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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) , - In addressing myself to the second read ing of this Bill, I drew the attention of the Vice-President of the Executive Council to the omission from this proposed new section of the provision which it is now sought to introduce. I also expressed the hope that in Committee he would be prepared to supply that omission. I had intended to move that after the word " summons," the following words should be inserted, " and the tender to such person of the* prescribed expenses." There is no necessity for me to point out that it is quite possible, no matter how far Royal Commissions may roam throughout the Commonwealth, that witnesses will be summoned to attend their sittings who will have to do some travelling. Following the procedure which has been adopted by Courts of law, these witnesses should be entitled, on service of the summons, to that portion of their expenses which represents the actual cost of travelling to and from their place of residence. The balance of their expenses might be received subsequently. But in ordinary Courts of law a witness is entitled, on the service of the summons, to what is known as "conduct" money. If he does not get that, the Court will not attach him for contempt or impose any penalty upon him for non-attendance. In the case of Royal Commissions, it is quite reasonable to assume that witnesses will have to travel as great, if not greater, distances than they have to travel to attend various Courts - Supreme and local.

Senator Guthrie - Why was not this objection raised when the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was under consideration?

Senator KEATING - I am not responsible for not having raised it. The fact that it was not then raised does not disqualify anybody from raising it' now. If we supply the omission here, and there is a corresponding omission in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, that is a reason why we should also supply the omission there. If reference be made to proposed new section 6g, it will be seen that it reads -

Any person appearing before a Royal Commission shall be paid a reasonable sum for the expenses of his attendance in accordance with the prescribed scale.

That provision, I contend, will not enable the Government to carry out the expressed intentions of the Attorney-General. I submit that view with all respect, but with the greatest confidence. In the first place, a witness will not be entitled to expenses until he has appeared before the Commission. That proposed section does not provide that a witness shall be en- titled to expenses upon being summoned. It is the appearance before the Commission which qualifies him to claim expenses. But in connexion with our Courts of law, it is the mere fact of his being summoned that entitles him to his expenses. A witness may be summoned to attend a Royal Commission, but may not appear before it. There may be some reason for dispensing with his evidence. In such circumstances, he will not be entitled to his expenses under this provision. The qualification for expenses ought to be the service of a summons upon a witness, and not his actual appearance before a Commission. Then, again, all that may be prescribed under the Bill is the scale of expenses. It will not be competent for the Governor-General in Council to prescribe that payment shall be made to a witness prior to his appearance before a Commission. The Bill does not provide for that. It will only be competent for him to prescribe the scale itself - the schedule of expenses.

Senator Henderson - Might not a prescribed scale provide for travelling expenses ?

Senator KEATING - It may prescribe the measure of expenses, but it will not prescribe the time of payment. This is the proper place to provide for the time of payment, which, I contend, should be when a witness receives a summons. I think that the Vice-President of the Executive Council will be well-advised if he accepts the amendment which I suggest.

Senator Pearce - There is no such limitation in proposed new section 6g as the honorable senator suggests. There is nothing to prevent the Attorney-General, by regulation, paying expenses to a witness before he has appeared before a Commission.

Senator KEATING - Tsay that the provision only empowers the GovernorGeneral in Council to prescribe the amounts to be paid to witnesses.

Senator Pearce - There would be nothing inconsistent in the Governor-General in Council proclaiming a regulation such as I have indicated.

Senator KEATING - There would be. The witness must first appear before the Commission.

Senator Pearce - That is a very narrow reading to place upon the provision.

Senator KEATING - It is not. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has already pointed out that if a witness were not tendered his expenses at the time he was summoned to appear before a Commission, that would be a reason for not punishing him for non-attendance. But here it is provided that, if a witness is summoned, and does not appear the moment the service of that summons is proved, he may be apprehended. I hold that, in addition to proving that the summons was served upon him, the Chairman of the Commission should be satisfied that the witness was tendered a reasonable sum as conduct money for his attendance. In prescribing the expenses, it will be competent for the Governor-General in Council to provide - as is often done in relation to expenses affecting witnessing in statutorily created Courts - that so much for travelling expenses, so much for actual attendance per day, and so forth, shall be paid.

Senator Pearce - Has not the honorable senator overlooked section 8 of the Act?

Senator KEATING - That section only provides for a scale. It does not provide regulations for the payment. Over and above that, we have in proposed new- section 6g the provision that any witness appearing before a Royal Commission is to be paid a reasonable sum for attendance. The amendment would tend to bring section 8 of the Act and proposed section 6g into harmony. Why should a man be apprehended under a warrant unless it is proved, not only that he was served with a summons, but that the authorities did their duty in providing him with the means which the law says shall, sooner or later, be given to him? Why should he be' placed in a worse position than a witness appearing before a Court? If the Government are going to resort to the extreme course of apprehending a witness merely because he does not attend, is it too much to ask that they shall also take care to furnish him with the means to enable him to attend? The Government admit that the witness will have to be paid sooner or later. Surely it is a very small matter to ask that payment shall be a condition precedent to arrest? What I propose will not impair the effectiveness of the Bill, but will make it certain in its effect by insuring, absolutely the very thing the Vice-President of the Executive Council says that it is the- desire of the Government to carry out. It will leave no doubt as to the scope of the regulations that may be made under proposed section 6c, or under clause 8 of the Act. I, therefore, move -

That after the word " summons " the following words be inserted : - " and the tender to such person of the prescribed expenses."

Senator McGREGOR(South AustraliaVicePresident of the Executive Council) f_4- 45]- - I have already given an assurance that the regulations will provide everything that has been demanded in regard to the payment of the expenses of witnesses. This matter must be looked at from various points of view. Senator Keating is always endeavouring to make everything as explicit as possible, and he imagines that when his ideas are carried into effect, that is an end of all things. But let us look at the position of a witness who may be summoned to appear before a Royal Commission. Say that the witness lives at the end of Collinsstreet, Melbourne, and is summoned to attend at Parliament House in this city. If Senator Keating's amendment were inserted in the Bill, even that witness would be justified in not appearing if he were not tendered a 2d. tram fare. Witnesses may be called from all quarters, and it is only by elastic regulations that all contingencies can be provided for. If you lay down a general principle in the Bill, applicable to every witness, you do not know how it will operate in certain cases; but if you leave the matter to regulations, the different circumstances of various witnesses can be satisfactorily provided for.

Senator Chataway - The Government could give preference to unionists in that way.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator is very much frightened about preference to unionists. If a non-unionist in Port Mackay were summoned to attend in Brisbane, Sydney, or Melbourne, and his expenses were not tendered.- he would have a good defence for not appearing. I have admitted that already. We need not be alarmed as to what will happen, either to unionists or to non-unionists. But, in some cases, if we summoned a witness and tendered him his expenses, he might take the money, come to Melbourne, and then skip away in a boat. There would be no surveillance over him, and the very object for which he was summoned would be defeated. It may happen that, in some circumstances, it may be necessary to bring a witness from St. Helena, in Moreton Bay - a person whom it might not be wise to have at large. When we consider all these cases, it must be apparent that it is not desirable to have a hard-and-fast provision in an Act of Parliament which might defeat the very object of the measure. Every justice will be done by regulations. I am satisfied that the Attorney-General, and his legal advisers, are quite as likely to know what provisions should be inserted in respect of witnesses' expenses as any one of us.

Senator Guthrie - If the regulations are not satisfactory they can be disapproved of by the Senate.

Senator McGREGOR - Of course they can be. I would take the legal opinion of Mr. Garran on a matter of this kind as readily as I would take the opinion of Senator Keating or Senator St. Ledger. I do not suppose that the Attorney-General's advisers have any sinister motive, and we have a right to rely on their legal knowledge as to what it is advisable to do in this respect.

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