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Wednesday, 13 May 1931

Senator DOOLEY (New South WalesAssistant Minister) .- On the 16th April, in reply to certain questions asked by Senator Greene, I stated, on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, that it was not a fact that the rates of pay prescribed for aboriginal drovers in North Australia exceeded those paid to white drovers in Queensland, and that the same rates are paid to .aboriginal drovers in Queensland as in North Australia, namely, £3 a week while droving and 30s. a week while with plant. These statements were correct according to the information at the disposal of the Minister at the time that the answers were made.

I have now been advised by the Minister for Home Affairs that shortly after the replies to the honorable senator's questions had been given, he received from the Northern Territory Lessees Association a communication stating that the answers were not correct. The Minister immediately advised the honorable senator of this fact, and got into touch with the Queensland authorities with a view to ascertaining what was the present position in regard to the wages paid to drovers in that State.

According to the information received from the Queensland authorities, the station hands' award, from which the departmental information in regard to white drovers was taken, was suspended in September last, and the rates of wages paid to drovers now vary. The present rates of wages paid to white drovers are from £2 to £2 10s. a week, while travelling with plant, and from £3 to £3 10s. a week while travelling with stock. In all cases, keep is provided.

The minimum rates of wages paid to aboriginal drovers in Queensland now are £2 a week if in charge, 30s. a week while with stock, and £1 a week while with plant. Pood, and camping and cooking gear are provided.

It will be observed from the foregoing that tie reply furnished to the honorable senator, to the effect that wages paid to aboriginal drovers in North Australia did not exceed those paid to white drovers in Queensland, was correct.

The statement made in the reply te the honorable senator, to the effect that the wages paid to aboriginal drovers in North Australia were the same as those paid to such drovers in Queensland, however, was not correct.

The Minister for Home Affairs desires me to convey to the honorable senator his regret that the latter information was not correct.

Senator Sir HALCOLEBATCH (Western Australia) [5.50]. - In view of the statement which has just been made by the Minister, I would ask him if the Government will not reconsider this matter, particularly as the fixing of the rate of £3 per week for aboriginal drovers was an abuse of the power of the Chief Inspector of Aboriginals. He has authority to require any person removing an aboriginal from one place to another to lodge a certain deposit as a guarantee that the aboriginal will be returned. In construing this power, he went so far as to say that he would not give a permit to employ an aboriginal unless the employer paid him the rate of wage mentioned. This was clearly an abuse of the power given to the Chief Protector under the Aboriginals Ordinance. In view of the fact that the Minister was misinformed as to the rate of wages prevailing in Queensland, and also that the Chief Protector of Aboriginals has abused his power, I. suggest that the Government should give this matter further consideration.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Western Australia) [5.53]. - I associate myself with the remarks made by Senator Colebatch with regard to the action of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals in the Northern Territory. I, however, rose to direct the attention of the Senate to another matter. I should like the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) to inform honorable senators of the Government's intention with regard to certain regulations under the' Transport Workers Act.

I had an opportunity this afternoon to read the High Court judgment in the test case which has been argued before that tribunal. It clearly and explicitly restores to Parliament - if there was ever any doubt about the matter - full control over this regulation-making power of the Government. I would, therefore, suggest to the Leader of the Senate that, if the Executive intends to try to defy this branch of the legislature, there is no doubt that, in the long run, it will fail in its purpose. The course which, we are given to understand, the Government proposes to take is not in keeping with the principles of a democracy. The High Court judgment clearly shows that, in disallowing the regulations previously laid on the table, the Senate acted within its undoubted rights. Its action was legally and constitutionally correct. The Government should accept the High Court judgment. To do so could not be interpreted so much as a climb down on its part as a recognition by the Executive of what has been declared to be the law of the land. What is the alternative? The Government has had ample time within which to lay another regulation on the table of the Senate, but it has not done so. Apparently, it is waiting for the expiration of the fifteen sitting days. It is now clear from the state of the Senate notice-paper that there is very little business for this chamber to transact at the moment. If we may judge by public statements made by at least two Ministers, the Senate will be asked shortly to disperse, and the Government, following the course which it adopted on a previous occasion, will then gazette another regulation. In the light of one of the judgments, I doubt whether such a regulation would stand a legal test. But, apart from this aspect of the matter, I ask the Government if the action which, apparently, is contemplated, is a dignified way in which to deal with this question. It would appear to me to be somewhat childish if the Government so arranged the business of the Senate as to render necessary an adjournment of this chamber and then, as soon as honorable senators had dispersed to their homes, promulgated another regulation. If this is the Government's intention, I can assure Minister's and their supporters that we are not going to be dealt with in that way. We are prepared to sit every day for the next fortnight if necessary to consider .any regulations that may be made. Why cannot the Government be perfectly open about this matter? If it intends to gazette another regulation, why does it not do so tomorrow, and test its legality? Ministers seem to be acting like a number of schoolboys. Apparently they refuse to do what they threaten to do until the Senate has adjourned, so as to prevent this chamber from exercising it3 undoubted legislative power over the Executive. I have read the judgment of the High Court carefully. I invite Ministers also to study it. It certainly establishes the right of this chamber to lay these regulations upon the table. In one part of the judgment reference is made to the power of the House of Commons from which the powers of the Senate are derived. It is laid down in May, pages 507, 511, and 512, that the House of Commons can order papers and regulations to be laid on the table of the House of Commons. Thus it will be seen that the action of the Senate recently in ordering the tabling of the last regulations made by this Government under the Transport Workers Act, followed the precedent of the House of Commons. If the Govern.ment declines to come out into the open, we shall have to stay here from day to day, and when the regulations are gazetted we shall proceed to disallow them. The High Court's decision indicates that we need not wait for the regulations to be laid on the table of the Senate. We shall be able to act immediately they are gazetted. What good purpose is served by this attitude on the part of the Ministry? Why does not the Government admit that Parliament is greater than the Executive, and that the Senate, as one branch of the legislature, is legitimately using the power which it possesses? The authority of the Executive in these matters is limited. Why should the Government, in this matter, set itself up in opposition to the legislature? Why should it assume an authority which it does not possess? The High Court tells us plainly that the Government does not possess an unlimited regulation-making gower. I, therefore, appeal to the Government to adopt a more reasonable attitude; to recognize that the law is against it; that it cannot do what we are given, to understand is contemplated in connexion with these regulations. I urge Ministers to bow to the law as interpreted by the High Court. If they disagree with the law, there is a constitutional method to alter it. If the Government is not satisfied with the position, let it bring in a bill to repeal the act. If it failed, Ministers could not be held responsible by their supporters outside. The responsibility would be on the Senate, if it declined to pass legislation which the Government might consider necessary. The present method is not a dignified nor a proper one for the settlement of this difficulty.

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