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Friday, 17 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - It seems to me that the Minister will go a certain way to meet the objections of an honorable senator on his own side, but will not dot an " i " or cross a " t " to suit the Opposition.

Senator Findley - Honorable senators opposite do not move any amendments; they only object.

Senator SAYERS - We have shown that the nomination-form should be provided for in a schedule. The Minister has agreed to go a 'certain way with us. He has not said a word against the existing form. If it is to be altered, we want the new form to be distinctly laid down in the Act. To show how necessary it is that a candidate should know what the nominationform is to be some time before an election, I may mention that, just before the last general election in Great Britain took place, Mr. William Crooks, the member for Woolwich, was in Australia. iHe hurried

Home as soon as Parliament was dissolved, and arrived in England on the day of the election. Before leaving England he had signed a nomination-paper, and left it witha friend. Consequently he was nominated in his absence. In this country an election might take place suddenly, but if the form of nomination was altered just before the election, a nomination-form left by a member of this Parliament before going out of the country would be of no avail.

Senator Findley - It would not matter as long as his nomination-paper complied with the Act.

Senator SAYERS - The Returning Officer has to decide whether the form is right or wrong. Will the Minister agree to a clause providing that, when a nominationpaper is handed in, the Returning Officer must give a receipt stating that it is in proper form?

Senator Findley - The nomination might be written on a sugar-bag, and it would stillbe all right.

Senator SAYERS - Why should we leave this important matter in the hands of departmental officials? I am credibly informed that the same proposal as is now before the Committee was suggested by a departmental officer to a previous Minister, but that he refused to accept it. Now the officials have a more pliable Minister to deal with.

Senator Long - The other Minister did not know any better.

Senator SAYERS - It has not been shown that this proposal is better.

Senator Barker - Rumour is a lying; jade.

Senator SAYERS - It may be so, asfar as the honorable senator is concerned, but in this case I believe the rumour to be correct. The departmental officials have Seen trying for years to get this alteration of the law made, but other Ministers said' " No." It did not seem to them to be right, and they refused to adopt the suggestion.

Senator Long - The proposal need not be wrong because previous Ministers turned it down.

Senator SAYERS - What I say shows that the Department is always trying to encroach upon the prerogatives of Parliament. Every Department is doing the same. We have had Ministers saying so publicly. If a departmental official gets an idea into his head, he tries to get a Minister to adopt it. If he does not succeed to-day, he tries succeeding Ministers, until at last he finds one who will meet his views.

Senator Long - The departmental officials, in fact, pursue Ministers with the relentlessness of a Corsican vendetta.

Senator SAYERS - Is Parliament simply a recording machine to carry out the wishes of departmental officials? I am satisfied that if Senator .Givens were sitting in Opposition, he would make a great fight over this question. I have supported - him on previous occasions in objections to government by regulations.

Senator Long - Regulations have to be submitted for the approval of Parliament.

Senator SAYERS - We have a great deal too much to do without reading hundreds of trumpery regulations. That, I suppose, is how it is that, some day, regulations get through that are not trumpery. How will this amendment work? Ordinarily, Parliament meets in June or July and sits up to the end of November, or some time in December though this year we met very late. What is to prevent any Government issuing in December regulations dealing with elections to take place in March or April of the following year ? In such a case, would honorable senators have any control over the regulations, though they might be framed to assist the Government? If Parliament is sitting, regulations have to lie on the table of each House for fourteen days before they can get the force of law ; but in the case I have put, Parliament would not be in session, and so no honorable senator would have a chance to offer an objection, though the regulations might be obnoxious to every member of the Parliament except the Ministers themselves.

Senator Findley - They must be consistent with the Act.

Senator SAYERS - We know how Acts' can be construed. Two lawyers, even two Judges, will take a different view of what is consistent with an Act. Though an Act is drafted with the best legal ability, Judges will disagree as to the meaning of certain words in the Act; yet the Minister interjects that regulations must be consistentwith the Act under which they are made. The Attorney-General or the Crown 'Solicitor may say that a nomination-form is consistent with the Act, though afterwards it may be proved that it is not; but in the meantime an election has been held. This clause will open the door to a lot of danger. If the Minister could have shown what is wrong with the two schedules in the Act, the position would have been quite different. He has made no such attempt, yet he says that the schedule must be taken out of the Act and replaced under regulations. It is quite evident to me that the Government made up their -minds as to the new forms before they decided to repeal the existing forms. What ulterior object can the Minister have in withholding the reasons for this proposal ? I feel satisfied that draft regulations covering the new forms are in the possession of the Department, because for years its officers have been trying to get the forms altered. Why? They must have new forms ready ; yet the Senate is not to be afforded an opportunity to see them. I am really surprised that a knowledge of something which is to become the law of this country under regulation is possessed by the Department and withheld from members of Parliament. The fact that the Minister refuses to let us know the reasons of the Government for taking this. step speaks for itself. If there was nothing to be hidden, his attitude would be quite different. What is the secret which the Government will not disclose? I cannot see any reason why they should withhold their confidence from us.

Senator Long - Is not the reason obvious ?

Senator SAYERS - No.

Senator Long - Has the explanation of the Minister been absolutely lost on the honorable senator ?

Senator SAYERS - The Minister's explanation was merely a statement that he does not intend to give any information on the subject to the Senate. He has simply stated that the alteration is desired for the convenience of the Department. Is that a sufficient reason? The Minister has been asked time after time to point out what is wrong with the present form.

Senator Pearce - Do you want the Minister to join in a " stone- wall " ?

Senator SAYERS - This debate would have been finished long ago if the Minister had merely said, ' ' Something in the present form is wrong, and for that reason I want Parliament to repeal it." But he has not made such a statement. Hours ago he was asked to tell us what is wrong in the form. He has risen to address the Committee, but he declines to say a word about the reasons for making that change. If he thinks he can sit there-

Senator Findley - I can sit here for a few hours more.

Senator SAYERS - I do not care how many hours the honorable senator is prepared to sit there. I am as capable of sitting here as he is. If he will not explain the reasons which have induced the Government to submit this proposal, his interjection 'must be taken as a threat that the Government intend to drive it through the Senate. All that he has yet said is that the alteration is desired for the convenience of the Department. If there is anything objectionable in the present form, he could have indicated what it is. Does the Minister of Defence think for a moment that the Department has not already drafted a form to take the place of the existing one, especially seeing that its officers laid a scheme before previous Ministers, and that it was not accepted? They must find the present Ministry very pliable. No one objected more strongly to this method of procedure than did honorable senators on the. Ministerial side when they sat in Opposition.

Senator Findley - That is incorrect, because seven forms in the schedule to the principal Act were repealed at the instance of the late Government.

Senator SAYERS - I can name honorable senators on the other side who objected strongly to be governed by regulation.

Senator Findley - These .were forms dealing with more important electoral matters than the nomination.

Senator SAYERS - There is no more important matter than the form of the nominationpaper. The Minister sits quietly in his place and refuses to say what is wrong with the present form. It is the duty of a Minister in charge of an amending Bill to explain what is wrong with any part of the principal Act which he wishes to have repealed. The Minister in charge of this Bill will not take the Committee into his confidence. Apparently the officers in the Electoral Branch of the Home Affairs Department know more of what is going to be the law of this country under regulations than do the members of its Parliament ; yet some honorable members will make no protest. If that is how the laws of the country are to be made, it does not speak well for the Minister in charge of the Bill. There is no fair-minded man outside this Chamber, no matter what his political opinions may be, who will deny that that is not a proper way to legislate. I cannot conceive what the Minister expected when he decided to submit this proposal. Surely he did not anticipate that we would be so foolish as not to ask the reasons for desiring the change. Has he made any attempt to give reasons in support of the proposal? No. Even when he was asked point blank to give them he either sat silent or made a speech which did not touch on the point at all, and in which he merely said that it was the intention of the Government to do so-and-so. Has the present form been a failure ? Has any candidate ever complained that it did not safeguard him ? The very footnote to the form safeguards a candidate. He feels that, once he has signed the document, no hitch can take place. We are told that some form will be issued under a regulation, but we have no assurance that it will contain a similar safeguard. We have tried time and again to elicit the reasons for this proposal, but, so far, the Minister has not deigned to give any. He will not even say that there is a letter, or a word, or a line in the form which is wrong ; yet he asks us to repeal the form without giving a shadow of an ex-' cuse, except that it is for the convenience of the Department. If Parliament meets to legislate for the convenience of the Department, and not for the convenience of the people, the sooner the Department or the Parliament is done away with the better. How can we be expected to swallow what the Minister takes from the Department without getting a satisfactory explanation? I never heard before that Parliament was merely a convenience for .the Department. I understood that we were sent here to pass laws for the good of the country, and not for the good of the Department; but the Government, apparently, want power, to make regulations for the easy working and the convenience of the Department. I cannot understand how the Minister could expect his proposal to go through without giving any reasons. If he will only consent to disclose the reasons, my opposition to the proposal will cease. It will not cease until such time as he states the reasons why the form is to be repealed. If he can show that it has injured candidates, I shall be with him; but up to the present time he has not been able to show that it is an evil. I hope, however, that, before it goes through, he will be able to show that it has done some injustice, and that its repeal will do some good. Even if he had found a better schedule, it was his duty to come down and ask the Senate to substitute the new form for the old one. He is really asking us to pass the Bill in the dark, and to rely on the Department to administer the law according to the sweet will of those in authority. Why the Government want this power I do not know. I do not wish to attribute any evil to them, but the proposal is surrounded with a shade of suspicion. If everything was open and above board, there is nothing to prevent the Minister from stating the facts. If he had taken that course there would have been no trouble. The Committee would have proceeded at once to discuss the reasons, and go to a division. This discussion is simply due to the obstinacy of the Minister, who will not give any information to us.

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