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Wednesday, 20 December 1905

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER (South, Australia) - Perhaps, as Chairman of the Joint Standing Orders Committee, I may be permitted to say a few words. We have a standing order which provides that all amendments to Bills must be relevant to their subject-matter. That standing order, until it is altered, binds the Senate. There is no reference in that standing order to the relevance of amendments to an original Act at all. Whether a Bill proposes toamend an Act, or whether it does not, the amendments must be relevant to its subjectmatter. If we are going to alter that position at all, we must do so by new standing order. If the policy of that standing order is objected to - and I admit that there is room for objection - we must frame new standing orders. It is now proposed that an instruction may be given to a Committee to make amendments in a Bill which are not relevant to its subject-matter, but which are relevant to the Act which it is proposed to amend. It is quite evident that, so far as instructions are concerned, there must' be some limit imposed. For instance, upon a Bill to amend an Audit Act, no one would suggest that an instruction should be given to introduce a proposal relating to a sugar bounty. There must be some limit, and that limit ought to be defined.

Senator Stewart - The limit is the original Act.

Senator Sir RICHARD BAKER - As to instructions on an amending Bill, it is proposed in these proposed new standing orders that the limit shall be that amendments must be relevant to the subject-matter of the Act which it is proposed to amend. If we are to alter the present practice, I do not see how we can do better than adopt the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee. I confess myself that that recommendation does not entirely satisfy me.I should have liked some more general standing order to have been framed, but. after a great deal of consideration, I am unable to suggest any new standing order which I think would be preferable. Honorable senators who are not on the Standing Orders Committee should recollect that the Committee have considered this matter over and over again. A large number of new standing orders have been suggested to meet the case, but, after viewing the question in all its bearings, the Committee have come to the conclusion that the proposed new standing orders axe the best' they can recommend. There is one aspect of the case which I ask honorable senators to consider. Under the Constitution, the Parliament can discuss and legislate on only a limited number of subjects, and, as time goes on, and we have legislated on these matters - and we have legislated on a good many already - most of the measures which come before us will be Bills to amend Acts already passed. These new standing orders, therefore, will have far-reaching effects, and will probably come into operation on most of the Bills we have to consider. I admit there are a great many difficulties surrounding this question, and that it is not possible to suggest a standing order that is not open to some objection. After all, what are standing orders? They are only a matter of the balance of convenience. All our standing orders are for the convenience of senators - to enable questions to be discussed and legislation passed within limits. If we do not wish' to provide for such limits, we do not require any standing orders. If we are to be entirely untrammelled as to what we shall provide in the Bills which come before us, no standing orders are necessary ; we can insert all manner of irrelevant matter. That, I think, would be most objectionable. I hope the Senate will give due effect to the deliberations of the Standing Orders Committee, and will, at all events, give credit to the members of that Committee for considering this question time after time. They have now recommended two new standing orders, which, in the opinion of the Committee, will give greater power to the Senate in the matter of instructions to a Committee of the Whole than is possessed at present, but which are not open to the objection that they will allow a Committee of the Whole to roam around at their own sweet will, and insert in Bills provisions entirely foreign to the subject-matter. I hope that the considerations which' I have placed before hon- orable senators will be given due weight, and that the new standing orders will be adopted. As .1 said before, the standing orders do not entirely satisfy me, but, at the same time, I must confess that for months I have been trying to devise some new rule which would be more general and suitable, and have been unable to do so. I hope that the Senate, will not unduly enlarge the powers of the Committee of the Whole, so as to make our legislation objectionable by the presence in Bills of provisions which have no relation to the subjectmatter.

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