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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - This power, which is now spoken of in such awesome tones, has been operating to my knowledge for over a quarter of a century, and I have not heard a word of complaint about the way in whichit has been used. It operates under . the Customs Act, and I venture to say, in all the Law Courts. Judges have the power to take books and impound them, and we never hear of the exercise of that power in such an arbitrary and reckless fashion as to cause trouble. Senator Fairbairn has given an instance of the way in which Government Departments armed with such power exercise it. He says quite frankly that they exercise it in a very reasonable way. Why, then, should we expect that this Board, which will be so closely under the scrutiny of Parliament, will go to the uttermost extreme in the exercise of its power to wilfully annoy those people into whose affairs it is compelled to inquire? Theconstitution of this Board has been approved by the Senate; much to thedislike of individual senators,. I admit, but I. ask. them to be entirely honest in the matter, and, having assented; to the creation of a. Board, not to emasculate it. and leave itwithout power to discharge the duties which the Senate has concurred should, be thrust upon it.

Senator Duncan - A copy of books should be just as good as the books themselves.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But how can the Board make- a copy unless it has the legal documents? In order to make an inquiry into the affairs of a manufacturer it may be necessary for the Boardto look at certain invoices or see what profits have been made, and it cannot do that unless it has access to those documents.

Senator Duncan - But it is proposed elsewhere to give it that power.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is. only one way to do it, and that is to give the Board the power to take possession of these documents for some time.

Senator Fairbairn - The men who inspected. my books came every day for- a fortnight;

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When departmental officers are pondering over a man's books they have possession of. them, they are in a position to make copies of them, and in orderto see. that the authority to do this is not in any way impaired or side-stepped, this Bill gives thepower already contained in the Customs Act to take abook for the purpose of extracting from it such information as the Board may requireIn practice, this is not actually, done, because the person concerned, recognising the existence of this power, creates no trouble when the Department sends an officer along; but if no such authority is given; trouble might be caused. I ask my friends who have been raising bogies to instance one case of late years where any one has purposely and unjustifiably been inconvenienced by the exercise of this power to take possession of his books and documents. It is doneevery day in the Courts. Thispower to send for papers is given to Royal Commissions and to Committees of Parliament, and in an experience of twenty-five years. I have never heard of it being misused.

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