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Friday, 9 August 1912

The PRESIDENT - I am of opinion that Senator Gould was strictly in order. He was commenting upon the powers to be given to a Royal Commission in the event of a Judge being Chairman of the Commission. When a Judge steps off the bench, and takes his place as Chairman of a Commission, he should be no more free from criticism than any other citizen who may be appointed to preside over an inquiry by a Commission.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - I find that one of the new powers proposed to be conferred by this Bill is set out in this way -

If the President or Chairman of a Royal Commission or the sole Commissioner is a Justice of the High Court, or a Judge of the Supreme Courtor County Court or District Court of a State,he shall, in relation to any offence against sub-section (i.) of this section committed in the face of the Commission, have all the powers of a Justice of the High Court sitting in open Court in relation to a contempt committed in face of the Court, except that any punishment inflicted shall not exceed the punishment provided by sub section (i.) of this section.

Sub-clause i provides that -

Any person who wilfully insults or disturbs a Royal Commission, or interrupts the proceedings of a Royal Commission, or uses any insulting language towards a Royal Commission, or by writing or speech uses words false and defamatory of a Royal Commission, or is in any manner guilty of any wilful contempt of a Royal Commission, shall be guilty of an offence.

Penalty : One hundred pounds or imprisonment for three months.

I say that when it is proposed to place such powers in the hands of the President of a Royal Commission, even though he be a Judge of a Supreme Court, it is well for us to examine the history and conduct of the particular Commission now under consideration, and the conduct of the President of that Commission.

Senator Gardiner - While the case is still pending?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - While the case is still pending this Bill has been brought forward to clothe that Commission with the most plenary powers. In the absence of a measure of this description the position would be very different. Had the Commission completed its inquiry, and had it submitted its report to Parliament, it would then have been competent for honorable senators not merely to criticise its finding, hut to debate the way in which that finding had been arrived at, and incidentally to discuss the conduct of the Commissioners. The Chairman of that body, I admit, was subjected to a certain amount of annoyance, and no doubt he felt very indignant at the action of one witness, who. instead of answering the questions that were put to him, insisted upon reading a statement which he had prepared, and declined to accept the Chairman's dictum that he should first give evidence. Next day the -Chairman of the Commission accused that witness of having told " a deliberate lie," but when certain matters were subsequently placed before him he retracted the statement, and said that had he been aware of the circumstances he would not have made it..

Senator Gardiner - It was a lie all the same, but the Chairman said that the witness did not know it was a lie.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Any Judge of the Supreme Court who would designate a witness a liar is unworthy of his position. Our Judges are supposed to hold the scales of justice so evenly, and to have Such judicial minds, as to forbid the idea that they would jump to hasty conclusions-

Senator Mcdougall - It was a lie all the same.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The witness whose honour was impugned occupies too high a- position in the esteem of the people of this country, both rich and poor, to be prejudicially affected by the statement that he was a deliberate liar.' Like everybody else, he may make a mistake. But even if the Chairman of the Commission had ground for the conviction which he entertained, his remarks evidenced an unfitness for the position which he occupies.

Senator Findley - I would not put anything beyond the Sugar Combine.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Suppose that the remark was an indiscreet one, is the Chairman of this Commission the only Judge who has been guilty of an indiscretion ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We know that there have been Judges in whom the public had no confidence. That time, however, is happily past. Here is another illustration of the way in which the inquiry of the Sugar Commission has been conducted. A witness, Mr. E. Barclay, of Innisfail, was being examined as to the cost of maintaining a wife and four children, when the Chairman, coming to the item of " Newspaper," said, "What about his newspaper ? " The reply of the witness was, " My man cannot read," to which the Chairman retorted -

When I ask you for an answer I do not expect impertinence. I will not permit rudeness. If you cannot answer the question, don't. I will leave literature at nothing.

Is that the attitude which the head of this Commission should adopt towards a witness? Another witness, Mr. Drysdale, a mill-owner at Ayr,- said -

With regard to the price of cane, I hope you will look round the district and see what state it is in.

The Chairman replied -

Will you kindly answer the question? We will come to other matters later. The Commission are quite capable of knowing their own business and carrying it out.

Senator McGregor - Quite right.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - This witness merely said, in effect, " If your Honour will look round you will see that what I have told you is correct." Yet that innocent remark called forth the reply which I have quoted. In another instance, in connexion with the application of a Customs regulation to field hands, the Chairman asked a witness -

Do you mean to tell the Court the meaning of that regulation is that the men are to be paid only w.hen working in the wet?

The answer of the witness was -

I mean to say that regulation means a man is to be paid for wet weather if he works.

The Chairman then inquired -

Only if he works?

To which the witness replied " yes." The Chairman then added -

My opinion is either you are a lunatic or a perjurer.

Thereupon the witness said -

I am not here to be called names.

The Chairman replied -

Absurd !

Witness added -

I do not like being insulted.

To which the Chairman retorted -

You are insulting the common sense of the Commission.

Is that the sort of conduct that we expect from the Chairman of this Commission?

Senator Lt Colonel Cameron - It is the most disgraceful conduct that I ever heard of.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Yet we are asked under this Bill to arm a gentleman possessed of such a hot temper with these plenary powers. I presume that the language of the witness whom I have quoted would be regarded by him as insulting to the Commission. The dignity of that body would be hurt because the witness made a simple reply to the Chairman's question. Are we going to say that in such circumstances the Commission should have power to send that man to gaol for a period of three months? Are we to vest autocratic powers in such a man ? If we do so we shall not be dealing fairly with the people' of this country. Members have to go to the electors now and again for a renewal of their confidence ; and the latter will want to know that they are getting a square deal.

Senator Findley - The people of the Commonwealth are clamouring for justice.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD.- -Clamouring for a reasonable administration. They have no desire to go back to the days of Judge Jeffries.

Senator Findley - The community are not safe while such combines as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are in existence.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - In the Bill as originally introduced it was proposed to give Commissions the power to deal with contempt committed outside their hearing. But let me remind my honorable friends that the Judges are not immune from criticism - that under certain circumstances it is competent for the public to criticise their actions. To-day T am happy to say we believe that men possess certain inherent lights of which no autocratic power should rob them. Honorable senators opposite talk of reactionaries. But who are the reactionaries? They are to be found on the opposite side of the Chamber, among the supporters of this Bill. A reactionary is a man who desires to go back to the old days when little or no freedom was permitted to the individual. When I spoke of the penalties imposed under this Bill, one honorable senator replied. " If a man does not do wrong he will not he liable to those penalties." Need I point out that less than a century ago a man who stole a sheep, or even 5s., was liable to he hanged ?

Senator Barker - -If he stole a shilling he was liable to that penalty.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- A century ago the reply which I have quoted might have been given with equal justification in the case of a man who stole a shilling. Rut the tendency since then has been towards mitigating the punishment for offences, whilst making that punishment more certain. In the old days the little liberty which was enjoyed was enjoyed only by a section of the community.. When we impose excessive penalties for offences we exhibit vindictiveness, but we do not render punishment more certain.

Senator Guthrie - We have to make it effective.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We cannot do that by inflicting enormous penalties. Quite recently in the prosecution of a witness before the Sugar Commission in Sydney, the magistrate inflicted a fine of £25.

Senator O'Keefe - I - It would pay the Sugar Trust to pay a fine of ^500 rather than give evidence before the Royal Commission which is inquiring into that industry.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- I know of no Sugar Trust that is in existence in this country. But if there be one, and if its operations are to the injury of the people, it is the duty of the Government to take action. I hold no brief for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company ; but I recognise that, like other companies, it started operations in a small way, and that, as the result of careful management, it has built up a big industry. All honour to such a company which can do that, so long as it does not do it at the expense of the community.

Senator Lt Colonel Cameron - Why should it be brow-beaten without a trial ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I have heard a good deal at various times about the Tobacco Trust, but I believe that my honorable friends opposite are quite willing to leave that trust untouched. They had an inquiry into the tobacco industry some time ago, but what have they done since? Is there any body which can deal with that matter other than this Parliament?

Senator O'Keefe - W - Will the honorable senator vote in favour of nationalizing it?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - No. I will not give a vote to nationalize any great industry, because I have less confidence in Government administration in such matters than I have in private enterprise. I do not want to be led off on to a by-track by answering questions about nationalization. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company has not attained" its present position without having had to struggle in the early days of its existence. Have not nearly all those who have made money had their early struggles, and why should they be' pulled down when they have become successful ? If honorable senators advocate the nationalization of this industry, I reply that we have only to look at the unsatisfactory results of nationalization in other parts of the world, and at the unsatisfactory manner in which Government enterprises are carried on in many ways.

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