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Friday, 9 August 1912

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - We have heard this morning some unfortunate statements with regard to the operations of trusts and combines, and certain accusations, chiefly by way of interjection, against certain members of the Senate that they hold briefs for trusts and combines. Although I do not think that I shall be accused of that, I intend to offer some criticism upon this Bill. The Government are adding some drastic provisions to our criminal code, and proposing penalties which, so far as I am aware, are not provided for in any measure dealing with Royal Commissions in any other part of the world. I do not wish to lay too much stress upon that, but I do think it is most important to point out that the Government are making it possible for this legislation to be administered by persons who are wholly unfit to administer it. My chief criticism of the Bill is not so much as to what it contains as it is to the wide opportunities it affords to men who are utterly unfit to give effect to its provisions. Clause 3 says that a Royal Commission may be issued to any one, and we know that it may he formed of members of Parliament. It is a matter of common history that members of Parliament who have been appointed as a Select Committee have subsequently been constituted members of a Royal Commission, because the Select Committee has been unable to conclude its work before the end of a session. It will still be possible to follow that practice. I do not hesitate to say that if such a thing should occur again while this measure remains unrepealed, the effect must be disastrous to the administration of justice by this form of court. The tendency which has been exhibited in the Federal Parliament to create various courts and tribunals invested with powers is one which honorable senators on both sides would do well to carefully consider, and which, from my point of view, we should check. By way of illustration, I ask what have we done in connexion with the Conciliation and Arbitration Court? We call it a court, but it is not a court at all. It does not exercise the functions of a court, but it does exercise the functions that we are accustomed to exercise in Parliament, and which only Parliament should exercise. In that case, we have used' the name of a court to designate a body consisting of only one man, that is exercising parliamentary functions. In this Bill, the exactly opposite course is proposed. Under it, one or three members of Parliament may be constituted a Royal Commission, and we practically turn those members of Parliament into a court. That is exactly the reverse of the course we have followed in connexion with the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. I think that it is a serious and vital mistake to take either of these courses. If we intend to give to Royal Commissions the powers provided for in this Bill, it is absolutely incumbent upon us to limit the persons who may be appointed to Commissions to mert trained to carry out the duties which will have to be performed. It is quite wrong to expect that we can, from this Parliament, or from any body of ordinary persons, appoint members of a 'Commission competent to administer this measure as it ought to be administered. However, the Government are prepared to do that. The penalties provided for are severe, but what I fear most is that the power to impose them will be placed in the hands of men who are not competent to decide the full value of the evidence, or the extent to which offences under this Bill have been committed. Something has been said about impugning the honesty of members of Royal Commissions, but it is not a question of honesty at all. It is a question of fitness, of habit, of thought, perhaps, more than anything else, and that is a matter of training. All these qualities should be demanded of any men who may be appointed to a Royal Commission under this Bill. The Bill leaves it open to Parliament or the Government to appoint any men to carry out duties which should be carried out by men possessing special knowledge. I do not wish to refer to the work of the Sugar Commission, but Senator Gould this morning read some statements :by the President of that Commission, and I say that no one could hear them read without feeling great regret that the gentleman who made them should preside over the deliberations of a Royal 'Commission. I do not care to make accusations against any one because I am a member of this Parliament and he may be somewhere else. But, without pursuing the subject much further, I say that the reading of these remarks by the President of the Sugar Commission should be sufficient to induce us to hesitate and consider seriously the risks we shall run in granting powers such as are provided for in this Bill to persons who may be appointed members of a Royal Commission. We must remember that it is a very difficult matter to remove any member of a Commission after he has been appointed. But. in view of the provisions of this Bill, we are bound to consider the possibility of removing men from Royal Commissions and the extreme latitude given to the Executive to appoint them. Whilst the Bill is repugnant to me in many ways because of its drastic provisions, I say that it could only he made acceptable hy limiting the persons who may be appointed as members of Royal Commissions. I could welcome the measure, and believe that it would be of infinitely more use to Australia, if such a limitation were provided for. I do not hesitate to say that the only persons to whom Royal Commissions should issue under this Bill are Judges of the Supreme Courts of the States or of the High Court. I should not intrust the powers of this Bill to persons below that standard. I suppose the Bill will pass, and that Royal Commissions will be appointed in future, possibly, consisting wholly of members of Parliament. I wonder which member of the Senate, whether a trained lawyer or not, would accept the enormous responsibility which would be imposed upon him in conducting an inquiry under the provisions of such a Bill as this. 1 say, unhesitatingly, that nothing would induce me to accept a position on a Royal Commission under this Bill. We may have Judges in embryo in the Senate, but, until a man had proved himself on the Bench, I should feel that he was not fitted to administer this measure, and that no member of the Senate could, with self-respect, accept a position in which he would be compelled to do so. 1 do not wish to debate the Bill further. I feel very strongly that it_ will give rise to a great deal of irritation and a rankling sense of injustice. It will produce that sense of injustice, though the Commissioners themselves may be just. I do not suggest that unjust men will be appointed, but Commissioners will be appointed who, notwithstanding their own strict sense of justice, will administer the Act wrongly, because it will demand from them the exercise of qualifications which they do not possess. I make no reflection upon those who have already held appointments on Royal Commissions. I was a member of a Commission which lasted two and a half years, and, with a full knowledge of what happened upon it, I say it would have been most disastrous if we had been working under this Bill. Attention would then have been strongly directed to the unwisdom of placing in the hands of ordinary persons who constitute Royal Commissions such a powerful weapon as this Bill will afford.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel CAMERON (Tasmania) [12.2]. - I desire to say only a word or two upon this measure. Senator Clemons has put the position as clearly as it can be put, and in as unbiased a way as is possible. The Bill will place a dangerous weapon in the hands of any person who may be appointed to a Royal Commis sion, unless he is fully qualified to exercise the very wide powers which will be intrusted to him. That is my view of the matter, and even at this late stage I would urge upon the Government the desirableness of withdrawing the Bill. May I remind Senator McGregor that he will not always be in power to administer it. We may be able to trust him, but we may not be able to trust some other people. The Bill will place in the hands ot future Commissions a weapon which is an exceedingly dangerous one, and for that reason I would appeal to the Government and their supporters to think seriously over what they are doing. If once these powers be given to Royal Commissions, is it likely that they will forego their exercise? The Bill will arm those bodies with a weapon which is particularly dangerous to the poorer classes of the community, whom my honorable friends opposite profess to represent. Consequently,0 I would urge them to withdraw it.

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