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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- I, as the newly-appointed chairman of. the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, am glad that Senator Cameron has raised this matter, because, at meetings of the committee, hi3 adversions to it from time to time have impeded the work of the committee and prevented it from getting on with the real job that it has to do, namely, consider regulations as they are issued from day to day. The principal question which he submitted to the Senate is the suggestion that we should have the assistance of an outside legal adviser. 1 must confess that I am a little surprised that a legal adviser should be so popular with Senator Cameron and some of his colleagues, having regard to some of the comments that I have heard in this chamber. Before -we can determine that it is desirable that the committee should be assisted at present by an outside legal adviser, because of the prolific regulations with which it has to deal, it is desirable to examine the character of the problem with which the committee is now concerned. Before the war, and before the National Security Act was passed, most of the problems with which a committee of this kind would be concerned would be legal problems. They would be questions as to whether a regulation was authorized by the particular act of Parliament under which it was framed, and whether it was the kind of provision that ought to be made by regulation or whether it ought to be the subject of legislation. Those are problems in the solution of which the services of lawyers might be very useful, but most of the regulations made to-day are based on the National Security Act.- 1 doubt whether the legality of any of the- regulations made under the National Security Act could be challenged successfully. Consequently, the legal problem has been greatly reduced.

It is not difficult in most instances at a glance, to see that regulations made under the National Security Act are valid, because practically anything is authorized under that act. There is therefore no legal problem to be decided. It seems to me that the task which this committee has to perform now is very important. That task is to examine individual regulations- as they are issued in order to ascertain whether any of them could be said to be an abuse of the very wide powers which have been conferred upon the Executive. I submit that an outside lawyer would not be of much use in the solution of that problem.

Senator Collings - Hear, hear!

Senator SPICER - It is a problem which concerns members of the committee who have to examine regulations for themselves. In most cases they will say, " Well, we cannot object to that", but, here and there, they may come across a regulation which they will think goes a bit too far and to which they should direct the attention of the Senate with a view to its disallowance. That is my view on the question of legal assistance as it presents itself to-day.

I want to say another word about the method that was employed in passing a large number of regulations at the last meeting of the committee. The meetings of the committee that I have attended since I was appointed to it, have, unfortunately, been concerned in the main with the question that Senator Cameron has raised to-day, with the result that we have not got down to detailed consideration of the regulations. The position which presented itself at the end of the last period of the session and also at the first meeting in this period was that there was a large number of regulations which had not been considered by the committee. For the committee to have considered each of these regulations individually would have been ridiculous, and would have impeded the future conduct of its operations. The important thing, from my point of view, and, I think, from the point of view of other members of the committee, was that we should attempt to dispose of the unwieldy collection of regulations that had accumulated since July of last year, and start again with a clean sheet. In preparation for dealing with that position, I personally went through every regulation which was presented to the meeting on that occasion, and other members of the committee indicated that they, too, had examined the regulations individually. I intimated that I saw no objection to the regulations proposed to be passed, and I asked whether any member of the committee objected to any of them. Apart from indicating a general objection to the procedure being followed, Senator Cameron was unable to indicate any individual regulation to which he objected.

Senator Cameron - That is not correct. The honorable senator himself indicated his objection to regulation 58 and to others.

Senator SPICER - My recollection is that the committee did not deal with regulation 5S on that occasion. The result was that, in the view of the committee, there was no reason for it to refer back to the Senate any of the regulations that were passed on that occasion. The Senate can feel perfectly satisfied that those members of the committee who took their duty seriously had gone through each of the regulations before attending the meeting of the committee, and I suggest that, in many circumstances, that is the practical way of approach to this problem. Members of the committee receive these regulations by post almost daily. If we make it our business to do so, we can deal with them almost daily as they come in, and either indicate a query regarding a particular regulation or show in some way that we see no objection to it. Then, when a meeting of the committee is held, it will be possible for it, not to deal with every regulation individually, as dozens of them are merely formal alterations of existing provisions, but to pick out the particular regulations to which members consider there may be some objection, and examine them in detail with a view to deciding whether they should be referred to the Senate. If this task were approached in that way, it would be possible for the committee to function perfectly satisfactorily, and to see that in the framing of regulations there is no abuse by the Executive of the very great powers conferred upon it.

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