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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I thought the amendment so reasonable that the Government would at once accept it. I have known witnesses to be put to a great deal of trouble to attend ordinary Courts. I remember one case of cattlestealing "which was tried at Roma, and most of the evidence in that case had to te obtained from witnesses who had to be brought from South Australia. Without this amendment, witnesses may be very hardly treated. We have been told by the Vice-President of the Executive Council that what Senator Keating desires can be provided for by regulation, but Senator Keating, on the other hand, tells us that the Bill does not empower the Government" to do what he desires by regulation. Surely it is not too much to ask that the Bill should provide for the tendering to a witness of his reasonable travelling expenses before he can be arrested under a warrant for non-attendance. If we make that provision in the Bill, as Senator Keating proposes, the Government will be able by regulation to say what, in different circumstances, will be regarded' as reasonable excuses. In the ordinary practice of our Courts, it is sufficient to tender a shilling as expenses to a man whose evidence is desired, and who is within the precincts of the Court. The Government might, by regulation, deal with such matters. They might provide that, within a certain radius of the place at which a Commission sits, the tender of a shilling as expenses shall be sufficient, and that if a witness has attended from a distance of 50 miles, or 500 miles, he shall be paid so much for travelling expenses. I believe that a witness who refuses to give evidence before a Royal Commission should be punished, and punished severely. I have no wish in this matter to protect any corporation that may be doing an injustice to the public. But I do think that any witness whose evidence is desired by a Royal Commission should be tendered his reasonable travelling expenses before he can be arrested for nonattendance. I have often said that I do not believe in government by regulation. There has been a tendency of late years to give too much power to the Government of the day to make laws by regulation. There has already been a considerable outcry against this tendency. It is the duty of Parliament to make the laws, and the duty of the Government to administer them. Nowadays, the practice is for Parliament to pass -a skeleton Act, and leave everything else to the Government to be decided by regulation. The intention of Parliament may be defeated by this practice. A strong Government may become arbitrary if wide powers of administration by regulation are allowed them. I do not blame the present Government any more than any of their predecessors for this tendency to make laws by regulation, but I am entirely against it. It seems to me that the Government are assuming a very great responsibility in this matter, and if we allow this proposed new section to go without such an amendment as has been proposed by Senator Keating, the result may be great hardship to many persons summoned as witnesses before Royal Commissions.

Senator Guthrie - In ordinary business, we do not pay a man before he does his work.

Senator SAYERS - In the ordinary Courts, of law, no witness can be arrested under a warrant unless his travelling expenses have been tendered to him. I am sure that if honorable senators 'opposite were on this side, they would readily support the amendment. I have not the very great respect for Royal Commissions which honorable senators opposite appear to have developed lately, though I can remember the time when they were as ready to condemn them as I have been. If a R0y .1l Commission requires the evidence of a certain person, it is not unreasonable to provide that he should first be tendered his travelling expenses. Senator Guthrie desires that the matter should be left to regulation, but I am quite sure that he will not in every case approve of government by regulation. I again express my surprise at the refusal of the Government to accept the amendment.

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