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Thursday, 17 September 1936

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) . - Honorable senators are under a great obligation to Senator Duncan-Hughes for his very carefully-prepared and illu minating speech. Evidently, the honorable senator has devoted a great deal of attention to this very abstruse and important question. In fact, I know of no more important question which might exercise the minds of honorable senators at the present time in view of a certain tendency exhibited by the Australian governments for some time to ignore the statute law when it suits their purpose so to do. I have here a very valuable document prepared by the Publicity Branch of the Prime Minister's Department and issued on the 16th June, which contains a statement made by the then Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) with respect to the Government's power of law-making. Senator Duncan-Hughes referred to an incident which took place in the House of Representatives a short while ago, when a certain procedure was adopted which contravened a section of the Tariff Board Act, a very important statute. It might be illuminating to honorable senators if I refer to the explanation given by Senator Brennan in regard to this particular incident. An honorable member of the House of Representatives had expressed the opinion that the action taken by the Government was illegal and unconstitutional. I am at the moment concerned, not with its unconstitutionality, but only with its illegality. In an interview granted to the press, Senator Brennan is reported to have said -

It is quite true that the Tariff Board Act provides that the Minister shall refer to the board for inquiry and report - {d) the necessity for new, increased, 'or reduced duties ...

He. ignored the following words of the section which state that the Minister shall take no action until he has received a report from the board. He went on to say -

That, however, is a provision which Parliament may ignore.

May Parliament ignore a statute which it has passed and which appears on the statute-book? The Minister proceeded -

The one thins which Parliament cannot do within the ambit of its legislative powers is to part with or fetter its own powers.

Does the Attorney-General suggest that the Constitution gives to Parliament power to violate an act to that extent?

Surely not! There is a legal procedure which can at any time be adopted, to suspend, repeal or amend any act. The honorable senator went on to say -

It is not, however, a question of being binding upon the Government but of being binding upon Parliament. Parliament may amend or repeal an act without doing it in express words.

It is news to me that Parliament may amend or repeal an act without doing it in express words.

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