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Friday, 11 November 1927

Senator McLACHLAN - Power is given under the Public Works Committee Act for the infliction of penalties for refusal to give evidence, and specific power is granted to protect witnesses when they give evidence. No such power exists in the Joint Committe of Public Accounts Act.

Senator Needham - Will the honorable senator quote the clause that gives the Joint Committee of PublicAccounts power to take evidence?

Senator McLACHLAN - I have not got it by me at the moment. A man is brought before one of those committees and is given a pledge that his evidence will be confidential. If this amendment is carried, this Chamber will practically violate that pledge, which is given by an arm of this legislature. The law provides a penalty of £500 for an offence such as this Parliament now contemplates. Controversy after controversy has raged about whether evidence given before judicial tribunals or tribunals appointed by Parliament should be heard in private or otherwise; but they are mainly beside the issue. We have to remember that a pledge has been given. I am prepared to abide by the reasoned argument presented by the majority, I am putting the matter on a higher plane. I contend that if we support this amendment we shall violate the confidence in which Senator Needham himself admitted he had received this evidence. That action would be unwise, and dishonest.Iuse that word without any desire to give offence; but that would be the result of the adoption of the course contemplated by the amendment.

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