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Thursday, 22 October 1931

Mr LATHAM (Kooyong) .- We appear to have listened to a strong defence of parliamentary government. The arguments used by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis), in relation to the power to prohibit the entry of any article into Australia by proclamation - which is not reviewable in any parliament except on a motion of censure- are two. First, that it is necessary to act promptly; therefore, the power should be exercised by proclamation instead of regulation. But, as both a regulation and ;a proclamation require executive action, a regulation may be made as promptly as a proclamation. ' So there is nothing whatever, in the first argument advanced by the honorable member. His second argument is that resort to proclamation ensures effective parliamentary control, because, if Parliament disagrees with any particular proclamation, a vote of censure, if you please, may be carried, and the Government put out of office. The old story of Bo-Bo burning down the house to roast the pig is obviously applicable. There may be disagreement to two of a list of about 70 items. The proposal of the honorable member for Corio is that a Government should be put out of office because of that dissent on two items out of 70. The idea of the honorable member is susceptible of further extension. Why should not all legislation be conducted in accordance with this purely democratic principle? Why should not the executive simply publish in the Government Gazette such statutes as it thinks ought to form part of the law of the land, and leave it to Parliament to consider the detail's of that legislation during the discussion of a series of motions of censure of the Government? That is applying precisely the same procedure to legislation. If the idea is sound, and there is complete parliamentary control in accordance with the principles of representative and responsible government in the case of a proclamation prohibiting importation, there would be equally full parliamentary control if all legislation were conducted by that method. Accordingly, it would be necessary for Parliament to meet only very occasionally for the purpose of considering want of confidence motions.

The arguments of the honorable member do not support the conclusion which he draws, and it is remarkable that support should be given by honorable members in any .section of the chamber to the procedure adopted by this Government. Tho difference between the procedure adopted by this and other governments, is that this power to prohibit by proclamation, which has in the past been regarded as an emergency power, and justified by reference to considerations of health and disease, has been used by this

Government in order to bring about most drastic changes in our whole fiscal system. If the government of the day wants to impose a duty of one-fifth of one per cent, upon any article coming into the country, it has to obtain the consent of both Houses of the legislature. But this Government has completely prohibited the entry of articles into Australia without reference to Parliament. I say that this power has been abused by the Government.

Mr Scullin - That is what the honorable gentleman declares, but it is not correct. The honorable gentleman is too dogmatic.

Mr LATHAM - I am as much entitled to my opinion as is the right honorable gentleman to his. He holds his opinions just as dogmatically as I do mine, but has no more right to be dogmatic than I have. This is obviously a matter of opinion. I consider these prohibitions very important. It may be that the Prime Minister takes a very different view, to which he is entitled. ' I hold that there ought to be an opportunity for Parliament to discuss each prohibition in detail. This Parliament has the right to discuss every proposal for a duty, however small it may be; but in the case of absolute prohibitions it has had no opportunity to discuss them.

Mr Scullin - That, again, is not correct. Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss these prohibitions.

Mr LATHAM - I shall be very precise, and say that this Parliament has had no opportunity to express an opinion upon them in such a way as to bring about an alteration in any one of them. I am referring to effective discussions, which would enable a majority of the chamber to bring about a change in relation to a particular item. The only action that can now be taken is that referred to by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis), to move a vote of want of confidence in the Government.

Mr Lewis - The honorable member was not even conversant with the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) until it was explained to him this afternoon.

Mr LATHAM - As a matter of fact I discussed the amendment with the honorable member for Swan last night. I assisted him to draft it, and again discussed it with him to-day. The honorable member for Corio was not aware whether I knew of the proposal or not, but, thinking that he could score in debate, he made a completely reckless and irresponsible statement, not caring whether it was true or not.

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