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Tuesday, 30 May 1939

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- The somewhat flippant and, indeed, rude answer given by the Minister (Mr. Casey) to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in which he suggested that the honorable gentleman might have read the bill before he spoke,, does not dispose of the question raised by the honorable member, which is strictly pertinent to this discussion and upon the answer to which largely depends the further question as ' to whether or not this clause is worth adopting. The amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) is the only substantive matter that has been accepted as part of the departmental operations of this department. That means that inquiries are to be made as to the profits that are to be earned in any particular industry. The question raised by the honorable member for East Sydney, as I understand it, is as to what powers the Commonwealth possesses to institute these inquiries and to press for the answers; because, if there be no legal authority upon which the matter rests, clearly it will be futile to pass a law which would be dependent upon the willingness or otherwise of profiteers to disclose the degree to which they are profiteering. I do not undertake, at all events at the moment and without research, to state what is the legal position in regard to the powers of royal commissions, but, I understand that since the decision in the case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and the Commonwealth, the generally accepted view has been that this Parliament may pass legislation with respect to any particular subjectmatter, defining precisely what the inquiries are to be relevant to. Of course, the matter must be one in respect of which this Commonwealth Parliament has jurisdiction. "Within those limits, a royal commission or any other questioning body may be vested with, powers of inquiry. But it is obvious that under this merely enabling bill the powers of inquiry are to be of a most general character, and do not relate to any specific subjectmatter, such as, for example - to cite two cases that occur to my mind - the petrol inquiry and the inquiry in relation to the activities of tlie Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, but envisage a general and rambling inquiry on subject-matters not yet discussed. Speaking from memory and without research, I suggest that there is good reason to suppose that there is not in the Commonwealth the power to make such inquiries. The succeeding clause advances the matter no further than does this particular clause. It provides that any old question may be asked, by virtue of regulations which have not yet been laid on the table of the House or adopted. The authority for asking such questions is not disclosed, and the Minister, upon being questioned, has given no information on the subject. When the honorable gentleman suggests that honorable members might read the bill, I desire leave to tell hiin that we read it most thoroughly while he was making a more or less futile endeavour to prop up the United Australia party in Tasmania.

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