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Friday, 17 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - Nothing could have been more complimentary to Senator Clemons than the speech of the Minister. Senator Clemons put forward a calm request for a statement of the specific reasons which have induced the Government to make this change. Does any one pretend for a moment that an answer has been given to that request? What the Minister did is what he has done all through his conduct of this business. Unable to. give reasons, because there are none to give, he immediately turned round, and said, "Look at what Senator Millen did some time ago." No matter what I did, that does not furnish a reason for what the Government are doing now. If the fact that it is good to remove from the Act one form is a reason why you should remove any, why does not the Minister propose to remove all the forms? That' is the answer to his statement. The question as to whether a form should be included in the Act, or not, does not depend upon what another Government did with another schedule. It depends upon whether that particular form ought to be embodied in the law, or struck out. What were the particular schedules which the Senate did consent to remove from the Act when I was in charge of an Electoral Bill ? Senator Findley has referred to one form, and that is the form for postal voting. Did it matter whether that form was in the Act or not, seeing that the onlypossible form which could be obtained was a printed form, which was to be issued by an official, and that the only time when a man wanted a form was when he had to vote. He knew that he could only get a form in a certain way, and that, on application, an officer was bound to supply it. It did not matter a penny to the elector whether the form was printed on blue or white paper, whether it was printed with blue or red ink, or how it was worded.

Senator Findley - But a regulation could vary the form.

Senator MILLEN - It did not matter how the form was varied. When an elector applied to an officer for a postal voting certificate, he was bound to get one. Judging from the tenacity with which the Government are fighting, they recognise as well as I do that it will be possible for a Government, under this proposal, to so select a date for the issue of a regulation as to possibly jeopardize several nominations. I ask the Minister, Is it intended to vary the form of nomination, or not? .If he says that it is intended to vary the form, the danger to which attention has been directed is manifest. If, on the contrary, he says that there is no such intention, what is the. objection to putting the form in the Act? The only reason for putting a form in a regulation rather than in an Act is to provide that elasticity which comes from granting to the Government power to do things, and to vary them from time to time. Time and again, we have been told that it was necessary to have this elasticity to enable a Department to accommodate itself to changing circumstances, so that it may undo to-morrow what it has done to-day, or on the day after do something else. In this case, however, a power to vary would be dangerous. It was not a dangerous power in regard to postal voting.

Senator Findley - Yet it is dangerous. here.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister maysmile. He is now in a position where hispolitical friends would have the power toshape the form of the nomination-paper. . Would he view with the same equanimity this proposal if it was sought to intrust the.power to his political opponents?

Senator Findley - In regard to the~ nomination-form ?

Senator MILLEN - In regard to the right now being sought to alter the form up to the last moment.

Senator Findley - I do not think you would hear my voice raised against it.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator would make the chamber ring with indignation. I have already drawn attention to the fact that the schedule contains a notification that if the candidate's consent is signed on the form, it is sufficient, and its. sufficiency shall not be questioned. But,' under this proposal of the Government, they may issue a nomination-paper which may, or may not, have a form of consent on it, but which, if it does, may be entirely different from the present one. It may be altogether free from that note of warning or encouragement which now. appears on the nomination-form.

Senator Findley - It will appear under the regulation.

Senator MILLEN - It may, or may not. We have no guarantee of that.

Senator Findley - I give an assurance that it will.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister's assurance is comforting, so far as it goes, but I would very much sooner have had his reasons for making this change. I come back to the original point. Senator Clemons was perfectly right when he said that there would have been no debate if the Minister had given us some sound commonsense reasons for proposing the change. I appeal to every honorable senator in the chamber as to whether the Minister has done that or not. It may be thought by honorable senators opposite that it is quite sufficient to trust the Department. That is a subject on which we can have individual differences.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - So would you if it was under your control. It is not, and that is the trouble.

Senator MILLEN - I challenge the honorable senator to turn up my record, and see if I have not, as tenaciously as I possibly could, resisted the growing tendency on the part of Departments to gather power to themselves, and the right to make regulations.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not when you were in the Government.

Senator MILLEN - Yes; whenever it was possible to do a certain thing by Act rather than by regulation," I have adhered to the parliamentary procedure.

Senator Findley - What object would departmental officers have in desiring to put more work on, their shoulders ?

Senator MILLEN - I am not going into an abstract question like that, but I appeal to honorable senators who have had parliamentary experience, State or Federal, whether they will not always find a steady pressure coming from the Departments to enlarge their liberty, and to increase their powers as much as possible. That is within the knowledge of every parliamentarian who has been brought in touch with departmental officials. It is not too much to say that; in certain circumstances, and at certain times, one may regard the occupants of Ministerial office as merely so much Ministerial, clay in the hands of departmental potters. That experience in some Departments has become notorious. It is not long since that the matter presented itself to the mind of a colleague of the Minister, who protested against being made a " rubber-stamp." Why ?

Senator Gardiner - As his predecessors had been.

Senator MILLEN - Was there any pressure which brought forth that remark? Senator Gardiner has interjected that the predecessors of Mr. O'Malley were rubberstamps. I do not intend to argue that matter, but the interjection is an admission of my contention that there is always a tendency on the part of a Department, or its officials, to try to gather power to itself.

It is for that reason that I have objected, and always will object, to doing by regulation that which can clearly be done by Act.

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