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Wednesday, 11 November 1914

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - The Vice-President of the Executive Council is maintaining tho traditions of Ministers in charge of Bills in a most excellent manner. Instead of attempting to deal with Senator Keating's argument he has merely stuck to his Bill. My experience of Ministers in charge of Bills is that they will never listen to reason. An honorable senator may advance a thousand good reasons for altering a clause, but a Minister will not accept one of them. He proceeds on the assumption that the measure of which he has charge is perfect. I regret very much to see an honorable senator like the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who at one time was a very pronounced Democrat, sinking into the ruts of Conservatism in this fashion. Bankruptcy is a public act; it is not a private affair at all. When a man becomes bankrupt, he submits his affairs, not only to his creditors, but to the general public, and the public have a right to know the circumstances connected with the man's bankruptcy. The Minister has said that if the amendment were agreed to the whole of the people of Australia would turn themselves into a private inquiry agency, and, without rhyme or reason, would be poking their noses into the affairs of any person who might become a bankrupt now or did become bankrupt at any time during the last twenty years. No man will put himself to the trouble or expense of inquiring into the bankruptcy of any trader unless he is interested in the latter as a creditor, or the bankrupt approaches "him for the purpose of trading after his bankruptcy. It is extremely desirable, in the interests of commercial morality, that every opportunity should be given to examine into a trader's business career. If the VicePresident of the Executive Council had any idea of the amount of swindling that is going on every day in the year in Australia in connexion with trading, he would welcome rather than object to the amendment. Without the amendment this measure will play directly into the hands of mercantile agencies. They will be able, without payment of any fee, to obtain information concerning the affairs of every bankrupt, and will then charge the public fees for circulating that information. I have no fear that, under Senator Keating's amendment, public

Departments will be overloaded with work in obtaining this kind of information for inquisitive people. The people of Australia have something more profitable to occupy their time than the poking of their noses into the bankruptcies of which they have no concern. I prefer the amendment to the clause as it stands, but I object to part of the amendment which makes provision for the payment of a fee, because I believe that all the information available in our public offices should be free to the public.

Senator Bakhap - What right has a person to know anything about a bankrupt's affairs unless he wishes to do business with him ?

Senator STEWART - He might wish to do business with him.

Senator Lynch - It might be only idle curiosity.

Senator STEWART - Senator Lynchseems to think, with the Minister, that the people of Australia are extremely inquisitive. I regard the amendment as a very good one, but I should be glad if Senator Keating would agree to omit that portion of it providing for the payment of fees.

Senator Keating - The payment of a fee would be a proof of bona fides.

Senator STEWART - I do not know that it would. Senator Keating also seems to think that people would be rushing to obtain information which did not concern them.

Senator Keating - It would help to carry on the administration of the Act.

Senator STEWART - The Consolidated Revenue should provide for all those things. In any case, I prefer the amendment to the clause as it stands.

Senator BAKHAP(Tasmania) T4.30]. - I confess that I have been in somewhat of a quandary concerning this amendment. I listened carefully to the arguments submitted by Senator Keating, and I can see that in some circumstances it is desirable that persons who wish to do business with a man who has once been a bankrupt should have available to them at a reasonable cost a knowledge of the bankrupt's affairs. But I think there is a strong objection to the indiscriminate publication of the fact that a man has once been a bankrupt. A bankruptcy may be innocent in the eyes of the law. Inability, due to time and chance, to pay 20s. in the £1 is not, in the eye of tho law, an offence; otherwise there would be no bankruptcy law. Bankruptcy Acts are intended, not to penalize persons who have run into debt and wish to liquidate their affairs, but to afford them a measure of relief. I certainly should not, in the circumstances, be in favour of giving the public generally indiscriminate access to the record of a bankrupt's affairs merely to gratify the idle or vulgar curiosity of persons who may have an animus against a man who has once been a bankrupt. Although after consideration I have determined to support Senator Keating's amendment, I will do so on the understanding that a fee is imposed, for the obtaining of the record of a bankrupt's affairs by any person not concerned in the bankruptcy, sufficiently high to deter persons actuated by vulgar or malicious curiosity.

Senator Gardiner - If the Committee decide to accept the amendment I shall be disposed to agree with Senator Stewart, and say there should be no fee.

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