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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - Previously, in proposed new section 6d, we decided that only a partial security should be given to a witness as to the disclosure of secrets. I wish to insert words here to provide that, whilea Royal Commission shall be entitled to get all the information it can, a witness shall have an assurance that evidence as to his professional secrets, trade profits, and financial position shall not be made public. Is that asking too much?

Senator McGregor - Yes. It would defeat the object of such inquiries as those conducted by the Harvester, Sugar, and Tobacco Commissions.

Senator MILLEN - I am astonished to hear that. In the Parliamentary Witnesses Bill there is a provision which leaves it optional for a witness to have his evidence taken in private and to be kept private. To tell me that it will defeat the object of a Commission to respect the trade secrets and private affairs of a business man is to set up a bogy. By what principle of equity or justice can we demand from a man information of a private or secret character, and make it available for every newspaper reader? I am surprised that the Minister should have thought" this to be a matter which might be dismissed in such a ready fashion. I move -

That the following words be added to proposed new section 6f : - " Oral evidence touching the trade affairs or profits or financial position of any person and the examination of books, papers, and documents touching the same matters shall, if the witness or person so requests, be taken in private. Such oral evidence and the contents of such books, papers, and documents shall not, without the consent of the witness giving the evidence or producing the books, papers, and documents or of the person affected be communicated by any commissioner except to the GovernorGeneral in the Commission's report, but the subsequent publication thereof shall be in the discretion of the Governor-General.

An amendment of that kind, whilst securing from general publication evidence given regarding secret, professional, or trading affairs, would not prevent its becoming known to the members of a Royal Commission. The only restriction upon the Commission would be that, instead of publishing the information, they would take the evidence in private, forward it with their report to the Governor-General, and it would then be for the Governor-General to determine whether it was desirable or not to publish it. This, I consider, is the least we can do if w.e wish to extend justice and fairness to those whose trade secrets we intend to probe to the bottom.

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