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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) .- I desire to add a few remarks to what has been said by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies). When this matter was before the House previously, upon a formal motion for adjournment, the Opposition expressed its approval of the principles underlying these regulations. Speaking to that motion, I said that privatelyI held objections to the way in which these regulations were drafted. 1 expressed, in part, what has been said so well by the right honorable member for Kooyong. I do not regard it as necessary to have regulations in these terms. Indeed, I do not think that these are regulations in any sense of the term. This is a plenary delegation of power. Whatever power is vested in this Parliament, except, for instance, the power to tax, is by these regulations vested in the Executive, and in such manner as to be completely uncontrolled by any terms of the regulations.I do not know why the Prime Minister should say that, because the Na tional Security Act provides that rules may be made dealing with any one of these subject-matters, therefore there should be no objection to these regulations. The power to make regulations is one thing; the exercise of that power is an entirely different thing. When this matter was previously before the House I said that I could see no justification for the absence of specific regulationsdealing with different subject-matters, because these things can be done over night; indeed, they can be done in the space of a few hours. I have never yet known of any justification for believing that, because power is given by an act to make regulations along a certain line, therefore, any regulations made must be exactly in the terms in which the act gives the power. The misgivings that I had concerning these regulations when I last spoke, have been confirmed by what has since taken place. If these regulations are to be applied in the extreme terms in which the power is given, they should be applied equally to all sections of the community. To-night we have witnessed what I might describe as a tragic pantomime between the Prime Minister and thcMinister who is principally concerned with thi? administration of these regulations. .L had always thought that it was a primary conception of responsible government that every member of the Cabinet was bound by a Cabinet decision, even though he did not like that decision; and if it were in respect of a vital matter, to which he could not reconcile hig conscience, his course was clear, namely, to resign from the Government. Yet to-night we have had the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), for reasons which i have no doubt conscientiously appeal to him, expressing himself in direct conflict with his Prime Minister. I have said on previous occasions that a proper function of a. government is to govern. 1. now say that a proper function of a Prime Minister is to lead his Cabinet. Either the Minister for Labour and National Service should resign from the Cabinet or he should state publicly that he supports the principle that the Government has laid down. To-night we hoard the Minister attacking the Opposition for .having expressed itself in favour of regulations introduced by his own Government. On the other hand, we have bad the Prime Minister defending those regulations, not to members of the Opposition, but to members on his own side of the House. This is quite inconsistent, with responsible government. The people of this country will want to know who is leading the Government. The matter is not clear to me. It appears to me that these regulations have been adopted by the Government in the face of considerable opposition in its own party, and that now they are being defied by the same section of the party, and, indeed, by a responsible member of the Cabinet. My misgivings in regard to these regulations have been confirmed by what the Minister himself has said. Tn short, he has stated that he will not apply these regulations to the industrial workers of this country. I am not concerned with debating the merits of that matter. The Minister may hold thai view; he has certainly expressed it courageously, and we know where we stand. I have now to determine what course I shall take in regard to this motion. When the matter was last before the House, it was by way of a formal motion for adjournment - which, of course, meant that there was no issue and no vote. On this occasion, there is a motion for disallowance by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), and upon that a. vote must be taken. What has occurred has revealed to me that these wide and extensive powers are to be applied in respect of only one section of the community. I am not prepared to support regulations in these terms which a government spokesman - in this case the Minister for Labour and National Service - says are to be applied against only a certain section of the community. Like the right honorable member, for Kooyong, I have no objection to the most complete powers being vested in the executive. But these powers are being vested only by virtue of the National Security Act, and they could be exercised at any given time in respect of any specific subject-matter by a regulation made under that act. Having been told in clear and unmistakable terms that these so-called regulations are not to be applied to one large section of the community, but are to be applied to another section, the misgivings that I had have been confirmed ; consequently, I am not prepared to concede to the Government such wide powers in the terms expressed without proper precautions against abuse. I say to the Prime Minister and his colleagues that nothing is gained by trying to fool the people. In respect of any subject-matter, there is no difficulty whatever in introducing regulations at a moment's notice. Judging by the extent of the power conferred by these regulations, there is nothing that comes within the province of government which the Minister /for Labour and National Service, or any other Minister or his delegate, could not direct any individual to do. As the right honorable member for Kooyong has stated, we as an Opposition are prepared to concede that power to the Government; but the important point is, in what form is it to be conferred? The object of the safeguarding provision applicable to regulations is, that every regulation has to be tabled in this House, upon which it may be considered, and this Parliament may express its views in respect of it. I have always held very strongly that it is the function of this Parliament to watch very carefully the exercise of such powers. That is in no way inconsistent with the giving of the most complete authority to the Government. But when regulations of this description have been approved by this House, orders made under them, which can have the most extreme and far-reaching effects - just as extreme as may result from any piece of legislation ever passed by this Parliament - never Gome before this House for consideration, and cannot be challenged except in the form of a motion of censure after the whole damage has been done.

Mr CALWELL (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The honorable member would like to have such powers.

Mr SPENDER - I never sought such powers, and am sufficiently democratic not to ask for powers in this blank form. If they were given to members of my party, they would (be exercised with a degree of impartiality which is entirely unknown to the present Government.

I shall state very shortly where I stand. I. am in favour of the exercise of plenary powers by the Executive. Such powers could Be exercised through regulations, which could deal with specific matters. I arn opposed to these regulations as framed, and I shall oppose any such regulations which do not incorporate the amendments suggested by the right honorable member for Kooyong. In view of the statement of the responsible Minister whose chief function will be to apply these regulations, namely, that not in any circumstances will he apply them to the industrial workers of this country, I am notprepared to permit him to apply them, in their present blanket form, against the rest of the community. I believe that those of us who sit on this side of the House owe a duty to the electors who returned us to this Parliament. In face of the declaration by the Minister for Labour and National Service (hat it is .his intention not to apply these regulations to the workers - whom he claims that he alone represents - no support should be given to them.

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