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Wednesday, 11 November 1914

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - The Minister says that he does not see any advantage to be gained from my amendment. If the clause is allowed topass as it is, the agencies to which I have referred will not be denied the means of getting the information.

Senator Guthrie - By paying?

Senator KEATING - Under the Bill the agencies will always get the information through one particular creditor, but they will get it for nothing. Under the Bill, a debtor who has gone bankrupt has to file a statement of his affairs, or submit it to the Receiver. The statement is to be open to any of his creditorswithout payment of a fee, or to any creditor's agent. At the present time these agencies have to pay a fee to inspect, and the fees help to provide for the administration of the law.

Senator Guthrie - One fee in each State ?

Senator KEATING - Suppose that an agency sends a clerk to make an inspection in respect of three or four estates; he has to pay a fee in respect of each estate. In Tasmania, for instance, a clerk goes into the stamp office to make three inspections ; he has to take out three search orders, and to pay fees amounting, say, to 7s. 6d. The inspections are made, and, at the end of the week, in the Gazette belonging to the agency, is published, "John Jones; number of creditors, 17; amount of liabilities, £877; amount of assets, £212; name of trustee, Mr. Soandso." Then any subscriber to the Gazette may apply to the proprietors to furnish him with information as to the particular debts of a bankrupt. The agency does not publish that information Broadcast, but when it is asked for by a subscriber, the agency is prepared to give the information for nothing, because the subscriber is paying an annual subscription of three, or four, or five, guineas for this information to be subscribed at call.

Senator Guthrie - It may be right, or it may be wrong, but they are protected.

Senator KEATING - The proprietors state that it is in accordance with the information which is filed; they are not responsible for the truth or otherwise of the statements; it is a confidential communication, and they only limit their responsibility to what is filed. What will be the position under the Bill if my amendment is not adopted ? The agencies will still get the information, but the Government will receive no fees, because any creditor or his agent, as the Minister very kindly reminded me, can go and take the information " on the nod," and give it to the agencies.

Senator Guthrie - Why not?

Senator KEATING - Why should we not expect people who are going to use the information for the purpose of getting annual subscriptions to contribute to the revenue, and so enable the Government to carry out the Act?

Senator Guthrie - Why should we allow a lawyer to get it "on the nod " ?

Senator KEATING - If he is a creditor, should he not stand in the same position as the honorable senator?

Senator Guthrie - He is an agent.

Senator KEATING - Does a lawyer stand below the honorable senator if he is a creditor ?

Senator Guthrie - I am taking it the other way.

Senator KEATING - Suppose that a creditor appointed the honorable senator as his agent, is he to have the privilege of going there? But suppose that I am appointed, am I to be denied the privilege because I am a lawyer ? I would be equally an agent with the honorable senator. Does he claim some superiority over me that he should be entitled to. inspect and I should not?

Senator Guthrie - Not a bit.

Senator KEATING - Then why does the honorable senator deprecate the idea of a lawyer inspecting ? Is a lawyer to be disqualified from being an agent?

Senator O'LOGHLIN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Colonel O'loghlin. - Does the Bill curtail any of the privileges which the public hold at present in regard to investigations ?

Senator KEATING - Yes. At the present time, in the States of the Commonwealth, it is competent for creditors and other persons to inspect the statements of a debtor's affairs, but the latter class have to pay a fee. In this instance I ask for the insertion of a similar provision. By the payment of a fee, the Government will benefit to the extent that it will provide means for the administration of the Act. It is not merely the creditors who are interested in a man's bankruptcy. The whole public is interested, although, in many instances, to a less degree. The public interest demands that good faith shall prevail amongst those engaged in enterprises, and there is a public, just as there is a private, interest in every bankruptcy.

Senator Bakhap - Is it regarded as good policy to publish too widely the fact of a man's bankruptcy ?

Senator KEATING - No; but it may be necessary for the protection of persons who have not previously had relations with the bankrupt to give the public access to the statement of his affairs. Suppose a man goes bankrupt, of whom everybody sitting on this . side of the Chamber is a creditor. We all have access to the statement of his affairs. None of those sitting on the other side may have had any business relations with him before he goes through the Court, but afterwards he may approach them with a view to establishing business relations.

It is therefore desirable that they should be able to ascertain what his relations were with other people previously. Without the amendment, the Government and public will suffer, because there will not be the same guarantee as to the accuracy of the information. My proposal will not impose any hardship on the bankrupt.

Senator Lt.-ColonelO'LOGHLIN (South Australia) [3.58]. - I hope the Minister will give way, as it is a small matter, and does not affect the principles of the Bill. The information can be obtained through other sources, and in some of the States is already available in the way Senator Keating suggests. The Bill, if carried as it stands, will in those States deprive the public of a privilege which they already possess, and I do not think that is the object of the measure. Senator Keating's proposal is a very reasonable one.

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