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Friday, 2 August 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) .- The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) either pretended to misunderstand, or has misrepresented, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), whose proposal cannot be related to Hitler's code. It should be observed that under the Constitution the Government cannot acquire property except upon just terms. Any person whose property has been acquired may have recourse to the courts for protection. I say advisedly that under the provisions of this clause the Government could avoid the payment of compensation to any one whose property had been, not acquired, but controlled. The power of control given by the clause is so plenary and wide as to exclude for all purposes any real ownership by those who now have the conduct of the coal mines. I draw attention to this matter, because upon it I made some remarks at the second-reading stage. The bill as originally drafted, and before a portion was removed from it, provided, as does the Coal Production (War-time) Act 1944, that in the event of disagreement a person could obtain compensation from the Government through any court of competent jurisdiction if a mine were controlled as distinct from being acquired. I emphasize again that no provision for compensation is needed in respect pf a mine that has been acquired, because the matter is covered by the Constitution; but when a mine is controlled, and the powers in relation to the control are such as completely to exclude the owner and the shareholders from effective control of its operations, there is no provision for compensation. I ask the Minister two plain questions. The first is this : In the event of the power of the board being exercised, as it may be under this provision, so as to control a mine in exactly the same way as it was intended that, the Government should ' be able to exercise control under clause 19 of the bill as originally drafted, is it intended that compensation shall be paid? The second question is: If it be intended that compensation shall be paid, why is there no provision in the bill making that payment obligatory? Surely those questions are simple enough ! I , point out that under clause 13 (2) («), most complete .control is taken over coal, not only in the sense in which that word L? ordinarily used, but also as the term is expanded by the definition clause. Power is given to regulate prices and profits, but no provision is made for appeals. Some person in the office, of the board will tell this or that person, " These are your prices and profits ", and there will be no appeal ' from that decision. I understood that this Government had talked about the removal of controls. Here 13 an epic example' of the imposition of controls to an even greater degree than existed during the war. But the matter does not rest there. Let us turn to paragraph / of sub-clause 3, which provides that the board shall have authority to " assume control of the management and operation of any coal mine"; and to paragraph which pro- vides that the board shall have authority " to terminate, suspend, vary or modify any contract or agreement relating to or affecting the production, supply or distribution of coal, including sale, transportation by land, or sea, loading, discharge, delivery, storage and use " of coal. Under this clause, power is given to the board to interfere with contracts, and that may result in substantial loss to the parties to the contracts. There is no provision for the appointment of a tribunal to fix compensation, or to hear appeals from a decision- of the board. I notice, however, that a different view is adopted when dealing with the rights of employees; because, under paragraph k, if a' person be suspended or excluded from employment in. the coal industry, he is to have the right of appeal;, and rightly so. Why are people whose money is invested, many of them small shareholders, to be given no right of appeal? Why is the ordinary person - for example, a small business man whose contract in relation to coal is interfered with under paragraph j - to have no right of appeal? As a lawyer, I regard this as a lamentably drafted bill. It has been prepared in a slovenly fashion, and has no regard for the rights and interests of the people of this country. Nowhere in it is there any right to compensation, no matter to what degree the interests of people may be interfered with. It is about time more attention was paid to the drafting of the bills that are brought to this Parliament. I want to hear the views of the Government upon these simple . questions : Under this clause, cannot the Government, as I have alleged, do anything in respect of the industry, including the control of any mine or interference with any contract? I speak in the widest terms. If that be so, does not the Government realize . that people . may suffer such damage as even to ruin them through the exercise of powers that may be necessary in the interests of the country? Is it intended to pay such persons compensation, or to give them the right to apply to a tribunal for compensation? If that is the intention of- the Government, why not state it in the bill? I have heard the view expressed, and I know that it is held by some of the advisers of the Government, that there is a limited .legal significance in the constitutional provision requiring the payment of compensation for acquisition by the Commonwealth. According to this view, the effect of expropriation by the Commonwealth can be achieved by saying to the owner of the property, "You '-shall not run this business except on the conditions we lay down. You shall not enter into any contract except on the terms and conditions prescribed, and if you do enter into such contract, we have authority to set it. aside." In this way, they argue, the Commonwealth can expropriate a person's property without paying, any compensation at all. This is a matter which strikes at the very heart of constitutional government in a democracy. In both Australia and the United States of America, the constitutions provide that the Government may not take over any property without paying just compensation, and that if the person affected is dissatisfied with the compensation offered he may go to the courts of the land to have the matter determined. The bill as it will be passed by Parliament will not contain Part IV., the part which provides for the " control of coal-mines ". Therefore, there will be' no provision in the bill as it will be passed for the payment of' one penny of compensation to persons whose property may be expropriated. I give that opinion in my capacity as a lawyer, something which I seldom do in this House, as I do not think that it is right. I see an officer in attendance on the Minister laughing. It too often happens that the advisers who sit behind the Government benches show by their demeanour and by their laughing what they think of arguments placed before the Parliament.

Mr Morgan - I rise to a point of order. Is it permissible for an honorable member to attack officials who are in the chamber to advise Ministers, and who cannot defend themselves. I submit that it is unsporting and improper.

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