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Thursday, 2 December 1965

Mr BUCHANAN (McMillan) . - The Committee will recall that the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) moved this amendment following quite a lengthy discussion on whether certain words should be inserted in sub-clause (3.), under which the Commissioner is required to give written notice of all direct and indirect pecuniary interests that he has in any business anywhere in Australia. As a result of a division, an amendment to the effect that that provision should apply also to the members of the Trade Practices Tribunal was not accepted. However, I believe that there was a clear indication by many honorable members of their view that it is desirable that something be known of the pecuniary interests of the members of the Tribunal who are chosen to sit on any particular matter. It was for that reason that the honorable member for Mackellar moved his amendment. I am very pleased to support it. I believe that it is right.

In the earlier discussion the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Snedden) tried to assure us that this provision was unnecessary because an old understanding in the legal profession which is part of a substantial body of ethics of court behaviour is that no legal man - judge, barrister or solicitor - would take any part in a matter in which he had a pecuniary interest, lt was deduced from that fact that the people who will be appointed to this Tribunal will have the same code of ethics and will not take any part in any matter in which they have a pecuniary interest. That is a very nice theory. But due regard must be had to the fact that this Tribunal is not a legal body. It is not a court. It is not a body whose members have a long background of ethical standards with which they will comply. It seems to me that there should be written into this Bill somewhere a requirement for the disclosure of the fact that a man appointed to the Tribunal has a pecuniary interest in a matter that comes before it for examination.

It has been suggested that the situation for which the Bill provides might be an advantage to the parties who were being examined. It has been suggested that the parties might like to have on the Tribunal somebody who has a pecuniary interest in the matter. But I submit that that is not the matter that is now under discussion. Whether something is good or bad for the Commissioner or the parties who are being examined does not come into this matter. We have to do the just and fair thing. If it is good enough to assume that in a court a judge would not sit on a case in which he had a pecuniary interest, that position should apply to a tribunal that is examining business practices. I do not think we can assume that the businessmen concerned would have the same scruples about whether they should disclose any pecuniary interest that they have.

I do not think it is necessary for us to go as far as to say that a member of the Tribunal should be required to disclose the full nature of the interest that he has in every business or in other businesses. But if he indicates before the proceedings start that he has a pecuniary interest in the matter, the people concerned can then find out about his interest or examine him about it, if they wish. He might even be willing to tell them about it. If a member of the Tribunal has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in the matter before the Tribunal, he should indicate before the commencement of the proceedings that he has such an interest, and then it should be decided whether or not he should sit on that matter. If the parties believe that it is to their advantage to have on the Tribunal a man with a pecuniary interest in the matter, well and good.

If the matter before the Tribunal was, say, containers and the glass industry was being examined, and if a member of the Tribunal had an interest in the canning industry, that may or may not affect his judgment on what to do about glass containers. Of course, we always have the difficulty of defining the matter under dis cussion before the Tribunal. I highly commend the amendment, Sir. I believe that interests of the kind about which we are talking must be known before a person who holds them proceeds to sit on a matter. If the parties to a matter want to object to that person's sitting they should be able to do so. The choice should be in their hands.

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