom clause 34 should operate. Senator Benny makes no secret of the fact that he would kill the Bill by any means, at any stage. He has been seeking to remove every clause which would make it effective.
– I remind honorable senators of the well-known legal maxim, Nemo tenetur seipsum accusare, the meaning of which is that “no one is obliged to incriminate himself.” The procedure laid down in the clause is tanta: mount to a violation of British justice. The Government should not seek to compel an employer to go to the expense and trouble of tendering evidence in proof that an employee had left his service for some reason other than his association with certain proceedings before the Tariff Board.
– He would be a sorry type of employer who could not find a good excuse for “ sacking “ an employee without securing legal advice to help him out.
– Much time could have been saved if the Bill had been properly drafted. Had I the time to undertake a search throughout the Commonwealth legislation of the past nine years, I would be able to find more than one duplication of these penalty clauses. What has happened, apparently, is that the clauses have been lifted from other Acts, and made to apply to the proceedings of the Tariff Board without perceiving, however,that they do not really fit.Isympathize with Senators Elliottand Benny, yet I am not sure that the amendment should receive support. In a fight between employer andemployee the former always hasthe heavyend of thestick.
– The honorable senator is making a -mistake there.
– -An employer could win in ninety-nine Courts out of a hundred if it came to an argumentbased uponthisclause.
– Yes, and withoutrequiring to engage counsel.
– Asan employer of considerable experience, I can say that I donot think it would be difficult for me to furnish a satisfactory reason why -an employee of mine had been dismissed ; that is, if . Iwishedtodo so, and was so conscienceless. My opinion ofthe great majority of Australian employers is, however,thatallthey want is fair play. They are prepared ‘to give it, and they naturally expecttoreceiveit.
SenatorREID (Queensland) [8.44].- Clause 34 has beeninsertedto protect any person who may bedeliberatelydismissed because he has given evidence of a certain nature. It has been pointed out that no employer would dismiss an employeefor such a reason, so long as there existed provisions under which he could be haled before aCourt. If an employee is dismissed because he has given truthful evidence before the TariffBoard, British justice demands that he shall be protected. I support the clause as it stands, because, in all our legislation, we should give special attention to the party who is least able to protect himself.
Amendment (by Senator Elliott) agreed to -
Thatthe following new sub-clause be inserted : - “ (3) Any prosecution under this section shall be commenced within three months from the date of the commission of the alleged offence.”
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 35 and 36 agreed to.
– In conformity with a promise which wasmade during the debate to impose a limitation upon the operation of the Bill, I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ 37. This Act shall continue in- force for a period of two years ‘and no longer.”
SenatorPratten. - That means two years from the date upon which it receives theGovernor-General’s assent.
SenatorRUSSELL.- Yes.Some honorablesenatorshaveadvocated fixingthe (period at eighteenmonths, -but I Slink -that the measureshouldbe given areasonable trial, and that two years is a reasonable rperiod.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Postponed clause 19 (Power to send for witnesses and documents) .
– Imove -
That the following new sub-clause be added: - “ (2) TheBoard ‘may,in itsdiscretion, on the application of anyparty to an inquiry before theBoard, summon any person to appearas awitness before ‘the Board.”
The insertion of this provision is necessary to dispel the impression that the Bill “is not broad enough to enable a manufacturer to call witnesses in his defence when a charge is made against him. My proposalwill insure equality of representation of each party in stating a case to -theBoard.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
. - I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
My object in submitting the motion is to permit the Bill to be recommitted in order to enableusto reconsider clause 25. Thereis no intention on the part of the Government to proceed with the subsequent stages of the measure this evening.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator E. D. Millen) proposed-
That the reportbe adopted.
Amendment(by Senator Russell) agreed to -
That the Bill be recommitted for the purpose of reconsidering clause 25.
In Committee (Recommittal) :
Clause 25 (as amended) -
– I move -
That in sub-clause (2) all the words after “ penalty “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ not exceeding Five hundred pounds or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months, or both.”
I submit the amendment because the penalty provided in the clause would entirely defeat the* object which we have in view. In other Commonwealth Statutes there are frequent illustrations of exceedingly heavy penalties, which, instead of proving an assistance in the enforcement of the law, have completely defeated the ends of justice. Frequently, when a technical breach comes before the Court, there is a refusal to convict, because the lowest penalty which could be inflicted is held to be altogether excessive.
– Why does the honorable senator provide for imprisonment as well as a fine?
– The clause originally provided for fine and imprisonment, whereas I now propose that it shall provide for a fine “ or “ imprisonment, or both. If the amendment be agreed to the Court, instead of being compelled on conviction to impose a penalty of not less than £500 and ordering imprisonment up to any term not exceeding three months may impose any fine it pleases up to £500, or imprisonment or both. I think it is very desirable to provide for imprisonment. Very often a short term of imprisonmentwould be more appropriate than the imposition of a large fine, which many people could not pay, and because of their inability to pay could be imprisoned. Under the amendment the Court will have power to take into consideration all the facts, and to inflict imprisonment if imprisonment be appropriate, or a fine should it think that an appropriate punishment, or both a fine and imprisonment where both areappropriate.
– I do not think the Committee has quite realized the point of view that might be taken up on a comparison of the offences dealt with in this Bill. I hope to satisfy the Leader of the Senate (Senator E. D. Millen) that it is not equitable to provide the penalty of imprisonment for a civil offence. We have already agreed to the penalty of imprisonment for offences such as bribery of witnesses, fraud on a witness destroying books or documents, preventing a witness from attending before the Board, or injuring a witness. All these can be more fitly described as criminal offences than can any of the offences dealt with in clauses 23 and 24, to which this clause solely relates. For what offence is the penalty of imprisonment proposed under this clause. The first is where “any person served with a summons to attend the Board when the summons is served personally fails without reasonable excuse to attend the Board, or to produce documents, books, or writings in his custody or control which he was required by the summons to produce.” Cannot honorable senators realize that there might be an honest difference of opinion on such a question? It is conceivable to me that the members of the Board should not be entitled in certain circumstances to ask a citizen to produce certain books or documents.
– It is not the Board, but an ordinary Court that will inflict the penalty.
– Then the honorable senator will admit that in certain circumstances a man summoned to attend before the Board and to do certain things might be justified in refusing.
SenatorDrake-Brockman. - He would be perfectly justified in refusing under the existing law if he were strong enough to fight it.
– Then, again, the offence under clause 24, to which this clause relates, is the refusal of any person appearing as a witness before the Board to be sworn or to make an affirmation, or to answer any question relevant to the investigation or proceeding put to him by any member of the Board. There are conceivable circumstances under which a man would have a right to refuse to answer a question put to him by the Board. Supposing two inexperienced commercial men or amateurs are appointed as members of this Board at a remuneration of £5 5s. a sitting, and that these in all other respects very estimable citizens become puffed up with a sense of their own importance, is it not possible that mistakes are likely to be made? Is it not probable that unfair questions may be asked?
SenatorDrake-Brockman.- But to secure the enforcement of these penalties the person complained of must be brought before an ordinary Court of law.
– But why make a criminal of a respectable citizen, who might think that he was entitled to take a certain course of action ?
– He would not be made a criminal unless the Court held that he was not justified in the action taken by him.
– But the whole force of the Department and’ the Board will be behind these prosecutions. In such circumstances, what chance would a man have?
– My experience is that in most cases of the kind the citizen wins.
– I. will not stand for the penalty of imprisonment for a civil offence, more especially as we are already providing for a penalty up to £500, which can be inflicted in respect of every separate offence.
– Supposing the offender were fined £500, and could not pay ?
– Then we would take all that he had.
– Suppose that he had nothing - is such a man to defy the law?
– Of what value would the evidence of such a man be to the Board?
– It might be absolutely essential.
– I hope the Committee will pause before it decides to provide for the penalty of imprisonment for what is not a criminal offence.
– I am surprised at the utterances of the honorable senator. The Committee, this afternoon drew attention to what it regarded as unduly high penalties, and without giving more than five seconds’ consideration to the matter, the Government met honorable senators by agreeing to reduce the penalties by one-half. - We accepted that as a fair, workable proposition.
– When this clause was under discussion I raised the question of imprisonment, and the honorable senator nodded his head as if to intimate that it would be taken into consideration.
– Jove is said to have nodded, and I might have done so on this occasion, but I have no recollection of it. I repeat that the Government cut down the penalties by one-half to meet what they believed to be the view of the Committee, and I submit that that compromise having been arrived at it is unreasonable for one honorable senator to ask for a further reduction.
– If the honorable senator says that was the understanding arrived at I will withdraw my opposition to the provision as to imprisonment.
– In this case the amendment moved by Senator DrakeBrockman does something more than halve the penalty. It eliminates altogether the provision for a minimum penalty of £500, leaving it to the discretion of the Court (6 impose any fine it pleases, and it cuts down by one-half the maximum penalty for which provision was originally made. . We have, therefore, met both the letter and the spirit of the objection raised by the Committee.
– If the understanding arrived at was that just stated by the honorable senator I withdraw my opposition, although I was under the impression that the question of imprisonment, as well as the monetary penalty provided for in the clause, would be reconsidered on recommittal.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with a further amendment; reports adopted.
.- I move-
That the Senate do now adjourn.
After the third reading of the Tariff Board Bill is dealt with, the Government propose to proceed with the Tariff, and hope to make very substantial progress before the Senate adjourns to-morrow night.
– The people outside are anxious to know, one way or the other, what the Tariff is to be, and it has occurred to me that we might meet on Wednesday and Thursday morning at 11 o’clock. In this matter I am speaking for myself. If the Senate prefers to meet at 3 o’clock, well and good. Ministers say it is necessary for them to look after their Departments but another place is not sitting, and most of the Ministers belong to that Chamber. Of course, those in this Chamber would be very busy. While those of us who have to come from other ‘States are in Melbourne, we might just as well be here dealing with the Tariff, on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. I would prefer that the Senate should meet at 11 a.m., and. rise at 6.30 p.m., rather than that we should be here in the evenings.
– I find it necessary to. have the mornings free, particularly as we are within measurable distance of getting to grips with some very controversial subjects in the Tariff. I need some time to study the intricate problems which, in order to be fair to all interests, we shall have to solve. As a senator from New South Wales, I have departmental work to do in the interests of my constituents, and some letters to write.
– If we sat from 11 a.m. till 6.30. p.m., . we could do better work .
– The honorable senator may be one of those whose brain is more active in the morning, than at night; but if we deal with the Tariff during the ordinary hours, and honorable senators all attend, our debates will not bo unduly protracted, and the Govern ment will have no cause to say, by comparison with another place, that we have spun out our work.
– During all the years I have been a member of the Senate, there has always been a division of thought as to whether we ought to meet early in the mornings or sit late at night. It is possible that the Government may be able to oblige advocates of both courses before the Tariff is completed ; but that will depend entirely on the progress we make. I do not believe we can do more work in fewer hours. The hours we sit must depend on the work to be done. As Senator Thomas says, the people naturally desire to have the Tariff finalized. The Government do not suggest that reasonable discussion should be curtailed; but there is an obligation on honorable senators to get the Bill through as rapidly as circumstances permit; and I appeal to them to eliminate unreasonable discussion. That is what takes up the time. If we make reasonable progress on each day we sit, there will be no need to meet early in the morning or sit late at night.
– How many items a day, on the average, would you suggest as reasonable progress?
– One or two items, such as those which cover the leading key industries, are justified in taking more time than twenty or thirty others. The Government will watch closely, and if we find that reasonable progress is made in the present hours of sitting, no effort will be made to disturb them. But if honorable senators require longer time to consider the items, we must appeal to them to sacrifice their convenience, in order to sit the hour’s necessary to make reasonable progress.
– Is that a threat or a promise ?
– I thought it was an appeal. So far as the Government are concerned, we will go on with the present hours of sitting, see what progress is made, and stick to them if it is satisfactory. If it is not sufficient, we may have to appeal to the Senate to help us by sitting longer hours, in order to get on with the work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 9.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 July 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1921/19210727_senate_8_96/>.