Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 23 April 1915

Mr JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) . - I do not propose to debate this question at any length. This is largely a technical Bill, and, as I understand the general purpose of it to be ameliorative in character, and to provide further opportunities for civilians, who have committed, shall I say, semi-military offences, to be tried in a civil Court, it appears to me to be a step in the right direction. The wonderful thing of all - and it only indicates how completely obsessed with the war were the great minds in the House of Commons - was that, with the great ability of the Imperial Government, and the unquestionable literary and legal ability of the Parliament, statesmen allowed these tremendous powers to be placed on the statutebook of Great Britain. Following them here, of course, we did the same thing; even I, with all my legal lore, did not see how tremendous the powers were. However, there is only one point to which I wish to direct the attention of my honorable friends opposite. Every one recognises that war supersedes ordinary rules relating to the trial of individuals, and the relations of civilians in their business, and otherwise. The whole community is completely upset, and requires a re-adjustment to war conditions. Everything must be made to bend in war time to the supreme purpose of making the State safe. Therefore, ' whatever is involved in that has necessarily to be performed by the Parliament, whian is charged with a supreme and overmastering duty. As I understand that a whole crop of these ' measures is already ripe, and during next week will probably be brought before us, I only want to say that the Government, knowing their own intentions concerning the measures, must take full responsibility for them. Everything will depend upon the administration of the Acts, and for that administration the Government, and only the Government, can take full responsibility. We simply say to them, " Take your Bill; use it wisely, as no doubt you will ; use it, anyhow, in the interests of the country, and for the purpose of securing the safety and the welfare of its people." Extraordinary powers are taken here. For instance, there is a compulsory socialization, for the time being, of all sorts of businesses, and" while the Constitution does not give us power to socialize in ordinary circumstances, either we are playing ducks and drakes with the Constitution, or there is in the Constitution some latent and inherent power, as I should imagine, which requires it to be capable of meeting the supreme crises of the nation.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The law of eminent domain is sufficient for that, is it- not?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I do not know that the law of eminent domain gives to my honorable friends the right, in ordinary circumstances, to go on with their nationalizing proposals.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - It gives the State all power in a moment of crisis.

Mr Brennan - I think that the legal principle is " Necessity knows no law."

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Quite so; and on that principle Ministers appear to be going at the present time. I suppose it would be a nice question to solve as to whether we have the constitutional right to pass this crop of measures. Perhaps that matter may be postponed until the war is over, and then, in our own armchair, and at our own fireside, smoking the pipe of peace, we may determine whether this or that Act was constitutional. I only want to make one point. In this amending Bill, there is nothing which appears to limit these extraordinary powers and functions to the duration of the war. I know that such a provision is contained in the principal Act, but this amending measure is introducing into the Act so many new provisions which, perhaps, are not relevant in some respects to it, that perhaps, it would be well to state in this measure that the new provisions are to operate only for the duration of the war.

Sir Robert Best - This is an amendment of the original Act, and will be governed by it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - It is an amendment of the principal Act in the widest and loosest sense.

Sir Robert Best - It is a limitation.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - It is more than a limitation of the original measure, because it introduces entirely new provisions.

Mr Hughes - The operation of this measure, of course, will be decided by the operation of the principal Act, whatever that is.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Then you may as well say so in the Bill.

Mr Jensen - There is no necessity.

Mr Hughes - It is not wanted, because this measure will be part of the principal Act.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - All right. I am not a lawyer, and so I do not know. I merely raise the point, and leave it with my honorable friends. I hope that these powers will not be exercised very long. We all trust that the circumstances under which they are being enacted' will pass away, but that can only be when the war has been fought to a successful finish, when we have re-established our right to our destiny in Australia, leaving other people to enjoy their destiny in their own country. I simply say to the Government, " Good luck to you ; take your Bill, and do what seems good."

Suggest corrections