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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) - - I hope that these words will not be added. If some of the particulars referred to in the amendment were kept from the public, the object of the appointment of Royal Commissions might be altogether defeated. Is it the object of a Royal Commission to take evidence for its own benefit, or for the benefit of the Government? It is appointed in the public interests. All the evidence taken by a Royal Commission should be' taken in public. A witness should only be given protection when asked to disclose secret processes of manufacture. There is no other matter in connexion with which any one is entitled to refuse to give evidence. Why should an individual or a company, supposed to be making exorbitant profits at the expense of the public, be allowed to refuse to give evidence to enable the community to discover whether the general suspicion with regard to his or their operation is justified ? If we were to hamper Royal Commissions in the way proposed by the amendment, the object of their appoint.ment would, in many instances, be defeated, and their effectiveness for the protection of the public interests destroyed. I hope the majority of the Committee willrecognise the danger of accepting such art amendment as Senator Millen has proposed. The publication of evidence taken by a Royal Commission may be left to the good sense of the Commission, but to bind them down in the manner proposed by Senator Millen would not be in the interests of the community.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [6.0].- The Vice-President of the Executive Council must admit that, under the amendment, the publication of any evidence taken by a Royal Commission would still be left in the hands of the Governor-General. A Royal Commission would not itself have the right to make public information given concerning the matters referred to, but the evidence taken would be sent on with the report of the Commission to the GovernorGeneral, and he would decide whether, in the interests of the public, it should be published or not. Ample protection would be afforded the public in the responsibility of the Government of the day. If they saw fit to decide that the evidence taken by a Commission should not be published, they would have to justify that decision if any attack was made upon them. If, on the other hand, they felt that, in the interests of the public, the evidence of this kind secured by a Royal Commission should be published, all they would have to do would be to authorize its publication, and it would at once become public property.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator desires to throw the responsibility, upon the Government

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD.- I remind Senator McGregor that the Government assume the responsibility of appointing a Royal Commission in the first instance.

Senator McGregor - Does the honorable senator think that it is fair to spring all these amendments upon the Government without notice, and without a hint of them during the second-reading debate?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - The Vice-President of the Executive Council might very easily have the matter postponed for further consideration. He must be aware of the feeling in both Houses of this Parliament against making any man's private affairs public property, unless in the interests of the public they should be known. I do not think that in the circumstances the honorable senator can regard this amendment as having been sprung upon him. The Government might very fairly have expected some amendment of this character, although I admit that it would have been better if it had been printed, and time had been given for its consideration before it was proposed. Surely the Government will not say that because notice of this amendment was not given, they will refuse to consider it. It is a very reasonable amendment. I can imagine business people objecting very strongly to it, although it is a material modification of the proposed section. If agreed to, it would make the Bill a little less objectionable than it is to many people,, and the Government might consider that, it is just as well to induce people outside to believe that they are getting at least a fail deal in the legislation carried in this Parliament.

Senator VARDON(South Australia} [6.5]. - It should be borne in mind that this Bill will apply to all Commissions that may be appointed in the future, and not merely to a particular Commission already in existence, and inquiring into the affairs of a particular company. This clause provides that a Royal Commission may not only call upon a man to produce books and documents, but may retain them. I mentioned, on the second reading, that, after the word " retain," 'the words " under seal" should be inserted; but, through a misunderstanding, I have been unable to propose the insertion of those words. I have no desire to justify what may be done by any trust or combine, but I point out that a man may be asked to produce his books, and must leave them with the Com mission. This may be very inconvenient to him, as he may require the books in carrying on his business. That, however, is not the only difficulty. The books left with the Commission will be open to inspection at any time, and the owner of them should be given some protection. When his evidence is taken, and extracts are made from his books, there should be a seal put upon the books, which should be broken only when the Chairman of the Commission calls for them again. As I have not the opportunity to propose the amendment NI have referred to, I am inclined to support the amendment submitted by Senator Millen.

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