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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - The regulations which are the subject of the motion for adjournment are contained in Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77. It will be recalled, I think, that somewhere about June, 1940, a Commonwealth Labour conference adopted a policy in which, shortly put, it said that, having regard to the state of the war and the necessity for a defence calling for major organization and maximum capacity, the whole of the resources of Australia - human, financial, and material - should be placed at the disposal of the Government for the urgent prosecution of the war and the defence of this country. That was the very short yet infinite compass of the programme which the conference laid down as being requisite for the kind of war in which the country was then engaged ; and that was before Japan had entered the war and this part, of the globe had become a theatre of intense and, indeed, ever-worsening conflict. Almost immediately after that conference had met, the then Government of the day brought down to Parliament a bill to amend the National Security Act. Parliament agreed to widen that act, by authorizing the Government to make regulations " making provision requiring persons to place themselves, their services and their property, at the disposal of the Commonwealth, so far as it appeared necessary or expedient to do so in order to secure the public safety and defence of this country and its territories". One limitation was imposed; it was a limitation that was sought by the then Opposition, members of which now sit on your right, Mr. Speaker. The limitation placed by Parliament upon the exercise of that power was that no such regulation should be made authorizing the imposition of any form of compulsory service beyond the limits of Australia. It is in pursuance of the purposes for which the statute was amended that Statutory Rule No. 77 has been drawn, namely, to enable the Commonwealth to use, for the prosecution of the war, the services and property of all persons and companies within Australia and its territories; in other words, to use the whole of the resources of this country, either human or material, as the Government may deem it proper to use them, in a state which can only be described as a state of emergency, in order that we shall not be too late and at the same time have too little of the country's capacity organizied to meet the situation. It is perfectly true that this is a power which is capable of grave abuse. Authority given to a government in time of war can be well said to be authority that the Government could abuse. Authority which a government may use unnecessarily may be used in such a way as to do complete disservice in the carrying out of the object for which the power was conferred. That is perfectly true. What limitation can be placed upon that? The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said that these regulations were drawn up by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), who is now in the United States of America, but they were drawn* for, and on behalf of, the Minister of State for Defence Co-ordination, and they are administered by that Minister. No delegations have been made under this regulation except such as have been personally signed by me. it is not true to say that the regulation has been used without the Minister responsible for it having signed it with his own hand, or without perfectly clear evidence that it was a written delegation. The only persons to whom this delegation lias been given by me are the Deputy Crown Solicitors in certain States, and then only for the purpose specified in the delegation. There has been no general delegation.

Mr Fadden - But the regulations do not say that.

Mr CURTIN - I know that honorable members are inclined to be afraid of tho wrath to come. We can all see what the consequences of an abuse of power may be, but nobody has yet been able to show that this Government has abused its power. It is true, of course, that the regulation is almost totalitarian in the authority it gives to the Government. For instance, we can order persons to perform such services as may bc prescribed.

Mr McEwen - There is no provision for compensation.

Mr CURTIN - That is not provided for in the regulations, but it is provided for in the Constitution. The National Security Act, and the regulations under it, are themselves subject to the Constitution.

Mr McEwen - The Constitution does not cover all contingencies.

Mr CURTIN - It covers this matter of compensation.

Mr Hughes - That is right. The regulations cannot give more power than the Parliament possesses.

Mr CURTIN - The regulations cannot give more power to the Government than the Constitution has given to Parliament.

Mr Rosevear - What about sub-clause 3? Is that not a delegation of powerof the kind complained of?

Mr CURTIN - The action complained of was taken, as the Minister for Munitions has explained, in pursuance of the authority vested in him. He was not operating under Statutory Rule No. 77, but under another set of regulations. Either the telegram was mis-read, or it was somewhat roughly drafted, and it was, after all, a telegram. I have not issued any delegation by telegram; I have signed them all myself. I shall be glad if the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) will consult with the Minister for Munitions regarding the nature of the project in contemplation. He will then take into account the necessity for great secrecy, and he will appreciate the extreme urgency of the matter, and the severe limitations which exist mechanically in respect of carrying through this project which the Government desires to carry through. Therefore, just because it is not practicable for a government to give all the reasons publicly why it exerts a certain authority, it is not to be assumed that the Government has not adequate reasons for the course it is taking. I put it to the House and to the country that circumstances at this time are such that responsibility must rest somewhere to enable decisions to be taken promptly and adequately.

Mr Fadden - Nobody denies that.

Mr CURTIN - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) does not contest the principle underlying the regulalations, but the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and the honor able member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) do contest it. I regard the authority vested in the Government by these regulations as in accordance with the charter which was given to the Labour party in order that it might leave nothing undone which would be a preparation for using the resources of this country in our defence against an invader who is already bashing our out-ports. If it may be said that a state of emergency exists in those places actually being assailed, and that martial law can be enforced there by military officers, then how can our maximum strength be used in such places where fighting is occurring if there is slackness or inaction or lack of discipline on the part of those who are for the moment distant from the actual place of hostilities, but upon whose labour, industry, and patriotism depends the capacity of the fighting men actually to fight?

I have given five delegations in this matter for purposes which I considered, as did the Ministers who were associated with me, called for immediate action on the part of the Government to ensure that there should be no shortage due to idleness, or to a refusal to observe what had been agreed upon. It is true that this regulation can be directed against the workers. As one who stands, I hope, for all that the workers regard as proper I say to them that the representative body of trade unionism in this country has declared that awards and conditions should be observed, and it asks the Government to observe them. The Government will observe them. The Government will not seek to fix wages, nor will it seek arbitrarily to fix conditions of labour. It leaves all that to the authorities set up for the purpose. No order will be given by the Government to any worker to work under conditions less favorable than those prescribed in the awards of the appropriate tribunals. The representatives of the trade unions have been in consultation with the Government on this matter, because trade unionism has an enormous responsibility in ensuring maximum production. Its leaders have given to the Government the most emphatic assurances of co-operation, and that co-operation has, indeed, been most effective. The country owes to them a very great deal for the way they have assisted the Government in the solving of a number ofproblems - problems not created by the demands of the workers, but inherent in the economic system and bequeathed to us from the past. I place on record here our recognition of the debt which this administration owes to the representative body of trade unionism for the help which it has given to us. As we have undertaken that the awards shall be observed, so we say that no man should make use of his bargaining capacity in a time of scarcity, even though he be a worker, to make his own interests paramount over the necessities of the country, and the obligation that rests on all of us to provide for thefighting forces the equipment which we know they need.

To honorable members opposite who have spoken about compensation arising out of directions given to property owners, I say again what I said a few weeks ago; that this Government, like any other Australian government, is the elect of the people of Australia, and is their representative. This is a fairdealing community, and the people would not tolerate a government or a Minister who ordered aprivate person to hand over his property without receiving an assurance of reasonable compensation. Machinery exists in the hiring branches to fix a fair rate of compensation for property which the Government hires or leases, and I have yet to discover a case in which the acquisition of property either by arbitration or under regulations, has been enforced by a Minister with injustice to the person whose property is acquired.

Mr James - They are just taking property now. and not telling the owners that they will receive any compensation.

Mr CURTIN - There are delays, of course.

Mr James - But no assurance is given that any compensation will ever be paid. They just tell the owner to get out.

Mr CURTIN - There are certain kinds of acquisition not covered by Statutory Rule No. 77. Authority is vested in certain sections of the armed forces, but that authority is exercised only under pressure of actual or imminent necessity. For in stance, it is sometimes necessary immediately to enlarge the area of a military camp in order to accommodate an increased number of troops. I agree that every oral instruction should be immediately followed by a written confirmation. It is as necessary for the Government to have this written confirmation on record as it is for the person to whom the direction is given. However, the point has not arisen because, as I have said, in the only instances in which a delegation of power has been made, I have myself signed the delegation. I am not going to have this regulation disallowed if I can avert it. It is an essential adjunct to the authority of the Government to enable it to deal promptly and adequately with what is, in fact, a state of national emergency, but we shall be answerable to the Parliament for the way in which we exercise this authority.

Mr Hughes -Are these directions specific orgeneral?

Mr CURTIN - They are specific, and I cannot imagine that they could be other than specific, having regard to the nature of the regulations themselves.

Mr Hughes - And a delegate cannot in turn delegate his authority to any one else?

Mr CURTIN - No. It is a specific delegation, and the delegation has been exercised only five times so far. In each case, I was the person who signed the delegation to a specific person for a specific purpose. There was no general delegation whatsoever. And that will be done in every instance. I shall issue to Ministers a direction that every oral instruction which they may cause to he given shall be followed immediately by written confirmation.

Mr Fadden - That assurance is all that the Opposition desires.

Mr CURTIN - All right. That is the end of the matter.

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