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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr LATHAM (Kooyong) (AttorneyGeneral) . - The Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have dealt with two matters. the first being the alleged shutting up of Parliament, and the second, the power of the Commonwealth Government to carry out its declared policy in connexion with the selling of the Shipping Line. On the first point I wish to state that since 13th January last year, this Parliament has sat for 960 hours, and that is a much longer period than any of the parliaments of Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales have sat. I have the figures here for those four states, and this House has sat during that period more than twice as long as any of them. As honorable members know, Parliament was unable to sit until these and other buildings were ready, and a long delay was unavoidable. I now come to the matter of the Commonwealth Shipping Board. This question has been raised as a legal matter, and cannot be determined by political argument. If the- Government tries to effect the sale of the ships, and is unable to give a title to the purchaser, it can be taken for granted that there will be no sale, because the purchaser will not take a doubtful title. Therefore, in order to carry out the policy which has been affirmed by this House, the Government will have to make satisfactory legal title to the ships. If the Opposition is of opinion that the Government is unable to do that, it should be very pleased, lt should not be for the Opposition to urge the Government to make its position right by passing legislation. I admit that no resolution can repeal an act of Parliament. I admit also that the act vested the legal property in the vessels in the board, and, therefore, prima facie, it is only the board that can give a title to them. That admits the substance of everything that lias been said by the Opposition. I was asked a question yesterday on this subject, and I definitely declined to give a legal opinion in reply to a question asked in the House. It is rather unfair for honorable members to frame questions in a particular way and then expect a legal opinion on what is a very intricate matter. The rules laid down for the guidance of honorablemembers arc quite explicit on this point, and I was only obeying the rules of Parliament in declining to give a legal opinion in reply to a question. I have now conceded what honorable members opposite may think is sufficient to establish their contentions, namely, that an act of Parliament is not affected by a resolution of the House, and that the < property in the ships is vested in the board.. To these I will add one proposition which was mentioned by the Prime

Minister yesterday, and which is most relevant. The board is able, with the consent . of the Treasurer, to sell the vessels, and if the board sells them there is no doubt concerning the effectiveness of the sale. That is one way of selling the vessels. The other way, if the Government is forced to adopt such a course, is to utilize the provisions of the act under which the board is bound to give debentures in a prescribed form. As honorable members are aware, the board is a long way in arrears with its payments. I have not been able, in the time available, to ascertain the actual form of the debentures - if any - which the board has given. There is power, however, to prescribe the form, and the ordinary form of debenture provides that upon default the property on which the security is given can be sold, and a debenture, speaking generally, is a floating charge upon property. If default is made, the property upon which the debenture is a charge can be sold. That is the position from a purely legal point of view. From the point of view of policy or propriety, I would point out that the Government received a clear indication that its policy is supported by the House, when the want of confidence motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition was defeated. If this motion i3 carried it will be a further confirmation of the Government's policy.

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