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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Senator McLEAY (South Australia) (Leader of the Opposition) . -I move -

That Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77, under the National Security Act 1939-1940 [National Security (Mobilization of Services and Property) Regulations] he disallowed.

At the outset, I wish to make it clear that the Opposition agrees that in time of war the Government should have some of the powers contained in these regulations. Indeed, the Opposition is prepared to withdraw this motion altogether if the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) will indicate that the Government is prepared to consider amendments which we suggest should be made to this farreaching statutory rule. It is perhaps unnecessary for me to state that the reason for moving that this statutory rule be disallowedis that the Senate may have an opportunity to debate the regulations which it contains.

Before I deal with the regulations now under review, I point out that there is danger of considerable confusion arising from the number of statutory rules that have been issued and the exercise of powers conferred by them. In this connexion I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to the suggestion of Senator A. J. McLachlan and that the Parliament will be given an opportunity to consider the far-reaching effects of the numerous regulations that are now being issued. For instance, I hope that, some member of the Government will enlighten me as to the position now existing in Papua, as it is almost impossible for honorable senators to keep abreast of the regulations that are being promulgated weekly. It isno reflection on the Leader of the Senate that he should not be aware of the details of every statutory rule that is issued, because it is almost physically impossible for any man to keep abreast of them all. I should also like a responsible Minister to indicate what the position is in areas like Darwin and other areas which have been declared military areas. I understand that such areas are partly under military control and partly under civil control, and that, in consequence, there has been considerable confusion as to which authority deals with certain matters. Knowing that the military authorities take charge of an area under certain conditions, I do not want to confuse the powers conferred by these regulations with anything that has already been delegated, or is likely to be delegated, to such authorities in the event of an imminent attack on any portion of Australia. But I should like some enlightenment on this subject.

Of all the regulations that have been promulgated, none are more far-reaching in theireffects than those contained in Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77. One of the regulations goes too far and should be amended, not in the direction of restricting the powers conferred on the Government, but in order to prevent misunderstanding and chaos in a time of great emergency.Under regulation 4 a Minister, or any other person authorized by a Minister, may direct any person resident in Australia to do certain things. That means that any one of nineteen Ministers of State may authorize any person to direct other persons to do certain things. It is not difficult to visualize the confusion that is likely to take place should those powers be exercised to any considerable degree. That power may be given to any person, and that person can issue instructions to anybody to do anything. Regulation 4 reads -

1.   A Minister,or any person authorized by a Minister to give directions under these Regulations, may direct any person resident in Australia -

(a)   to perform such services as are specified in the direction;

(b)   to perform such duties in relation to his trade, business, calling or profession as are so specified;

(c)   to place his property, in accordance with the direction, at the disposal of the Commonwealth.

2.   Any such direction may be given so as to apply -

(a)   to persons generally;

(b)   to all or any persons in a particular area ;

(c)   to all persons included in a particular class of persons;

(d)   to any particular person;

(e)   in respect of property generally;

(f)   in respect of all or any property in a particular area;

(g)   in respect of all property included in a particular class of property; or

(h)   in respect of any particular property, and may be given either orally or in writing.

3.   Every person to whom any such direction is applicable shall comply with the direction.

First, I suggest that this power of delegation should not be given to nineteen Ministers. It is so far-reaching that it should be given only to the Prime Minister. Secondly, if the delegation of authority is to be retained as set out in the regulation, the class of person to whom these powers may be delegated should be defined. It is unthinkable that these powers may be exercised by anybody. The Government should draw up a list of the persons to whom they may be delegated. I shall not object if that list be exceptionally wide; but some such list is preferable to leaving the matter in its present form. Thirdly, I suggest that directions issued under regulation 4 should be given in writing and not orally. I admit that in some cases of urgency it may be impracticable to issue directions in writing, but all instructions given orally should be confirmed in writing within a reasonable period.

Senator Collings - They would be.

Senator McLEAY - The regulation does not say so. I can quite imagine that directions may be given by one person to numerous authorities, sayby telephone, to do certain things. Under such conditions, it is not difficult to imagine the confusion which may arise. Many disputes would he avoided if it were prescribed that any person who issues directions under this regulation should confirm them in writing within a specified time. It will be impossible in many cases to check instructions which are given orally.

Senator E B Johnston - Has not the Prime Minister promised to do as the honorable senator suggests.

Senator McLEAY - According to press reports the Prime Minister has made such a promise. I remind the honorable senator that the Senate is master of its own business, but we have not been officially advised of any change of intention on the part of the Government in this matter. Perhaps the Leader of the Senate will clarify that point. My fourth suggestion is that there should be a right of appeal to a tribunal, in order to prevent personal vindictiveness and injustice. Earlier to-day we discussed regulations which gave to conscientious objectors, or persons with cold feet, the right of appeal. I t is not difficult to imagine that many persons, including even Ministers, to whom this power may be delegated, will take the opportunity to damage people against whom they have a grievance.

Senator Collings - How does the honorable senator suggest that that can be done?

Senator McLEAY - It is not easy to give concrete instances. Nevertheless, we know that the possession of such power gives an opportunity to vindictive people to do injustice to others against whom they have a grievance. Evidence that this is likely to happen, even in respect of Ministers, is not wanting when we review recent events. For instance, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) took the opportunity under one regulation to " put the boot " into the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, and at the same time to do all he could for his friends, the members of the Waterside Workers Federation. The effect of that particular regulation was that no new members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union could be guaranteed employment, despite the fact that that organization has done a great service to Australia, and includes among its membersmany returned soldiers from the last war and this war. That is evidence of the possibility that Ministers and persons to whom power is delegated under regulation 4 to give certain directions will use it in a. vindictive manner.

When it was first suggested that a move would be made for the disallowance of Statutory Rules 1942. No. 77, reports appeared in the press that a Government spokesman said that those regulations were necessary in order to enable the Government to compel strikers to return to work, or to enlist them in labour battalions. Perhaps, also, the Government required power to enable it to tell members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourer.Union that they must go into the Army. If the Leader of the Senate says that the powers already possessed by the Govern ment are not sufficient to enable it to deal with agitators and strikers, the Opposition is prepared to give to it any power it deems necessary to discipline people who disobey arbitration court awards. However, the explanation offered by the Government spokesman in the press reports to which I have referred is merely a subterfuge. It is a smokescreen to cover the Government's real intentions. The Government has certainly fallen down on its job in adopting its policy of appeasement to strikers and the few people who by interrupting production menace our war effort. I shall not be deceived by any smokescreen put out by aGovernment spokesman. I remind the Senate that as far back as January the PrimeMinister (Mr.Curtin) told a conference of coal-miners who were on strike that they must work or fight. Subsequently, under regulation 27 c of the Coal Control Regulations power was given to the Coal Commission to withdraw exemption from military service from any coal-miner who went on strike. However, strikes have been continually occurring ever since that time. In to-day's press we read that two mines were idle yesterday. Up to date I have seen no evidence that the Government has exercised its power under regulation 27 c. It is useless to say that it requires the power set out in Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77. because it does not already possess such power. What the Government needs to do is to abandon its policy of appeasement towards agitators. Under the economic mobilization regulations the Government took further power to provide that any employee who absented himself from work in specified industries became liable to a fine of £100 or imprisonment for six months. At that stage the Government realized that its courage had failed it. It has not yet exercised that power, despite the fact that numerous strikers have refused to work on certain holidays. Now we are told that the Government requires Statutory Rules 1942, No. T7, in order to enable it to overcome these problems. Should that be the argument advanced by the Leader of the Senate on this matter, I repeat that the Opposition is prepared to give to the Government all the power it requires to deal with strikers and industrial agitators as effectively as they should be dealt with in this time of crisis. I have been horrified for the last two or three mouths. I realize the task that lie3 ahead of the Government. Day after day we read of the gigantic effort that is necessary for the defence of this country, but in my opinion the Government is falling down on its job. There has been too much talk and not enough action. Apparently, before anything can be done in the direction of mobilizing certain industries, the trade unionists have to be called to Canberra in order to find out how they will react to the Government's proposals. Wo are told that wo have to do this and we have to do that, but there is little sign of definite action. One of the most vital mistakes that this Government is making is the setting up of various advisory committees. Such bodies serve only to delay matters.' The South Australian Government has requested that action bc taken to deal with the man-power problem on the River Murray, where thousands of internees ure dependent on the Murray for their water supply. I am informed that there is an acute shortage of wood for fuel, and that unless the wood is forthcoming there will be no water supply. Apparently the State authorities have been endeavouring for months to get a decision on this matter. Tn one of his famous- war-time speeches, the Prime Minister of Great Britain (Mr. Churchill) said that if the Government were to wait for its advisers to give advice on all matters, the war would be lost before any action could be taken. Referring to the incessant clamour for the setting up of committees and other advisory bodies, Mr. Churchill said that if the Government were to accede to all the requests, there would be too much harness and not enough horse. I say in all sincerity that, by promulgating regulations of this kind, thi? Government is saddling itself with too much harness, while it lacks sufficient horse to produce the necessary action.

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