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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - I would not have risen in this committee to speak again on this clause if it had not been for the direct challenge which the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) delivered in the course of the rest of his pleasantries. I found the honorable member's speech rather entertaining, particularly that part which advanced the proposition that if a person is too honest he cannot detect dishonesty. It seems to me to be a proposition quite on all fours with the idea that if a person has a bath every day he cannot smell a person who does not.


Mr HASLUCK - Yes. The statement I made at the outset in reply to criticism of this clause was that this clause was identical with a clause of which this Parliament had already approved in respect of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory and that this clause was similar to the provisions which apply in this chamber itself. Now, the only serious challenge to that proposition was made by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). The honorable and learned member for Werriwa is, of course, a person eminent in the legal profession and one who aspires to even greater eminence in it. I would not cross swords with him, nor do I think it is appropriate in a debate for matters of legal interpretation to become the issue, but I would seriously suggest to the honorable member for Werriwa that he might look more closely at the clause in question and consider the following three points: - First of all, the clause that we are considering specifically excludes any question relating to disputed returns. It does not apply to questions relating to disputed returns. It applies only to the qualification of members. In respect of this Parliament I would suggest as a second point for the honorable member's consideration that the practice of this Parliament is governed both by the Constitution - trusting to my memory I think it is section 47 - and by the Electoral Act, which the honorable member quoted, in section 203. I would suggest for the honorable member's consideration that if there is no specific reference in the Electoral Act to the Constitution, that does not mean that the Constitution is to be ignored or that it has no effect. In other words, section 47 of the Constitution which does give to this Parliament the power to determine itself any question relating to the qualifications of members, still applies to this Parliament irrespective of anything which may be written into the Electoral Act, and the reason why the Electoral Act does not specifically mention that power of this chamber to determine matters relating to qualifications is because it was unnecessary to do so and that the Constitution, section 47, did prevail.

The third point I would ask the honorable member to consider is the actual meaning of section 203, which uses the word, " may " and not " shall ". I would suggest for his consideration that when that word " may " is used there is no obligation on this Parliament to refer the matter of the member's qualification to a court. It is at the option of this Parliament to decide either that it settles the matter of the member's qualification itself or, if it so chooses, that it refers it to a court. If the intention of the Electoral Act, in complete opposition to the Constitution, had been to oblige this Parliament to refer matters to a court, then surely that section quoted by the honorable member - that section over which he stumbled, may I say - would have said "shall" and not "may". So I say that it is a matter for the option of this cham-ber whether it determines a matter relating to a member's qualification itself or whether it refers it to a court.

Just to indicate what seems to me to be the absurdity of the honorable member's contention that these things must be referred to a court, I would remind members that one of the grounds on which a member may be disqualified is prolonged absence without leave. If a member of this chamber was absent for a prolonged period without leave would we refer that matter to the court to decide whether he is still qualified to sit? Surely that would be something that a court would not need to determine. Surely that would be something that this House itself could determine. So while I have the greatest reverence for all persons who are learned in any profession, and while I recognize that the honorable member for Werriwa has reached some eminence in the profession of which he is a member, I feel that on this occasion, as a humble layman, I am unconvinced by his reasoning and I am extremely doubtful about his capacity in the law.

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