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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 908

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - Naturally if our amendment is defeated we will welcome anything which limits the power in this area. We think it is a matter of concern that ramifications as wide as the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) indicated -

Senator Murphy - I cannot accept that it is a limitation. I say that it already makes no difference at all, except that it gives more satisfaction for the Opposition.

Senator GREENWOOD - 1 am sorry that the Attorney-General cannot see the proposition as it concerns the Opposition. This issue has very wide ramifications because the concept of the statutory corporation has developed enormously in the States throughout Australia and in the Commonwealth over many years. It has acquired numerous refinements. One of the questions which only in recent years is coming into focus is the extent to which those bodies which are established by the Parliament are to be answerable either to the executive which carries the responsibility for the administration of the Act or to the Parliament itself.

It seems that the problems which could arise in regard to the Trade Practices Commission are problems which are quite clearly resolved in favour of the Commissioner of Taxation. From reading the Income Tax Assessment Act it is clear that the Minister has not got any powers to tell the Commissioner of Taxation how he shall exercise his functions, and nor should the Minister have any power. Parliament has laid down how the Commissioner shall be separated in the discharge of his functions from the ministerial responsibility which the Commissioner acknowledges is vested in the Treasurer. Surely no one would question that proposition. The Commissioner of Taxation ought to be autonomous in his activities. Difficult problems have arisen in a host of other areas, and one of those problems is the extent to which there should be parliamentary control or ministerial control over the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is not really suggested that the Minister should have power to give directions to organisations such as the Snowy Mountains Authority. The reason such bodies were established originally as separate autonomous commissions or authorities was to remove them from political control, to remove them from the day to day superintendence and direction which Ministers could exercise, and it was felt that there was good reason for that. I believe that there is good reason for giving an independent control to bodies in relation to which it is feared that if there is political direction there might be, as I said earlier, misuse or allegations of misuse.

What we say is the problem here is that the Commission is given a number of functions, and those functions ought to be able to be exercised by the Commission in the judgment of the Commission. It is not good enough to say that there is a protection because any direction which the Attorney-General gives shall be published in the Gazette. There could be a wave of hysteria throughout the community at a particular time on particular issues. In that context it might be thought to be the most desirable thing in the world to have a direction given as to how a particular company is to be dealt with by the Commission. It may be very easy for the AttorneyGeneral to publish that in the Gazette, but in the sober light of reflection it may appear to be the most unjust type of direction that ever could have been given, and yet at the time it was given it seemed appropriate in the light of feelings which had been generated. People ought to have their rights governed by law and by the independent bodies which the legislation establishes; they should not have their rights affected by political direction, as it may appear politically expedient to do so from time to time. Whilst appreciating, as we would see the position, some restraint by the Attorney-General upon the wide powers which we think the Bill contains, we say that there is a wider problem and a wider proposition involved. Therefore we would seek to maintain our amendment and to have the clause deleted.

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