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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - Apparently, the purpose of the amendment is to limit the Board's discretion to inquire into any of the matters set out in the. latter part of clause 15, that is to say, to limit its inquiries to any matter submitted to. it by the Minister of the day.. On the other, hand, we aretold that it is necessary to give the Board certain discretionary power in order to enable it to discharge its functions and fulfil the usefulness expected of, it. But. clause 15 and clause 17 seem on the face of them somewhat contradictory: Our object should be. to make the intention of Parliament as clear as possible. Nothing is more confusing in our Law Courts: than the haggling of lawyers as to what has been the intent and true purpose of: Parliament in passing certain legislation. There is nothing mandatory in the latter part of clause 15 declaring that when the Minister does refer certain things to the Board for inquiry and report the Board must take them into consideration, and inquire into them on the spot, and may not choose to conducttheir inquiry at a later date. It has. been well said by Senator Fairbairn that other Boards, have no option, but must inquire into matters specially referred tothem; and if it is the intention of the Government that this Board shall have no option, but must inquire into a matter specially referred to it, then that intention is very vaguely expressed in clause 15. The vagueness is confirmed by the fact that clause 17 arms the Board with discretionary power to act on its own initiative.

Senator Russell - Clause 17. merely refers to sub-clause 2 of clause 15, which, sets out certain clearly-defined subjects upon which the Board will exercise itsdiscretion in making inquries.

Senator LYNCH - Quite so; but; that sub-clause really contains the kernel of the whole position, because it includes a drag-net paragraph which says that the Minister may refer to the Board for their inquiry and report " any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff," leaving to the imagination suchan infinity of scope and space' is very hard to say what might not come under that heading. This drag-net paragraph is almost as expansive as the subject of a lecture I once saw advertised in London, " The Universe and Collateral Subjects." The power proposed to be given to this Board may not be quite so ramified as the scope covered by that lecture, but it is in the neighbourhood of it. It certainly leaves to the Board a power of imagination which I am not prepared to give it. We have had not only Boards, but also Ministers, with keen imaginations, and I do not think the interest of the public would bo served. very greatly by allowing these keen, lively imaginations to have full scope. I have been comparing previous legislation with the present proposal, and I find that the functions of Boards previously created to furnish reports have been laid down, as Senator Fairbairn has mentioned, and that any subject upon which thev were empowered to make an inquiry had first to be referred to them by Parliament or the Government of the day. These Boards have no option but to make the particular inquiry they are directed to make. If we had amended clause 15, and provided that the Minister must refer certain matters to the Board for inquiry, and thereupon the Board must do so-and-so, it would have obviated the necessity for clause 17 with so much ambiguity in it.

Senator Russell - Clause 15 covers important questions of policy which may be referred to the Board, but clause 17 merely deals with administrative matters.

Senator LYNCH - When we read clause 15 and clause 17 side by side, we find that one arms the Minister with power to refer certain things to the Board and the other empowers the Board to act on its own discretion if the Minister may make default in referring any matter to it. Is that hot so?

Senator Russell -Yes.

Senator LYNCH - Then it is a clear abdication of Ministerial responsibility.

Senator Russell - Of course, it is.

Senator LYNCH - Then, I do not want that. I am not anxious to see a Board created which will be superior to the Minister, and which in turn will be superior to Parliament, yet the Minister has admitted that this will happen.

Senator- Russell.- Ihave not. I merely say that clause 17 applies only to administrative matters.

Senator LYNCH - The language employed leaves no other conclusion to be drawn but that the Board can, on its own initiative, as Senator Russell has admitted, inquire into a matter, although the Minister has not referred it to them; and, as Senator Russell has also admitted, this simply means an abdication of Ministerial authority. I am not prepared to assent to this. This Parliament must be superior; and a Minister, as its servant, should be its responsible mouthpiece. No Board, no matter how wisely constituted, should be able to override a Minister, or rob him of that responsibility which is justly his as a servant of this Parliament. In fact, I am inclined to strengthen his position, and as, so far as I have been privileged to understand it, Senator Wilson's amendment seeks to strengthen rather than weaken Ministerial responsibility, I am inclined to give it my support.

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