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Friday, 21 May 1915

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I am really sorry that I have not at my disposal the fund of information that would be required to satisfy Senator Senior. In moving the second reading of the Bill I stressed its general principles. I pointed out that the word " material " had been inserted in another place for the purpose of empowering the Attorney-General to decide between the interests of an enemy subject in a contract and a " material " interest. This Bill will not merely annul contracts with enemy subjects, but contracts in which enemy subjects have an interest. The amendment to which I have referred vests a discretionary power in the Attorney-General.

Senator Millen - It introduces the personal equation..

Senator GARDINER - Yes; and at a time like this we must depend upon that equation. We may be- embarking upon an uncharted sea so far as navigation records are concerned, but I venture to say that the action taken by the AttorneyGeneral in regard to trusts and companies controlled by German interests and German capital has conclusively proved that he at least is familiar with all the rocks and sand banks/

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He can read the compass.

Senator GARDINER - It is because I have implicit confidence in the man at the helm to-day that I am prepared to take these risks. I recognise that we are enacting legislation of a character which has never before been enacted by a British Parliament. But such legislation is necessary in the interests of our own people. Under the Bill we do not propose to confiscate enemy goods-

Senator Millen - Yes. It is proposed to confiscate enemy interests.

Senator Senior - It is proposed to confiscate the material interests of an enemy subject.

Senator GARDINER - It is true that the measure deals with the material interests of an enemy subject, but not in the direction of taking from him something to enrich ourselves. It merely seeks to prevent him from engaging in industrial pursuits, which, in the absence of this Bill, we could not prevent him from embarking upon.

Senator Senior - The Government propose to take away from him the means by which he lives.

Senator GARDINER - No, but merely the means by which enemy subjects prevent us from living industrially. In other words, we contemplate the annulment of contracts which would prevent us from developing our own resources. I recognise that I am not making myself as clear as I would like upon this point. The definition of "material interest" rests with the Attorney-General. The operation of the Bill will be limited by the principal Act to the period that is covered by the war. It is essentially a war measure.

Senator Senior - How can it be when it is proposed to annul contracts absolutely. Under ordinary circumstances, enemy contracts would be revived at the end of the war, but in this Bill it is proposed to annul them permanently.

Senator GARDINER - The AttorneyGeneral will deal only with those contracts which it is necessary to annul and void at the present time. Although the effect of annulments which may be made now will be for all time, the increased labour that will be thrown upon the AttorneyGeneral will be limited to the duration of the war. I venture to say that there will not be a large number of contracts dealt with by him. Even if some other authority could do this work more effectively than the Attorney-General, I have no hesitation in affirming that no man in Australia is so thoroughly equipped with a knowledge of the different German interests in the Commonwealth as is the present occupant of that office. I hope that Senator Senior will recognise the difference in a contract between an " interest " and " a material interest " by an enemy subject. The amendment was inserted in another place to avoid the cancellation of contracts in which the interests of enemy subjects are not deemed to be sufficient to warrant the adoption of that course.

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