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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Senator PEARCE -- They were not published at the time.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - So that the company did not know who they were?

Senator PEARCE - Mr. Stonesaid that he made the statement upon the authority of persons in the employment of the company. He did not give their names before the Royal Commission, although he may have done so for aught I know before the Arbitration Court.

Senator Dobson - Under what circumstances were those statutory declarations made?

Senator PEARCE - All that' I know is that they were forwarded to me to prove that this man had some authority for the statement he made in his evidence.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Did he say in his evidence that he made the statement upon the authority of some one else ?

Senator PEARCE - He said that he was stating what he had been told.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - He did not say who told him?

Senator PEARCE - No. He said he had been informed.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - It is a strange thing, when evidence on oath is being taken,, to permit a witness to repeat what some one else said; without giving the names of the authors of the statement.

Senator PEARCE - A Royal Commission is not conducted with the same strict legality as a court of law. In fact, the Commission regarded the statements as a mere side issue. I did not think it necessary to pursue the subject even to the extent of asking for the authority for the statements. We had before us in the following week in Melbourne the general manager of all the factories, Mr. Wilkins ; and although Mr. Wilkins took exception to statements which had been made by Mr. Stanley in Melbourne, and also to statements made by Mr. Stone, he did not take exception to this particular statement. So that whatever importance may be attached to the statement by others, the Commission did not attach much importance to it, and did not follow up the question. I do not pretend to be in a position to say whether the statement made by Mr. Stone could be corroborated or not, but it was made in evidence, and there is a remedy if false statements are made in evidence.

Senator Millen - As the witness only repeated hear-say statements, how could he be proceeded against for perjury?

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - He could not be.

Senator PEARCE - I have always understood that if a witness slanders any one, even upon the authority of some one else, he can be proceeded against for having repeated the slander.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Not when he gives evidence on a privileged occasion or before a privileged body like a Royal Commission.

Senator PEARCE - Surely if I make a false statement, even on the authority of others-

Senator Millen - It is not false under those circumstances; the statement is "Some one told me so," and that is not incorrect.

Senator PEARCE - If the statement is not false, why should Mr. Stone be called' upon for an apology? He made a statement upon certain sworn declarations made by other people, whose names no doubt he was prepared to give to the company.

Senator Trenwith - They appear to have asked for the names, according to the letters read bv the honorable senator.

Senator PEARCE - They have not asked for the names.

Senator Trenwith - I understood the honorable senator to say that they wrote to Mr. Stone, and that he refused to reply.

Senator PEARCE - He refused' to put himself in a position in which he might be sued for libel. By refusing to do so, he was in the position that the company, if it sued him, would have to prove that his statement was wrong.

Senator Playford - He only had to prove that two men told him certain things.

Senator PEARCE - And he, by making that statement, would make himself responsible for the statement of those men. On the other hand, the men who made these sworn declarations made them with a knowledge of the consequence of breaking the Oaths Act, and upon them, therefore, rests the responsibility.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Were those sworn declarations made recently ?

Senator PEARCE - No, Chey were made some time ago. The powers, privileges, and immunities of this Parliament in reference to matters of this sort are declared in section 49 of the Constitution to be the powers, privileges, and immunities of the House of Commons, until we declare them. We have not yet declared our powers, privileges, and immunities, and therefore we have to fall back on those of the House of Commons. I find, on re ference to May, that there is full power to take action for the protection of witnesses. For instance, there is a case mentioned on page 174 of May -

On the 7th April, 1S9.2, a member of the House, who was a director of the Cambrian Railway Company, attended the House in his place, and two other directors and the manager of the company, at the Bar, under an order of the House, made in consequence of a special report from the Select Committee on Railway Servants (hours of labour). The Committee reported that, in the course of their inquiry, it came to their knowledge that allegations were made that certain persons had been reduced or dismissed from the service of the company, in consequence of the evidence, they had given before the Committee, and that in the case of one person, John Hood, he was dismissed by the company mainly in consequence of charges arising out of the evidence given by him before the Committee.

The member was heard in his place, and the whole of the directors were reprimanded by Mr. Speaker. Another point is that the House of Commons has declared its powers by Statute. I have here the Witnesses Public Inquiries Protection Act of 1892, which is an Act for the better protection of witnesses giving evidence before Royal Commissions, Select Committees, or other bodies conducting public inquiries. It covers the case under notice. Section 2 provides -

Every person who commits any of the following acts, that is to say, who theatens, or in any way punishes, damnifies, or injures, or attempts to punish, damnify, or injure, any person for having given evidence upon any inquiry, or on account of the evidence which he has given upon any such inquiry, shall, unless such evidence was given in bad faith, be guilty of a misdemeanour, and be liable upon conviction thereof to a maximum penalty of £100, or to a maximum imprisonment of three months.

Some of the facts of this case are to hand, and the whole of them can be obtained. All I ask is that the Government will look into the case that has been presented, and if necessary, give the other side an opportunity to bring forward their facts. That having been done, I trust that the Government will investigate the matter, and determine whether it is one .in which the law ought to be put in motion.

Senator Millen - The law to which the honorable senator has referred is' not in force in Australia.

Senator PEARCE - I [venture to say that it is. We have the powers and privileges of the House of Commons, and when it provides by Statute for the protection of those powers and privileges, I think that the Statute must apply to this Parliament.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - The evidence was given before a Royal Commission appointed, not by the Parliament, but by the Governor- General in Council.

Senator PEARCE - I think that all Commissions are appointed by the GovernorGeneral in Council.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - And so is a Judge of the Supreme Court, but if the evidence had 'been given before the Supreme Court we could take no' action.

Senator PEARCE - This Act applies to Royal Commissions in [England. and it seems to me that it applies to Royal Commissions here.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator will not say that the section of the Constitution to which he has referred makes Imperial Acts operative here ?

Senator PEARCE - I venture to say that, by virtue of that provision in the Constitution, the powers and privileges of the House of Commons, ,so far as they are declared by Statute, are applicable to this Parliament. All I ask is that the Government shall look into the matter, and see that justice is done to both parties.

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