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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1499

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - I have amendments to clauses 12, 13 and 14. Those clauses read: 12. (I) An authorized officer may administer an oath to a person required to attend before him in pursuance of section 1 1 and may examine that person on oath.

(2)   Any such person may make an affirmation in lieu of taking an oath.

(3)   An affirmation so made is of the same force and effect, and entails the same penalties, as an oath.

13.   A person shall not refuse or fail-

(   a ) to attend before an authorized officer;

(   b) to be sworn or to make an affirmation; or

(c)   to answer a question or produce an account, book, document or other record. when so required in pursuance of this Act.

Penalty: $100.

14.   A person shall not present to an officer doing duty in relation to this Act or the regulations an account, book, document or other record, or make to such an officer a statement, that is false or misleading in a material particular.

Penalty: $1,000.

I move the following amendments:

(   1 ) Leave out clause 12.

(2)   In clause 13, leave out paragraph (b).

(3)   In clause 14, insert after the word 'statement' the words '(whether in answer to a question or otherwise) '.

The purpose of the amendments is simple. Clause 11(1) provides:

An authorised officer may, by notice in writing, require a person whom the authorised officer believes to be capable of giving information with respect to the acquisition, storage, use or disposal of liquefied gas . . . to produce to him such accounts, books . . .

Such a person also is required to answer questions which are asked by an authorised officer. There is a power to do these things. Then there is the provision which states that a person is not excused from answering questions, and so forth. Clause 12 provides:

An authorised officer may administer an oath to a person . . .

Clause 13 (b), in respect of which there is a consequential amendment, provides that a person shall not refuse to take an oath. Clause 14 extends the provisions. It refers to the making of a statement. If we delete the provisions in clauses 12 and 13 the amendment to clause 14 is a consequential amendment. The matter really is as simple as this: Under this type of Bill we do not want an authorised officer to be erected into the position of a royal commissioner or a judge. There is just too much of that in legislation, and we are starting to look at it. Speaking frankly, this Bill was drafted in the ordinary way, and that is how the provision got into the Bill. I looked at the provision and asked: 'What the devil is that in there for? Why does he have to have the power to do this? He can ask questions and that surely ought to be enough. '

We did not want to delay the passage of the Bill; the other place wanted to get the legislation through. But I think that we ought to delete this provision. If this is done it should be an intimation that it is not to be introduced in any of these enactments unless there is some good reason for doing so. I think that this is what the Committee would want to do. We are extending this principle into the area of civil liberties and saying: Nobody is to be able to have these powers unless there is some really good reason'. Frankly, the provision got into the Bill as a matter of form and we want to delete it because we cannot see any really good reason why any authorised officer should be vested with such an important power. It used to be regarded as an extremely important power, reserved only to the courts and to some other important functionaries. As honourable senators know, there has been a tendency to extend the powers. Authorised officers have been able to go into any type of premises and seize documents and so forth. The provision in this Bill is another aspect of the same sort of thing. We do not see the need for such a provision. Therefore, we do not ask the Committee to give such a power to an authorised officer. It is as simple as that. There is still the power to question and to get information, and there is still the obligation to tell the truth and so forth. That is the purpose of the amendments.

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