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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) (5:44 AM) . - The amendment will at least serve the good purpose of confirming the decision of this Chamber and indicating what course the Government is entitled to pursue. If the vote on the recent no confidence motion is regarded by honorable members opposite as not having given to the Government authority to sell the Line, the decision of the committee this morning will put the matter beyong doubt. I therefore welcome the action which the Leader of the Opposition has taken. If the amendment is defeated honorable members opposite will not be entitled to say that the Government had no authority from this House to sell the ships, and that any proposed sale must be referred to Parliament.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to an act of Parliament under which the vessels were handed over to an independent board which was to be free from political control. There was no need for him to draw my attention to that fact. 1 do, however, object to his suggestion that I have departed from principle and exercised political influence in relation to the Line. At no time have I put any pressure on the board or attempted to dictate to it as to the control of the Line. There is the further fact that the vessels were actually transferred to, and vested in the board. They were under the board's sole control, and free from political influence. I agree that it is for Parliament to expreses its will on this question; but once Parliament has done that, it is for the Government to carry out the will of Parliament. Parliament has already expressed the opinion that the vessels should be sold. Here is an opportunity to reaffirm that decision.

Mr Charlton - No.

Mr BRUCE - Once the decision of Parliament has been obtained it is for the Government to take the necessary action to give effect to that decision. In pursuance of the decision of Parliament recently given, the Government proposes to offer the ships for sale by tender. The Government must accept the responsibility for any action it takes. I remind the Leader of the Opposition of a quotation he made from a speech I delivered in connexion with the Shipping Line, in which I said that no government would dispose of the ships without first consulting Parliament, and also to his reference to a communication in which the opinion was expressed that there would probably be no difficulty in obtaining the ratification of Parliament in the event of a satisfactory offer for the ships being made and accepted. If the Government sold the ships now upon terms with which Parliament disagreed - if the ships were sacrificed and the interests of the Commonwealth were not safeguarded - that would be a question to be dealt with by Parliament. I do not suggest that the Government is the legal owner of the vessels, or that when they are sold the transfer will be signed by the Government. In the event of a sale, the board,, not the Government would be the trans feror. The board in disposing of the vessels will act in accordance with the will of Parliament already expressed. By bringing forward this amendment the honorable gentleman is giving this branch of the Parliament another opportunity to say that it approves of the sale of the Line. Unless the committee is now prepared to vote in favour of the amendment, the action of the honorable member will .enable it to confirm the view so definitely expressed recently as to the desirability of disposing of the Line. The Government welcomes the amendment because it will set at rest any doubts which may exist as to the intention of Parliament regarding the Line.

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