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Tuesday, 23 October 1956

Mr JOSKE (Balaclava) .- The debate on this bill has indicated the wide divergence between the views of the Government and the views of the Opposition on overseas borrowing. The Opposition has stated frequently during the last few years that it is resolutely opposed to borrowing from overseas. It has announced that as its policy time and again. The Government, on the other hand, has said that it believes that this great country of ours should be properly developed and that in order to achieve the greatest development possible we should obtain as much money as we can from overseas. That policy has been upheld on more than one occasion by the electors. They believe that we are doing the right thing in borrowing from overseas in the interests of the better development of the country. The Government intends to continue with a policy of obtaining as much money as it can from overseas. There is no guile about that. We have said time and again, and we shall continue to say that we shall do our best to develop the country.

A matter which concerns me is the provision in the act of 1919, which is to be preserved, enabling the Governor-General to borrow moneys in such amounts, in such manner, at such prices and on such conditions, as he determines. That is a very wide power which the Parliament has given to the Executive. One wonders from time to time why it is that the Parliament gives such enormously wide powers to the Executive. That power was given in 1919, and it has not been attacked at any time since then. During the years between 1941 and 1949, when Labour was in office, that power was allowed to remain with the Executive. There appears to be no special reason to-day why it should be removed.

The proposal that the powers given to the Governor-General shall be exercised by the Treasurer will terminate a fiction. The position always has been that the powers of the Governor-General are exercised by the Executive Council. An Executive Council meeting, as is well known, is a mere formality. In order that what actually occurs at an Executive Council meeting may be properly realized I propose to refer to a passage written as far back as 1944 by Sir Percy Spender, who had been, in earlier years, a Minister of the Crown. He describes what usually takes place at an Executive Council meeting as follows: - . three Ministers meet to exercise the power of the Governor-in-Council. They put through at a meeting a whole host of executive acts, the contents of which very frequently they do not know. The Minister who is responsible for the promulgation . . . usually is not present at the meeting of the Executive Council . . . Indeed, I am satisfied that most regulations are issued without most Ministers knowing what they really deal with, and certainly without any but one or two knowing what their real legal effect is.

Commenting on that matter the present honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland), in his former capacity as Professor of Public Administration in the University of Sydney, referred to the revealing candour of the personal experiences of Mr. Spender, as he then was, and added -

In his address, Mr. Spender tore aside the curtain to allow us to watch that imposingly majestic, but dangerously misunderstood functionary, the Governor-General-in-Council, going through the ritual of the democratic process. He confided to us that safeguards, popularly supposed to be secured by requiring departmental action to run the gauntlet of the Executive Council, were an entirely empty ceremony, regularly performed by a few available Ministers, who probably had not the faintest knowledge of the contents, or the implications, of the documents they were signing.

I think that is quite a fair description of the procedure in the Executive Council. Consequently, when it is said, as has been said by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) that the purpose of this bill is to bring about a more flexible procedure - in other words to do away with formality and allow the

Treasurer to get down to business straightaway - I cannot see any objection to the passage of the bill. After all, if a government exceeds its powers and abuses its authority under the powers conferred by the principal act, it is for the electors to deal with the matter at the right time and place, and no doubt they would do so. The fact that the principal act has stood in its present form since 1919 indicates that the powers conferred by it have not been abused. In those circumstances I do not think that any good purpose is served by challenging it now. As I have said, the bill, which is designed to allow the Treasurer to deal with these matters, seems to me to be entirely unobjectionable.

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