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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 2241

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) -This clause causes me great concern. I have not had the opportunity to examine the corresponding clause in the old Tariff Board Act. However it would not provide the only precedent because in this chamber in the last 20 years we have adopted a precedent clause which requires any person holding public office in a statutory board or commission of this sort who has a financial interest inconsistent with his duties to disclose it to a meeting of the board or commission. This clause simply says:

(   1 ) The Chairman shall give written notice to the Minister of all direct or indirect pecuniary interests that he has or acquires in any business carried on in Australia or in any body corporate carrying on any such business.

I express the opinion that the Chairman of the Commission is an office of such absolute independence that he should be absolutely precluded from holding any interest in any business whatever in Australia.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - At the point of his commencement?

Senator WRIGHT -Of course. He should not be qualified to be appointed until he surrenders all interests in any business. Any business may come in competition with another business. The chairman has the duty of chairing the board which awards financial assistance and tariff protection for what may be a competing interest. Paragraph (2) of clause 20 states:

Where a Commissioner (other than the Chairman) or an Associate Commissioner has or acquires any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any business carried on in Australia, or in any body corporate carrying on any such business, being an interest that could be in conflict with his duties as a Commissioner or Associate Commissioner, he shall, to the best of his knowledge, disclose that interest to the Chairman.

That is not sufficient at all. He should disclose his interest to the board and it should be recorded in the minutes. For a temporary associate commissioner to hold office where it may be that he has an interest which is in conflict with his duties, and yet be entitled to carry out his duties just by his disclosure to the chairman, is wholly insufficient. A formula has been forged in many corporate cases by the Parliament. It was first argued, since I have been here, in the case of the Aluminium Commission in northern Tasmania. Real difficulty occurred there because of interests by commissioners in competing business. This clause has been penned without regard to those precedents. I hope the Minister will accede to my request to postpone this clause so that those precedents can be brought to the consideration of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control and proper protection can be provided. If there is any commission in this country, next to the Auditor-General, which should be assured of complete independence of pecuniary commercial interest it is this Industries Assistance Commission. It just frightens me to think that a temporary ad hoc associate commissioner who may be brought in to consider a particular reference, by disclosing to the chairman his interest in that industry or in a competing industry, can thereafter go ahead as if he were independent. That is not a system which I think the Government ought to consider it safe on which to base these recommendations. I hope that the Minister will postpone the clause.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSON (New South Wales) (9.34)- Perhap it is ironic that Senator Wright and I who sit together do not necessarily have the same view on this clause. I do not accept the ultimate in this clause as Senator Wright has put it. I believe that the whole history of government in Australia- not necessarily in this field but generally, at any rate- has been that from time to time the Government has called on the advice and the expertise in an associate way, if we like to put it that way, of people who are masters of their profession, who are the leaders of industry and who have something invaluable to contribute to Australia in their own right. When Senator Wright was speaking to sub-clause (1) of clause 20 I interjected. This provision states:

The Chairman shall give written notice to the Minister of all direct and indirect pecuniary interests that he has or acquires in any business carried on in Australia or in any body corporate carrying on any such business.

If we are to exclude people who have those qualifications in their lifetime- that is the very essence which probablly makes them so successful and that is why they are wanted as chairmenthen I suggest we will not get the quality of person whom we necessarily want. I ask honourable senators to bear in mind that a chairman is called upon to give written notice to the Minister of any pecuniary interest. It could be a completely indirect interest. It could be an interest from a deceased estate. It could be something which his great grandfather had before him and from which he could derive a pecuniary interest. I think that this provision is sufficient. I will not go on to his subsequent argument in relation to subclause (2) of clause 20. 1 am more concerned with the first provision which relates to the chairman. If he has a pecuniary interest he nominates it to the Minister. That is a very proper thing for him to do. I suggest that if we exclude those people because they have a pecuniary interest- indirect or direct -in a corporate body or in a business we will not necessarily get the quality of person we want for that important role. What we will get is someone out of a bureaucracy and even that person in his own interest and out of his own savings might have acquired, in a part time way, some indirect interest in a business. He is perfectly entitled to do this. Therefore the postponement of the clause as suggested by Senator Wright does not commend itself to me.

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