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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - II the motion is agreed to, will the Government proceed with the disposal of the Line without any further authority from Parliament?

Senator PEARCE - No. There will have to be further reference to Parliament. If a suitable offer were received it would have to be submitted to Parliament, but I do not know if the introduction of a bill would be necessary.

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Parliament would be consulted?

Senator PEARCE - Tes; in some way.

Senator Duncan - Will the Minister give the Senate that assurance?

Senator PEARCE - Tes.....

Let me state briefly what I had in mind : The Shipping Board was constituted under an act of Parliament and given authority to control the Line. When the question was put to me, I did not have time to consult the act, but I certainly thought that before the vessels could be disposed of, the act would have to be amended. Unlike my colleague here, I was not present when Cabinet fully discussed the matter, although I had been consulted as to the position. Honorable senators will remember that I. had arrived here from England only a day or two before the question was asked. The question put by the Leader of the Opposition was different from that asked by Senator Greene. The former asked - Will he give an assurance to the Senate that, before any tender or tenders received for the purchase of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers are finalized by the Government, the Senate will be given an opportunity to discuss same?

To that I replied that the Prime Minister had supplied the following answer -

The Government does not consider it advisable that tenders should be submitted to Parliament for discussion before being finalized. finch a course would be resented by the business community, and would obviously restrict the field of possible purchasers and act detrimentally on the sale of the Line.

Had I been asked the same question by Senator Greene I should have given the same reply ; but the question he put to me referred to the disposal of the Line - whether we had legal authority to dispose of it without first consulting Parliament. Senator Findley, in his alleged quotation of my remarks yesterday, said -

In the Senate last Friday the Leader of the Government in the Senate was asked whether the Senate would have a further opportunity to consider and discuss the proposed sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and in reply he said "Yes."

I did not say " yes " to any such thing. The Senate was discussing the proposed sale of the Line, and I had intimated that if that discussion ended favorably to the Government, it would be taken as authority to dispose of the vessels. What I had in mind was whether or not we should have to amend the act before the sale could actually take place. That was the reason for my reply to Senator. Greene. Seeing the apparent discrepancy between the Prime Minister's statement in another place - not his reply to the question asked by Senator Needham - and the reply made by me, i consulted with Senator McLachlan, who had been in consultation with the Attorney-General. He drew my attention to a section in the Commonwealth Shipping Act which authorizes the board, with the consent of the Treasurer, to sell the ships. I remind the Senate that already, in terms of that authority, numbers of ships belonging to the Line have been sold. I admit freely that, taking Senator Greene's question as implying that parliamentary authority would be necessary, I inadvertently, but without any desire to mislead the Senate gave a reply which seemed to me obvious, but which I" now find is not the course that must necessarily be followed. Whether or not it will be followed I cannot now say. My reply to Senator Greene was based on a misunderstanding of the position.

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