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Friday, 9 August 1912

Debate resumed from 1st August(vide page 1545), on motion by Senator McGregor -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [10.37.].- I noticed that in his opening speech, the VicePresident of the Executive Council alluded very strongly to a particular inquiry which is being proceeded with under the Royal Commissions Act, and. that to a very great extent he built up his case in favour of this Bill on the history of that Commission. It is just as well, I think, to consider, first, whether, on a broad and general principle, there is any necessity to amend the law. I am one of those who do not underrate the great value of the power to appoint a Royal Commission to get information, because it is only fair and reasonable that both Ministers and members of the Senate should be acquainted with all the circumstances concerning a matter with which they are called upon to deal. At the same time we should be very careful not to unduly or unfairly intrude upon private concerns and matters which really do not affect policy and the administration of Acts. We ate aware that the power of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into any public matter is one of the prerogatives of the Crown. In the Old Country this prerogative is never exercised by the Crown except upon the recommendation of responsible advisers, the theory being that the King speaks through his responsible Ministers and acts upon their advice. It is impossible to conceive of it being exercised otherwise. With regard to a recent, inquiry in the Commonwealth, I believe that exception was taken to the validity of the Royal Commission. The matter has been inquired into, and the Court has held that the Commission is valid and effective, and until steps are taken by the people who questioned its validity to have the point tested in the High Court, that must be accepted as an authoritative decision, and not as a warrant to induce us to legislate on this subject. I as a member of the Senate am prepared, not only to recognise the great value of Royal Commissions and the information which they may obtain, but also to assist, so far as I possibly- can, in seeing that such inquiries are made full and complete. At the same time I am not prepared to give a vote which would authorize the appointment of a Commission to deal with any subject unless it is a matter of public importance. At first I felt very much inclined to raise the question as to whether, under the Constitution, the Governor-General had the right to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into any matters other than those which are comprised within our legislative powers. And even now I feel very grave misgivings as to how far it is right or proper for the Parliament to attempt to go beyond those powers. I recognise, however, that some honorable senators might desire to make certain changes in the Constitution - it Ls a bare possibility that even the present Government might desire to obtain more power for the Parliament than it has - and that, therefore, they might wish to obtain evidence and information in order to be fully primed with the reasons and the necessities for obtaining an amendment of the Constitution. I realize that it would probably be within the competency of this Parliament to request that a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire into matters of that character so long as they are of sufficient importance, and, as I said, so long as they do not trench upon the liberty of the subject except where public interests were involved. One of the strongest sources of safety for the people of the community is to let them understand that while they are engaged in lawful avocations and carry them on within the letter of the law they will be allowed to pursue their own way uninterruptedly and without interference on the part of the Crown or any individual. I am afraid that in the proposed amendments of the Royal Commissions Act that principle has not been recognised to the extent to which it should have been. The moment we get away from that broad principle we enter upon very delicate ground. I take, it, and I think it is clear, that liberty consists in the right of a man to do whatever he may think fit so long as he does not improperly interfere with others in the pursuit of their avocations. I, of course, recognise that when two or three men are employed in one kind of business it is legitimate for each to do the best he can to attract the whole of the trade to his store or warehouse, so long as he does not act unfairly, or unjustly, or go outside the limits of the law.

Senator McGregor - It does not matter how much they fleece the public so long as they do it legally.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The honorable . senator is making a very unfair and improper interjection. We have the opportunity if we see fit, and. we have exercised it, to deal with any unfair trade manipulation by which the public may be fleeced by trusts or combines. But we must bear in mind that one of the greatest privileges of the British people is the opportunity to exercise their rights to the fullest extent within the limits of reason and fair play. It would be extraordinary at this stage of the history of the world to say that a man should not be permitted to use his best efforts to promote his own prosperity and the interests of those who belong to him. I could understand objections to these views from honorable senators who profess to be anxious to see a state of affairs in which the Government will conduct every industry in the country, and the people occupy positions merely as managers and workers. But that is not the stale of affairs with which we are called upon to deal to-day. We have no right to place undue powers of punishment in the hands of any persons who may be members of a Royal Commission. Some persons have said that we should give Royal Commissions the same powers as we give to Judges of the High Court. I entirely dissent from such a proposition. A Justice of the High Court devotes the whole of his time to his work, and before he takes his seat on the High Court Bench must pledge himself by oath to do justice to all men and to show no partiality or bias.

Senator Fraser - And he is a trained man.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - And he is a trained man. His work on the Bench is his life's work, and it is his sworn duty to deal with all matters that come before him impartially. He takes no notice of generally expressed opinion, but begins the hearing of a case without any preconceived ideas concerning it, and assumes that both parties are equally actuated by a desire for justice. The case is very different with a Royal Commission. We have to consider first of all what brings about its appointment. We know that the Sugar Commission was brought into existence as the result of an agitation by a great many people who, without knowing anything of the sugar industry, believed that certain abuses were being committed which could only be discovered by an inquiry by a Royal Commission. How was the Commission appointed ? I do not say that the members of it were given* private instructions. They were instructed under the letters patent of their appointment to inquire generally into the sugar industry, and bring up a report. I put on one side for the moment the gentleman who was placed at the head of the Commission, as I may have something to say about him later on] but we know that the other members of the Commission hold certain opinions which, in the minds cf many of the public, make this a partisan Commission. I think that, with one exception, they are men of one mind, and naturally the trend of their investigations will be to substantiate their preconceived ideas, and to justify a report that an improper use has been made of powers secured by industry and the expenditure of considerable money in a particular business.

Senator Barker - Is the honorable senator impugning the honesty of the members of the Sugar Commission?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If Senator Barker were a member of a Royal Commission he would have a certain bias and a tendency to conduct :his investigations in a certain direction.

Senator Barker - Why assume that? Cannot a person discharge his duty without bias?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - Has the honorable senator finished? He will have an opportunity to speak.

Senator Barker - I should like an answer to my question.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- I am alluding to the fact that some gentlemen appointed to the Sugar Commission have a certain bias.

Senator Barker - The honorable senator is impugning their honesty, and their willingness to do justice in a matter of public interest.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Sir ALBERTGOULD. - Senator Barker should not become excited. That will not help him, nor will it make me refrain from saying a single word I intended to say. If the honorable senator were appointed a member of a Royal Commission to inquire into a matter upon' which he held very strong views, it might be said, without imputing any dishonest intention whatever to him, that he would feel that it was his business in conducting the inquiry to prove the truth of the opinions which he so strongly held. That is one pf the dangers which arise in connexion with the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the case of an individual. The member of Parliament asking for such a Committee generally secures the appointment to it of other members who sympathize with the view he takes of the matter.

Senator Lt Colonel Cameron - The honorable senator would not give a Royal Commission the full powers proposed in this Bill.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I would not. Any one who takes the trouble to read the evidence taken by the Sugar Commission will admit that the tendency of the examination of witnesses was in one direction. It was in the direction of a particular finding by the Commission. When an inquiry is conducted by men holding certain views, we may expect to find those views represented in their inquiry. That is only human nature, and the members of the Sugar Commission are human, just as are the members of any other Commission. Usually, the members of a Royal Commission are not in the position of a Judge, whose training has enabled him to take a judicial and impartial view of all matters which are brought before him. I may be told that the President of the Sugar Commission is the Judge of a Supreme Court. I said that I would probably have something more to say about him ; and it will be admitted that many of the remarks which he has made show that he should not be in a position to exercise the autocratic powers proposed to be given under this Bill to the President or Chairman of a Royal Commission who is a Judge of a Supreme Court.

Senator Gardiner - I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator in order in criticising the President of the Sugar Commission in the way he is doing, and in commenting upon his bias, on the motion for the second reading of this Bill ?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - On the point of order, I should like to say that Senator McGregor, in introducing the Bill, alluded to the existence of the Sugar Commission, and to the difficulty of obtaining evidence. He said that the witnesses had actually refused to attend and give evidence ; and that those who did attend desired to give evidence in a way that was not satisfactory to the Commission. The honorable senator having referred in this way to the Sugar Commission, I think that I have a right to refer to it also.

Senator Barker - The honorable senator is attributing bias to a Judge.

SenatorLt. -Colonel Sir Albert Gould. - As President of the Sugar Commission, the gentleman to whom I have referred is not a Judge. The Bill makes provision for giving very strong powers to a President or Chairman of a Commission who is a Judge of a Supreme Court and I wish to show by a reference to statements made by the President of the Sugar Commission how dangerous it would be to place such autocratic powers even in the hands of a Judge as Chairman of a Commission.

Senator Barker - I ask whether it is right on the motion for the second reading of this Bill, for an honorable senator to attack the character of a Judge who is President of a Royal Commission, and to impute dishonesty of motives to him ?

Senator Fraser - No dishonesty of motives was imputed. Surely we are to he allowed a certain amount of latitude and freedom of speech in the Senate?

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