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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) (Minister for Aircraft Production) . - The reasoning on which honorable senators opposite are basing their opposition to this clause is that a court of marine inquiry can do no wrong and a Labour Minister can do no right. Courts of marine inquiry have made grievous mistakes in the past, and may make mistakes in the future. Surely it is reasonable that an authority should be set up to which an appeal may be made. No Minister would be likely to reverse the finding of the court unless substantial evidence in support of that course were submitted to him. The Government should be the supreme authority in a matter of this description and Ministers must be prepared to take full responsibility for their actions. A Minister would not be likely to allow his personal opinions to influence him in determining an appeal under this provision, particularly if he had no previous experience to guide him. He would, in fact, rely upon the evidence submitted to him, and the advice of his expert officers. I do not think that even the High Court should be able to veto the decisions of a government. The courts of the land should be tribunals subordinate to the Government. The Government should always be supreme. In determining this question we must face the f fundamental issue : Who are to judge the judges? Courts have not a monopoly of knowledge and justice. Senator A. J. McLachlan, and also Senator Leckie for that matter, seem to think that Labour Ministers are either sophisticated or reckless individuals who must always be regarded with the greatest suspicion, because they are sure to do the wrong thing. If that view does not reveal bias I do .not know what bias is.

Senator MCBRIDE - The Minister should state these views to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions.

Senator CAMERON - I Shave done so, and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions supports my outlook. This clause is being opposed, not on its merits, but on grounds of political bias, and in making that statement I do not desire to be regarded as offensive. The bill was drafted for the previous government and if that government had introduced it I have no doubt that it would have been passed without very much opposition. The fact of the matter is that objection is being raised to this provision because it will be administered by a Labour Minister. Surely honorable gentlemen opposite realize that although this Government has not a majority of its own supporters in either House of the Parliament, it must nevertheless be given some latitude to meet a difficult war-time situation. It must, in fact, be allowed to short circuit procedure which might hinder efficient and prompt administration.

Senator McBride - What has this to do with the clause?

Senator CAMERON - I am endeavouring to explain why honorable senators opposite object to the clause. The Government is faced with circumstances unprecedented in the history of this country. It is legislating, and administering laws, under conditions which require it to work as speedily as possible, having in view the best interests of the nation. As has been pointed out, the Navigation Act has not worked as satisfactorily as could be desired, and this bill is designed to rectify that difficulty. Honorable senators opposite have not adduced one fact to show that power similar to that which is now proposed to be given to the Minister in this instance has been abused by any member of the Government. More important powers than this have been conferred by regulation upon several Ministers, but in no instance whatever have those powers been abused. At the same time, the Government has t.hu3 been enabled to achieve many things which its predecessor failed to do. The granting of thi3 power to the Minister under this bill is a similar experiment. All that honorable senators opposite have said against this proposal is that the Minister will override a court of marine inquiry. As I interjected when Senator McBride was speaking, the Minister, after thoroughly examining the evidence, may decide that the decision of the court shall be given effect to. Would any honorable senator opposite object to that? I hardly think so. The objection of honorable senators opposite is based on mere suspicion, or, as I have said previously, on political bias. They contend that the Minister who represents a Labour government cannot be trusted. No Minister in this Government has abused powers conferred upon him by this Parliament. Senator Leckie was particularly bitter in that respect. He suggested that tho Minister would yield to all sorts of pressure. He said, for example, that the Minister would hasten to give effect to any decision that might be arrived at by the unions, and contended that the real Government was not in the Parliament, but outside of it.

Senator MCBRIDE - I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator discussing the clause?

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