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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - It is very comforting to have the assurance of the Vice-President of the Executive Council that there is nothing confusing about the order of the procedure which is submitted for our consideration ; but I invite attention to the fact that it is extremely difficult for anybody to understand the position if he is called upon to take up a Bill to amend an existing Act, and then has thrown on top of it a proposed amendment which is entirely different from that which is contained in the Bill itself. In such circumstances, one is obliged to take the principal Act and to introduce into it the latest amendment for which the Government is responsible. If the clause be amended in accordance with the desire of the Government, it will read as follows : -

If any person appearing as a witness before the Commission refuses to be sworn or to make an affirmation, or to answer any question relevant to the inquiry put to him by any of the Commissioners, he shall be guilty of an, offence.

Penalty : Five hundred pounds.

So that the Government now propose to lay it down that the questions which a witness shall be compelled to answer shall be questions relevant to the inquiry, rather than questions touching the subject-matter of the inquiry. I must admit at once that I prefer the words proposed by the Government. It appears to me that they are introduced in consequence of the criticism bestowed upon this provision in another place. It is a curious fact that the amendment now submitted was proposed in another branch of the Legislature by Representative Sinclair. Senator McGregor admits that the Government sometimes does the correct thing. The correct thing has been done in this case; and I have yet to learn that it is not within my competency to proclaim the fact publicly when I find the right thing being done by this Ministry.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [2.51]. - I quite appreciate what my honorable friend says as to the practice that has been adopted with regard to reprinting Bills. But the method adopted by the drafting authorities is a very, bad one. Some of our legislation, even in these early days of the Commonwealth Parliament, is unintelligible except at the expense of very great difficulty. It is a very hard thing to find out exactly what the statute law is on' some of the matters which have been subjected to amendment. Those who have before them the original Act will see how very much more simple and clear it would be, and how much subsequent reprinting it would save, if the original section were simply reintroduced with the amending words in it. In point of fact, instead of our amending the original Act, we are, by adopting this method, simply giving direction for an amendment. A person reading, this new Bill - at any rate until the reprint is issued - has to dove-tail the new matter into the old, and it becomes a sort of Chinese puzzle to find out what the Legistire ] intended. May I also say that I donot see the necessity for amending section 5 of the original Act at all, because "touching the subject-matter of the inquiry " isthe same thing as " relevant to the inquiry.""

Senator Millen - Does not the new set of words bring the Bill more into conformity with the amendment adopted elsewhere ?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I simply point out that this is an excess of conciliation - that the words " relevant tothe inquiry " are put in by way of amendment when we already have the clear words "touching the subject-matter of the inquiry." But would it not be desirable to put on the face of this Bill the original section of the 1902 Act containing the words " touching the subject-matter of the inquiry " ?

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