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Thursday, 12 May 1921

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - There is quite a lot of unofficial information that should not be supplied to any one.

Senator GARDINER - That could very well be done, but I am addressing my remarks to the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), who sent - if I may accuse the Minister for appointing a

Royal Commission - one of his departmental officers to examine my banking account in order to ascertain exactly how it stood. To the production of my account in Court I have no objection ; but I am opposed to any system which allows a spy to look into one's private matters, because it is a grave inroad on our liberty.

Senator Pearce - Did the honorable senator say that I sent an officer?

Senator GARDINER - The Royal Commission appointed by the Minister did.

Senator Pearce - A Royal Commission - if the honorable senator is referring to the Royal Commission on Naval and Military matters - was appointed by the. Government, but we had no knowledge of what it was doing.

Senator GARDINER - The facts were that I attended to give evidence, and the first statement I heard when called by the Court was one by Mr. Justice Starke, who said, "You have given permission for your bank account to be examined, and there is therefore no occasion for you to give evidence." I replied that if my account had been examined it was the first. I had heard of it. I subsequently went to the bank and learned that a man named Barton had examined my account.

Senator Pearce - He was acting under instructions from the Royal Commission.

Senator GARDINER - I believe that papers should be produced if their presentation in a Court will be the means of justice .being done; but I do not see that there is any reason why the Department should have the right to refuse the production of ordinary official documents.

Senator Foster - The honorable senator would object to his private documents being produced in Court, and soldiers object on similar grounds.

Senator GARDINER -What I objected to was a spy being sent to examine my account without any notification being sent to me. If my account had. been produced in Court and I had had the opportunity of cross-examining an officer on any report submitted I would not object, but I arn strongly opposed to the Defence Department having the right to refuse to produce papers in their possession when the presentation of such documents may be the means of an individual receiving justice.

Senator Benny - Every Minister of State is in the same position.

Senator GARDINER - But if the papers are required the Minister has the right to refuse. A Minister should have the right to refuse when the disclosure of the information contained in the documents would be dangerous to the Commonwealth.

Senator Payne - Who decides that?

Senator GARDINER - I am quite prepared to leave the decision in the hands > of the Judges, who would never agree to State secrets being disclosed. There may be documents containing information which if disclosed would enable other nations to ascertain exactly what was transpiring on very important issues. The principle embodied in the proposal is objectionable, and I intend to support Senator Elliott in the amendment he has moved, because I believe there is more in the clause than meets the eye. The production of documents may be the means of helping counsel in conducting- cases, but we are going somewhat out of the well beaten track if we allow the officers of the Defence Department to enjoy privileges which are not possessed by other members of the community.

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