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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I think it is as well that we should deal at once with the last remark made by the Honorary Minister. The whole crux of the matter is that we desire to discuss the census questions before they are confirmed in a regulation by the Executive. The Government do not desire that we should discuss them until they are embodied in the regulations. An honorable senator may disapprove of some of the questions, but if he is a follower of the Government, he will not be disposed to vote against the regulations as a whole, because, if the Senate declined to pass the regulations as a whole, the Government might regard that as a motion of censure.

Senator Pearce - Nonsense.

Senator SAYERS - I wish that every member of the Senate should be able to consider the questions to be asked in connexion with the collection of the census, before they are decided upon by the Execu tive. That is what we were promised on last Wednesday. I brought the matter up on the Supply Bill, and we were given an assurance by the Vice-President of the Executive Council that an ample opportunity would be afforded honorable senators to discuss the questions before the Executive Council took any hand in the matter. I do not know why that promise was broken. To my surprise, Senator Findley tabled a motion in connexion with the matter, but when it was called upon yesterday, he withdrew it. 1 objected on a point of order, but the President ruled, correctly, I suppose, that the Minister had power towithdraw the motion. The honorable senator did so without offering any explanation whatever, and to-day we are told that later in this week, or during next week, after the Executive Council has dealt with the matter, regulations under the Census and Statistics Act will be tabled, and we may discuss them. 'The difficulty is that we shall not then be able to deal with the questions separately.

Senator Pearce - Yes; the honorable senator does not understand the position. Ask Senator Stewart. He has already done it in one case.

Senator SAYERS - We believe that this matter has not been dealt with in a straightforward manner. On Wednesday last the Vice-President of the Executive Council promised that honorable senators would be enabled to discuss it upon the following day. No mention was then made of the circumstance that it was necessary that the regulations should first go before the Executive Council. On Thursday last the Honorary Minister gave notice of a motion, which was duly placed upon the business-paper, but which was yesterday withdrawn. Thus the promise of the Leader of the Senate has not been redeemed. Instead, it is proposed to lay certain regulations on the table, which - if they are not vetoed - will become law. It would be far better for the Government to say to honorable senators, " Here are the questions which we intend to adopt in connexion with the census papers. We propose to give you an opportunity of discussing them separately."

Senator Lynch - Will not the Senate have an opportunity of amending those questions ?

Senator SAYERS - No. When once they have been approved by the Executive, and have lain upon the table of the Senate for a certain .period, they will have the force of law. Of course, any honorable senator will be at liberty to move that they be disagreed with, but any such action would place him in a very awkward position, inasmuch as he may approve of some of the regulations and disapprove of others. I hold that before the Government adopt these regulations the Senate should be afforded an opportunity of saying whether or not, in its opinion, the questions which are to be placed upon the census papers are suitable or otherwise. But it is the same old practice of government by regulation, to which Senators Givens, Lynch, and myself have so strenuously objected.

Senator Lynch - The honorable senator did not help me the other day when I wanted him to adopt that attitude.

Senator SAYERS - Only yesterday, in connexion with the Navigation Bill, it was proposed that certain things should be prescribed by regulation. I objected to that proposal, but Senator Lynch was quite prepared to accept it. I would further point out that the Government already monopolize the whole of the time which was previously available for the transaction of private members' business, and consequently we shall be debarred from objecting to these regulations. I do not see that any other course was open to Senator Chataway than that which he has taken this afternoon. He has embraced the first opportunity which presented itself of protesting against the action of the Government with a view to the Senate being afforded an opportunity to discuss the questions which are to be placed upon the census papers before the regulations are approved by the Executive Council.

Senator VARDON(South Australia) £3.6]. - I feel very strongly that the Government have not dealt fairly with the Senate in this matter. If my recollection be right, it was the Leader of the Opposition who first asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether he would lay. on the table of the Senate a copy of the questions which it was intended to include in the census papers, and whether he would afford us an opportunity of discussing them. The Vice-President of the Executive Council stated that he would grant us that opportunity, and in fulfilment of his promise the Honorary Minister gave notice of his intention to move -

That the Senate approves of the questions (as laid on the table on 28th September last) proposed to be asked at the census" to be taken on the 3rd April, 1911

Had that motion been submitted, honorable senators would have been afforded an opportunity of approving the questions which it is intended to place in the census papers before they were embodied in regulations. From the promise which was given, it appears that the Government were then willing to consider any representations which might be made regarding those questions, and, if necessary, to modify them before they were embodied in regulations. Why was the motion of which notice was given by the Honorary Minister withdrawn from the business-paper? At a later stage the Vice-President of the Executive Council declared that, because the Senate did not pass a two months' Supply Bill without debate, he would reconsider the matter, and withdraw the motion from the noticepaper. So far as we know, that is the only reason why it was withdrawn, and why we are refused an opportunity of approving or disapproving of the questions which it is intended to place upon the census papers. That refusal is the punishment to which we are to be subjected be-1 cause we did not approve of a two months' Supply Bill without discussion. I repeat that the Senate has not been properly treated by the Government. When a promise is made it should be fulfilled to the letter. I protest against this sort of treatment of the Senate by any Ministry. The Government may have the numbers behind them, but that does not make their action right. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, having made a definite promise, has no right to withdraw it on such a shabby pretext. I strongly dissent from a number of the questions which it is proposed to place upon the census papers, but I will not attempt to discuss them now.

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