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Thursday, 29 April 1965

Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia) . - Firstly, I regret that a copy of the speech by the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) has not been made available to honorable senators, because it contains several propositions which I have been trying to jot down. This bears out Senator Kennelly's point: What is the need for all the rush about this matter? Surely it could have been handled in a more orderly manner. Honorable senators should have had the benefit of copies of the Minister's speech putting his arguments why the Senate should not insist upon upholding what was a solemn decision just a few weeks ago.

Senator Wedgwoodunderlined a matter that we strike in this Parliamentary unfortunately all too frequently. That is the complete misunderstanding of what regulationmaking powers means. This is a problem which the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has run up against time and time again. The problem is how to get into the minds of parliamentarians an understanding of the proper and very important place of regulations. Whenever a regulation is discussed or challenged the whole situation is completely misunderstood. Senator Wedgwood said that, because we all want to see a greater development in housing, nothing should be done through this Bill that could delay the achievement of the objective in any way. This argument could be applied to any act at all.

Before any regulation is ever dealt with by this Parliament, I would advise and recommend - in fact I think it should be prescribed reading - a study of a speech on this subject by the late Herbert Morrison in the House of Commons. Under his administration during the war, something was done with the fire fighting equipment during the bombing of London, and the authority for this action was not contained in a regulation. A regulation had been prepared but it had not been brought before the Parliament. Herbert Morrison got up before the House of Commons, and in a speech which is contained in a book in the Parliamentary Library, he humbly apologised to the Parliament for doing something which, he said, struck at the very right of Parliament to have control of its own affairs. The action was in relation to fire fighting equipment during the bombing of London, but even the importance of that matter did not affect the principle, and the apology was offered most humbly by a very senior Minister. I have mentioned this incident in passing in order to try to draw attention to the importance of regulations, because Ministers in 'this Parliament have never grasped the significance of what a regulation is. They have never grasped the importance, after having passed a Bill, and let it go to the appropriate Minister and his civil servants for administration, of keeping this Parliament continually interested in and responsible for that Bill to make sure that the spirit of it is observed and all its provisions are implemented as approved by the Parliament.

If we turn to the comments of the Minister for Defence on the amendment a few weeks ago, we find that he recognised the importance of having the classes of lenders in some public form so that they would be available for public scrutiny. Honorable Senators will remember that the Minister said that he would be prepared to have this information published in the " Gazette ". It was pointed out to him at the time that the publishing of this information in the " Gazette " did not meet all the demands of the Parliament because although the action of the Minister for Housing would be revealed to the public, this Parliament still would not be given any power to disallow a regulation or to criticise or discuss a regulation. When a regulation is made, it takes effect immediately. However, it lies on the table of the Senate for 15 sitting days during which it may be challenged. This period could be five weeks or, if Parliament goes into recess, many weeks or many months. This would not be sudden death. The Government promulgates a regulation and it is placed on the table of the Senate. In this case, the classes of lenders could be declared. They could transact business under the regulation. If the regulation were challenged it would be within the power of the Government to postpone the discussion of the matter for the full 15 sitting days. We would have an opportunity to examine the position. Has this Parliament, when dealing with regulations, ever failed to act with complete responsibility and on the basis of full documentation of the subject being considered?

Senator Wedgwood - Would the honorsenator like to lend money and then have the relevant regulation disallowed four months afterwards?

Senator Henty - The regulation would be cancelled.

Senator WILLESEE - It would not be cancelled. A regulation is operative from the day on which it is brought in. The Government is not admitting the existence of the problem with which it is faced. The Minister is not even listening now. It is no wonder that he makes speeches such as he made last night if he does not listen to what is being said. The Minister has talked about this declaration being an administrative act, a minor part of the administration of the scheme. Is it in fact of minor importance? Under the scheme, one person will lend money and another will borrow, yet it will be said that the approval of the lender is only a minor administrative detail. The Government should write into this and into similar legislation provisions to give the people complete confidence in what is being done, but in this instance it says it will not tell anybody what it is doing. That is the sort of thing that brings opprobrium on a government.

On the question of delay. Senator McKenna has pointed out how quickly the machinery can be put into operation. If there is delay in administration, it is the Government's job to clean the matter up. not to hide behind its own inefficiency, as it is proposing to do. If the Government were efficient and if the machinery were well oiled, it would be possible to write regulations and have them published in a matter of days. There would be no need to delay action under them until they were tabled in Parliament, because, as I have pointed out, they would become operative immediately. The Government is not honest enough to say that the real reason for its present proposal is that it cannot get regulations out as quickly as it would like. There have been inordinate delays in this field over the years. As I have said, the real reason for the Government's present proposal is the inefficiency of its administration, but it is not honest enough to say " Because we are inefficient, we have to do other things to get around the problem ". Have we debated anything more important than import regulations? On that occasion the responsible Minister could have said: " Regulations are inappropriate because we have to move with tremendous speed in these things ". But he did not do so; he did everything he could to help us tn what we were trying to achieve. He did that despite the fact that then the sort of argument put up today by Senator Paltridge would have had some validity.

Today Senator Paltridge has said that the people are asking for a wider class of lenders, and this amendment makes that more difficult to achieve. Nothing of the sort. Half the Minister's argument was against his own case. We are insisting on proper parliamentary procedure. We are moving into a field where we have a great deal of sympathy for the people concerned. If we declared a wide class of people to be lenders under a regulation, there could be other regulations specifying the standards to be applied, the amounts of money that might be lent and the kind of loans that could be insured. There could be a provision that agreements should be properly drawn up so that there would be no falling for a three card trick by someone who had been in business for only a week or so.

By the use of regulations of that sort, many suspicions that might otherwise arise would be prevented from arising. However, it seems that the Government wants suspicions to be aroused by its use of back door methods. I do not mind how wide the classes of approved lenders are, provided they are specified in regulations. I am disappointed, but not upset, by the Government's attitude. When we come to the subject of regulations we always find a suspicious attitude on the part of Ministers. They never trouble to find out the true position of the regulatory power in the parliamentary system. In this instance we, on this side of the chamber, have great sympathy with the objectives of the measure. In fact, every person in this Parliament has been trying to assist the Government to make the legislation work properly. What we are now saying is that the Government should follow a proper procedure, because by doing so it would avoid suspicions that might otherwise be aroused as to the operation of the scheme. I believe that many of the arguments put forward by the Minister are in fact in favour of this declaration being made by way of regulation.

Tn conclusion let me say this: What has changed between now and the time when we last discussed this matter? We knew all the facts then and we know them now. The fact that the House of Representatives has rejected this amendment should make no difference to our views.

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