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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - 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.

Senator Vardon - Which the Minister may refer to the Board.

Senator RUSSELL - 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.

Senator Vardon - If the Board reported to the Minister that an inquiry was necessary, he would at once consent to it.

Senator RUSSELL - 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.

Senator Wilson - Perhaps that is why the Pool was such a success.

Senator RUSSELL - 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.

Senator Wilson - It may determine for a manufacturer many sleepless nights.

Senator Duncan - It may determine, in spite of the Minister, what job it will take first.

Senator RUSSELL - 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.

Senator Duncan - Was not that a departmental Board? The Tariff Board is not to be a departmental Board.

Senator RUSSELL - 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.

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