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Friday, 13 March 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [11.30]. - I move-

That thebillbe now read a second time.

This bill relates to the amendment of sections G and 8 of the Loan (Farmers' Debt Adjustment) Act 1935. Subsection 3 of section 6 of that act provides that no grant is to be made under the act to a State unless or until there is in force in the State legislation constituting an authority empowered, on application being made to it, and at its discretion, to take action having the effect of suspending, either wholly or in part, the rights of any secured or unsecured creditor of a farmer against that farmer. Each of the States has now passed legislation to give effect to the Commonwealth proposals for the composition of farmers' debts, and an amount of £12,000,000 is being granted to the States by the Commonwealth for that purpose. An examination of the State acts has indicated that, whilst the acts afford farmers reasonable facilities and protection for relief in respect of debts owing by them, some of them do not strictly comply with the terms of sub-section 3 of section 6. There are certain debts, as, for instance a debt of alimony due by a farmer which could not legitimately be adjusted under a scheme of this nature, as they have no relation whatsoever to farming operations, and some States have provided for the exception of those debts. Some States have also made provision for an agreement being entered into between debtor and creditor whereby the debtor undertakes not to seek a composition under this act. That is a reasonable provision and does not militate against the general operation of the scheme. The State acts in question do not, however, deprive farmers of their generalrights to participate in the relief provided from Commonwealth funds.

Accordingly, it is considered desirable that an amendment should be made in section 6 by eliminating all words after the word " legislation " appearing in subsection 3 of that section and inserting in their stead the words " which is declared by proclamation to be legislation which affords farmers reasonable facilities for relief in respect of debts owing by them ". Sub-section 3 as proposed to bo amended would read : -

3.   No grant shall bc made under this act to a State unless or until there is in force in the State legislation which is declared by proclamation to bo legislation which affords farmers reasonable facilities for relief in respect of debts owing by them.

It is further proposed that the amendment is to be deemed to have commenced on the date of commencement of the principal act, the reason being that actionhas already been taken under the act. It is necessary that the amendment should so commence as certain States have already received advances from the Commonwealth fund and certificates will have to be issued in respect of the act operating.

A slight amendment to section 8 which deals with certificates to be supplied by the Commonwealth Auditor-General is also proposed. There is some doubt as to whether the wording of that section, as it now stands, permits of the AuditorGeneral submitting his certificate within the time stated in the act. The amendment is being made in order to remove any doubts that may exist in regard to this matter. As one who has followed closely the action, taken in the various States, I am aware, as are other honorable senators, of the great difficulty which was experienced in some States in getting the two houses of the legislature into agreement on these measures. Although members of State governments attending a conference may agree to pass uniform legislation, they sometimes find difficulty in getting such legislation through both houses of their Parliaments. Nevertheless, the main principles laid down by the Commonwealth as a condition of this grant have been substantially embodied in the legislation of all the States. I give the Senate an assurance that that is so. In detail, however, the acts are not uniform, and the bill now before the Senate has been introduced in order to allow for greater elasticity. The Crown Law officers of the Commonwealth have advised that, in view of the lack of uniformity in the several acts, it would not be possible to implement certain provisions of the Commonwealth act. I confidently ask the Senate to accept the bill.

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