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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - The subject under consideration revives once more a question often raised during election campaigns. I refer to the restoration of parliamentary government which, if it means anything at all, means that Parliament shall be the dominant factor in the country. It is well within the recollection of honorable senators that for a considerable time the Government of one of the principal States of the Commonwealth acted in a very highhanded way, without consulting Parliament, and that when an appeal was made to the electors that Government was defeated. If we throw our minds back to the last Federal election and to the one which preceded it, we recall that a policy which the members of this party unanimously supported was that of constitutional government in Australia. Surely that means that the Parliament of the country should be the supreme power. What do Ave find in this case? The Government said it would regard a favorable vote on a motion that a certain paper be printed as a direction to sell the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. We have heard the explanation of the position by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir George Pearce), who said that he then gave an assurance to the Senate under extenuating circumstances, that Parliament would be consulted. We are, I am sure, willing to accept the right honorable gentleman's assurance, because none of us is faultless, or ready for every emergency. The fact, however, remains that the ' assurance given by the right honorable gentleman to the Senate was that Parliament would be consulted before anything further was done in connexion with the sale of the ships. What is the present position ? The Government, having accepted the vote taken in both Houses as a direction to sell the Line, presumably now considers it has a free hand to do so without consulting Parliament. I submit that something more has yet to be done. The Government should take Parliament into its confidence and disclose the terms on which it proposes to sell the ships when that time comes. It is quite conceivable that a business arrangement may be entered into whereby the interests of the Australian people may be prejudiced.

Senator Sir George Pearce - A state- ment, setting out the conditions under which the Line was to be sold, was made in both Houses.

Senator LYNCH - Yes, from the Government's viewpoint. I submit that any offers to purchase the Line should be brought before Parliament. If we give the Government a free hand, how do we know what form the final agreement will take? It may be of such a nature as to seriously prejudice the interests of the people. Parliament should have the right to say what shall be done, as it will have to accept the responsibility. Surely we shall not be blamed, as is frequently the case, if we are not consulted. May I remind the right honorable gentleman of what occurred some time ago in connexion with a similar transaction in Western Australia. It was proposed to acquire a railway line, together with a certain area of land, at an estimated cost of £1,500,000 - not ££,500,000 as is involved in this instance. The Western Australian Government, of which I was then a member, said that the Government's proposal would be placed before Parliament for approval. That is an instance in which Parliament wa3 consulted and made the supreme and final arbiter. The Government did not attempt to purchase the railway line and the land without reference to Parliament. It recognized its duty to the people, and placed the terms of the offer before Parliament, whose duty it was to accept or reject the proposal. In another place cables were quoted to show that the manager of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers in London said that he had a prospective purchaser at £3,500,000. He cabled to the board to obtain the views of the Prime Minister upon the subject. The Prime Minister, as honorable senators are aware, cabled to the board's representative in London, saying that if the offer of £3,500,000 was a firm one, and if certain incidentals were agreed to, the agreement would be referred to Parliament. His words were -

Purchasers must clearly understand that any agreement arrived at must be subject to the ratification of Parliament.

That was a declaration by the Government that ally agreement reached must be subject to. the ratification of. Parliament. No guarantee has been given of keeping faith with that declaration. If we are to accept the recent declaration of the Prime Minister in this matter, the Government has not a free hand. In view of the bearing this proposal for the sale of the Line has upon the welfare of a vast body of people in this country, the Government should take Parliament into its confidence, and so keep faith with the declaration made by the Prime Minister only a few months ago in his cablegram to London that whatever tentative agreement was come to, or proposed, for the sale of the vessels, must be subject to ratification of Parliament.

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