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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . -Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77, for the disallowance of which the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) moved yesterday, was gazetted on the 19th February, 1942. As the honorable gentleman observed, it confers arbitrary power upon the Executive, giving to it authority to direct persons resident in Australia to place themselves and their services at the disposal of the Government. That is a short, but none the less accurate, description of the tremendous authority which the regulations under this rule give to the Executive. The regulations are being contested on the ground that they vest too much power in the Executive.

Mr Archie Cameron - Not only in the Executive, but also in any other authority.

Mr CURTIN - I shall deal with that aspect presently. Unquestionably, the regulations provide that all property and services of citizens must be placed at the disposal of the Government if required. I accept as accurate the statement that the power is in effect unlimited. It is necessary, however, that we shall bear in mind the history of this matter. On the 20th June, 1940, nearly two years after the beginning of the war, and at a time when things were going badly from our point of view in Europe, in that France bad collapsed, .an emergency meeting of this Parliament was summoned. The first business of the day in this House was the introduction by the then Prime Minister, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), of a bill to amend the National Security Act. Included in that right honorable gentleman's Government at that time was the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who last night seconded the motion for the disallowance of these regulations. The substantial part of that very short measure was a provision now known as section 13a, which reads - 13a. Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, the Governor-General may make such regulations making provision for requiring persons to place themselves, their services and their property at the disposal of the Commonwealth, as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the Commonwealth and the territories of the Coin mon wealth, or the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty is or may lie engaged.

Provided that nothing in this section shall authorize the imposition of any form of compulsory service beyond the limits of Australia.

I remind honorable members that that measure was submitted to the Parliament less than two years ago, after Australia had been at war for about nine months, and was supported by the members of the then Opposition, who voted, for .both the second and third readings. The then Prime Minister, in moving the second reading of the bill, said -

The bill provides for the Executive the power which, although it stops short, and expressly stops short, of compelling any form of service outside Australia - in the sense in which Australia has been defined - does not, I believe, stop short of anything else. It takes power to control per- ons in relation to themselves so that they, for example, may be taken and trained to prepare for the defence of Australia. It takes power over their services so that they may be, notwithstanding any limitation contained in the original act, directed as to what services they are to perform and where they are to perform them. That applies all round. It takes power also to require these persons to place their property, whatever that property may be, at the disposal of the Commonwealth. Those are wide terms which, in themselves, do not admit of limitation, except the express limitation of the proviso to which I have already referred.

That bill was brought in by a government which included all the (representative figures of the present Opposition and it was accepted by the Parliament. The regulations to which objection is now taken are in identical terms.

Mr Archie Cameron - That is not so.

Mr CURTIN - What does the act provide? First, that His Excellency the Governor-General may, by regulation, direct people as to the services they shall perform, the place where they shall perform them, and the property which they shall .place at the disposal of the Commonwealth. That is what these regulations provide.

Mr ARCHIE Cameron - The regulations were not needed to give effect to what was already in the act.

Mr CURTIN - The act provides that the Governor-General may gazette regulations to give effect to the provisions of the act. The act is the instrument under which the Executive must work, and the regulations are the machinery to bring into effect an instrument which this Parliament expressly provided. I have no illusions about what the act means. The then Government, having regard to the tremendous transformation that it proposed to effect in the existing relationships between the citizens and the Executive, and being proud of the passage of the bill, arranged for the noteworthy speeches that were made upon it to be published in pamphlet form and circulated to the community. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) was quite right in what he said last night as to what this power meant to the Executive. The point that I make is that the Parliament was told what the bill meant to the life of the community. The then Opposition supported the second and third readings of it. I, as Leader of the. Opposition, said -

Labour knew that in arriving at that decision it was giving to the Government power over life and death, over industrial conditions and over property and persons. It knew that ibis amounted substantially to making the Executive of the Australian nation the equivalent of absolute government of Australia. Labour knew exactly what it was voting for, but felt that the Government of Australia is composed of men who are responsible to the Australian nation, and who will have to account to the Australian nation for their stewardship. We at that conference also knew that the members of the Government would be morally restrained by the judgment of the Australian people with respect to the way in which the powers now sought would be exercised.

Unquestionably the test of any regulation is whether it is being abused; is it being unfairly operated ; is it being exercised unnecessarily and without proper justification? If it is, that is a ground, not for the disallowance of the regulation, but for censuring or changing the Government. The question before the House is: Are these powers necessary for the Executive? I put it to the House in the simplest and clearest language, that these regulations are in the precise form in which the act itself was amended by this Parliament.

Mr Spender - Having regard to the plenary powers conferred by these regulations, of what value are specific regulations?

Mr CURTIN - The regulations are the instrument whereby the act is applied. The regulations themselves say that they are to be administered by the Minister of State for Defence; that is, myself. When this matter was before the House previously, I said what would be done. I have here a copy of notes that I sent to every Minister on the subject. I know that these powers are very wide. But I put it to the House that the Prime Minister is not an individual ; he is the head of a government; he is the Minister who is most, responsible to his colleagues, for if he makes blunders, the Government is finished. As a matter of fact, when the Prime Minister gives a direction, there can be no possibility of the Government escaping from the consequences of what hp does. One cannot "pass the buck" when one is a Prime Minister. It is accepted that the purpose of making the

Prime Minister, or the Minister for Defence when he is the same person, responsible for the administration of a regulation is to ensure that what is done in pursuance of it is indissoluble from the most saber and complete responsibility of government. That is not only traditional, but also common sense.

Mr Spender - I believe that the right honorable gentleman has misapprehended my point. The regulations are in the most complete plenary terms. In view of that, of what value is any specific regulation? What is the need for any other regulation ?

Mr CURTIN - The regulations authorize, the Minister to direct any person resident in Australia to perform such services as are specified in that direction; that is to say, the Minister has to give a direction for the performance of such duties in relation to a person's trade, business, calling or profession as are specified. That is a specific direction. The regulations are the enabling authority, of a general character, which empowers the Minister to give a specific direction. Without, first, the statute passed by this Parliament, and, secondly, the regulations as framed in conformity with the statute, the Minister could not give a specific direction to a citizen to perform that duty or service which the bill sought to accomplish because of the tremendous burdens and responsibilities which the war has imposed upon us, and, furthermore, because of unpredictable circumstances which might arise, requiring citizens to perform, at the direction of the Government, duties which in normal circumstances would not be conceivable. I put it to the House that, bad as the situation was in June, 1940, and adequate as was the warrant for the passage of this legislation, the position is graver now. We were then engaged very largely as a contributor to the strength of our allies in distant theatres. We are now. unfortunately, obliged to marshal our forces for the defence of our own country, to resist the enemy on our own soil, to endure, and to prepare for and organize against any assaults that he may make upon our territory; and, having done that, also to prepare for, and have the machinery ready to salvage, the destruction that he may occasion - to have the requisite machinery in operation, so that the minimum of dislocation will be caused to our military operations and to our economic organization as the result of any actual physical damage that he may cause to our people or our property. If, two years ago, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), as head of the government of that day, was justified in coming to this Parliament, and in an eloquent and, indeed, elaborate speech, asking the Parliament to grant that power to the. Executive, then in the present circumstances the . Government that. I lead has no hesitation in exercising the authority which this Parliament then gave to the Executive. I ask the House not to vote for the disallowance of the regulations.

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