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Thursday, 24 September 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - The letter which Senator DuncanHughes read as a prelude to the withdrawal of his amendment and the substitution of the proposed new section now before the committee, seems to have opened up an entirely new procedure in parliamentary debates. During my four and a half years' experience as a member of this chamber I have not previously known of a public officer having been drawn into the cockpit of debate in the Senate.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Hughes. - "What about the Auditor-General?

Senator COLLINGS - The AuditorGeneral does not write letters to private members, and have them read on the floor of this chamber. He presents to Parliament an official document, which is open to the scrutiny of all senators. I suggest that the letter read by Senator Duncan-Hughes was inspired, and I charge him with impropriety in having read a letter addressed to himself and written by a public officer, who thereby becomes a party to discussion in this chamber.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - I rise to a point of order, and ask that the charge of impropriety be withdrawn. There has been nothing improper in my conduct. I made careful inquiries in order to ascertain whether the letter could be regarded as confidential, and I was informed that there was nothing confidential about it.

Senator COLLINGS - I have pleasure in withdrawing the charge of impropriety if it offends the susceptibilities of Senator Duncan-Hughes; but I suggest that it would have been better had the honorable senator's susceptibilities been hurt earlier. If, in future, honorable senators who rise in their places to express their opinions are to have before them the precedent of another honorable senator reading a letter sent to him by a public official, there is no knowing where the practice will end. I do not suggest that Senator DuncanHughes went to the official and asked him to write the letter; but there are many ways in which a difficulty of that nature can be overcome. If this precedent be established without protest, honorable senators will be encouraged to approach public officials for confirmation of sentiments expressed in this chamber in order to influence votes.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - In order to show the truth.

SenatorCOLLINGS. - I do not care what the purpose is. I object to a public official being subjected to procedure of this nature. The honorable senator has suggested that the letter was not inspired: but it was a most fortunate coincidence that it should have arrived at the psychological moment. The reading of that letter is a definite incitement to other honorable senators to fortify their arguments in this chamber with the opinions of public officials who should not be brought into the political arena at all. I disapprove of the new proposed amendment, which is merely a further aggravation of the original offence. We have appointed men to do the work of drafting and this amendment suggests that they are incompetent. The honorable senator suggested, as an extenuation of the proposed amendment, that only about half of the regulations which are promulgated go through the Attorney-General's Department, and that there are occasions on which regulations are not seen by that department before they are issued. If there is any doubt about the capacity of the draftsmen to produce regulations in conformity with the act, it is the duty of those in charge to see that they are scrutinized by the Attorney-General's Department before they become law. We have a flood of regulations and a Regulation and Ordinances Committee examining them to see that no objectionable powers are taken; then we have a protracted debate, the final result of which is that we arrive at the incompetence of the officers charged with the responsibility of the drafting. I hope that the honorable senator will repeat his very wise action of a few minutes ago, when he withdrew his first amendment, by withdrawing this one.

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