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Wednesday, 27 April 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) .- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Gardiner) is a perfect master in tearing a passion to tatters without any .earthly reason. His claim virtually amounts to this : that we should put into every Act of Parliament every petty detail, and that we should frame no regulations whatsoever.

Senator Elliott - This is not a petty detail.

Senator PEARCE - Surely we are practical and sensible men. ' Every honorable senator is acquainted with our legislation, and is aware that we do not put every little detail into every Act of Parliament. There are quite a number of details that we leave to regulations because of alterations which need to be effected from time to time. If we were to provide for all of these contingencies in an Act we should be absolutely " snowed in." This clause provides for the constitution of an Air Board, and says that it " shall have such powers and functions as are prescribed." In the first place, there is a limitation imposed under which the. Board can do nothing beyond the scope of the Bill. Then what is meant by the words " such powers and functions as are prescribed ?" Fancy putting such matters as the duties of officers in an Act of Parliament! Why, wa might need in a few weeks' time to make some fresh adjustment of their duties, in which case we should be obliged to bring forward an amending Bill.' Thus we would be employing a steam-hammer to crack a nut.

Senator Elliott - Why not insert in the Bill the main functions of the Air Council and Air Board?

Senator PEARCE - They are in the Bill. What does the measure provide for but the functions of the Air Board, of the Air Council, and of the Minister? Every clause of it dennes their powers. The particular clause with which we are now dealing merely seeks to constitute an Air Council and Air Board, and to prescribe their functions. We cannot make regulations which are inconsistent with the Bill. Senator Gardiner, with his tongue in his cheek, pretends-

Senator Gardiner - I rise to a point of order. Is the Minister in order in implying that I am joking over this matter?

Senator PEARCE - I withdraw the remark. The honorable senator's experience as a Minister is, I feel sure, sufficient to teach him that we cannot incorporate in a Bill every little detail in relation to the duties of officers.

Senator Duncan - Perhaps Senator Gardiner never issued a regulation when he was Minister.

Senator PEARCE - He issued a goodly number. Then he assumes that the Minister, who, has to approve regulations, will do stupid or unnecessary and wrong things. He might, if he were a fool. But he knows that if he does such a thing, sooner or later Parliament and the people will learn of it, and then who will be held responsible? Not the officer, but the Minister who promulgated the regulation.

Senator Elliott - It is difficult to sheet home responsibility.

Senator PEARCE - The Minister cannot shelter himself behind the Executive Council. He himself must sign the regulations, and he must therefore accept responsibility for them. Moreover, there is a very real power in this Parliament to check the issue of regulations. Our Standing Orders give usa power over regulations which very few Parliaments possess. After any regulation has been laid upon the table, if any honorable senator moves either to repeal or amend it, that business must take precedence of all Government business. The Government cannot put it at the bottom of the notice-paper. As a matter of fact, Senator Gardiner has distinguished himself by taking action under that standing order. His trouble was that he had such a bad case that he could gain no support for it.

Senator Gardiner - I had a bad jury.

Senator PEARCE - But regulations have been annulled by this Senate. ExSenator Stewart and others have moved to annul regulations, and have been successful in their efforts. Consequently, the power of which I speak is not a shadowy one, but a. very real one. Obviously the Government would prefer to put everything they could into a Bill, and we have done that in this measure. No doubt, if we embodied in every Act all sorts of petty details we should make our legislation more popular with the legal profession. If our Statutes were filled with a mass of verbiage that the ordinary layman could not understand, it would suit the legal profession very well. I trust that the Committee win agree to the clause in its present form. I assure honorable senators that there is nothing behind it, and that it contains nothing suggestive of an invasion of the powers of Parliament.

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