In April 1948, charges were brought against three brothers, trading as Grey Bros, with having committed a breach of the pricing regulations. The brothers were Archibald, Roy and Eric Grey of Smithton. Their father who was previously a part owner of the business had already passed away in 1940.
The Counsel representing the Grey brothers maintained that each member of a firm or partnership was not liable for the actions of another member.
In this instance, Archibald was solely in charge of the drapery section, Roy of the grocery section and Eric of the sawmill.
Roy, who pled not guilty, said that when the price officers came along, they checked back three months and found only one docket incorrect, and that this particular item was undercharged. Eric, who also pled not guilty, said that his part in the business was wholly and solely connected with saw milling.
Archibald, on the other hand, pled guilty to two charges. He did all the buying and marking prices on the drapery side of the business. The issue at hand was the freight allowances, which was 1/2 percent from Launceston, 2 percent from Sydney and varying percentages from other major centres.
The Counsel pointed out that the freight allowance was ridiculous and the accountant at Grey Bros also said that nobody could possibly be fully familiar with the pricing regulations because they were continually changing.
The Bench maintained its position and asserted that it was an offence to display goods for sale if the prices exceeded the fixed amount.
During the war and post war years, the Prices Commission, a branch of the Department of Trade and Customs, was charged with enforcing pricing regulations and control and prosecuting only the worst cases of overcharging i.e. profiteers who were prepared to exploit and profit by selling scarce commodities at greatly inflated prices. In this instance, the prosecution of the Grey Bros appeared to be in the extreme.
It is uncertain whether there were any fallouts from the prosecution, however, a change in partnership of the business did occur, which took effect on 1 November 1948.
Price controls were first imposed in 1939 when they were generally regarded as a necessary wartime measure. Later price controls continued into the post war years until October 1948 when the Federal Government handed over price control to the States. It was not until late 1954 when price controls on all goods and services in Tasmania were abolished.
Top photo: Charles Grey's sawmill at Smithton in 1905 (LINC Tasmania)