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Tuesday, 9 August 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - The very serious statement by Senator Lynch that I have made reflections upon departmental officers cannot be allowed to go unchecked or unchallenged. I have been a long time now in the public life of the country, and I challenge. Senator Lynch ' to point to any occasion on which I used' my position to' attack persons in the Public Service. I wasattacking a system which, in- my opinion, is rotten. Senator Lynch says, "We need not worry about this; wecan let this business be done by departmental by-laws "and hold the Minister responsible." Whynot let this Bill be operated wholly by departmental by-laws, and hold the Minister responsible? Why are we kept here day after day arguing whether there should be a duty of1d. on this article or½d. on another, when by adopting Senator' Lynch's proposal we might let the whole business be done by departmental by-laws, and then we could manfully . attack the Minister for Trade and Customs if anything went wrong? Senator Lynch's argument is, "Let the Department do it. Why should we take the trouble?" One reason why we should take the trouble is that from the institution of Parliament we have been taught that our liberty dependsupon Parliament keeping control over the purse-strings. This is a. matter in connexion with which there should be parliamentary control, because we are concerned about the revenue tobe derived, from Customs duties: I should like to be a member of a -Senate that would let the Minister take the re. sponsibility for everything, that would let Ministers carry on the business by departmental by-laws, and make. them, pay for it if,in our opinion, they did any. thing wrong. That would' be a glorious: Senate to be a member of: We might, as members of such a 'body, spend most of our time growing, wheat; or in some' other useful. occupation, and allow Ministers to conduct all these affairs. The public after long experience: havedecided that the experimentof parliamentary government shall continue. ' I realize that it is only an experiment, but it is a continuous experiment, and I should like to assist to make it as perfect as possible. I do not desire to give away anything that was secured to Parliament before I became a member of it. I should like, when I leave Parliament, to be able to say that no power which Parliament possessed when I entered it has been lost without my resisting it. The position would be different if the intelligence of the community decided that Parliament should leave these matters to be dealt with by departmental by-laws.

Senator Lynch - Does not Parliament delegate its power ina thousand different ways ?

Senator GARDINER - The continual delegation of power, and, the handing of responsibility over to some one else, is what I am protesting against, and I shall continue to protest against it. Senator Earle gave us a very lucid illustration of the operation of. a. regulation as compared with a departmental by-law. He suggested that some genius might invent a new process, that the Government might immediately issue a regulation that would have the force of law, but that Parliament might later upset their decision, and he asked us whether any one would be likely to enter upon a- business under such a condition. Under a departmental by-law, some speculator might come 'along and enter upon a -business, and - there would be no check by Parliament because- Parliament would have given to the Minister power to admit free the. raw material, he required for his industry. Parliament would net interfere in any . matter, of this kind unless for very grave reasons! Under the provision . for the settlement of the matter by departmental by-laws, it is taken out of the power of Parliament to interfere. That is a most excellent reason for objecting to this provision, and substituting for it a provision for statutory regulations. The Minister is up against the hard fact that that would not prevent him from doing immediately what he wished to do. If Parliament were not sitting, a statutory regulation would have the force of law until Parliament rejected it, if it saw fit to do so. I am not proposing that any power should be taken from the Government, but that we should retain a power which properly belongs to Parliament. I realize that the matter which we are at the moment dealing with is a comparatively trivial one, but I raise my objection on principle. On some small matter a new system of bureaucracy may come into vogue, and the people may then have to fight for their privileges, just as Parliament fought, two or three centuries ago, against the prerogative of the King. Alert minds can see that the Government Departments in this and other countries are encroaching in this way upon parliamentary privileges, persistently cribbing where they can prerogatives which properly are exercisable by Parliament, and in other respects strengthening their hands by the exercise of authority. The officials holding important positions in the Public Services have, by reason of the laws which have been passed, more power than a Czar, because' the latter always has to take the risk of an enraged populace, whereas departmental officials are supported by authority given to them by Parliament. That is what this Tariff item means. It means the handing over of a little more power to departmental officials, and there will always be the possibility of this authority being used to annoy the people for the sake of some trivial advantage to the revenue of the country. Departmental officials so placed may soon get into the habit of believing that it is their duty to extract, by means of regulations, the last shilling from the trading community, without any thought as to the effect of their action upon business concerns. I think I have replied to Senator Lynch's suggestion that in attacking this system I was attacking departmental officials, but I realize that departmental officers are, after all, only human beings. The history of Tariffs is a history of corruption, for the simple reason that a Tariff is an instrument by means of which certain individuals expect to get substantial benefits at the expense of the community.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Buzacott - I must ask the honorable senator not to get away from the item under discussion.

Senator GARDINER - I am under the impression that anything which I may have been' privileged to say on the second reading is in order in the debate on an item of this description, which leaves the whole Tariff open to departmental by-laws.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Nobody will take away the honorable senator's right to speak.

Senator GARDINER - I shall take good care that nobody does. In this connexion, I am pointing out that the purpose of the requested amendment is to take away from departmental officials power to frame by-laws in connexion with any Tariff items. Unfortunately, we have only a limited time at our disposal to discuss these items, as I understand the Government desire to get the Tariff through before Christmas; but there are about 400 items which will permit of about 4,000 requests for amendment if honorable senators desire to move for amendments to each item. But I am not going to do that. As soon as my time for retiring comes, I shall go home and allow the Government to give departmental officials all the authority they wish to give them. If the Government think the Department should' have the right to make by-laws in this way - by-laws which will have the scant publicity afforded by the Government Gazette- why not deal with the whole of the Tariff in the same way? This course would save Ministers and the Parliament a lot of trouble. Why not agree that the remainder of the Tariff shall be imposed "as prescribed by departmental by-laws," instead of having a discussion on every item? That is the idea behind Senator Lynch's argument, because he says that this matter could be left to departmental by-laws and we could hold the Minister responsible.

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