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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Bowden (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Order! Reference may not be made in committee to second-reading speeches.

Mr WARD - I am reading from a note that I have of what the Minister said in his second-reading speech -

In a community such as exists in .the Territory to-day, it is highly unlikely that the interest which a member may have in any matter which comes before the council would escape the knowledge -of other members of the council, particularly as the members of the council include a number of officers engaged in the business of the Government.

So, it is obvious that originally the Minister believed that the very thing that the amendment is to prevent happening could not happen. Now, in this amendment, he says, in effect, that if what he said before could not happen does happen, it will not nullify the relevant decisions of the council. The Minister tried to imply that unless this provision was inserted, a number of .previous decisions of the council, other than the one in connexion with which a person who should have been disqualified from voting had voted, could be invalidated. This bill does not say anything of the sort. It says that the validity of anything done by the council, including a decision in which a person who should not have participated had voted, would hold despite the fact that that disqualified person had improperly participated in making the decision.

Therefore, it is obvious that what the Minister now puts forward is quite different from what he originally argued. In my opinion, that is a most disturbing thing. The Minister said it is not much different, if at all, from what we do in the Commonwealth Parliament, and he asked who would suggest that members of the Legislative Council would conspire to do something against the public good. That argument might have been valid if the Legislative Council in the Territory were a completely elected body, like the Commonwealth Parliament, because members of this Parliament are responsible to the electorate for their actions; but in the case of the Legislative Council of the Territory it does not mean that a majority of the council have to conspire, because sixteen members of the council are directly nominated by the Government. If the Administrator be included, the number of Government-nominated members is seventeen out of 29 members. That means that the Government has, in fact, a majority of seventeen to twelve on the council, even if the other members all oppose any governmentsponsored proposal. If the Minister wanted to exercise his authority - and I am not suggesting that he has any valid authority in the matter - there are sixteen Government-nominated members of the Legislative Council, and everybody knows that public servants - and that is what these men are - will not, as a rule, go contrary to the wishes of the Minister. So, the Minister himself can determine what decisions are made on any matters, if he cares to exercise his authority. Therefore, I think, having regard to the present development of the Territory, it is wrong to continue to have a legislative council which is, in effect, a body that is completely controlled and dominated by the Government.

It is perfectly true that the Labour government provided, in its legislation, the legislative authority for appointing the council, but in those days there were very few Europeans in the Territory and, as the Minister has pointed out, there was not a sufficient number of natives who had reached a stage of development where they could undertake the responsibilities of office. I think it was only a quibble on the Minister's part to say that I was wrong to suggest that the Labour government established the council. We did establish the legislative authority for the appointment of the council. Ten years ago it was imperative that we should make use of the system of nomination, and in the conditions then operating in the Territory our selection was largely restricted to members of the Public Service. But that situation has completely changed and, I repeat, it is wrong for the Government to continue to use that system now, because it produces a body which, to all intents and purposes, is an instrument of the Government.

As my colleagues have said, the Opposition is not satisfied with the Minister's explanation of what is now proposed - It is very cunningly worded by the Parliamentary draftsman, no doubt on the instructions of the Minister and the Department, so I am not blaming the draftsman. What is proposed appears to continue the original prohibition in the act against men who have a direct contract with the Government for the supply of goods or services from participating in a vote in which they are directly interested; but then this effect is destroyed completely by the provision, in another sub-section that improper participation in a council vote by a council member does not affect the validity of anything done by the council, including what was done as the result of the vote in which that person participated improperly.

Here is a strange thing indeed! The honorable member for New England said that a member of the council who should properly be disqualified could participate in a vote on a matter with which he was directly interested, either as a result of forgetfulness or by deliberate intention. So the honorable member for New England agrees that it could be done deliberately. Such an act, done deliberately, is a completely dishonest act. No provision is made in the bill to disqualify the person concerned thereafter. He could be guilty of improper participation in a vote of the council but, according to the Minister, he can still occupy his position on the council, because he is not disqualified unless the council itself moves to disqualify him.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does this ratify shady transactions that occurred in the past?

Mr WARD - No, not this particular clause. That is a later provision. I hope the Minister will re-examine the amendment and give us a more satisfactory explanation of the reason for it. Otherwise, the Opposition will vote against it.

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