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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 905

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) - All the quasi judicial functions are in Part VII. The others are administrative functions. If one examines this clause one finds that careful attention has been given to ensuring that in a proper way the principles of ministerial responsibility and parliamentary supervision be carried out. I have introduced this concept into this Bill and into another Bill. I have written it in deliberately. In clause 29 (3) one finds that the bodies are supposed to furnish to the committees of either or both Houses information which is required. Honourable senators are aware that there is a tendency in some of these bodies to start to resist even the committees of this House and to start to regard themselves as though they were independent baronies. I do not think that this is satisfactory.

We have a system which fundamentally is one of ministerial responsibility and parliamentary supervision. Parliament cannot exercise its supervision properly unless there is a Minister who has the responsibility. It seems to me that as a general principle- not merely in regard to the Trade Practices Commission but generally- we ought to start pursuing the line that is set out here. Unless there are very strong reasons- and there are some here, in the exercise of quasi judicial functions- a statutory body ought to have some kind of supervision by a Minister. In certain areas such as transport there is day to day management and so forth. I think that an academic in Tasmania has gone through the long history of statutory corporations and their relationship to government. Interestingly enough, Australia was the pioneer in the evolution of statutory corporations and during the last century led the whole world in this field. This development was copied in other countries. We have had great experience of statutory corporations.

The relationship between government and statutory corporations has been expressed in many ways. There have been a great many experiments in the field. I think that what emerges from all this is that, in general, government ought to exercise some kind of supervision over statutory corporations. That supervision must be expressed through a Minister. The Minister is responsible to Parliament. I have put into this legislation specific proposals to enable the Houses of Parliament to obtain whatever information they wish from the Commission. Excepted from this are the quasi-judicial functionsthe decision making- of the Tribunal, because they operate by way of a chain from the Commission to the Tribunal and, in some cases, to the Superior Court. The Government has proposed that all those matters should be exempted from ministerial supervision.

Let us turn to other areas in the operation of the Trade Practices Commission and consider certain aspects of finance. The Minister may believe that there has been some extravagance. He may think that the Commission should be setting up more offices. He may say: 'Look, you are not paying enough attention to country areas. Why do you not set up an office in a country area?' The Minister may suggest that it be in Geelong, Mackay or some other place. Surely in such circumstances the Minister should be able to give a direction. What is to be feared in this measure? The Government has proposed that not only may the Minister give a direction, but if he does do so it also must be the most public action. It must be put in writing and he shall cause a copy to be published in the Gazette as soon as practicable after the direction is given. That is the way he exercises the supervision.

Either House of the Parliament may ask the Attorney-General for imformtion or may bring the statutory body before it. Either House may ask that body: 'What are your views on this? Is the Minister really doing the right thing or is he not?' Will the Opposition really say that, if the Government itself wishes to give the Commission in writing a direction which has nothing to do with its quasi-judicial operations and have that direction published in the Gazette, it cannot do it, even though the Government through the Minister is answerable to Parliament and the committees of the Houses are empowered specifically to call that statutory body and ask it what any matter is all about? Does the Opposition really say that these statutory bodies should be so detached from ministerial responsibility and parliamentary supervision that they may go and do what they like, even if the responsible Minister felt that it was necessary to publish in the Gazette a direction for which he would be answerable in Parliament? It seems to me that that attitude is going too far in the direction of removing these statutory corporations from proper parliamentary supervision and ministerial responsibility. That is the intent behind the provision. I think it ought to be carried into many other pieces of legislation

Over the years many comments have been made in this chamber about the extent to which these statutory corporations have become free of supervision at all. Ministers in this Government and in former governments- including former Ministers opposite- have complained that they have no real control at all. Even if they thought something was going wrong they had no real control. I would think that this is something that ought to be considered with respect to statutory corporations generally. A good deal of thought has been given to this aspect. It seems to me to be a wise provision enhancing the proper Parliamentary supervision exercised through Ministerial responsibility. In this case it is made quite public, so that everyone will know what is going on and the Houses themselves have the utmost opportunity of controlling and investigating the exercise of that supervision. I suggest, with respect, that the provision is a good one and that it should be left as it is.

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