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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1496

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(10.36) —I have taken great interest in the contributions that have been made, particularly by Senator Tate, which I think would really warrant the Committee reporting progress and at least giving the Government a chance to consider the suggestion that, in addition to the safeguards which the Government itself has put into new section 26M, the addition of a tabling requirement might be inserted.

Senator Button —I will agree to that.

Senator CHANEY —I think that would be a useful addition.

Senator Button —There is nothing to hide.

Senator CHANEY —I am not suggesting that there is something to hide. That has not been the basis of any argument. Whilst I do not want to prolong the Committee's consideration of the Bill in a situation where I think it is unlikely that the Government or the Australian Democrats will reconsider the position they have adopted and the arguments they have put forward, for the sake of the record and also, I suppose, with some minuscule hope that the Government and the Democrats might further consider this point, I want to clear up what I think is a very evident confusion of thought in the views that have been expressed by both Senator Button and Senator Jack Evans today. I find it strange that Senator Button and Senator Evans should urge their point of view on the Committee on the basis of the eighth annual report of the Administrative Review Council, which I actually quoted in debate yesterday. I quoted from the eighth annual report to explain why the Opposition was not seeking to insert amendments to the Act which would give the Administrative Appeals Tribunal authority to review decisions made by the Automotive Industry Authority.

It seemed to me that the arguments, which have been mentioned again this morning by Senator Evans and Senator Button-arguments which I accept as they are expressed by this report and which I said yesterday we accepted-are arguments which go to the question of whether or not the AAT should have any powers to review decisions. I have not put forward the proposition that it should. It seems to me that that would be a change that would fly in the face of, I think, the fairly sensible policy that has been put forward by the Administrative Review Council. I am in the position where I want the Committee to be quite clear in its mind that I do not disagree with the passage that was quoted by Senator Button, nor do I disagree with the passage to which Senator Evans referred-indeed, I quoted those passages myself yesterday-but they sustain a different point. They sustain the exclusion of the AAT, and the Opposition does not seek to insert it.

What we are looking at is the question of whether what is effectively a regulation-making power in this Act should be subject to parliamentary disallowance. I would have to say to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, who is in charge of the Bill, that it has been quite a long time since we have had a Labor Minister in charge of a Bill who has been prepared to examine arguments in Committee and actually change his mind. I think the last Minister who did so was retired Senator Murphy. I recall with great pleasure some Committee debates when he was Attorney-General when we actually did have a debate where there was an ability to--

Senator Robert Ray —What about Liberal Ministers?

Senator CHANEY —I accepted quite a series of amendments, particularly to primary industry Bills, while we were in government, when people raised technical points I thought were accurate. The technical point to which this amendment is directed is strictly the question of whether what are effectively regulation-making powers should be subject to parliamentary disallowance.

I will address myself to what I think are the actual arguments put forward by both Senator Button and Senator Jack Evans as to why they will not support that proposition. First of all in respect of the Australian Democrats, I welcome the fact that Senator Jack Evans indicated that he accepts the general principle. However, he expressed regret at his inability to support it for the reason he went on to explain. I had visions of Senator Jack Evans, as he was putting that argument, as someone who had lost his virginity but who had certainly done it very reluctantly. I acknowledge his desire to espouse the principle but not to do so on this occasion.

I think that the arguments put by Senator Jack Evans were quite significant in that they indicated the importance of the concept of lobbying which was raised by Senator Button. One of the reasons why Senator Jack Evans is not going to support this proposition is that no one has come along and asked him to do so. Quite frankly, the situation in which someone will come along and ask for support is if a Minister does the sort of thing that it would be open to him to do under this guidelines principle. For example, a Minister might say: 'I am being given a terrible time by the component manufacturers. They are Australian owned and employ a lot of people. They really think we should not be giving any more money to the multinational car manufacturers, so I am going to issue a guideline that says that there will be no more money for the plan manufacturers and the Authority can give money only to component manufacturers'. At that point Senator Jack Evans-if he were still here-would certainly be hearing from people. They would be coming along and saying that it was grossly unfair.

I put it to Senator Jack Evans and the Australian Democrats that, in the absence of some immediate threat, interest groups do not rally. What we should do is look at this legislation in terms of how it should work and what the position would be if a Minister made decisions which were against the national interests and if he sought to distort this Bill. The fact is that if the Australian Democrats and the Government do not support this amendment it would be open to a government completely to reshape the form of the legislation and the Parliament would be unable to do anything about it. That is the possible problem which we are seeking to address with this amendment.

On this occasion I say to Senator Jack Evans as the representative of the Australian Democrats that one cannot judge a measure such as this on whether one has heard from interest groups because one will hear from them when they perceive a threat. At the moment we have a broad set of guidelines which do not exclude any section of the industry and there is no immediate threat. After all, Senator Button is a reasonable chap and he will not do anything nasty. I ask Senator Jack Evans to remember that I might be the Minister in charge of this Bill one day and I might do something terribly nasty. I think the Senate ought to be able to be in a position to do something about it. I think that the Democrats ought to look at the principle which they espouse and see its applicability in this case.

I have addressed myself to the hiatus argument before. The same problem arises wherever there is a regulation-making power in a Bill. The fact that there may be a period of some months before 15 sitting days elapse does not cause paralysis. I concede that reality. The point is that the direction, guideline, regulation or whatever it might be is valid unless it is disallowed and action taken under it is valid and is not subsequently invalidated by any parliamentary action.

In regard to Senator Button's concern, I would have thought that I had given him as much support as an opposition could give in respect of the idea that the package should be something that was certain and predictable. He said that this really is an invitation to negotiation in the Senate. In response to that I simply say that that is not the case if we analyse it properly. Senator Button laid down in the 1984 statement some preliminary guidelines which have not been challenged by the Opposition or, indeed, by industry. I understand Senator Button will be gazetting guidelines which may be in some different form but that they will be broadly consistent with what has already been announced. Of course, there is no ongoing power in the Parliament to interfere with the directions. It is something that occurs only at the time that a new guideline is promulgated.

Senator Button —Come on!

Senator CHANEY —If the guidelines are static, the Parliament is not open to lobbying or whatever because it is powerless. However, if the Government sees the need to reshape this scheme by the use of guidelines, it seems to me that the lobbying point is just as relevant to the Government as it is to this Parliament. I believe that in an industry which certainly has a diversity of interests within it, including different manufacturing sectors and the trade union interests-the Minister has been very open in his references to those different interests in various comments he has made in the past-of course, it may well be that any objectionable set of guidelines will arise because of lobbying of the Government. The Minister would, I am sure, understand the reality of the ability of some sections, including some sections of the trade union movement, to affect Ministers and to help to shape the views they might have with respect to the operation of this section of industry.

Quite frankly, I think that the argument against lobbying is simply an argument against the normal democratic process. We are in this chamber very well insulated against lobbying-far more so than those in other legislatures. Our party system sees to that. But the reality is that lobbying is the drawing of our attention to problems, be they real or imagined, and it is a proper part of the process. I do not think that any senator in this place has any difficulty in sorting out the wheat from the chaff in lobbying circumstances. My reservation about that point concerns Senator Jack Evans's comments that he does not feel that the principle is one that must be pursued on this occasion, in part because he has not been approached by interest groups.

Senator Jack Evans —That is not the reason.

Senator CHANEY —He made that an important factor in his thinking. I believe that that is a very dangerous approach and that an objective assessment by senators is necessary. I am sorry to have taken up another 10 minutes of the Committee's time, Mr Chairman, but I believe the principle is important. I think it can be applied in this case without the sort of disruption which has been expressed as being the concern of Senator Button and Senator Jack Evans. I commend the amendment to the Committee.