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Friday, 9 August 1912

Senator SAYERS (QUEENSLAND) - In the first place, a man may not have the means to attend. A person living in South Australia may be summoned to attend a Royal Commission sitting in Queensland.

Senator O'Keefe - H - He will get his expenses ; read paragraph 6 g.

Senator SAYERS - That paragraph reads -

Any witness appearing before a Royal Commission shall be paid a reasonable sum for the expenses of his attendance in accordance with a prescribed scale.

But what is the use of telling a man that a reasonable sum will be paid to him after he has attended ? If a Royal Commission is sitting in Victoria, and the witness is summoned from Western Australia, he may not have the means to attend. When a person is summoned to give evidence in a law Court, a sufficient sum of money is tendered to him with the subpoena.

Senator O'Keefe - I - In a case like that, the expenses might be tendered to the witness by administrative order.

Senator SAYERS - But I want it in the Bill. We do not want any of this administrative business. If the Bill provided that a reasonable amount should he tendered to a witness to cover his expenses, it would be less objectionable; but many a man is not able to put his hand into his pocket and produce £10 or £15 to pay his expenses. Nevertheless, a person who fails to do so may be treated a.s a criminal, and brought over under a warrant.

Senator Henderson - If he were brought over under a warrant, it would cost him nothing.

Senator SAYERS - Would the honorable senator like to be brought over by a policeman under a warrant? It appears to me that the object of this Bill is to give the Government carte blanche to do what they like. There will be such an outcry the first time the measure is put in force that the next Government that comes into power will be compelled to repeal it. In fact, I believe that honorable senators themselves will say that it should be repealed. What reason is there for this procedure? A fair number of Royal Commissions have been appointed under the Commonwealth ; but it seems that we have now reached a situation in which the powers which may be exercised under the existing Act are not sufficient for somebody. Then a Bill is brought down which is, I believe, one of the most drastic measures that have ever been presented to a House of Parliament. In times past in Venice there was a little place into which a letter was put and very soon a man disappeared off the face of the earth. At one time in Great Britain there was a Star Chamber in which persons were tried privately. For certain reasons - we have not had them all put before the Chamber - we are asked to pass this Bill. Like Senator O'Keefe, a great many persons outside Parliament are reading between the lines, but I feel sure that they are doing so altogether differently from my honorable friend.

Senator Henderson - Would you characterize a Royal Commission, appointed on the lines of this Bill, a Star Chamber?

Senator SAYERS - Exactly. The Bill gives the most arbitrary powers to the Chairman of a Royal Commission, though he may be the most incompetent man on the face of God's earth. We know what men who have been members of Parliament have done in other places. Unfortunately, a man of that type might be the Chairman of a Royal Commission.

Senator Henderson - The Star Chamber had nothing to do with incompetency.

Senator SAYERS - Yes, a great deal, though I admit that the members of the Star Chamber were not so incompetent as are a great many of the men whom we find on Royal Commissions, because they were clever men. Take any Royal Commission which has been composed of members of both Houses. Has there ever been a man on a Commission who was fit to be intrusted with the arbitrary powers which are given in this Bill?

Senator Guthrie - Which Royal Commission ?

Senator SAYERS - Any Royal Commission which has been composed of members of both Houses. I say without hesitation that every Royal Commission is a partisan one.

Senator Guthrie - No.

Senator SAYERS - Every one of them is a partisan Commission. I do not believe in Royal Commissions at all. I do not make any accusation against the present Government, because they have only followed precedent ; but every Royal Commission contains a majority who are strong supporters of the Government of the day. It is not an impartial body.

Senator McGregor - Where are you going to get these impartial men?

Senator SAYERS - I do not believe in Royal Commissions composed of members of this or the other House who are steeped, a great many of them, up to the eyes in party prejudice. They are not proper persons to be appointed to conduct an inquiry of this kind.

Senator O'Keefe - O - On that line of reasoning you do not believe in Royal Commissions at all.

Senator SAYERS - I do not believe in Royal Commissions, especially because of the way in which they have been formed. If a Royal Commission has to be appointed, it should be composed of men outside of Parliament, and beyond parliamentary influence. If a Commission is required to inquire into a mercantile affair, surely, in the length and breadth of Australia, the Government can pick three men who have had a large experience in commerce, and nothing to do with politics. But the position is different when the Government pick men who have shown bias and party feeling, because it is hard for any man to sit in a chamber and not get imbued with bias.

Senator Guthrie - Oh !

Senator SAYERS - The Honorable senator who says " Oh " would be the strongest partisan if he were appointed on a certain Commission.

Senator Guthrie - Where did you get your Chief Justice - from politics?

Senator SAYERS - My whole case stands in the eyes of the public. What will happen if this Bill becomes law? Outside men will express their opinion and criticise a Royal Commission, and we shall have half of the people of the country in gaol.

Senator Guthrie - Where did you get your Judges from - out of Parliament?

Senator SAYERS - A Judge is appointed to interpret the law as it has been laid down by Parliament ; but in this Bill there is no law to be interpreted. The Chairman of a Commission can say to a man, " I require you to answer the question," and if the witness says, "I cannot, because I do not know anything about the matter," that is not a sufficient answer. He is on his oath, and he may be bullied or browbeaten by the Chairman or other member.

Senator Guthrie - Or by any lawyer.

Senator SAYERS - Yes. If a lawyer is in Court, and exceeds a certain limit, the

Judge will not allow a witness to be broweaten by a lawyer if he thinks it is being done for a bad purpose.

Senator Henderson - I am afraid you have in your mind the case of a man who does know and will not say.

Senator SAYERS - I have in my mind the arbitrary powers which honorable senators opposite want to give to the Chairman of a Royal Commission. These absolute powers are to be exercised, not only by a lawyer, but also by a layman who does not understand the law.

Senator O'Keefe - D - Do we not give larger powers to a Iavman in other cases?

Senator SAYERS - No. In this Bill we give to a layman, who may be proved later to be wrong, the power to commit a man to gaol, or to break into his house. We give these extraordinary powers to a layman who may be appointed by a political party, and who, in my opinion, is not qualified to act on a Commission. When a Royal Commission is composed of members of both Houses, and one reads the names of the Commissioners, he can safely say that the Government have taken every care that they shall have a majority on the Commission. Very often we get a report which has been carried by the majority, the minority reporting in the other way. What sort of evidence can be taken by such a body? These men know, although they are not told so in so many words, that they are expected to take up one. side.

Senator Millen - They are picked because of their known opinions.

Senator SAYERS - Yes. Every Government acts in this way. Royal Commissions stink in the nostrils of the people of Australia. No more notice is taken of them than is taken of a dog barking. The public see what is going on, and they say, " Look at the Royal Commission ! Who are they ? Why, the Government have a majority there. The Royal Commission can go whatever way the Government like."

Senator Needham - Will you object in the future to the appointment of Royal Commissions ?

Senator SAYERS - I have always objected, because I do not believe in Royal Commissions, especially when they are composed of members of Parliament. I admit, however, that it may sometimes be necessary to appoint a Royal Commission to find out something with regard to commerce or our daily life. But let it be composed of men who are not known to have preconceived political opinions.

Senator Needham - Where are they to be found?

Senator SAYERS - It would be a bad job for Australia if there were not three or four men outside of Parliament who could be trusted to conduct an inquiry for the Commonwealth.

Senator Blakey - You would appoint Badger on a Tramway Commission!

Senator SAYERS - Nothing of the kind. The honorable senator must be very low-minded, because he imputes to others his own ideas.

Senator Needham - Is it in order, sir, for Senator Sayers to say that Senator Blakey is low-minded?

The PRESIDENT - If Senator Blakey takes exception to the term, I hope that Senator Sayers will withdraw it.

Senator Blakey - Coming from the source it does, sir, I take no notice of it.

Senator SAYERS - I think I was quite in order, sir, in saying that Senator Blakey was low-minded in imputing his own ideas to others. He imputed a certain thing to me, and I remarked that in doing so he was low-minded. He interjected that I would appoint Mr. Badger to a Tramway Commission. I would do no such thing, because I do not believe in appointing Royal Commissions. It has been proved here, and in another place, that, prior to their appointment, some members of the Sugar Commission had expressed opinions in the press, and stated in public, that they were opposed to certain things. Yet they are sitting on a Commission to report on the sugar industry.

Senator Guthrie - Which members of the Commission?

Senator SAYERS - I do not intend tomention any names.

Senator Guthrie - You might let us know who they are.

Senator SAYERS - I shall do so if I think fit.

Senator Millen - A gentleman connected with the Jam Combine, Mr. Anderson.

Senator Guthrie - Who is he?

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