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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 906

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) - I suggest that the functions that the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) seeks to take under this clause are not such that Parliament is the appropriate body properly to supervise them. The AttorneyGeneral, in his latest intervention in the debate, made it clear that he was concerned with statutory corporations' growing independence of the

Executive and that this clause was in the nature of a new initiative-a view that he has put forward to Parliament to redress that trend and to make statutory corporations more amenable to Parliament. But the subtlety of it is that it is done by making the statutory Tribunal more compliant with, and the creature of, an Executive direction. I would think that this aspect of the whole question of statutory corporations is not quite relevant to a corporation of this nature. This Corporation is, in the main, a quasi-judicial one, which is the sort of corporation to which the new initiative suggested by the AttorneyGeneral would be the least appropriate.

It is said by the Attorney-General that the functions of the Commission and the powers under Part VII are exempt from his direction, and so they are. But one can test the weakness of that argument by looking at clauses 22 and 23 of the Bill. Clause 22 gives the Commission the discretion to direct that at any public hearing, evidence of the sort that commends itself to it should be taken in private, or to give directions prohibiting or restricting the publication of evidence.

Senator Murphy - Surely that is in connection with the powers under Part VII. That is covered by the exemption.

Senator WRIGHT -I think the argument deserves a little more than a glancing blow like that. Clause 29 ( 1 ) of the Bill states:

The Attorney-General may give directions to the Commission in connection with the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers under this Act other than its functions and powers under Part VII, and the Commission shall comply with any directions so given.

Clauses 22 and 23 are not in Part VII.

Senator Murphy - They are in connection with it. They quite clearly are covered by the exception that is there.

Senator WRIGHT - It would not be quite clearly so interpreted by me, when the exception is limited to Part VII and I find in another Part a power for the Commission to treat evidence as confidential or public. That is a power of the Commission with which the Attorney-General ought not to have the right to interfere. Clause 23 states:

The Commission may permit a person appearing as a witness before the Commission to give evidence by tendering, und. if the Commission thinks fit, verifying by oath or affirmation, a written statement.

But these are matters which are not in Part VII, although they may be means of procedure relating to functions under Part VII. They illustrate the width of the Attorney-General's power to direct a quasi-judicial commission. I suggest that that sort of direction by the Attorney-General has no place in a Bill of this sort which deals with a Commission and a Tribunal which should be independent if they are to attract respect and confidence.

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