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Thursday, 27 March 1941

Senator McLEAY (South Australia) (Postmaster-General) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

As honorable senators are aware, reference is frequently made in an act toa Minister of State and, sometimes, to a particular department of State. Insofar as the reference is to a Minister, or to a department administering an act, provision is already made by section 19a of the Acts Interpretation Act that that reference is to be read as a reference to the Minister, or to the department, as the case may be, under whose administration or control the act is placed by an order of the Governor-General. Consequently, even when the department of State referred to no longer exists, as is the case, for example, in respect of the Defence Department, no problem arises, because the various acts once administered by the Minister for Defence and his department have since been placed, by order of the Governor-General, under the administration of the Minister for one of the four departments which have replaced the Department of Defence. Section 19a of the Acts Interpretation Act then provides that any provision that an act shall be administered by the Minister of State for Defence shall be read as a reference to the Minister of State for Defence Coordination, the Army, the Navy or Air. as the case may be.

A new problem has, however, arisen, for which no provision is at present to he found in the Acts Interpretation Act. In certain acts a reference is made to a Minister of State who is not the Minister administering that act. An excellent example may be found in section 96 of the Patents Act, which provides for inventions to be kept secret in cases in which the Minister for Defence so directs. As the Patents Act is administered by the Attorney-General, section 19a of the Acts

Interpretation Act can have no application. The purpose of clause 4 of the present bill is to provide that any such reference to a Minister, or to a particular department, shall be read as a reference to whatever Minister or department, as the case may be, the Governor-General specifies by order. Clause 3 of the bill merely amends section 19a. This is consequential upon the insertion of the new section.

Clause 5 proposes to amend section 24 of the principal act in order to clear up doubts as to the penalty for which a company is liable in respect of certain offences. At present, section 24 specifically provides that the provisions of any act relating to offences, unless the contrary intention appears, refer to bodies corporate, as well as to persons. In several acts which provide for the more serious offences, however, the only penalty prescribed is one of imprisonment. Since it is obviously impossible to imprison a corporation, the question arises as to what penalty, if any, may be imposed on the corporation if and when it is convicted of any offence of this nature. Clause 5 proposes to amend the act so as to prescribe the maximum pecuniary penalties which a court may impose on a corporation where the only penalty prescribed by the act is imprisonment.

Honorable senators will observe that sub-clause 2 provides that this amendment shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 3rd September, 1939. As proceedings might, after the commencement of this bill, be brought in respect of offences already committed by corporations, it appears necessary that this amendment must be made retrospective in order that confusion might not arise if and when any such proceedings might hereafter be brought.

Opportunity has also been taken to amend section 33 of the principal act in order to rectify an omission that occasionally is the cause of some inconvenience. At present, sub-section 3 of section 33 provides that a power to make rules, regulations or by-laws shall be construed as including a power to rescind, revoke, amend or vary such rules, regulations or by-laws. The expression "rules, regulations or by-laws " does not, however, exhaust the instruments which may be made under an act. It will readily be appreciated by honorable senators that if a power is conferred to make or issue any instrument under an act, then the power to repeal or amend that instrument at some later date is necessary, even though the instrument does not come under the description of " rules, regulations or by-laws ". Examples of instruments not at present covered by the expression are proclamations and orders. Consequently, the bill proposes to amend the sub-section so that it will refer to any instrument made, granted or issued under a power conferred by an act. This measure is not contentious; it is merely designed to rectify certain anomalies which experience has shown to exist in the Acts Interpretation Act and which threaten to cause considerable inconvenience.

Debate (on motion by Senator Cunningham) adjourned.

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