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Wednesday, 9 November 1910
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Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I think it is desirable to inform the Minister of Defence of that which he evidently is in ignorance. He has not been present during the whole of the discussion, and, therefore, it is necessary to inform him as to what transpired when the question was originally mooted. The Vice-President of the Executive Council agreed with me that if the clause were struck out the effect would be just the same as if it were retained, and he consented to its deletion. lt was not until Senator Gould pointed out that it was desirable to retain the portion defining "the Territory " that Senator McGregor expressed a desire not to retain that portion only, but the whole clause.

Senator Rae - And he gave the reason why

Senator MILLEN - Yes. Senator McGregor stated that, in view of some criticism addressed to the Senate, the public might consider that the deletion of the definition was intended as a reflection on Mr. Batchelor. That line of argument was, . I think, too weak for serious consideration. Senator Pearce's second objection is that this is merely a drafting amendment. I have a strong disinclination to see brought in as an argument anything which an officer may have said to a Minister. I have a strong objection to take any direction as to my legislative duties from a junior clerk in any Department.

Senator McGregor - That is not the way in which it ought to be put.

Senator MILLEN - It is too often the case that a junior officer of a Department comes here, and not having knowledge enough or authority to break away from that which has been placed in his hands by his superior officer, he advises the Minister to stand by the Bill.

Senator McGregor - It is just the contrary in this case.

Senator MILLEN - It is not an argument which ought to be addressed to the Chamber. This is something more than a drafting amendment, as Senator Pearce admitted unconsciously when he pointed out that if the definition were not retained it would leave the Ministry free to place the administration of the Act under another Department if they so desired. I contend that the most competent persons to adjust the Ministerial duties are Ministers themselves. No man can possibly know better how to apportion the work falling to Ministerial heads than those who have to do it. It is rather novel that the Opposition are seeking to give to the Government a liberty which they are trying to resist. It is generally the other way about.

Senator Rae - It is funny. Perhaps they suspect some gifts from the Greeks.

Senator MILLEN - I am rather inclined to think that in this case the Government are either too frightened of the draftsman to break away from the Bill, or afraid to accept this measure of liberty which a large section of the Committee is prepared to give. I ask honorable senators whether there is really any objection to our leaving Ministers themselves to say how they shall allocate the duties which they have to .discharge.

Senator Pearce - We have said in this Bill how we think that the work ought to be apportioned.

Senator MILLEN - Let me draw attention to the curious position in which Ministers are. It is not very long since Senator McGregor was pleading that the Government had not decided the matter. He said that it was done by a proclamation issued in 1906.

Senator McGregor - I never mentioned the word " proclamation." What I said was that it was arranged in December, 1906.

Senator MILLEN - If the honorable senator did not use the word, the proclamation is what he had in his mind.

Senator McGregor - No.

Senator MILLEN - How was the arrangement made in 1906, except by proclamation ?

Senator McGregor - It was made by the Deakin Government under an arrangement, and gazetted.

Senator MILLEN - It was settled by a proclamation sighed by Lord Northcote.

Senator McGregor - I never mentioned the word " proclamation."

Senator MILLEN - I ask the Minister if there is any other authority 'than a proclamation for apportioning the duties among Ministers?

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator ought to have opposed it then.

Senator MILLEN - I am standing by the proclamation. The correct procedure is to leave Ministers perfect freedom to readjust their duties as circumstances may require. All I ask is that they shall be left with exactly the same power as they have always had.

Senator Pearce - You are very belated in taking up that attitude.

Senator MILLEN - On this occasion I did not discover the point, but Senator Givens did.

Senator McGregor - He did not discover anything of the kind. He discovered the Home Affairs Department.

Senator MILLEN - So far as I know Senator Givens started the discussion which caused a close examination of the clause to be made. I do not pretend to come here with a close knowledge of every clause.

Senator Lynch - Do you wish to increase the power of Ministers at the expense of Parliament?

Senator MILLEN - That is rather a feeble interjection. The logical answer to the question would be to bring every Ministerial act under review here, but we do not do that for a moment.

Senator Lynch - If you strike out the definition you will give them a larger field ot selection.

Senator MILLEN - It will leave the Ministry free to put the Northern Territory under the control of any Minister. If, however, the definition be retained, and it should be found later that another Department could more advantageously administer the Territory, no transfer can be made without a special Act. In the State domain we frequently hear of a re-adjustment of Ministerial duties. In the case of nearly every Government which has been formed in New South Wales during the last ten or fifteen years there has been a readjustment. I want to leave our Ministers free to re-adjust Ministerial duties from time to time. If, however, we enact in every Bill that it shall be administered by a particular Department, a re-arrangement cannot be made without the authority of another measure. Surely, when you trust Ministers with very much greater powers, individually and collectively, you might at least give them the power to re-adjust their Ministerial duties in a way which will work each Department to the utmost of its capacity, and to the best purpose of all. That is the sole object I had in proposing the amendment.

Senator NEEDHAM(Western Aus consider very carefully before it accepts the amendment. My object in opposing the clause was to secure that the Minister of Home Affairs should administer the Northern Territory. If the word " Home " had been used in place of the word " External," I should have had no comment to offer. Under Senator Millen's amendment, any Minister might be called upon by the Government to administer that portion of Australia. I do not think it is wise to give that opportunity. It might be wise for the Committee to reject the amendment, and so enable Senator Stewart or myself to move the substitution of the word " Home " for the word " External."

Senator Guthrie - It might be necessary to place the administration of the Territory under the Treasurer's Department.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not think so. I have tried to view this matter impartially. I think that the wisest course is to set a good precedent in this provisional legislation by placing the administration of the Territory under the Home Affairs Department. I was with Senator Millen for a while in his effort to strike out the whole clause, but now I see where the danger comes in.

Senator Millen - Between the two of as the Government will ride to victory.

Senator NEEDHAM - To quote an old saying, " Let God defend the right." Surely the wisdom of the Committee will prevail. I shall vote against the amendment, because it would enable the Government of the day to put any Minister in charge of the Territory.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [5.27].- I ask honorable senators, first, whether we have a Statute defining the duties appertaining to each Minister? No. They have been settled by proclamation. At the inauguration of the Commonwealth the Government allotted the duties to be performed by each Minister, and a proclamation was accordingly published in the Gazette. The Government can at any time they see fit re-allot the duties of Ministers. Wort, for instance, which is now taken by the Minister of Home Affairs could be put under the Minister of External Affairs, or work which is under the latter Department might be put under the Treasurer, or work which is under the PostmasterGeneral might be put under another Minister. By an Executive act Ministers can vary the duties as they please, and the Ministry, collectively, are responsible to the Parliament for whatever work they do.

What does it matter to Parliament whether a work is done by one Minister or other so long as it is done properly and honestly ? If you tie the hands of Ministers, as proposed in this clause, they will have to ask Parliament to authorize any change of duties which they may desire to make. We shall go into recess in a week or two, and not meet again for months. During the recess there might be some reason for making a transfer of Ministerial duty in relation to the Northern Territory, but that could , not be done without special parliamentary authority. Surely honorable senators will see on consideration that it is only reasonable to leave in the hands of Ministers the freedom which they now possess. There is no reason why an exception should be made to the general rule in the case of this measure. In every State Parliament it is the practice to define " the Minister " as " the Minister charged with the administration of this Act." In other Acts it has been provided that the " Minister " shall mean such-and-such a Minister, or such Minister as may be determined by proclamation. Under the circumstances, it is far better to leave the matter open, instead of trying to tie a bit of unnecessary red-tape around Ministers, the only effect of which must be to hamper their operations.

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