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Tuesday, 21 May 1957

Mr JEFF BATE (Macarthur) .- I should like guidance from the Minister on this amendment. If the collector can do something according to his satisfaction and this committee deletes the words " based upon reasonable grounds ", does not the Parliament give to the collector an arbitrary power? In those circumstances, the collector could make an arbitrary decision. I understood that honorable members on this side of the chamber were elected to protect the freedom of the individual. I fear that if these words are deleted the freedom of the individual will not be protected. I am a little surprised at the line taken by the members of the Opposition because one of the reasons they were defeated in 1949 was that they had given too much power of an arbitrary nature to senior public servants. Now, the Opposition 'directs its arguments against the use of arbitrary power, though they reposed such power in public servants to a considerable extent. One of the greatest arguments of the Government parties during the election campaign in 1949 was that we would do all we could to combat arbitrary powers. I ask the Minister to re-assure me that this amendment does not give arbitrary power to the collector.

As it has been seen fit in another place to include the words " based upon reasonable grounds ", an amendment for their deletion must be considered very carefully. Some federal public servants who are entrusted by Parliament with these powers do not even know the meaning of the word " arbitrary ". Most dictionaries define is as meaning, " Known only to the will of the person making the decision ". The collector can make a decision, whether based upon reasonable grounds or capriciously, and he does net have to give reasons for it. If the Government cannot satisfy me that the deletion of these words does not give arbitrary power to the collector or does not put him in a position in which he need not explain his actions, I cannot accept the amendment.

I should like to hear argument on the matter in plain, ordinary words that can be understood by every one. We should get away, if possible, from legalisms. I want to ensure that individual citizens in Australia are protected from the exercise of arbitrary power, which should not be handed by this Parliament to a public servant. It is of no use for any member of the Parliament to criticize a public servant for exercising power that it has given to him. If the words " based upon reasonable grounds " are omitted from paragraph (b) of sub-section (1.) of proposed new section 35 a. of the principal act, a public servant will be able to continue to exercise arbitrary power.

Mr Osborne - No. The honorable member has misunderstood the whole argument.

Mr JEFF BATE - I should be happy to be convinced by the Minister. If the words are omitted, we say to the Collector of Customs, in effect, "Do what you like. You do not have to account to any one for what you do ".

Mr Osborne - That is not so.

Mr JEFF BATE - The Minister knows that I have recently taken up with the Department of Customs and Excise a case in which it seemed to me that power was used arbitrarily by the Collector of Customs. I still think that he used his power arbitrarily. These words should be omitted, if their omission will have the effect of deliberately giving arbitrary power to the Collector, and .telling him that, unless the Minister for Customs and Excise calls upon him to disclose his reasons, he is not bound to do so. I consider that the amendment made in another place is wholly fair. The matter should not be taken lightly. I have not made any agreement about it elsewhere, and I should like to be convinced that the amendment now proposed will not have the effect of deliberately giving to a public servant power that could be used arbitrarily.

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