Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 27 April 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) .- The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) is always surprised at my action. I am amazed that he can defend regulations in the way that he has done, and at the same time endeavour to show that I have put before the Committee something in which I do not believe. My experience, particularly when I was associated as a Minister withSenator Pearce, has been such as to cause me to resist legislation by regulation. Let me cite an illustration of how this power can be used when Parliament has no chance of interfering. Some years ago we were engaged in taking a referendum upon the question of conscription. I am sure that there is no honorable senator who believes that there should be any interference with a voter in the polling booth. The exercise of the franchise is regarded as an act so sacred that nobody ever dreamed of attempting to interfere with it. At the time of which I speak I was a member of the Hughes Cabinet, and by way of compromise certain Ministers were holding on to office until the referendum had been taken, simply because the gravity of the war situation was ' such as to prevent them from acting upon their own initiative. Upon that occasion the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) suddenly announced, twice in public, that the young men of the Commonwealth who were not registered when they entered the polling booths would have to beware. The majority of his colleagues in Melbourne read his utterances with astonishment. But greater was our astonishment when we met and were asked to issue a regulation empowering returning officers not only to ask questions of voters, but to reject votes.

Senator Pearce - Empowering them to keep certain ballot-papers separate.

Senator GARDINER - Senator Russell and myself, together with Mr. Jensen and Mr. Higgs, sitting as an Executive in Melbourne, refused to pass that regulation. What happened? Mr. Hughes communicated with Mr. Jensen by telephone, got him over to Sydney, where, together with the Governor-General, they passed that regulation. That event itself causes me to resist any suggestion of legislation by regulations. I am glad to say that that grave interference with the rights of the electors did not take place, notwithstanding that the regulation was passed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Jensen, and Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, the late Governor-General, because the Prime Minister found that he could not go any further with it. As a result, effect was not given to it. The Minister for Defence has said that I am a master in tearing a passion to tatters. I wish that I possessed his icy coldness. I would like to be able to appear as innocent as he appears, when he is attempting to get a power that he wants. Senator Duncan interjected a little while ago that probably in my capacity as Minister I had never passed a regulation. But upon the occasion to which I have referred I was one of . those who prevented a regulation from being passed. Nevertheless, that regulation was subsequently passed, and the circumstance showed me the length to which a man who is bent upon giving effect to his own will is prepared to go in defiance of Parliament. No honorable senator will affirm that the polling booth i3 a place in which voters should be interfered with. Yet we had, not a blunderer nor an incompetent, but the present Prime Minister who was determined to do that. He was resolved to flout not ' only his Cabinet but both Houses of Par- .liament The Minister of Defence knows that. I am quite aware, of course, that both he and the Prime Minister had agreed to pass that regulation. The fact that the Prime Minister desired to pass it was sufficient for Senator Pearce. And this same Minister now wishes our Air Council and Air Board to possess " such powers and functions as are prescribed." In view of the lengthy period which must elapse before the Bill can be dealt with elsewhere, I ask the honorable gentleman to ascertain what "powers and functions" should be prescribed and to insert them in it. Let him embody that in a Bill, and keep us here, if need be, six days a week and eight hours a day until we pass it. I am prepared to do that. The Air Branch will be very much like all the other branches of the Army, and as the Defence Branch of the Department has been working for many years, why cannot the Minister get together all the regulations that are necessary, embody them in an Air Defence Bill in the shape of clauses, put them in our hands, and ask us to pass them. The Minister knows that there is no difficulty in passing legislation through this Chamber, particularly at the present < time.

Senator Pearce - It would be necessary to have an amending Bill every month.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister could have one every day for all I care. It would probably improve the work of our draftsmen if they had plenty to do. My opposition to this Bill is not actuated by a desire to delay it. The Minister has gone far enough with it to-night. We have passed the second reading of a very important measure, and, as this is the first night after a long train journey for a number of us, he should agree to report progress.

Senator Pearce - I will do so after the next clause.

Suggest corrections