It will be remembered that at the last meeting of the Committee we decided that we would go through the various amendments and that at our meeting to-day we would go through the Bill section by section, as is usual in Committee, taking any amendments that have been allowed to stand over as they arise or any new amendments or alterations that may be suggested.
STATISTICS BILL, 1925
Before you take up the amendments I should like to make a few remarks. The principal amendment moved on the last day was one dealing with banks. In the first place I wish to reiterate that the point in dispute is whether even under the Bill it would be possible to get particulars of a private banking account. I have already stated clearly here that such was not the intention and that even if it were proposed by any succeeding Government to get that information it would be the duty of the bank to refuse. In order to get that information then, it would be necessary for the Government to prosecute the bank. Apart from such an unthinkable act, the second objection to such a course—which could be urged by the bank in the event of a prosecution—would be that such information was not necessary and could not be lawfully described as necessary for the purpose of statistics. In connection with the collection of income tax it is obvious that information concerning private accounts or even deposits in banks would be of use in finding a true assessment. But no attempt has ever been made to include such an investigation within the powers of income tax assessors or collectors.
The State appreciates thoroughly the absolute necessity of privacy in connection with banking matters, and if an example were necessary there is the fact that when in 1920-1921 an attempt was made to invade the privacy of banking accounts it was rightfully condemned and repudiated by practically all sections of the community. During the last few years banking accounts could have given the Government very useful information during the troubled period. No attempt was, however, made either directly or indirectly to obtain such information.
I have, however, been informed in the last few days that two accounts have been withdrawn from a certain bank, due apparently to nervousness occasioned by some of the comments which have been made upon this Bill. While appreciating that the common-sense of the general community is greater than that of these individuals, I propose to indicate an amendment which should remove the fears of even the most timid, and which, I hope, the Committee will see their way to accept. In this amendment, I have gone, perhaps, further than is really justifiable to meet unwarranted nervousness. I regret to say that there has been criticism of this Bill of a panicky type, which if we were to give in to it would militate in the most serious manner against the compilation of real statistics which are necessary in the best interests of the trade of the State and which are essential to the consideration of economic problems.
I mention that at the beginning, as it may afford Senators an opportunity of considering the amendment before we come to it. The amendment is:—
After Section 17 to insert a new section as follows:—
" Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any person to give information in relation to a matter as to which his knowledge was acquired in circumstances that would entitle him to decline to give such information in a civil proceeding in a court of law on the ground of privilege, or to require any bank or Corporation carrying on the business of banking, or any official thereof, to furnish any particulars which would enable any person to identify such particulars as relating to any individual person, business or concern without the consent in writing of that person or of the proprietor of that business or concern."
Senators will have an opportunity of considering that before we come to it.
It will arise on Section 7, and we will consider it when we come to it. I thought it desirable to give the President an opportunity of making that statement in view of the importance of it. We will now proceed to consider the sections.