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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) . - The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment proposed by Senator McClelland on behalf of the Opposition. The broad principles of the Bill have received a fairly wide coverage. The prescribed date of 17th December 1964 is a fundamental part of the legislation. It is true to say that on that date the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) stated publicly and clearly what were the intentions of the Government in this legislation. Nothing has happened since that date to alter the intentions of the Government. The Postmaster-General very properly has provided the prescribed date as 17th December 1964. I do not think one can argue that in that sense this is retrospectivity. The Postmaster-General said quite clearly in his Press statement, which had the widest possible publicity, that the Government would not permit control of more than two television stations and would bring down legislation to ensure that the intention of the 1960 legislation would be given effect. That is one proposition. The other proposition put by the Opposition in this amendment is that because the 1960 legislation did not do all of the things that it was hoped it would do, we should simply apply retrospectivity to the time when we passed the Bill in 1960. The Opposition did not oppose the 1960 legislation by voting against it in a substantive way. If the principle were applied to legislative procedure, I could think of some extraordinary consequences to the statute book over the years.

It is argued that every time we have an amendment to a substantive piece of legislation, we should go back to catch up with all the people who have been not breaking the law but acting in accordance with it as they were legally permitted to do. To argue this in the broadest possible way, we could never live with a situation in which, by an arbitrary decision of the Parliament, we went right back to 1960 to cover a position which we hoped would have been met by legislation in 1960 but which unfortunately was not. I do not think that honorable senators opposite in their hearts believe that there are equity, justice, logic and common sense in that proposition. If we are to live under a system of law and government, we can never countenance that broad principle. The practical implications of that proposition are matters upon which I could dwell. I instance the movements of shares which may have taken place and the damage that could be done, not only to the people who, it is hoped, this amendment will draw into its net, but also to the industry and to the thousands of people who have invested their savings in it. They could be affected by a tremendous movement in the shareholdings of the various television companies.

That is one argument, but I do not believe that it is the most potent and powerful argument. I believe that the strongest argument against the proposition is that the Parliament is being asked to make a provision retrospective to affect the actions of persons and companies who were in fact within the law as we enacted it. For that reason I do not think that in all conscience we could support such a proposition. In the limited time that one has in these matters, I have covered the substance of the proposed amendment. The Government is not prepared to accept it.

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