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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2218

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I speak on the first reading of this Bill in order to take the opportunity which I sought to avail myself of a short while ago. I do so for fear that there may be some disability in doing it at any later stage. The purpose of my rising is to refer to a statement which first came to knowledge in Australia on 7 October. It was a statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) when he was passing through Singapore on 6 October and my report derives from one correspondent whose article appeared in both the 'Australian Financial Review' and the Melbourne 'Age'. The writer is a Mr Michael Richardson who would be known to a number of persons in Parliament because for a period of time he was attached to the Press gallery here. The reported statement by Dr J. F. Cairns in Singapore has not been denied from my reading of the newspapers, by Dr Cairns or by anybody on his behalf. It was questioned in Estimates Committee D whether one should rely to a newspaper report but in the reply I subsequently received from Senator Wriedt there was no denial of the allegations which were contained in the newspaper report. One might go further and say that Senator Wriedt 's letter to the Chairman of the Committee, a copy of which has been forwarded to me, indicates that there is basis for the view held by Dr Cairns. The report in the 'Australian Financial Review' states:

The Australian Government is charting a new and controversial course in political management with a plan to bypass Parliament in setting up an overseas trading corporation- an enterprise that will put the Government into business as an exporter and importer

It intends taking this radical step to prevent the Opposition in the Senate from blocking or tampering with the Bill that would otherwise be required to establish the corporation.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Cairns, said yesterday the Attorney-General, Senator Murphy, was studying alternatives to the passage of legislation through Parliament.

The very fact that such a move is under consideration indicates the depth of pent-up impatience in the top echelons of the Labor ministry with the parliamentary process as presently constituted in Australia.

Leaving out one paragraph the report continued:

He said-

And the reference is to Dr Cairns- he believed it was 'a waste of time' to try to establish the overseas trading corporation by legislative enactment because of the way the Senate had treated the Bill to set up the Government-sponsored Australian Industry Development Corporation.

He said the proposal to invoke the Federal trade power and use the provisions of the Companies Act in the Australian Capital Territory in order to found the corporation and have it in operation by next year was not yet a definite decision. ' But it 's pretty close to it, ' he added.

The other paragraph I wished to read from the report contains the following comment by Mr Richardson:

Disclosure of the studies into ways of circumventing Parliament casts a number of far-reaching doubts over principles whose acceptance has been at the heart of Australian parliamentary democracy based on the party system and the electoral mandate.

I find it strange that there has not been more concern expressed by commentators or by parliamentarians about the implications of what Dr Cairns has said. In times of stress or, as the author of the article writes, 'in times when there is an impatience with the parliamentary process', the way of the authoritarian becomes much more acceptable. To have the Deputy Prime Minister of this country openly indicating that it is pretty close to being accepted that Parliament will be by-passed in order to achieve a policy objective is tantamount to adopting the attitude that Parliament does not matter any more. I think that this is a matter which ought not go without some mention.

I raised the matter by question to Senator Wriedt, the Minister for Agriculture, during the hearings of Estimates Committee D and I ascertained a number of interesting facts. The first is that the Minister said that it was a definite Cabinet decision that this corporation was to be established. The second point was that there was no item of proposed expenditure contained in the appropriations with respect to this particular corporation, although I recognise that it was suggested, and I would have thought it is probably the case, that the decision was made after the appropriation estimates had been prepared for that year. But as far as the future is concerned, the only hope one can express is that there will be contained in the Supplementary Estimates some proposed expenditure for this matter. At that stage, of course, there may well be a fait accompli and if a company is established under the Companies Act it is more than likely that there will be no item of expenditure required out of government in the appropriation Bills, whether they be the annual appropriations or the supplementary appropriations, for that company.

This to me raises serious questions which ought to concern the Senate because it is only in this place that we can devote the time and some attention to the ramifications of what is proposed. This particular instance of by-passing Parliament has a publicity attached to it which makes it all the more significant. There have been other instances in the lifetime of this present Government in which Parliament has been by-passed and there has been no boasting of the fact that the parliamentary processes are being ignored. Doubtless, in discussion of other estimates, mention will be made of the way in which without one word of parliamentary approval as to how the money is to be expended some $12m is now available for legal aid. Again without one word of parliamentary approval as to how the money is to be expended, there is a sum of money for the Australian assistance program. There has been an expenditure by the Commonwealth of vast sums of money on the purchase of land and it would be very difficult to see how such purchases of land could be for any Commonwealth purposes. There have been, of course, the efforts- I would regard them as strained attempts- to invoke a Commonwealth power to justify legislation where on the face of it there is no Commonwealth power, but that is a matter of by-passing the Constitution for which ultimately the High Court of Australia is the guardian. In terms of by-passing the Parliament and not submitting to parliamentary approval legislation for the dispensing of money, only Parliament can raise its voice to protect its processes and the purposes for which the institution is founded.

I asked a question this morning of Senator Bishop, the Postmaster-General, about the way in which some persons who are unemployed receive $31 a week and others who are unemployed receive for 6 months whatever was their average wage over the previous 6 months. There is no parliamentary enactment which determines what criteria are to be applied. It would seem it initially is up to a government officer, or ultimately the Minister concerned, to decide whether a person is to be a fortunate recipient when he is unemployed or whether he is simply to receive the basic rninimum of $3 1 plus the $20 for his wife. These are matters which ought to concern the Parliament. I rise solely to raise my voice and suggest that these matters ought not go without mention. The bypassing of Parliament is effectively the course which the authoritarianthe dictator- will always use. I think that the tendency we are seeing on the part of the Australian Labor Party to bypass the Parliament is frightening in its implications. I hope that there are within the Labor Party parliamentarians who will object to being shut out from the decisions which a few Ministers or the whole Cabinet happen to be making.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - This attitude being adopted by the honourable senator is different from the attitude he adopted on the Australian Film Commission Bill.

Senator GREENWOOD - I do not see that there is any difference whatever. The Minister introduced his Film Commission Bill. He asked for parliamentary approval. At the moment Parliament is operating in regard to its consideration of that Bill as Parliament should operate. Views have been expressed different from the Minister's views, and ultimately it may be that a Bill will emerge which will be satisfying to everybody concerned, because the parliamentary process has not yet been completed. In a sense I am indebted to the Minister for his interjection because the contrast in the way in which he dealt with his Film Commission Bill in submitting it to Parliament and the way in which other matters have been dealt with is quite striking. The bypassing of Parliament undermines the whole concept of parliamentary democracy. It breaks down essentially the rule of law. One ought to recall and accept that laws are accepted in our community because they are passed by the Parliament, because Parliament is the place where power legitimately resides. To bypass the Parliament weakens the whole basis of law.

Dr Cairns's statement, as reported by Mr Richardson, that it would be a waste of time to bring forward legislation, implies not only that the Senate is a waste of time but also that the whole of Parliament is a waste of time. I can only regret that from another angle we are seeing in Dr Cairns the same attitude as he expressed in 1970- that Parliament is only one of the places where power can be expressed. I hope that this Parliament will not accept easily the bypassing of its processes or the emergence of other areas of power which can claim the same legitimacy as this Parliament.

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