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Friday, 16 August 1912

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - It is quite obvious that Senator Pearce is in a very difficult position. He has been advised by the Crown Law Officers as to this case. But let me point out that one of the most elementary maxims of law is that ignorance of the law does not excuse. The Minister asked just now, " What am I to do? I made a certain appointment in ignorance of this defect in the Act. It has now been suggested to me that I should make another appointment with full knowledge of that defect. There is a difference in my position." I would point out to the Minister that, legally, there is no difference. He cannot shield himself by the statement he has made. That position is absolutely untenable. If he is anxious, as I am sure he is, to do equity; if he is satisfied that the man who has passed this rigid examination is well qualified to hold a better position, he ought to make an appointment, and let this validating Bill cover that case, as well as previous cases; because, in the eyes of the law, there is no distinction between the act of a Minister with knowledge and the act of a Minister with ignorance. I know that the Minister dees not like the position, as it is most invidious, unpleasant, and difficult. But what is he going to be confronted with? He will be confronted with this statement, that this man, who is qualified under the original Act, is not going to get certain advantages which were given to other officers who were appointed before this defect in the law was discovered. The Minister is in that position.

Senator Pearce - I would also be charged with passing a validating Bill in order to give the other man the position.

Senator CLEMONS - I should say that the Minister win have a complete answer. He can say, " I appointed these men believing that the examinations which they had passed fully qualified them to hold the position. I placed them on that footing. I am going to place this other man on the same footing, and I intend to validate the whole of the appointments. I shall not discriminate between D and those who have gone before D, and certainly 1 am not going to put myself in the awkward and invidious position of saying that, because E., intimates that he will again endeavour to qualify for this appointment, 1 shall do an injustice to D, as I would do if I acted in that way." That is his clear position it seems to me. I know nothing about the circumstances of the case, or the names of the individuals, concerned. ] merely recognise that the Minister is in a dilemma, .and I put it to him as a matter of equity and fairness, having regard to the maxim that ignorance of the law does not excuse any man, that his best way out of the difficulty is to do what is suggested. To my mind, it is the only equitable course to take.

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