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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I should like the Minister in charge of the Bill to give us some information in regard to this clause. It would appear that it is designed to take away from the Board power to compel a witness to disclose a trade secret, but it is silent as to the right of the Board to divulge information given to it by witnesses, the publication of which might injure them in their business. The clause would appear to be too narrow in the one case and too wide in the other. The importance of the Bill has been stressed in another place as well as here. The

Board will cover -the whole of the ramifications of industry throughout the Commonwealth.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) -. - I -would- invite the honorable senator to read clause 9, which deals fully with the point raised by him as 'to the non-disclosure -of information given to the Board.

Senator LYNCH -Clause 9, which deals with the oath or affirmation of allegiance and office, imposes the usual stereotyped injunction. It requires every member of the Board to swear that he will not divulge any information furnished to him or to the Department in connexion with matters which are being or may be dealt, with by the Board. It also provides for -every member of the Board taking an oath that he will not divulge such information except in the course of his duty.

Senator Wilson - So that a member of the Board " in the course of his duty " could tell the Minister .everything he had learned, and the Minister " in the course of his duty." might tell the House of it.

Senator LYNCH - That is so. It is clear from clause 26 that no power is given to the Board to obtain- a trade secret from a witness. The Board, so far as the trade and industry of the Commonwealth are- concerned, can exercise powers which vitally affect the interests of all the people engaged in them. Still, it has not the power to inquire into a trade secret, if that should become necessary.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not so much trade secrets as the secret processes of manufacture. One manufacturer may -evolved some process which is peculiar to the industry in which he is engaged as the result of his own inquiry and brains. Surely you would not make him 'throw it open to all his competitors !

Senator LYNCH - There is no virtual or substantial -difference between a trade secret and a secret process of manufacture. While I do not know what the exact functions of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) are, I venture to say that he has very often to be put in possession of trade secrets before he can hold the scales of justice fairly between contending; parties. This- Board is to be his right hand, his adviser^ but the Bill gives the Board no power to do what the Minister may, I presume, already do. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act, passed in 1904, and amended eight times since?, contains a provision- 'empowering the Arbitration 'Court to obtain trade secrets if the purposes of the Court so require, but it .also -enjoins on the Court the observance of secrecy 'when put in possession ?of such information. This Bill creates a body which is -practically superior in the field of industry to the Arbitration Court, but it 'does not give it the same -powers. We deny to the Tariff Board a power which we have already cheerfully conceded to the Arbitration Court, and confirmed on at least, 'eight separate occasions. At the same time, -we give -the Board, either by implication or by failure to provide the contrary, an extra power to divulge secrets in defiance of the wishes of the party concerned in such a way as may ruin him. We should put both bodies on the same footing in both respects in the public interest. The public interest will often demand the disclosure of trade secrets to the Board, and demand also that the Board shall preserve inviolable silence about them.' The .public interest stands supreme, and no trade secret should be withheld from the Board; but the Bill allows it to be withheld, even if the public interest requires the contrary. The Bill is drawn in a slipshod way, and is so sparing in the use of language, in this instance, .that w.e can well afford to substitute the plain , and unambiguous language of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I urge the Government to take into consideration the advisability of doing so.

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