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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I am afraid that the Minister has either not got the "hang" of my contention, or is trying to mystify the position. What I said was that we have created, on the one hand, an Arbitration Court, to which any fifteen men who form an industrial organization ' may apply. On eight occasions that Act has passed through Parliament and has been amended in various particulars, but one section has remained untouched. We have armed that Court with power to ask for and obtain information regarding tradesecrets, but - and this is the proviso that the Minister (Senator Russell) did not emphasize- those trade secrets must not be made public property except for the express purposes of the Court. Power is also given to the Arbitration Court to call for the disclosure of the financial facts, with the proviso that, if the parties to the suit think that it would be injurious to their interests, the Court is not free to make the facts public property. If this Board is of the importance that the Minister asserts, I do not see why it should be put on an inferior plane as compared with that of the Arbitration Court.

Senator Duncan - The Arbitration Court is presided over by a Judge, whereas on this Board there will be two outsiders.

Senator LYNCH - I am not going into a detailed comparison of the two bodies, but the section in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to which I refer has stood the test of time. The Board to be created under this Bill is armed with no. such power. The Board has no power to obtain any trade secret, but it has the power to make public financial facts relating to those who come before it, though the disclosure may be prejudicial to them, and they may not be consenting parties. That is where I say this Bill is wrong. Clause 9, to which Senator Russell has referred, is merely the stereotyped provisionwe find in every Act of Parliament, namely, that for the purposes of carrying out the measure certain information shall be kept secret; but the Board is given discretion whether it make the information public or not. I contend that the Board should not have this . discretionary power. In the Arbitration Court, as I have pointed out, it is. left to the parties to say whether the financial side of any dispute shall or shall not be published; and I wish to open the eyes of honorable senators to the manifest discrimination made between the proposed Board and the Court. The public interest requires that everytrade secret shall be made known, although not made public property.

SenatorPratten. - It would bo unfair to the business community.

Senator LYNCH - The honorable senator is entitled to his opinion, which I respect; but it has been the deliberate intention of this Parliament to act in a manner directly opposite to that suggested by the honorable senator. If he believes that the withholding of a trade secret is in. the public interest, I flatly and totally disagree with him, because the public interest in this country must remain supreme. Inthis clause wo are providing that a trade secret shall be withheld, and that is detrimental to the interests of the people. The disclosure of trade secrets has been adhered to in the past; but we are not doing it in this instance, because the Board will not be armed with sufficient power to compel witnesses to disclose secret trade processes. The Minister (Senator Russell) slid over various pointsand emphasized the danger of making certain features public property.

Senator Russell - I did not.

Senator LYNCH - The Minister referred to rabbit skins and other things, and dealt with the question of making certain information the property of the people.

Senator Russell - That is not so.

Senator LYNCH - Then I shall leave it to honorable senators to judge.

Senator Russell - And I shall leave it to Hansard.

Senator LYNCH - When the Minister was referring to the disclosure of certain financial features of a business concern, he was arguing on wrong premises. If the holder of a trade secret believed that it should not be made public it could be treated as confidential, if the holder so desired. If the Committee think that this provision is fair in the public interest, I canmerely lodge my protest; but it is altogether different from that embodied in the Commonwealth Arbitration Act in which the Arbitration Court is given power to compel a witness to disclose the information. If the Board is to successfully exercise its functions in the industrial arena, and compel competitors to toe the mark by carrying on their business according to upright standards, it must have the power to insist on the disclosure of a trade secret, otherwise it will be able to say that it is placed on a lower level than the Arbitration Court, and denied the authority which that Tribunal possesses. If there is any reason why information of this character should be withheld, perhaps Senator Pratten will be prepared to supply it. The crystallized opinion of the representatives of the people is that the public interest should stand supreme; but that does not necessarily involve the disclosure of a trade secret unless the owner so desires. If this provision is allowed to stand, the Board will not possess greater powers than a casual observer in the street.

Senator RUSSELL(Victoria- VicePresident of the Executive Council) [6.61. - I was not under any misapprehension when I said that there was a distinct difference between the Tariff Board and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The Government do not desire the Board merely out of curiosity to make investigations concerning the details of every man's business, but to have a Board sufficiently strong to enable it to secure all the information essential for successfully conducting its inquiries. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court may .desire the disclosure of a secret process to enable it to ascertain, what it represents to its holders. It frequently happens in our Courts that a witness asks for protection in giving evidence, and, in some instances, statements are handed up in writing to the Judge in order to preserve secrecy. Occasionally a Court is cleared while evidence is being given to enable a witness to make a confidential statement. A witness may desire to give the evidence, but not necessarily for publication. A witness before the Tariff Board may be -willing to disclose certain particulars; but we do not desire to compel him to -divulge something which may be injurious -to his business. Large sums of money have been expended in perfecting secret- trade processes.

Senator Reid - In many cases the information would not be required.

Senator RUSSELL - Quite so. If we desired power to compel witnesses to disclose such information we would take it under this Bill, but we do not wish to possess authority that is not required.

Clause .agreed to;

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