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Wednesday, 8 May 1957

Mr SPEAKER - The position is that the Minister sought leave of the House to introduce the bill. A copy of the bill has been supplied to the Leader of the Opposition, and in those circumstances I suggest that the procedure is in order.

Mr Thompson - I would like to know whether a copy of the bill is in the House. You, sir, contend that the matter is in order. I do not know whether there is a copy of the bill in this House. We have heard a title read, but I do not know whether that was just off a piece of paper or off the bill itself. I contend that we should keep to proper parliamentary procedure, and parliamentary procedure is that when leave is granted to introduce a bill, the Minister concerned presents it and the Clerk reads the title of it. If the Clerk has it, well and good. The point is that you, Mr. Speaker, have been asked for a ruling. The Leader of the House wanted to know if there were any objection to what he proposed. If the bill is present in the House in physical form, then there should be a copy of it for all honorable members.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister sought the leave of the House to move the second reading forthwith. That leave was granted and the Minister is now operating on the authority given by the House where it granted him that leave.

Mr Ward - Mr. Speaker, on the point of order-

Mr SPEAKER - Is the honorable member intending to canvass my ruling?

Mr HASLUCK - Sufficient copies of the bill are now available for all honorable members.

Mr Ward - Well, all right.

Mr HASLUCK - Continuing my remarks, I would explain to the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), that I did present a copy of the bill to the House, as required by the Standing Orders. I handed it to the Clerk. Of course, we had no intention of proceeding with the debate forthwith. It was expected that, following the usual custom, I would explain the bill to the House and the debate on the second reading would then be adjourned and that before the debate was resumed copies of the bill would be available to every honorable member. I shall now resume my remarks on the bill, and for the sake of clarity go back to a point a little before that at which the point of order was raised.

Recently, occasion arose to seek legal advice on the exact effect of the disqualification, and the legal officers of the Government have taken the view that the disqualification is not limited to cases in which a person supplies goods or services to the Commonwealth or the Territory, but applies in all cases in which a person enters into any form of contract or agreement with the Government, including such contracts or agreements as a lease of land, a lease of buildings, or a mining lease. In Papua and New Guinea, where, at this stage of its development, a large number of public activities are conducted by the Government, a large percentage of the European population are leaseholders in one capacity or another, and the strict application of the disqualification would exclude a very large percentage of the population from any hope of participating in the work of the legislature. Moreover, it is considered that the fact that a person has a contract or agreement, such as a lease, with the Commonwealth or the Administration, does not necessarily reduce the likelihood that he will act in a disinterested and impartial way in most of the matters which come before the Legislative Council.

The bill, therefore, is intended to remove the absolute disqualification, and provide that a member of the Legislative Council, who is a party to, or has a direct or indirect interest in, a contract made by or on behalf of the Commonwealth under which goods or services are to be supplied to the Commonwealth or the Administration, shall not take part in a discussion of a matter, or vote on a question, in the council, where the matter or question refers directly or indirectly to that contract. In other words, a person who stands in a contractual relationship to the Commonwealth or the Administration, is not rigidly excluded from membership of the council but, if he becomes a member, is prohibited from taking part in the discussion or vote on any matter in which he has an interest.

In a community such as exists in the Territory to-day, it is highly unlikely that the interest which a member may have in any matter which comes before the council would escape the knowledge of other members of the council, particularly as the members of the council include a number of officers engaged in the business of the Government. It is, therefore, proposed that all questions concerning the application of this new provision shall be decided by the Legislative Council itself on the motion of any of its members. I expect that that will mean, in practice, that if, at any time, any member of the council has reason to believe that another member has an interest in a matter before the council, he may raise a challenge in the council itself, and the council shall determine the matter on the spot.

I feel confident that this new provision will uphold the traditional view that a member of Parliament should not be in a position to discuss, or vote on, matters in which he has a pecuniary interest, while at the same time it will not exclude from membership persons capable of giving good service to the community.

Before we had received the legal advice to which I. referred earlier, and before doubt had been cast upon the qualifications of existing members, the council had functioned in the belief that all of its members were qualified to sit and to act on the council. The advice we have received, however, does raise a doubt whether all of them were, in fact, qualified to do so. In these circumstances, it may be - it is not certain - that the validity of the ordinances, or some of the ordinances, passed by the council will be called into question. To place their validity beyond doubt, the bill includes a clause to validate the past or future acts of the council, notwithstanding any defect in the qualifications of a person who has purported to sit or vote as a member of the council or at a meeting of a committee of the council.

The bill provides that the council itself may determine questions respecting the qualifications of members or respecting a vacancy in the council, other than questions of a disputed election or a disputed return in connexion with an election. If the council does not wish to determine the matter itself, it may refer it by resolution to the Supreme Court of the Territory, which will thereupon hear and determine the question.

The provisions of the bill, which 1 have described, correspond very closely with the provisions of an act made by this Parliament last year in respect of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. In view of its earlier agreement to proposals relating to the Northern Territory, I do not anticipate that the Parliament will find any reason for not taking similar action in respect of Papua and New Guinea.

In summary, this bill seeks to clear up and place beyond doubt the question of the qualification of members of the Legislative Council for the Territory; to validate acts of the council which may have been done in good faith in the past, but which may be open to question because of the doubt regarding the qualifications of members; and to provide a means by which questions relating to the qualifications of members may be determined.

Apart from those main purposes of the bill, I should like to direct attention to one other minor provision in the measure. As it was necessary to bring a bill before this Parliament for the purposes which I have described, advantage was taken of the occasion to rectify an omission, apparently as the result of an oversight, from the parent act. Section 73 of the act empowers the Administrator to grant a pardon to an offender other than those sentenced to death, the power to pardon whom rests with the Governor-General. It is proposed to extend this power to pardon for an accomplice who gives evidence leading to the conviction of a principal offender. This provision existed in the Papua Act of 1905 and was continued in the Papua and New Guinea Provisional Administration Act 1945, but, apparently by an oversight, was omitted from the Papua and New Guinea Act of 1949. The Government's attention was drawn to this omission by its legal advisers, and the Government decided that, although the matter was not related to the central purpose of the bill, advantage should be taken of this occasion to repair the oversight.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.

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