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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr McEWEN (Indi) - It has been made clear that far from finding fault the Opposition endorses the principle embodied in these regulations. Many speeches have been made from this side of the House advocating the total organization of this country for war, and these regulations place in the hands of the Government the total authority that should be required for such organization. It seems to me to be a very proper authority which any government should have at its disposal during a period of crisis. But these are a part of a long series of regulations. All the other regulations have been drafted, as occasion required, to deal with special needs. Regulations have been made to deal with man-power, property, banking, and a multitude of different things. Each of those seta of regulations has embodied within it an explanation of why the power is taken, and by whom it is to be exercised, and there has been always a cover to protect individual rights and interests or property rights. But Statutory Rule No. 77 seems to be a blanket covering all existing regulations, because I would construe it as empowering the Government to do anything that it can do under any existing regulations as well as anything not covered by existing regulations. In that sense it appears to me to be something drafted as a reserve for use in time of urgent emergency. In any time short of urgent emergency, it is withinthe ability of the Government to draft an explicit regulation - it can be done in a few hours - to be administered by the appropriate Ministers. But in the next few weeks, there may be fighting in Australia and then things may have to be done for the safety of the country which will not brook even a few hours of delay. These regulations seem to he necessary to deal with such a position as that. Nevertheless, no matter how dire the emergency, or how great the need for action, it is the wish of the Government and of the Opposition and of all Australians that when a person is directed to perform an act he shall be reasonably protected in the performance of that act. His civil rights, his monetary rights, and his property, if they are to be disturbed, should be protected if practicable and, if possible, he should be compensated. Whilst the regulations empower the Government quite properly to compel all these things, they do not carry within them protection of those rights. The Prime Minister has said that the Constitution overrides anything. The Constitution contains one provision which lays down that theCommonwealth in acquiring property must pay just compensation, and insofar as these regulations may be used to acquire property, the Constitution does override them and protects individuals. These regulations may be exercised to direct a man to destroy his own property, because Ministers have declared that, if war comes within Australia, thepolicy of scorched earth shall be applied.

Mr Curtin - That is entirely a matter for military decision, not for civil decision. Surely that is common sense.

Mr McEWEN - I am rather sorry to hear that statement, for, whilst I agree that the military authorities, in any theatre of war operations, should have power to destroy property or to direct its destruction, I think that, in practice, such decision should, wherever time permits, be made by the civil authorities.

Mr Curtin - That is so. The regulations may he used for that purpose. The military authorities may direct that certain property be destroyed or they may direct certain civilians to destroy property.

Mr Blackburn - The constitutional provision for compensation relates only to the acquisition of property.

Mr McEWEN -The Prime Minister has given us a clear picture of one manner in which these regulations may be invoked. I fail to see how such oral direction could always be followed by written instructions. In a state of emergency, the regulations could be used for the purpose of directing a man to burn down his own home or shop, or of directing skilled tradesmen to do labouring work on wharfs. Civilian exmembers of rifle clubs might be ordered into a defence unit without the formality of enlistment. These and a thousand other things may be done under the regulations.For these reasons, I believe that the regulations should include a provision that, so far as possible, compensation shall be provided for persons who suffer because of what may befall them or their property through the exercise of these powers.

Mr Curtin - We have a war damage insurance commission at work.

Mr McEWEN - That applies only to property.

Mr Curtin - Is that not what the honorable member has in mind ?

Mr McEWEN - I am speaking of a good deal more than property. I referred to civilian ex-members of rifle clubs who might be ordered into defence units, and to skilled tradesmen who might be required to work on wharfs as examples of what might happen under these regulations. Such men may be wounded or killed in these activities, hut, not being members of the defence forces, they would not be covered by the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act. It seems to me, therefore, that the taking of this authority by the Government should be accompanied by the issue of provisions to cover all cases of the kind of which I have given but a few examples. The Prime Minister ha3 said we all believe in complete good faith, that this Government is a fair Government answerable to a fair people, and that it may bc relied upon to deal fairly with the various situations which arise. No one doubts that. But, as I cannot see how it will be possible in some situations to follow oral instructions by explicit written confirmation, I see that many civil law actions may arise. Members of the House who are legal practitioners will also find it easy to visualize such possibilities in respect of persons who, upon authority delegated orally, demolish property or do other acts under these regulations. I visualize an endless vista of such possibilities. I therefore put it to the Prime Minister that everything possible should be done to ensure that oral instruction shall be followed by written confirmation. I urge that efforts be made to devise a formula for incorporation in these regulations which will give as complete protection as possible to persons who may be involved iti the actions taken under the regulations. I have visualized a few circumstances which may arise. I have no doubt that tens of thousands of illustrations could be imagined. To as great a degree as possible, people should be covered in respect of all these matters.

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