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Friday, 15 September 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - The statement just made by the Minister confirms me in the belief I entertain that it is necessary to put in this clause the limitation I suggested. The honorable senator has said that the Navigation Department does not desire to be tied up in any way. I think that is quite probable. I have never known a Department or an official that desired to be tied up. They all prefer to be autocratic.

Senator Pearce - Suppose the Minister has evidence that a breach of an Act has been committed ; if he could not enter a ship before he established his case, he might not be able to do so.

Senator MILLEN - That would be an entry for the due performance of the duty of the Minister under the Act, but honorable senators will see that under this clause the Minister, quite apart from any navigation proceedings, may summon a person before him, and administer an oath to him on some matter quite outside the navigation law. The Minister has himself mentioned a case in which a Department stretched the law to such an extent as to make use of an officer of another Department to do something it was not authorized to do.

Senator Pearce - It was absolutely necessary in the public interests.

Senator MILLEN - It is for Parliament to decide who shall be given the power to administer an oath. It should not be left to the Navigation Department. Under this clause the Minister could summon any one he met in the street to attend at his office, and there administer an oath to him on a subject that had nothing whatever to do with the navigation laws. I do not think the Minister can show that there is any necessity for such a power as that. As a matter of fact, I think the omission of the words " for the due performance of his duty under this Act " from this clause is a mere drafting omission, because they are to be found in the immediately preceding clause and in other clauses.

Senator Rae - Supposeit is necessary to go on board a ship for the purpose of enforcing some other Act ?

Senator MILLEN - Then action should be taken under that Act, and not under the Navigation Act. I put another case to Senator Rae. Does he think that any official or any Minister should have the right to administer an oath for any purpose not set out in an Act of Parliament? Here we are giving the Minister the right to inspect any premises, and administer an oath to any person in connexion with a matter which has nothing whatever to do with navigation. I believe in giving the Minister the fullest possible powers to carry out the provisions of a measure of this kind, but we should not give him power to enter premises or summon persons before him and administer oaths on matters which have nothing to do with navigation.

Senator Rae - The honorable senator was not so anxious to object to the clause giving the right to hunt a man away from the vicinity of a ship, though his presence there might have nothing to do with navigation.

Senator MILLEN - I should say that the protection of a ship is a matter which has a good deal to do with navigation. As Senator Rae is inclined to be so careful about the interests of the individual in that case, it is strange that he cannot see anything unfair in this clause, which gives the Minister power to administer an oath to any person upon a matter which has nothing to do with navigation.

Senator Rae - The honorable senator knows that all laws are bad.

Senator MILLEN - One almost despairs of discussing things in this Chamber when the most serious statements are turned aside as a joke. I am submitting, in all seriousness, what I regard as a serious proposition. Under this clause, the Minister - and this may mean the officials of the Navigation Department - may hale up any private citizen and administer an oath to him on some matter that is not set out in the Bill. I am prepared to give the Minister every power necessary to carry out the provisions of the Navigation Bill, but I decline to give him a blank cheque. For all I know, the Minister, in calling up some one to administer an oath to him under this clause, might wish to find out something about land settlement, about sanitation - which ought to be dealt with by the health authorities - or his personal relations with any member of the community. Surely honorable senators will not contend that such a power as that is desirable.

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