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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I cannot assent to much of the reasoning of Senator Keating. I hold that very severe penalties are not in accord with the tendency of modern legislation. If a witness obstinately and persistently refuses to answer a question which is pertinent to the issue which a Royal Commission is inquiring into, there is not a single member of the Committee who would not agree that he ought to be punished. If the matter inquired into by a Royal Commission affects wealthy trading corporations, they may not care whether the penalty provided under this Bill is £1,000, £10,000, or .£50,000. When the Standard Oil Combination was before a State Supreme Court of the United States of America, a fairly heavy penalty was inflicted upon it, but does any honorable senator believe that the Standard Oil Company cared one straw about the penalty? Does any one here believe that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company would care one straw whether the penalty provided was £25 or .£506? That is another reason why honorable senators should not rely upon the efficacy of severity of punishment.

Senator Clemons - They will make the fine ,£5,000 if you argue in this way much longer.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am not responsible for any misuse which the Chamber may make of my argument. In the case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the position seems to have been that one of the witnesses thought that he had a bond fide reason why he should not answer a question in the circumstances in which it was put to him, and that he, on behalf of a powerful corporation, was not thinking sp much of defying the Commission as of testing the question as to whether he was fairly dealt with. I think that this consideration largely influenced the company. At first, they thought they were right, and took the risk of a fine being imposed. But now that a magistrate has inflicted a fine, and it is clear that their representative had broken the law, the company will obey the law.

Senator Chataway - They have said so.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is not the severity of the punishment which will affect a big corporation or strong men, be they rich or poor. I protest against the dangerous tendency of increasing the severity of the punishment unless the strongest reasons are given, because, just as Parliament is influenced by public opinion, so commercial and industrial concerns are subject to the same pressure. If public opinion is fairly against a company or corporation, that is a more powerful influence than is any penalty or imprisonment. I support my leader's amendment, because i* is consistent with that principle.

Amendment negatived.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 1 -

After section six of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted : - " 6a. Every witness who has been summoned' to attend a Royal Commission shall appear and' report himself from day to day until he is released from further attendance by the President or Chairman of the Commission."

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