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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - Upon this clause I propose to test the opinion of the Committee as to whether or not the penalties imposed by this Bill are excessive. I ought to have- submitted an amendment on clause 4, but in the hurry at the commencement of our proceedings I overlooked the fact that that was the proper place in which to move one. Therefore, I do so now. I invite the Committee to consider this question. Without in any way desiring to limit the power of a Commission to compel witnesses to give evidence necessary for the purpose of their inquiry, it will be admitted that there may be an honest doubt as to whether a question asked of a witness is .relevant to the inquiry being made or not. It is not every layman who is competent to determine whether he is under a legal obligation to answer a question put to him. In the circumstances, ^500 is an excessive penalty to impose upon any person, who, without any desire to restrict an inquiry by a Royal Commission, and believing that he is merely asserting his own rights as an individual, tells the Chairman of a Commission that he declines to answer a particular question put to him because he does not believe it to be relevant to the inquiry. I move -

That the word " Five," line 6, be left out with the view to insert in lieu thereof the word " Three."

A fine of ,£300 is certainly a sufficient maximum penalty for the offences, if they can be so regarded, which are now under review. It must be remembered that there is later in the Bill a provision that, in the event of a witness repeating an offence, he may be subjected to a penalty of from £500 to £1,000. I am dealing here with the case of a witness guilty of a first offence, and not with a man who purposely wishes to obstruct the work of a Royal Commission. A man who desires to do that will not stop at a first offence. I am dealing with the ordinary man, who, in good faith, says to the Chairman of a Commission, " I think the question you are asking is outside the compass of your inquiry, and, therefore, in my own interests, I feel justified in declining to answer it." A maximum penalty of ^300 would be ample for such an offence.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Would not the usual practice be followed of holding such a question over for further consideration ?

Senator MILLEN - That would only be postponing the imposition of the penalty.

Senator Givens - It does not follow that the penalty of £500 would be imposed.

Senator MILLEN - The object of putting in these maximum penalties is to give the Court some indication of what is in the mind of Parliament as to the penalty which should be imposed for the offence dealt with. I am pleading now only for what honorable senators opposite have urged time and again, and that is for a penalty which will be reasonable rather than savage. It cannot be shown that the efficiency of this Bill will be impaired in any way if we revise these penalties, and make them conform to the idea of what is reasonable, which, I am sure, is in the mind of every member of the Committee.

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