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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 909

Senator EVERETT (Tasmania) Listening to this debate, it seems to me that the Opposition is making a mountain out of a molehill and is grossly exaggerating the effect of clause 29. It also, I suggest, distorts the true position of the Commission under the legislation because to describe it as an independent public corporation and to refer in the same breath to the Australian Broadcasting Commission seems to me to distort the position.

Under the Bill the Commission has 2 types of functions. The first is a quasi judicial function which is provided in Part VII and other provisions in the Bill which are in aid of the execution of its powers under Part VII. Those powers, not just those in Part VII, aid the functions of the Commission under Part VII. All those powers are excluded from this provision. No question of direction arises. Therefore, what is left in the Bill on which the terms of clause 29 can operate? I suggest that with very odd exceptions that would have to be found in the Bill by going through it word for word, the provisions on which clause 29 can act are those contained in clause 28.

Clause 28 sets out5 powers which are essentially of an administrative character which could be said to be functions which an ordinary government department would normally carry out. If they were not specifically consigned to the Commission or entrusted to the Commission under clause 28 they would be functions which the executive government, through the AttorneyGeneral 's Department, would, I believe, be expected to carry out. As I have said, clause 29 is provided essentially in relation to those powers. When Parliament sees fit- it has already passed clause 28 and therefore it can be assumed that both sides consider it proper that those5 special functions should be entrusted to the Commissiondoes Parliament want to be able to say to the executive government of the day: 'Hands off', in relation for instance to such matters as priority? Take clause 28 ( 1 ) (c), which states: the Commission has the . . . function- to conduct research in relation to matters affecting the interest of consumers, being matters with respect to which the Parliament has power to make laws;

As I have said, normally that would be an executive government function. Surely it is proper that the Attorney-General should, in relation to that matter which 1 take as an example, be able to say to the Commission: 'I have had complaints from many areas in the past few weeks concerning this aspect of consumer interest. You have not so far done any research on that matter. Would you please do so and give it priority. ' Is there anything wrong with that? As I have said, if the Opposition really examines this and appreciated that Part VII and anything related to Part VII is excluded from the power, it will see there is virtually nothing left on which the power can operate except the functions contained in clause 28.

I would have thought that the Opposition rather than opposing this provision would have welcomed the fact that as a parliament there will be a greater right to examine the activities of the executive government if this clause stays in the legislation than if the Opposition's is agreed to. Any Attorney-General who did give a direction under clause 29 would, by virtue of sub-clause (2), be extremely careful to see that what he was doing would enhance him before the Parliament and not be a subject of criticism of him. By preserving this the Parliament is enhancing its position vis-a-vis the executive government. By agreeing to the amendment of the Opposition the Parliament is cutting itself off and is saying that this Commission should be left completely alone even in relation to ordinary administrative matters which normally would be the ordinary task of executive government but which for special reasons, because of the expertise of this Commission, are entrusted by clause 28 to the Commission, and Parliament has, without a word of dissent, approved of clause 28.

I would have thought that the Opposition amendment is misconceived, that Parliament would be better served by this provision being left in and that it is untrue to say that it is some sinister attempt by the executive government to get its claws into an independently created statutory body. It is quite innocent, I am convinced, in its conception and it will be innocently executed. If innocence becomes guilt then it will be exposed under sub-clause (2) of clause 29.

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