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Tuesday, 12 July 1904

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - I move-

That the following words be added : - " In this section at the request of a party, to a dispute the hearing shall be in camera."

I.   think that the Prime Minister should accept this amendment, which embodies a principle already conceded by the Victorian Income Tax Acts. Under the State law, taxpayers do not run the risk of having their private business transactions disclosed to the public in the course of any income tax proceedings before the Court. The clause as it stands is really aimed at the press ; but my proposal is that no outsider can be present at the hearing of a case und , r this Bill without the consent of the party concerned. It would be highly improper to allow a man's private business transactions to be raked up and made public against his own interests and without his consent. A party to a dispute under this measure should have the right - conceded to persons contesting proceedings under the Income Tax Acts - to say that the hearing shall be absolutely in private ; that' the only persons present shall be the Judge, counsel, the representative of the organization interested, the witnesses, and the officials of the Court. I would ask the Prime Minister what right any person, except those directly interested would have to be present? This is an amendment in favour of the employer, but I hope that it is none the less proper. It deals with a matter of vital interest to employers. Let us take the case of a boot manufacturer, who, in order to keep his trade together, has to incur a loss on the sale ot what may be called infants' kid boots, while at the same time making large profits on the rougher classes of infants' boots. It would be very unfair to call upon such an- employer to disclose in open Court the lines on which he made a loss and the lines or districts in which he made a profit. If a disclosure of that kind were made in open Court, a rival employer would have an opportunity to benefit by it, to capture the man's business, and enter intp competition with him in the districts in which he had been most successful. The Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company Limited refuses to show what are its paying and non-paying lines; because such a disclosure might result in. its having to face the competition of new lines of omnibuses and waggonettes along the paying routes. In these circumstances, I think that the Prime Minister should accept the amendment. It would inflict no' injury on any one. Any person entitled to be present at these proceedings would of right be allowed to listen to the evidence, while at the same time trade rivals and others who had no right to be' present would not be permitted to attend without the consent of the parties.

Mr WATSON - It appears to me that the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corio goes rather too far. The general theory behind the work of our Courts of law is that they shall be conducted in the open light of day, and that the public shall have a means of exercising a control over the work of the Judiciary by criticising any action of the Judges or the officials of the Court.

Mr Wilks - No star chamber proceeding.

Mr WATSON - Quite so.. We should always consent with the greatest reluctance to permit, cases to be heard in camera, and' should always surround the permission, when given, by the greatest safeguards.

Mr Crouch - Then why this clause at all?

Mr WATSON - It is a very proper thing that the disclosure or publication of trade secrets or profits, or any information of that description, should be prohibited,in the interests of the parties. We have already made persons guilty of making prohibited disclosures liable to a monetary penalty or to imprisonment.

Mr Crouch - A trade rival might go and listen for himself ; the Bill permitsthat.

Mr WATSON - I admit that that is a difficulty that it might be well to get over. Perhaps the Judge might be given power in extreme cases to order that certain evidence should be heard in camera. I am reminded by the Attorney-General that paragraph I of clause 46 is already strong enough in that respect. The Court has power - to conduct its proceedings, or any part thereof, in private.

I do not feel inclined to go beyond that; because, speaking generally, it is highly desirable that the evidence should be heard in public, so that persons present may be able to form an opinion as to whether the Court had arrived at. a proper decision or. not..

Mr Crouch - The Government cannot think that clause 46 (Z) meets the difficulty, or they would not have inserted clause 92.

Mr WATSON - This clause does not relate to the same circumstances as are covered by clause 46 (I).'

Mr Crouch - ;Nor does my proposal.

Mr WATSON - To meet the majority of such cases as the honorable and learned member refers to, I think that the power given to the Court under clause 46 (Z) would be sufficient. No Judge who had any appreciation of his position would permit the publication of anything that would lead to the disclosure of trade secrets.

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