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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - The speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has not been very reassuring to me. Honorable members have never been in doubt as to where I stand on the question of the Government, in time of war, having extraordinary powers, indeed, almost absolute powers. But there are, in these regulations, certain transgressions against good method, which render it desirable that they should be rejected. Then, if the Government still considers that it should possess certain powers, it should take them by means of amended regulations.

The Prime Minister stated that these regulations delegated to Ministers certain powers. That is not accurate. The regulations do not delegate powers to Ministers. They provide that the Minister of State for Defence Co-ordination (Mr. Curtin) may delegate powers to any unspecified individual whatsoever. Incidentally, those powers may be completely and absolutely unlimited. Possessing some knowledge of the functioning of government, I contend that any Minister acting on behalf of the Minister for Defence Co-ordination may delegate any of these powers.

Mr Brennan - Under regulation No. 4, any Minister may exercise these powers.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is so. In proof of that, I have only to point out that the statutory rule itself is signed not by the Minister for Defence Coordination, but by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). If honorable members examine the National Security Act, they will discover that there are four things which cannot be done under that authority. The National Security Act cannot amend the Constitution, acquire property and land, extend the service of naval and military and Royal Australian Air Force personnel outside Australia, and subject people to trial by courtmartial. These regulations grant to an unknown and unnamed individual power to give any oral direction which he deems fit, and of which the Prime Minister might never hear. From the standpoint of the community nothing could be worse than that. Nothing that a court-martial could do, could be worse than the hardship and penalties that could be inflicted upon an individual under these regulations. In agreeing to second a motion for the disallowance of these regulations which, I understand, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) proposes to submit, I warn the Prime Minister that he must realize that with my signature goes my vote. I shall be interested to see r i<ยป i the House divide on this matter. The very essence of the National Security Act is the donation to Ministers of extraordinary powers, but these regulations go a step beyond that, by providing that Ministers may delegate unspecified powers to any individual whatsoever. I have no guarantee that only a Deputy Crown solicitor in a State will be the authority who will exercise this power. Of late, I have noted some rather extraordinary appointments, and the Lord only knows whether some of those appointees may be entrusted with the exercise of these extraordinary powers. I should be extremely unhappy to think that some persons, whom I. could name, will be entrusted by the Government with any responsibility, but I do not wish to enter into those particulars at the moment. Before long, I may be obliged to do so in a very definite way.

We must recognize that this power of delegation is most dangerous. I have been most interested to read in Hansard some of the speeches that the Prime Minister delivered when he sat in opposition ; it might be as well if the honorable gentleman also refreshed his memory by perusing them. Out of curiosity, I also read some of my own speeches, and I found that my attitude has been perfectly consistent. The object is to evolve a method under which the Government can conduct the war inside our territory while preserving to the people certain of their rights and liberties. I have said repeatedly that in certain circumstances involving combat within Australia, certain rights and liber-ties which we have enjoyed must go by the board. But that must occur in a general way, not to individuals but to classes. ' No man should be vested with authority orally to command Smith, Jones or Brown to perform certain acts. The story of the Centurion in the Scriptures should not have a local application : " I say ' come ', and he cometh, and I say ' go ' and he goeth As the regulations stand at present, the person who issues the order is under no obligation even to put his instructions ., in writing. Still quoting the Scriptures, the Prime Minister might say that, "What the Lord hath given, the Lord may take away". What perturbs me is what mightbe done under theseregulationsbefore a certainsetofcircumstancesarises, which willbe of such severityas to force itselfupon theattennotonlyoftheParliamentbutalso ofthecountryatlarge.Ibelieveinthe ruleoflaw.Ihavenolikingfor dictatorialmethodsingovernment.

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