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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 2601

Senator MURPHY (New South Wales) (Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise) - in reply- I thank honourable senators who have indicated that they will support this Bill and I thank them for the attitudes of their Parties today. I do not need to repeat the purpose of the Bill. I agree that it is of major importance and that it may be one of the most significant measures passed in this Parliament. Senator Greenwood referred to the fact that I had agreed to accept certain changes in the Bill. Those changes deal broadly with the hearings to be held by the Law Reform Commission. It is true that under the provisions contained in the Bill persons could be summoned to give evidence and be required to take an oath. It is true that it contains provisions for the protection of members of the Commission. One could say that this is a vast power and that it is an intrusion into the lives of those who might be called. However this point can be over-dramatised when one remembers that the same kind of powers are held by each of the courts in the country. They are held not only by the High Court and the supreme courts, the Federal courts, the district courts and the courts of quarter sessions but by magistrates and a whole host of bodies throughout the country. I think the Public Service Board has the same kind of power. It is the usual thing.

Senator Greenwood - The Taxation Commissioner certainly has it.

Senator MURPHY -Yes. It is the usual provision in relation to bodies that gather evidence. I take the point that was made but to suggest that this is frightening is to take matters a bit far when these powers relate to hearings. These provisions relate to persons who may be summoned to give evidence and they provide for protection for members of the body concerned. All powers that are given to such a body are conditioned by the same conditions as apply generally. Any such powers, whether they are to summon witnesses or to have a hearing, are to be exercised in a bona fide way and for the purposes for which they were given and with due regard to the rights of persons affected. The argument put forward by Senator Greenwood would be a good reason for depriving all sorts of courts and other bodies of the power to summon witnesses and so on. It may somewhat impede the Commission but I do not think it would do so greatly. I suppose it represents more a reserve for cases when it is necessary to have hearings in that way.

Reference was made to the Commission having to comply with the directions of the AttorneyGeneral and the requirements of Parliament. There is a provision whereby otherwise than in relation to the formulation of its reports and recommendations the Commission shall comply with the directions of the Attorney-General in connection with the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers. That means that there is to be ministerial control in relation to the functions of the Commission other than its report and recommendation functions. If such a body is spending money and doing all sorts of things there should be some form of control over it. The Minister is to act on behalf of the Government and will be responsible to the Parliament. There is a further provision which states:

If either House of the Parliament or a Committee of either House, or of both Houses, of the Parliament requires the Commission to furnish to that House or Committee any information (including information in respect of expenditure or proposed expenditure of the Commission) concerning the performance of the functions, or the exercise of the powers, of the Commission under this Act, the Commission shall comply with the requirement.

As Senator Greenwood said, this is to be a body with a considerable amount of power and except in relation to its reports and recommendations it is to be subject to ministerial control and parliamentary supervison. The Parliament, either House of the Parliament, or a committee could ask the Commission what was happening. I suppose that it would have the power to ask what directions were being given. I thought that this provision represented a pretty reasonable attempt to introduce what everyone is clamouring forsome sort of ministerial and parliamentary supervision over a whole host of bodies.

Rather than have the Bill delayed because I insist that the clause remain as it is, I have agreed to the foreshadowed amendment. I think the Senate will have to evolve some system of supervision of these statutory bodies. There are hundreds of them. My understanding is that it is the wish of the Senate that there be some exercise of ministerial or parliamentary supervision. I thought that clause 8 was a pretty fair attempt to arrive at such a system, especially as reports and recommendations were excepted. All the other functions of the Commission would have been subject to directions by a Minister responsible to Parliament. There is the further provision that either House or a committee of either House or of both could require information from the Commission, and it would be supplied. That was our attempt to provide for supervision. If it is contentious I would rather drop it, both in regard to the hearings and the other matters. I am by no means conceding that the proposal is not right, but we have reached a state of affairs when I would rather have the Bill through the Parliament than have it stood over to the first sitting day in 1974. Without prejudice to my right to insert other provisions if they are thought necessary or to evolve some system of proper ministerial or parliamentary supervision, I am content to meet the suggestion and let the Bill have an easy passage. The great bulk of it is not contentious and obviously is in the national interest.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

Clause 3.

In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears- " Australian Public Service " means the Public Service constituted under the Public Service Act 1 922- 1 973; " Chairman "means the Chairman of the Commission; " Commission "means the Law Reform Commission; " Deputy Chairman " means the Deputy Chairman of the Commission; " hearing " means a hearing conducted under section 28; " judicial office " means an office of judge of a Federal Court or of the Supreme Court of a State or Territory; " laws " includes rules of the Common Law or of Equity; " laws to which this Act applies "means-

(a)   laws made by, or by the authority of, the Parliament, including laws of the Territories so made; and

(b)   any other laws, including laws of the Territories, that the Parliament has power to amend or repeal; " member " means the Chairman or another member of the Commission; "proceedings ", in relation to a hearing, includes the evidence taken at the hearing; " reference " means a reference by the Attorney-General to the Commission under this Act; " Territory "does not include Papua New Guinea.

Clause 6.

(1)   The functions of the Commission are, in pursuance of references to the Commission made by the Attorney-General-

(a)   to review laws to which this Act applies with a view to the systematic development and reform of the law, including,.in particular-

(i)   the modernization of the law by bringing it into accord with current conditions;

(ii)   the elimination of defects in the law;

(iii)   the simplification of the law; and

(iv)   the adoption of new or more effective methods for the administration of the law and the dispensation of justice;

Clause 8.

(1)   Except in relation to the formulation of its reports and recommendations, the Commission shall comply with any directions of the Attorney-General in connexion with the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers under this Act.

Clause 11.

(4)   Members other than the Chairman shall be appointed either as full-time members or as part-time members.

Clause 46.

The Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters which by this Act are required or permitted to be prescribed, or which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed for carrying out or giving effect to this Act, and in particular-

(a)   for prescribing the practice and procedure in conducting a hearing; and

(b)   for prescribing penalties, not exceeding a fine of $200, for.offences against the regulations.

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