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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - -Senator Cameron is to be congratulated upon having drawn attention to the position that has arisen in connexion with the work of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. To the Senate, and to this committee in particular, has been delegated the power to examine all regulations promulgated from time to time 'by the Government under the provisions of the National Security Act and of other acts. When, owing to the absence of Senator Wilson, I acted as chairman of the committee, I was under the impression that an undue burden was cast on myself and- on individual members of the committee. Lt is true, as Senator Spicer has pointed out, that a number of the regulations that come under the notice of the committee are described by lawyers as " chicken f ee( ", but, when I undertook this work, I found that the multiplicity of the regulations made it necessary for me to work at my hotel on three nights until midnight or 1 a.m., so that I could give to the committee certain assurances regarding the regulations. Surely that is not what is expected of the chairman or of the members of this committee.

My friend, Senator Spicer, seems to have overlooked the fact that there is another side to this matter apart from the question of whether a regulation is ultra vires the act under which it has been promulgated. The Minister himself gave us a lucid account in November, 1938, of the functions of this committee. He said that it must decide whether all of the regulations are in accordance with the statutes under which they have been promulgated. It must also see that they do not trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties, and that they do not unduly make the rights and liberties of citizens dependent on administrative, and not upon judicial, decisions. The liberty of the subject must be carefully safeguarded, and in this matter the Regulations and Ordinances Committee is the watch-dog for both branches of the legislature. Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, I claim that the committee should receive adequate assistance in its work. During the time when I was the temporary chairman of the committee, I felt that it was impossible to ask the staff at present employed in helping the committee to do the necessary spade work. I thought that it was unfair to ask any legal officer under the control of the AttorneyGeneral's Department to express an opinion regarding a regulation which had been passed by the Solicitor-General himself, nor do I think that a junior officer in the department should be asked to express an opinion whether a regulation violated certain (principles. We could not ask the administrative officer who is secretary of this committee to do this work, because he is already overburdened. I submit that, although the present chairman of the committee is energetic and capable, and well able to watch the matter from the legal side, the committee is entitled to the assistance to which I have referred. The objections to some of the regulations and to subversive action which have been resounding through the press in the capital cities during the last few weeks, have come, not from this committee, but from members of the House of Representatives. I think that the committee should have expressed itself on this matter one way or the other. Surely the proper body to bring it under the notice of this Parliament was the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

Senator Cooper - That matter has not yet been reached.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That points to the necessity more than ever for the appointment of some officer to help the chairman and the other members of the committee to speed up its work. I had to wade through hundreds of regulations before the speed of the work' reached the tempo that has been attained to-day. One day we have a regulation issued under the National Security Act, and the following day we have a regulation amending a regulation passed the previous day. I suggest the appointment of an outside legal assistant, skilled in the matter of the preservation of the liberty of the subject and the guarding of civil liberties, which are the very things for which our nation is fighting to-day. Then we should feel that we had a certain degree of security against the improper exercise by the Executive of its very wide powers. If the Government is not prepared to make a legal assistant available to the committee,

I suggest that provision be made for the committee to meet in Sydney or in Melbourne, when Parliament is in recess, in order to prevent heavy accumulation of regulations when the committee meets in Canberra. If the (Government is not prepared to assist the committee in this matter, the Senate should, perhaps, insist on its right to have the work done thoroughly. In other parts of the world certain parliamentary committees do work of great value to the body politic as a whole. I again appeal to the Minister to render aid to the committee along the lines requested.

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