Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) - - I wish to point out to the Government, who have a cast-iron majority behind them, that in the Parliamentary Witnesses Bill, which is now before the other Chamber, there is a provision which goes very much further than does my amendment in the direction of protecting trade secrets. I would remind honorable senators that it is by no means an uncommon thing for a Select Committee, at the close of a session, to be converted into a Royal Commission. Clause 16 of the Parliamentary Witnesses Bill provides -

If a witness appearing before a Committee so requests, any evidence given by him relating to a professional or trade secret, or to the profits or financial position, of himself or any person, shall be taken by the Committee in private, and shall not be disclosed or published without the consent of the person entitled to the non-disclosure.

That provision applies to a witness giving evidence before a Select Committee. But the moment that body is transformed into a Royal Commission, J:he same witness may be summoned to appear before it and obliged to disclose his trade secrets, if they are not connected with -any manufacture; his professional secrets, because they will not be connected with his process of manufacture; as well as his profits and financial position. He will not have the right - as he had when he appeared before the Select Committeeto demand that he shall be examined on these points in private. The Parliamentary Witnesses Bill provides for the imposition of a penalty of £500, or three months' imprisonment, upon any person who discloses the evidence of a witness who has tendered it on condition that it should be regarded as strictly private. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has already said that he does not want these clauses to harmonize. If he did he would insist that the penalties which may be inflicted upon witnesses, and the information which may lie demanded from them by Select Committees, should be the same as the penalties which may be inflicted upon witnesses, and the information which may be demanded from them by Royal Commissions. There is nothing sacrosanct about a Royal Commission. There is no reason why persons outside of this Parliament should be more capable than a similar number of members of it, or why they should be more careful, because, if the latter make a mistake, they may be called upon in Parliament to explain their action. But an outsider cannot be carpeted in that way - he can only be abused through the press or by honorable senators from their places upon the floor of this Chamber. Yet a Royal Commission is to be given greater powers under this Bill than is a Select Committee, and a witness appearing before it is not to receive as much protection as he receives from a Select Committee. In my amendment, I have omitted all reference to the imposition of a penalty if confidential evidence be divulged by anybody, also all reference to a witness being called upon to disclose his profits, or the financial position of himself or any other person, though provision is made for all these things in the Parliamentary Witnesses Bill, which is a Government measure. I merely ask what is a fair thing, namely, that we should protect a witness from being compelled to disclose his manufacturing records, and his chemical or scientific formula. If he is obliged to reveal his chemical and scientific formulae, his trade rivals may see them, copy his methods, and possibly ruin him.

Suggest corrections