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Tuesday, 21 May 1957

Mr BLAND (Warringah) . - I shall detain the House for only a few minutes to draw attention to clause 15 of the bill. I ask the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) to look at that clause; and I hope that at the committee stage he will accept an amendment. The Minister pointed out that the bill extends the local autonomy to be enjoyed by the people of Norfolk Island, and that is characteristic of what he has been doing in the administration of the territories in respect of which he has been giving as great a degree of local autonomy as possible. However, he has included in the bill a clause which is subject to very grave criticism. He said that the wording of the existing section left some doubt as to whether a retrospective ordinance could validly be made, and that this bill seeks to make it quite clear that such ordinances can be validly made.

It is a tradition of liberal people that legislation cannot be made retrospective except for the purpose of correcting something that has gone wrong or for giving a benefit to some person. If by retrospective legislation a penalty can be imposed on a person or a person can be given duties not accepted by him when he took a position, then a situation which could cause serious unsettlement is introduced. People would not know where they stood if a government could legislate to cover things that happened earlier. Therefore, a great deal of care has been taken in the drafting of legislation by liberal people to ensure that retrospective duties or obligations are not included.

I agree that the argument could be advanced that in such circumstances the best protection is in the alertness of the people. It is true that this measure provides that notice of any intention to make an ordinance must be published in the Gazette. That would bring the matter under the notice of the people who are affected, but it is imposing too great a burden on them to ask them to watch always what is being done. For example, the spate of ordinances and regulations that goes through this House is so great that I doubt whether any honorable member does more than cursorily glance at it and consign it to the wastepaper basket. However, those ordinances and regulations may contain some matters which are objectionable to the principles we hold. Therefore, the burden of watching ordinances should not be imposed on people. We should protect the public.

It is true that the only protection the public has is in the integrity of the Public Service and in the honesty and integrity of the Administration. I very much doubt whether any administrator would willingly impose penalties on people retrospectively, but he could do so. The right to do so could be abused. Therefore, we should take action to prevent the obligation being placed on the Parliament, or whatever the authority may be, to disallow regulations. We ought not to frame our legislation in such a way as to impose these liabilities. I hope that the Minister will consider whether a few words can be omitted from clause 15 with a view to meeting theobjections I have raised.

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