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Wednesday, 16 February 1977
Page: 106

Mr E G WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Leader of the Opposition) - Mr Speaker,I seek similar indulgence.

Mr SPEAKER -Similar indulgence is granted.

Mr E G WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is an appropriate thought of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) to pay a tribute in the Parliament to the First Parliamentary Counsel. I warmly support all his remarks. As a part-time resident of Canberra and a long time member of the House I have known Mr Comans, naturally enough, for very many years. He was already the First Parliamentary Counsel when I became Prime Minister and, briefly, actually Attorney-General also. For the following 3 years we were constantly in touch and in consultation. He was, I must confess, appalled at the burden that my colleagues and I imposed on him and his colleagues. In fact, we got to enjoy his engagingly lugubrious manner. He was always distraught at the onerous and intractable problems we would place on his desk. Nevertheless, he and his colleagues produced an immense amount of legislation and they did it not only with diligence but with patience, expedition and skill. It is worthy of note, I believe, that never had there been in any 3 years so many pieces of legislation or in fact such a high percentage of complex pieces of legislation. It also should be acknowledged that during those years and during the subsequent year the High Court of Australia practically never declared invalid any of the legislation they drafted. There has never been such a high percentage of legislation which has been challenged and such a high percentage of legislation which has survived challenge. As the Attorney would know, it was my practice from the beginning to involve the Parliamentary Counsel and successive SolicitorsGeneral in the preparation of any legislation which any of us thought might be challenged. It was a wise precaution. The Government and the Parliament were well served. It gave us very great satisfaction as the Government to recommend that Mr Comans should be granted silk. He has been for 40 years a great public servant.

On this occasion in particular we acknowledge his service as counsel to the Parliament. I applaud his being offered and his accepting engagement as a consultant. My Government offered the same engagement to Mr Ewens and he accepted. In particular it will be remembered that he drafted the pioneering rehabilitation and compensation legislation. As I said, it is appropriate that the Attorney should have given the House this opportunity to pay a tribute to a very able man, a very great servant of the Australian people and counsel to their representatives.

Mr SPEAKER -I seize this opportunity to join in the tribute paid by the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) to Charles Comans, who has been a friend of mine in a personal sense for very many years and who was an officer and advisor of mine as Attorney-General and as chairman of the legislation committee of the Cabinet. I came into very close contact with him. I had an enormous admiration for his extraordinary intellectual powers, his honesty of purpose and his capacity for work. I am very glad to have the opportunity to join in the tributes paid to him.

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