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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - The Parliamentary Witnesses Bill, which will shortly be brought under our consideration, gives a certain amount of protection to witnesses who are required to disclose their private affairs. But. in this instance, a Royal Commission is given power to inspect documents, books, or writings produced before it, and to detain them for such period as it thinks fit. There are only three or four words in the proposed new section to which I take serious objection. I object to the power sought to be given to a Commission to order the production of books, documents, and writings, and retain them indefinitely. A Commission may call for a man's ledgers, and may retain them for, perhaps, two or three months. How is a man to carry on business when his ledgers are in the possession of a peripatetic Commission? It is obviously impossible. The clause may be amended in a comparatively simple way, which will leave it just as effective for all legitimate purposes. I need hardly remind the Committee that it was sworn in evidence by Mr. Hall, in Sydney, that evidence taken some six weeks previously had not yet been written up and sent to the printer by the shorthand-writers. Under this provision it would be possible for a Royal Commission to send for a business man's books and papers, and retain them until extracts from them could be copied, checked and forwarded to the printer. They might remain in the possession of the Commission for six or eight weeks. That is unreasonable and unfair. I therefore move -

That the proposed new section be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following : - " 6f. A Royal Commission may inspect any writings, books, or documents produced before it, and may have access thereto while in the custody of the owner, and may make copies of such matter as may be relevant to the inquiry."

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