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Thursday, 29 April 1965

Senator WOOD (Queensland) . - I have been rather surprised at the tenor of the debate, particularly at the remarks of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty). It astounds me, as a Libera], to hear the type of view we heard expressed here today. We of the Liberal Party tell the people that we believe in the bicameral system of Parliament. I have my doubts about it. It looks as (hough we tell the people this but we do not really believe it.

Senator Morris - Oh yes, we do.

Senator WOOD - I am going on the facts. I have been the Chairman of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee for many years. I came into this Parliament in 1949 and not very long after that I became a member of the Committee and, except for about 18 months, I have been Chairman of it. The duty of (he Committee is to be the custodian of the rights of the Parliament, to see that the Parliament, not the Executive, runs this country. From time to time the Committee has reported to the Senate on regulations that it thought should be brought to notice. The Minister said 'that the Committee had moved in regard to certain regulations. The Committee reports, and an individual senator moves accordingly if he feels so inclined.

Since I came to this Parliament in 1949, whether sitting as a senator in this chair, or sitting where you are, Mr. Chairman, as a member of the panel of Temporary Chairmen or as an Acting Deputy President, I have always carried on with a proper sense of the dignity of a senator and parliamentarian. I have always been a strong upholder of the rights and dignity of the Parliament and the rights of the Senate as a States House and a House of Review. Those are the two basic reasons for the constitution of this Senate and I believe that the Senate will play a very important role if senators will recognise their duty. When it comes to voting on a question of the retention of the power of the Parliament in the hands of parliamentarians or reviewing legislation or functioning as a States House, if they act accordingly they will be doing their job. Not only as a senator but as Chairman of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, I have always kept these principles in my mind. No-one can deny, I believe, looking at the position fairly, that during the period I have been Chairman the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has never come in with anything that was foolish or had a party angle. The Committee consists of Liberal and Country Party senators and Labour senators, but the whole of the time that I have been a member of that Committee - mostly as Chairman -

I have never yet seen any member of the Committee playing politics. It is a Committee that performs its duty in the highest parliamentary traditions. It is a standing committee of this Parliament elected by the senators. Therefore,. I think it is wrong for a Minister of the Crown to imply, as the Minister for Civil Aviation did, certain things in regard to the Committee.

The Committee functions on the highest possible parliamentary principles. Furthermore, its members do not receive any pay. lt is an honorary committee, unlike the Public Works Committee or the Public Accounts Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee, which pay their members £2 10s. a day, and their Chairmen £3 3s. a day even if they meet on sitting days when, in any case, they get a parliamentary allowance of £6 a day. We work in an honorary capacity, and, in the parliamentary tradition, we try to give the highest thought to anything that comes before us, recognising all the time that we are a standing committee of the Parliament. I was rather sickened by the Minister for Civil Aviation who lashed out at me with the words: "You have the Labour Party with you ". I stand here, first, as a senator of this country. If I think a thing is the best for this Parliament and for this country, I will vote for it. The fact that the Minister for Civil Aviation vents a bit of spleen and heat does not deter me. Honorable senators should know by now that when I decide to make a stand, I make a stand. I do not back out. When 1 decide to make a stand, I make sure that I do make a stand.

So far as the matter before us is concerned, I intend to oppose the Government in its attempt to throw out the amendment which the Senate made. It has been returned to us by the House of Representatives with the story that the Minister in the other place considers this to be a matter for executive decision. What is the previous story that the Minister told? He said that a delay was likely to take place because of factors associated with a regulation. He said that if this were done under a regulation instead of under the hand of the Minister there would be a long delay. Of course, the Minister mentioned the worst that could happen. He said: " Parliament might go into recess one day and a regulation might be made a day or two later. Parliament then might not sit for three months and when it did reassemble the regulation would have to lay on the table for 15 sitting days. He said that the regulation could then be disallowed and that anything done under it would be invalid.

Our legal friend, Senator Murphy, has made it clear that the Minister's statement is not true. A regulation comes out of the Executive Council and from that day on it takes the force of law. If any contract is made while that regulation stands, the contract has the force of law even if the regulation is disallowed during the currency of the contract. A contract made in those circumstances is the same as any other contract and naturally would stand up in a court of law. 1 think all legal men will agree that any contract that is made in the interim period has the force of law behind it, the force of a law enacted by this Parliament. As I have said, the first excuse related to the delay that was likely to take place.

The excuse made now relates to a decision by the Executive. Of course, the Ministry likes to have power, lt hates to think that Parliament has power. So far as I am concerned, Parliament stands supreme because Parliament is the focal point of democracy. While Ministers might like to have more power and might feel personally better by having more power, I believe we should retain as much power in the hands of the Parliament as we possibly can. When parliamentarians do not work to this end they are themselves selling out the rights of the Parliament. The suggestion is that the Minister might make better decisions than are made by the Parliament. That is a debatable point. Despite the slow lumbering pace of democracy, I prefer the democratic processes to be carried out as they should be. I cannot see that the argument put forth by the Minister has any real weight. Notice the shift. First of all, the excuse related to the length of time involved. Now it relates to a decision of the Executive. Why the change? To my way of thinking, the argument does not hold water.

Except on very rare occasions - I can remember the rare occasions - whenever the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has brought a regulation before the Senate we have been blasted, sometimes even by Ministers, for having the audacity to take uo a regulation. Then later on, when we have won through, very often it has been with the support of the Opposition, not the Government. I have said before, and I say it now publicly, that this standing committee could not have functioned truly during the time that I have been a member of it if it had not received the support of the Opposition. I do not think that reflects any credit on the Government. I make that statement quite clearly. The Minister had a lot to say about collusion and about working with the Labour Party.

Senator Scott - The honorable senator has just admitted that he is working with the Labour Party.

Senator WOOD - Some of our senators cannot see which side is supporting which. Unfortunately the newspapers will say: " So and so supported the Labour Party". I point out that the amendment now before us was proposed by a Liberal senator, Senator Wright, who I know still holds the same view about it as he did when he advanced his amendment and when the legislation was amended. Unfortunately some honorable senators cannot discern for themselves that if a motion comes from this side of the chamber and support for it comes from the Labour side, it is a case of the Labour Party supporting a Liberal Party proposal. They just cannot get that into their minds.

My memory is very clear that time and time again when moves have been made for regulations which would affect Ministers, we have had a good deal of trouble. Much has been said about us, but in nearly every case when we have won through with the support of the Opposition the Government has later approved our actions. Let me remind honorable senators about import licensing. They will remember what a hullabaloo there was about it. The Minister has asked me to tell of any instance of an attempt being made to exert pressure on us. The Minister has asked for it so I will tell him. Time after time over a period of years when the committee made a certain decision there was an attempt to exert pressure. In the case to which I am referring the matter was raised at our party meeting - I am telling this because the Minister asked me to do so - and I was spoken to by the Leader of the Government. On that occasion I was accused of trying to run the Government.

What happened? Because the committee received the support of the Opposition, its recommendation went through and in a matter of a year or so this very Minister who today has so lowered the standard of Parliament introduced into the Senate a bill setting up an appeals board to deal with customs matters - based, as I have said before, on the very successful import licensing appeal board which we, the Senate, made the Government set up. The Government took the credit for it but it was set up as a result of the activities of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

I look back on the things that have happened and the rows that certain regulations have caused. One would think that the Government has to be moved by a charge of dynamite to make the slight alteration that is now before us. The Government resents the amendment because it was made by the Senate. Do we believe in the bicameral system or do we not? Let us be honest about it. This Senate made an alteration believing that it was the right thing to do. If we have any shred of feeling about the Senate we will take a stand as senators and see that the proposed alteration remains. If the Government intends to put on the screws to change a decision that is made by the Senate, the Senate does not serve any purpose. Only today I read in the newspapers about a man in Sydney who was brought before a court because he did not vote in the recent Senate election. He said that he did not vote because we were a lot of stooges or a lot of rabbits or something to that effect. Mr. Chairman, if such a charge can be truly laid, only the Senate is responsible for it. So far as I am concerned, as a senator, I have always stood my ground in supporting what I have believed in, and I always shall.

On this occasion I do not feel that there is any real merit in what the Government has sought to do. If a regulation is made extending the classifications of people who may lend money, then any contract that is made with a person within those classifications will stand. It has the force of law. If the Parliament later knocks out that regulation, what is wrong with that? Does not the Parliament, which is the focal point of democracy, have that right? The Parliament is the paramount point of democracy in this country.

I take this stand: If there was any doubt about it or if there was an issue of great importance. I would stand with it. for safety. If this is an issue of minor importance as some people say, 1 point out that there is also a principle involved and although it may be insignificant, a principle is always important to me and, I believe, to the people. Therefore, I stand strongly in favour of the amendment that was made by the Senate and I therefore oppose the move by the Government to have it deleted.

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