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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 911

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) - The functions under clause 27 are vested in the Chairman of the Commission, not in the Commission itself. He must have the powers of a Permanent Head. Senator Wright's suggestion is incorrect. He is being driven into some kind of absurdity when he maintains the approach which he has maintained. He points to clause 28 ( 1) (b) and says that where a report is sought by the AttorneyGeneral he may give some kind of direction. I know that he laughs at his statement, because he realises that it is an absurdity. He would say that the action of the Attorney-General would be nullified if there were to be some kind of direction as to the recommendations which were to be made. Let us be realistic. There has to be public direction, which has to be published m the Gazette. It is there for the whole world to see. He is trying to twist the operation of the legislation into complete distortion if he examines it in this way.

In this clause we have tried to introduce parliamentary supervision. It is quite extraordinary to me that he has not paid any attention to subclause (3). The Opposition seems to have accepted that sub-clause without any concern at all although the Houses of Parliament are given a very strong power to require information. Someone could say: 'Suppose it required information about confidential matters or about this or that'. But the Opposition is not concerning itself with any of that and I suppose rightly so because one expects that the powers which are given, like all other powers, will be exercised bona fide and for the purposes for which they are given with due regard for the rights of persons affected. That is the law of the land. It applies to all of these powers which are given. Yet here is a sensible provision directed towards proper administration, excepting all the quasi judicial functions and going to great lengths to ensure that none of those functions is affected at all, and the Opposition is fighting desperately to hang on to an amendment when I have indicated that I propose to draft the clause in such a way that there can be no possible misunderstanding about the exception relating to the quasi judicial functions of the Commission. I suppose that if the Opposition is determined to do that and wants to rationalise in any way at all its contentions we cannot do much about it.

I think the proposal which I am putting is a wise one. There ought to be some kind of supervision of such bodies in their administrative activities. The Government, if it wants to, ought to be able to tell the Commission that it should do some particular research. The Government ought to be able to direct the Commission if it thinks that the Commission is engaging in some extravagance. If the staff of the Commission decided that the most important area of research is what goes on in Brazil or in other places during the best weather period of the year and a parliamentary committee examined it and found that there had been some kind of extravagance in the administration of this body and made some recommendation to the Parliament do honourable senators opposite think that the position should be that the Government cannot give a direction on the administrative aspects of that body? We would be setting up bodies which are completely and utterly independent.

I think there ought to be a bit of common sense in regard to this matter when we except, as I am prepared to do, the quasi judicial functions and anything directly or indirectly related to them. Common sense indicates that there should be some responsibility to the Parliament exercised through the Minister. The Opposition is clutching at straws but I do not think that disturbs the Opposition at all. The process it has engaged in for 18 months has taken it to the point where it is prepared to oppose anything for the sake of opposition.

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