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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator McLEAY (South Australia) (Postmaster-General) . - I listened with interest to Senator Cameron's speech. Having had experience on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, I realize that the committee has a lot of work to do, particularly if it does its job thoroughly. I remind the honorable senator, however, that we are at war and that, the National Security Act having been passed and the powers of the Executive widened, many more regulations are made than would be made in peace-time. I do not propose to speak at any length on this matter, because important measures await our consideration, but I shall briefly reply to the questions asked by Senator Cameron. His first question was whether the Senate desired the committee to continue. I should say that it does, because the committee can do useful work. His second question was whether the Government would make money available for the employment of a legal adviser to the committee from outside the Public Service. That question has been asked and answered before. For various reasons the Government will not appoint a legal adviser to the committee from outside the Public Service. Any man appointed to give legal assistance to the committee would have to be a man of high standing in the legal profession, for whom we should have to pay reasonable fees. But that is not the main reason why the Government is not prepared to appoint an outside man. When the committee directed attention to the fact that regulations were being promulgated without reference to the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General and the Leader of the Senate gave an assurance that in future all regulations would be sent to the Solicitor-General for examination in order to ensure that they were not ultra vires.

Senator Collings - And that was done.

Senator McLEAY - Yes. In addition, departments were asked when forwarding regulations to the Attorney-General's Department for scrutiny to submit a report giving the reasons why the regulations were needed. We know that lawyers differ. They are paid to differ. What would be the position if an outside legal authority were to give a legal opinion on a regulation that was in conflict with the opinion given by the Solicitor-General, Sir George Knowles, to whom the Government looks for its legal advice? The position would be ludicrous, and the High Court would have to decide as between the two opinions. The committee has much more important work to do than deal mainly with the legal side of regulations. We are not prepared to appoint a man from outside, but we are quite willing to give the committee the services of an officer from the department.

The next question askedby the honorable senator was whether the Government would make funds available to meet the travelling expenses of members of the committee. I realize that there is a lot of work to be done, and I shall bring that question before Cabinet, which may be willing to do something on the lines suggested by the honorable senator.

The honorable senator went out of his way to say that some one had suggested to him that the committee had no jurisdiction over regulations made under the National Security Act. Senator Spicer, by interjection, asked the honorable senator from whom he had obtained that advice. It is well known to every honorable senator that the committee has jurisdiction over all regulations. Every individual senator has the right and the power to move for the disallowance of a regulation. I suppose that we are all perturbed about the drastic nature of some of the regulations, but we are at war, and we have no time to delay with legal arguments matters that have to be attended to quickly. I repeat that the honorable senator has the right to move for the disallowance of any regulation. If hehas wrapped his regulations in red tape and has not perused them and does not know what they contain, he has fallen down on his job, not only as a member of the committee, but also as a senator.

Senator Cameron - I know what they contain.

Senator McLEAY - If the honorable senator knows the contents of the regulations and thinks that they are offensive, he has the right to move for their disallowance.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Ninety per cent. of the Ministers do not know the contents of half of the regulations that have been issued.

Senator McLEAY - Ministers have a tremendous amount of detailed work to do in war-time. They have to rely largely on the advice tendered to them by the Solicitor-General. The Government is prepared to accept his approval of a regulation in preference to any legal advice from outside. The only place in which to settle conflict is in the court. Although Senator 'Cameron had a perfect right to bring this subject before the chamber, I trust that the Senate will not take up much time in debating it. I know the worth of the work that the committee is doing, but I ask its members to realize that the position is ever so much more difficult now that we are at war than it would be in peace-time. I sincerely trust that the committee will stick to its job and do the best it can in the difficult circumstances, because if the committee functions properly, it can perform a useful work for the Commonwealth.

Senator CLOTHIER(Western Australia) |4.6j. - 'Senator Cameron has raised this matter at meetings of the Regulations and Ordinance Committee. It is true that a little while ago regulations were easy to deal with, but. after Senators McLeay, Wilson and A. J. McLachlan left; the committee, regulations have come before it in dozens, and it has had no chance to deal with them. Senator A. J. McLachlan suggested at a. meeting of the committee that a solicitor from outside be employed. It is easy for the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) to say that the Solicitor-General has approved the regulations which are issued and that we should therefore abide by them. What would happen to an employee of the Attorney-General's Department if he gave advice to the committee contrary to the advice that was tendered to' the Government by the Solicitor-General? He would not. dare to do so. That is why we want a man from outside. Senator Cameron has made no charges against any member of the committee because all members do their best, but they require assistance. In fairness to Senator Spicer, I must say that he is an excellent chairman. He knows the law from A to Z, but- he, like the rest of us, has had no chance to deal with the large numbers of regulations that have come before us. As a Western Australian, I live farther from the centre of operations than any other member of the committee, but I do my best to keep up with the flow of regulations. I have had no chance to do so. Regardless of cost, wc should have legal assistance from outside. No officer of the Attorney-General's Department would express an opinion contrary to that of his boss.

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