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Friday, 21 May 1915

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I must compliment the VicePresident of the Executive Council on the great skill with which he has succeeded in conveying to honorable senators a minimum of information with a maximum of work. He resumed his seat with quite a glow of conscious triumph in having achieved the purpose for which he set out. He absolutely sat down without having told the Committee anything.

Senator Gardiner - I have a great master to study in the person of the honorable senator.

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friend is a very apt pupil. I listened carefully with a view to seeing whether he attempted to deal seriously with the points which were raised by Senator Keating and Senator Senior. The matter at issue is a very simple one. There is no disguising the fact that this Bill proposes to take away from enemy subjects something of value to them, which they possess to-day. With the desire expressed in the measure to terminate enemy contracts, I am heartily in accord. But I deprecate very much the attempt which is being made to play upon the national and patriotic feelings of honorable senators for the purpose of inducing them to accept the Bill merely because it will have a detrimental effect on the enemy. On* of the principal objections which we have to our enemies to-day is based upon their absolutely barbarous methods of warfare. Indeed, we have plumed ourselves on dealing with them more in accordance with the dictates of civilization than they deal with us. This Bill deals, not with enemy interests, but with enemy subject interests. There is a great distinction between the two things. We draw that distinction very sharply in the case of vessels which are seized. When an enemy vessel is seized there is no question raised, but when an enemy subject vessel is seized what happens ? It is not left to the AttorneyGeneral to say what should become of her. German vessels were in Australian ports when war was declared, and they were detained here. But it is not for the Attorney-General or the Minister of Defence to say what should become of them. We said in effect, " These are the property of enemy subjects, and, therefore, we will refer them to a Prize Court to determine what should be done with them." So determined were we that there should be no suspicion of our methods, that when it was suggested we should utilize these vessels for public purposes, the Court said, " Until we have adjudicated upon them even the Government cannot take these vessels from our control unless they first deposit with us the cash value of them." But under some ambiguous reference to trusts, the Vice-President of the Executive Council has attempted to make us believe that the Attorney-General is the proper authority to deal with them. If he is, why should he not deal with the property of all enemy subjects - a proposal which nobody would entertain for a moment. I ask Senator Newland whether, if his property were endangered in a conflict with somebody else, he would not prefer to have his interest adjudicated upon by a Court rather than by the AttorneyGeneral 1

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Under present conditions I am inclined to trust the AttorneyGeneral more than I would under other circumstances.

Senator MILLEN - But we are dealing with the machinery by which the provisions of this measure are to be given effect.

Senator Gardiner - Can the honorable senator suggest anything better?

Senator MILLEN - Yes. I can suggest a dozen courses which would be better. I could not possibly suggest anything; worse than that a question affecting private property should be dealt with in the privacy of a Minister's room. The better suggestion is that the determination of enemy contracts should be left to theCourts.

Senator Russell - But the war will finish some time.

Senator MILLEN - I know that it will. Senator Keating has suggested thepossibility of a Judge having other matters to attend to, and that possibly if these contracts had to be adjudicated upon by a Court delay would result. But surely it is possible to create a special Judge to undertake this particular work. Anything would be better than to allow Ministers to wrangle in a private room over assets which might be worth thousands of pounds. The possibility of mistakes being made there is so appallingthat I am simply surprised that theMinistry should insist upon saddling one of their number with this responsibility. My main objection to the measure is that." when we are dealing with the private property of enemy subjects we should immediately tura round and say that a starchamber form of procedure should beadopted, notwithstanding that we recognise that the only honest method of dealing with such property in other directionsis by means of the Court. I would like, also, to draw attention to another matter. In my opinion, this Bill does not go far enough. It will not annul a contract when only one of the parties to it desires - that it shall be annulled. Suppose that one of the parties to a contract wishes tohave it suspended during the war, but hopes to see it revived at the termination' of the war. Nobody will file a complaint with the Attorney-General in such circumstances, and the contract will go on just the same. I say that it ought not to be left to the discretion of anybody to declare whether such a contract should be determined. If this Bill be necessary to terminate private contracts,, the Minister ought to see the desirableness of making its provisions absolute rather than* conditional. The honorable senator has referred torocks and so on about which the AttorneyGeneral is supposed to have a prophetic knowledge. If he knows of the schemes aud intrigues of the men of commerce it will not be difficult for him to imagine- that there may be such cases as I have referred to, and that parties will desire that the contracts should not be terminated. We are not here in the interests of private individuals, but in the interests of Australia. I submit that no individual in Australia has the right to turn round and say, ' ' I will keep that contract in existence by failing to lodge a complaint." 1 believe that the Minister is as sincere as I am in the belief that this is legislation on the right lines, and, therefore, I ask him if he has a sufficient answer to the case I have endeavoured to make out.

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