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Wednesday, 17 March 1965

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HigginsTreasurer) . - 1 move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to provide a legal basis for certain administrative actions for which the Presiding Officers of the Parliament are responsible between the end of one Parliament and the beginning of another. Provision has also been included to cover interim periods caused by death, absence or illness.

Certain statutory duties are performed by the Presiding Officers under the Public Service Act, the Audit Act, the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act, the Commonwealth Banks Act, and the Commonwealth Electoral Act. In the last three cases it is unlikely that there would be any need to exercise the functions when the Parliament is not in session. However, in the first two cases - that is, under the Public Service Act and the Audit Act - it may well be necessary for the Presiding Officers to exercise important functions in the administration of the parliamentary departments for which they are responsible. For example, after the Parliament had been dissolved on the 1st November 1963, there was no person, in the strict legal sense, holding the office of Speaker until the election of a new Speaker in the new Parliament on the 25th February 1964. During this period it was necessary to submit certain regulations to the Governor-General under section 9 of the Public Service Act to apply marginal increases to the salaries of certain positions in one of the parliamentary departments. Since there was nobody legally appointed to exercise the functions of the Speaker after the dissolution, the recommendation to the Governor-General for the gazettal of new regulations had to be deferred.

There are other examples which could be cited in connection with the appointment and promotion of members of the staff of the parliamentary departments which, for lack of a legal basis for exercising the powers of the Presiding Officers between the end of one Parliament and the beginning of another, would have to be held up with possible adverse effects on the individual officer's rights.

We have, therefore, sought, in this Bill to provide a legal basis for the persons who had been the President and the Speaker immediately prior to a dissolution to continue to exercise the powers and functions of Presiding Officers under the laws of the Commonwealth after the dissolution of a Parliament until new Presiding Officers have been elected by the new Parliament.

Mr Whitlam - Have you satisfied yourselves that there is a constitutional basis for this?

Mr HAROLD HOLT - I. am bringing this Bill forward supported by the advice of the law officers, but perhaps the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Snedden) could deal with this matter with more authority than I can. We have also included in the Bill provision that, if through death, illness or absence, a Presiding Officer or the person who had been a Presiding Officer is unable to carry out the .statutory functions attaching to his office under a law of the Commonwealth, then the Chairman of Committees or the person who had been the Chairman of Committees of the House concerned would have the powers of the Presiding Officer under the laws of the Commonwealth, until a new Presiding Officer is elected or the absence or incapacity terminates. The Bill which is brought forward is in line with the practice in the United Kingdom where there has been a House of Commons (Speaker) Act in force since 1832. I might add that we should have had a similar provision before this. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr Whitlam - We are catching up with the Reform Bill!

Mr HAROLD HOLT - That is right.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.

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