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Wednesday, 22 March 1972
Page: 817


Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - I feel that I must comment on the proposition suggested by Senator Cavanagh. This is what he is propounding: He says that if a member of the committee feels that evidence, the disclosure of which has been forbidden by a committee, should be published he. comes into the Senate and says: lt is my opinion that the evidence in relation to John Brown given before this committee should in fact be published. I ask the Senate's ratification of my opinion.' The Senate may have a totally different opinion, but it has no evidence on which to form an opinion. Is the Senate then to accept Senator Cavanagh's opinion or otherwise? That would be anything but a way in which the body asked to make a decision could possibly operate. Another member of the committee may say that he thinks the evidence should be published or should not be published - expressing an opinion differing from that of Senator Cavanagh. Should the Senate endorse his opinion, sight unseen, or endorse Senator Cavanagh's opinion, sight unseen? With respect to Senator Cavanagh, it is a proposition that is unworthy of the processes he usually brings to the consideration of questions such as this.

Senator Cavanaghmay form his opinion which he brings to the Senate on the evidence he has heard or seen in examination. He may say, 'In my opinion, this evidence should be made public'. The Senate is asked to endorse or not to endorse that opinion in the total absence of the documentation of the evidence on which he formed his opinion. In other words, Senator Cavanagh is saying that the Senate can take his opinion or reject it, on his say-so. That would be a totally unacceptable proposition. I am sure that on reflection even Senator Cavanagh will not continue to propound it. There is only one way that in justice and fairness the matter can be resolved. It may involve the liberties and rights of citizens of this country. If the Senate is to make a final deliberative decision on a matter that might effect the. liberty or the good name of any person appearing before or party to a proceeding before a committee, it must have the evidence before it so that it can make that deliberative decision. I cannot see in standing . order 308 where that opportunity is provided to the Senate. For the process that Senator Cavanagh advances to be the one on which the Senate would rest in such a serious matter is an idea that is totally incomprehensible to me. I am sure it would be totally unacceptable to the Senate or any person who has regard for the ordinary concept of civil individual rights.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN -

Senator Brown,do you wish to speak?


Senator Brown - I will leave the clarification of the remarks of my colleague, Senator Cavanagh, to him.

Senator CAVANAGH(9.18)- I thought I had completed the clarification until it was confused again by Senator Byrne. This necessitates my reclarifying the matter at the present time. This involves the question of why we permit publication of something we do not know about. I say that that never happened except because of circumstances in which the Standing Orders conflicted with the law. It cannot be conceived by Senator Byrne that the Senate should make a decision on an opinion. Of course, we are doing that every sitting day. I may say, 'In my opinion, the Bill is wrong and it should be amended in clause 6. The Australian Labor Party says it should be amended' - because of one reason or another. A member will come before the Committee of the Whole and will say that in his opinion the evidence is so grave and affects so much the public interest of Australia that it should be published. Then we will decide whether the evidence of companies defrauding, etc., is of such public importance that it should be published. The Senate forms its opinion whether it agrees that it is of such importance that it should be published or whether it does not agree.

That is the whole question - whether the evidence is of public importance. That is the whole basis upon which we work in the Senate and it is nothing unusual. I now turn to the question that is related to the recommendation the Committee is bringing down. Again, the recommendation is of some protection to witnesses.


Senator Milliner - It is supported.


Senator CAVANAGH - It is supported because it was a unanimous decision. Noone can say that without the rules there has been a grave injustice to witnesses who have appeared before the Committee. I think this speaks well of the conduct of the various committees that have operated. On the committees on which I have served, there were such statements made that could get witnesses into trouble if they were ever made public. They never were. The information was sought. It was freely given. The information was always granted secretly and there was never an occasion when this secrecy or confidence was broken. Therefore I suggest that while a person appearing before a committee should have the right to know what his rights are, we should not have too strict a code of rules that defeats the objects of parliamentary committees in their search for the truth.







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