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Wednesday, 11 November 1914

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - The object of this amendment is to make the debtor's statement available for perusal not merely by the creditors of the debtor, but by any other person. It is obvious that the creditors should have access at all reasonable times to the debtor's statement without, payment of a fee. But we all know that in practice it is a common thing in the commercial community, here and elsewhere, for information to be ascertained from a debtor's papers in a case of liquidation or bankruptcy. In ordinary circumstances, bankers, financial institutions, and members of the commercial community generally, get information as to the position of a person who has gone insolvent. That enables them in their future relations with such a person to be mindful of his past experience in his own business. That information is obtained, and, as we all know, in each State it has been the custom for such information to be circulated amongst the subscribers to agencies of a character that are always in a position to give confidential information with regard to the standing and repute, financial and commercial, of different persons. I can quite understand that some honorable senators might take exception to persons other than creditors being able to obtain this information, but I believe that if they did take exception they would do so because they would not be thoroughly informed as to the actual position. As the clause stands there will be nothing to prevent a creditor from obtaining the information, and giving it to anybody outside, and so letting it go through the ordinary course as at present. But with regard to the position of an outsider, that is to say, one who is not a creditor of the debtor, ^ I think that he should be allowed to obtain this information; but there should be a condition, such as the payment of a fee, imposed upon him. Then none but those who have some necessary interest in obtaining the information would pay the fee. As regards creditors themselves, the Bill already provides for them. All that my amendment proposes is that any person other than a creditor shall also be entitled to inspect on payment of the fee prescribed, and in framing the regulations the Executive can have in mind the importance of the position, and what would be a fee proportionate for the occasion. As I said before, without such a provision it will still be competent for creditors to inspect the statement, and to utilize the information in whatever way they please. If the amendment is inserted, creditors will only inspect for their own purposes. Many a time a creditor does not want to see the statement at all. He wants to know what it contains, but he has not time to go and inspect it. He really cannot afford the time to look up the Official Receiver or Registrar, and so he leaves the work of inspection to the authority that issues a trade circular or gazette periodically with regard to bankruptcies, liquidations, probates, administrations, transfers of property, and all such "matters. In ordinary circumstances it is safe to say that, if the clause passes as it stands, not one in ten creditors will ever avail himself of the right to inspect a statement. If it is left to somebody outside the creditor, who acts generally in the interests of the trading community, to make these inspections, then, on payment of two, or three, or five guineas a year, that institution will obtain the particulars and give them to subscribers. If a commercial man wants particulars regarding the affairs of John Jones, bankrupt,he simply applies to the institution, and does not trouble the Official Receiver or Registrar. It is only fair to allow a person who is not a creditor to inspect" on payment of a fee. Experience shows that creditors very rarely directly avail themselves of 'their legal right to inspect. They have too much else to do in their office or warehouse to spare the time for that purpose. It pays a firm far better to get the desired information through an agency than to send their own clerk, who, possibly, would not be allowed to inspect. Under the clause as it stands, the accountant of a man in Sydney to whom a debt of £87 is owing would not be ableto go and inspect for him the statement of the bankrupt. If he wants to send hisclerk, or his accountant, or an agency to which he is a subscriber, let them be able to inspect the statement on payment of a fee.

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