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Friday, 11 November 1927

Senator REID (Queensland) .- In my long political life, I have never heard of such a preposterous thing as that which we are asked to do this afternoon by the amendment moved by Senator Duncan. We have it on the authority of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts that they take certain evidence m camera. Witnesses giving that evidence receive an assurance that it will not be divulged, and yet we have honorable senators advocating that the committee which We have appointed should be dishonored in the eyes of the public by this evidence being made public. Perhaps we made a mistake in empowering the committee to take evidence in camera. Personally T think it would have been much wiser if all the evidence had been taken in public. I do not think any evidence taken in camera carries the same weight as does that given in public. You may get explanations of how a man runs his business, and so forth, but I do not think anything taken in secret has the same value as if it were taken publicly. In this case a very important matter is being inquired into, one which concerns the whole country. I do not think the Public Accounts Committee would, for one moment, try to mislead the Senate in regard to the evidence taken, nor do I think that the Government would lend itself to any such action. The amendment amounts to an inference that information is being suppressed, information which, if brought to light, would alter the whole aspect of the matter. The honorable senator says that unless this information is made available he cannot make up his mind. That is always a difficult thing for him to do at any time, I admit, but there is one thing that I have always regarded aa inviolate, and that is my word of honour given to other people. The mover of the amendment wants members of the committee to divulge secrets confided to them by witnesses, and to dishonour themselves before the public, because one member, for window-dressing purposes, has given out information which he received in confidence. The amendment implies that we should dishonour the members of the committee, and even dishonour our own officials, by asking them to divulge secret information. I will never give my vote in favour of divulging anything given iii private, but I certainly do say that in future the Public Accounts Committee should take all evidence publicly, and put it on the table. I think it would be better for the committee, and better for this Parliament.

Senator Lynch - We are asking for the main body of evidence, that is all.

Senator REID - The honorable senator is asking that evidence be divulged in this chamber, when such evidence would not have been tendered except under a pledge of secrecy.

Senator Lynch - That is the honorable senator's own construction.

Senator REID - It is the only construction that can be placed on the words of Senator Duncan. He wants this Parliament to dishonour its own committee by divulging secret information. It is a disgrace that a committee should be asked to do such a thing.

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