12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and offered prayers.
Exclusionof Mr. J. A. Alexander FROM Press Galleryandprecincts of the House.
– I rise to a question of privilege. Last night I submitted a motion of privilege regarding the decision of Mr. Speaker to exclude from the precincts of this House a member of the press gallery, but, owing to the lateness of the hour and the general desire of members that the matter should be fully debated, I withdrew the motion. I now move again -
That the expulsion of a member of the press from the press gallery or precincts of the House is a question for the House to decide and is nota matter for decision by the Speaker, acting either on his own authority or at the suggestion of the Minister.
Every honorable member will admit that you, Mr. Speaker, are well within your rights in controlling the conduct of members and others in this chamber and its immediate precincts. Indeed, you would be failing in your duty if at any time you did not order the removal from any part of the House of a member, a journalist, or a stranger who was guilty of any misdemeanour. Such removal, however, would be for only a limited period ; there would be nothing to prevent the offender from presenting himself for re-admission within half an hour, if he had made adequate amends and gave assurances that his further conduct would be satisfactory. I do not wish to discuss the merits of the exclusion of Mr. Alexander, and I so framed my motion as to exclude such a discussion. But the more serious the consequences of an offence the more necessary it’ is that the punishment should fit it. The mere removal of a member of the press gallery at your command, serious punishment though it be, does not carry with it the same amount of condemnation as would a resolution of the House ordering the removal of the offender. For that reason I submitted my motion last night. I claim also that the placing of the investigator’s report on the table and the discussion of some of its aspects by the Attorney-General distinctly brought the matter before the House for discussion and determination by it. That is an added reason why the particular case with which we are now concerned should be judged not by you, Mr. Speaker, but by honorable members who in the last resort are responsible for the maintenance of the privileges of the House.
.- In seconding the motion I desire to express my appreciation of the impartiality with which you, Mr. Speaker, preside over the deliberations of the House. I desire to re-affirm, however, the difference between an offence committed within the precincts of the House and an offence committed outside and not directly connected with Parliament. You have full authority, and, indeed, it is your duty, to preserve order in the House and protect it from any impropriety or breach of privilege. Standing Order No. 60 empowers you to instruct the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove any person who may be guilty of disrespect to the House and Standing Order No. 65 contains a general power to clear the House of strangers, but, as to the power of Mr. Speaker to take cognisance of an offence committed outside the House and not relating particularly to the House, the Standing Orders are silent. Nor can I discover any precedent for the action which you, Mr. Speaker, propose to take.
– Have they got the right man ?
– They may or may not have got the right man, but in any case no charge has been made against Mr. Alexander. It is possible, and not at all improbable, that he obtained the documents in question in a legitimate manner. Some months had elapsed between the sending of the cablegrams and their publication in the newspapers, and I imagine that during that time they were perused by many members of the Cabinet, both before and after its reconstruction. Any member of the original or reconstructed Cabinet might have handed the documents to Mr. Alexander or to some other person from whom he got them without any impropriety on his part.
Both the investigator and the AttorneyGeneral carefully refrained from making any charge against Mr. Alexander that he had improperly obtained the cablegrams. The only complaint against him is that having secured information, which we all admit should not have been made public, he has refused to disclose the source from which he obtained it. I do not know of any rule which obliges a pressman in such circumstances to disclose the source of his information, nor do I know of any authority vested in the Speaker to summon a pressman to his room and interrogate him on such a subject. The proper procedure would be a formal investigation in which persons could be summoned as witnesses and fined for contempt if they refused to answer questions. There is no charge against Mr. Alexander which would justify you, Mr. Speaker, in asking him to disclose where and how he obtained certain documents.
– I feel that it is due to the House that I should make clear my position in this matter, and draw attention to the authority conferred on the Speaker. Last evening I intimated that I had fully satisfied myself before taking any action in this matter as to the authority that I possess as Speaker of this House. “With the utmost respect to honorable members, I desire to state clearly that, while I do not intend wilfully to disregard what may be determined by the House concerning any circumstances to which an action of mine may have direct or indirect relation, I hold that the question of privilege that has been raised by the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) cannot interfere with the authority that I propose to exert as Speaker. If honorable members desire to limit the powers of Mr. Speaker, they may do so by an alteration of the Standing Order governing the situation ; but until that has been done I shall not surrender to any one the rights conferred upon me. “While. I remain in the Chair I shall be the master of the situation in which I am placed. Only ‘after notice has been given of a motion to alter the Standing Order in question shall I take any official cognisance of any vote registered in the House concerning the matter. I intend to issue to Mr. Alexander at noon this day the instruction that he is to withdraw immediately from the House and its precincts.
.- With all respect to you, sir, I say that I consider it a matter for regret that you appear to have imported a certain amount of feeling into your consideration of this incident. I can assure you that the honorable members with whom I have discussed the subject view it dispassionately. They consider that it involves an important issue, not only in relation to the construction which you have placed upon the Standing Orders, but also in relation to the powers and privileges of Parliament and their exercise in this case. “We are concerned now not merely with the existence of a power, but also with the wisdom or unwisdom of exercising it on this occasion and in the manner proposed. You, sir, have stated that you intend to take a certain course of action in accordance with your ruling as to the meaning of Standing OrderNo. 65. With all respect, I submit that it is open to any honorable member to move that the ruling be dissented from, and that you must obey the direction of the House as declared by its action on the motion. In so doing the Speaker is complying with the Standing Orders. Again, although no point of order, may be taken on your ruling as to the meaning of Standing Order No. 65, it is open to honorable members to dissent from the action taken by you in applying it. The Standing Order you have quoted comes under the heading “ Withdrawal of strangers.” You have told the House that it is the decision of the Chair that at 12 o’clock to-day you, as Speaker of the House, will issue a general order excluding a particular individual from the chamber, the galleries and the precincts of the House . Standing Order No. 65 is in these terms -
If at any sitting of the House, or in committee, any member shall take notice that strangers are present, the Speaker or the Chairman (as the case may be) shall forthwith put the question, “ That strangers be ordered to withdraw,” which shall be decided without debate:
Those provisions relate to a decision of the House, and it is not under that portion of the Standing Order that you are acting. It is plain that so far the Standing Order relates only to the presence of strangers in the chamber, when the House, or a committee of the whole, is actually sitting. But there is a proviso to the Standing Order, and it is under that that you, sir, have ruled that you are entitled and propose to take your contemplated action. It reads -
Provided that the Speaker or the Chairman may, whenever he thinks fit, order the withdrawal of strangers from any part of the chamber.
That is plain enough. It gives the Speaker power to order the withdrawal of strangers from any part of the chamber. The power is limited to the ordering of withdrawal from the chamber ; it is also limited to the ordering of the withdrawal of a person at the moment present. The proviso, I submit, does not authorize the giving of any general direction prohibiting access to the chamberor its precincts. It appears to me that the proviso does not authorize the Speaker reissue a general order excluding any person at all times from either the chamber or the precincts of the House. But if it did, it would still be open to the House to dissent from the order of the Speaker in any particular case.
Might I observe, in this connexion, that the control of the House over its own proceedings is expressed very explicitly in Standing Order No. 287 which reads -
If any objection is taken to the ruling or decision of the Speaker-
I invite the particular attention of honorable members to the words “ or decision “- such objection must be taken at once- that is, so soon as the individual proposing to take it is able to obtain a hearing and in writing, and motion made, which, if seconded, shall be proposed to the House and debate thereon forthwith adjourned to the next sitting day.
There may be objection by the House, not only to a ruling, but also to a decision of the Speaker. A ruling of the Speaker as to the meaning of the Standing Orders may be associated with an application of them in a particular case. Supposing that in this case the House is of the opinion that the Speaker has the power to make the order which he proposes to make, and the order is made, the making of it will be a decision of the Speaker in the exercise of the powers which he may be assumed to possess. It will, therefore, be open to the House to question that decision, .and to set it aside upon an objection duly taken when it was made. The point to which I am now addressing myself is that, under the Standing Orders, this matter is entirely in the hands of the House. It is open to any honorable member to take an objection when the decision is really made. I ask the House to consider, without any heat - as I am sure that it will - the desirability in this case-
– The point is, has Alexander had a fair go? Have they got the right man?
– I ask the House to consider the wisdom of the action which is being taken by the Speaker in the present case. The facts are understood in outline. It is obvious that other individuals are concerned, and that for want of evidence and a lack of knowledge of all the facts, no action is being taken against them.
– How does the honorable gentleman know that no further ‘ action will be taken?
– I say that for want of evidence no action is being taken at the present time.
– And if no action is taken against an accomplice, no action should be taken against the principal? Is that the position?
– I do not suggest that. What I suggest is that if there has been a breach of the law, there ought to be a prosecution ; and that, if there is no evidence of a breach of the law, this House ought to hesitate before imposing what is a very severe penalty upon a journalist whose life work is political reporting. “We should weigh the matter very carefully indeed, This is an extraordinary procedure that is now being followed, and there is a great deal to be said for the proposition of the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) that the matter ought to be decided by the House and not by the honorable the Speaker.
.- I rise because I feel that the contemplated action is altogether wrong. I say this with great deference to you, Mr. Speaker.
I am confident that you need no assurance from me that you enjoy the respect of every honorable member of this House, regardless of party allegiance. But there are many reasons why I consider that the contemplated step is wrong and that it should not be taken. I trust that I and other honorable members may succeed in making you feel that this is so, and that the step yon contemplate will not be taken.
In the first place, I regret that a government which has swallowed so many camels should strain at this gnat. The method adopted savours of the application of capitalist notions of justice against a man who, after all, as a brainworker, and a trade unionist, belongs to the working class, and consequently whose position as such should be considered, particularly by those who sit on this side of the House. Last night I ventured to express my opinion regarding the attempt that is being made to violate the principle of the freedom of the press. I do not propose to refer again to that aspect of the matter. But there is one other phase of it that should not be overlooked: that is the attempted application of third-degree methods to this member of the journalistic profession. I do not know what particular new worlds this Alexander aspired to conquer in connexion with the incident that has created the present situation; but I do feel that the Government, and you also, sir, if I may say so with respect, are contemplating a course of action that will not meet with the approval of the people of the Commonwealth. An event which occurred in the year 331 b.c. provides a precedent which may help us to determine the course that should be adopted in this case.
– That was in Alexander’s day.
– The honorable gentleman is quite right. Darius III., King of Persia, in that year met with overwhelming defeat at the hands of Alexander, in a memorable contest that had its genesis in very trifling issues. I submit that neither the Government nor your own respected self, sir, should occupy the position of Darius to this Alexander.
.- I consider that the decision, at which you have arrived, Mr. Speaker, goes beyond the intention of the Standing Orders. The matter is so vitally important that it should be determined by this House. The Cabinet documents that this gentleman is alleged to have had wrongfully in his possession have been characterized as secret documents ; and because he will not disclose to Ministers the source from which he obtained them, he is adjudged guilty of having appropriated them in a wrongful manner. If I understood him rightly, the Minister has stated that it is generally desired that this information should be published in the interest of the credit of this country.
– I rise to a point of order. I have no objection to the honorable member continuing his present line of argument - I shall probably have something to say about it-
– The AttorneyGeneral must confine his remarks to a point of order.
– My point of order is that the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) is not addressing himself to the motion, which is that the expulsion of a person from the precincts of this House is a matter for the determination of the House and not of the Speaker. You, sir, have already ruled that the motion does not permit honorable members to discuss the merits of this particular case ; that the only point to be decided is, whether it is the prerogative of Mr. Speaker or of the House to exclude a person from the precincts of the House.
-The honorable member must confine his remarks to the subject of the motion.
– I agree with the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) as to the limitations of the powers of Mr. Speaker under the Standing Orders. While you, sir, may determine that the person concerned has, in your opinion, committed an offence of sufficient gravity to be prevented from coming within the precincts of this chamber, the House still has the power, if it so desires, to dissent from your ruling or decision. In view of the case, as outlined by the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), it appears to me to be cruel and unfair that the cable messages which passed between the Prime Minister in
– Order!. The subject which the honorable member is now discussing is irrelevant to the question before the chair, which is whether Mr. Speaker or the House should have the power to decide this matter.
– I was endeavouring to show that in my opinion, there are insufficient grounds for the decision which you, sir, have reached, and that on the grounds of the severity of your ruling it should be dissented from.
– Perhaps it will be of assistance to honorable members if I again state the position. As a matter of privilege, the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) raised the question that the expulsion of a member of the press from the gallery, or from the precincts of the House, is one for the House to decide, and is not a matter for decision by Mr. Speaker, acting either on his own authority or at the suggestion of the Ministry.
– I intend to support the motion, and if a further motion is submitted that the ruling of Mr. Speaker be dissented from, I shall also support it. I intend to take that course because I consider that you, sir, have exceeded the powers given you under the Standing Orders. I realize that you have power to order the removal of strangers from this House whose presence may be undesirable, but this involves a case in which the reputation of every honorable member is at stake.
.- At this stage I am not permitted to discuss the merits of the case, though I may say that I do not excuse or condone, nor do I condemn, the action of the person concerned. But a vital principle is involved. There are many instances in which the rulings of presiding officers have been quoted many years later, and when that happens there is, generally, reluctance on the part of their successors to depart from those rulings. If, in this case, the ruling or decision of Mr. Speaker is upheld, it may happen that in the future a presiding officer who has been attacked in a newspaper represented in this gallery, may, in the exercise of this right, exclude not only the newspaper reporter responsible for the article, but also every other representative of that newspaper. In such circumstances Mr. Speaker would be exercising a power which I am certain this House has no desire that he should possess. Again, if a Minister of the Crown were attacked by a particular pressman, a weak-kneed Speaker might order that pressman’s expulsion, which would not be beneficial to Parliament or to those who look not to Hansard for their information as to what is happening in Parliament, but to the newspapers of this country. A weak or biased Speaker might even exclude from this House the representatives of newspapers politically opposed to the party of which he was a member. If the precedent now being made is once established we cannot say what the result would not eventually be. In matters of this kind the House should have the right to decide whether representatives of the press, who are unofficial members of the parliamentary staff, shall or shall not be admitted within the precincts of this building. I contend that in this instance you, sir, are exercising a power beyond those granted to you under the Standing Orders, and that the precedent you are setting, if once established, would be dangerous. It should not be within the power of the presiding officer to exclude from the galleries any pressman who has the temerity to oppose him.
Mr. bernard corser (Wide Bay) [11.38] . - I am not one of those who support the contention that the powers of the presiding officer in this chamber should be limited. There may be occasions when it may be necessary for Mr. Speaker to ‘clear the galleries, and I have been a member of a parliament in which that has been done. I would not be a party to restricting the powers of Mr. Speaker or to support any motion that would take from him the powers that he should possess in controlling this House. This matter, however, does not come within that category. The statement made by the Attorney-General yesterday afternoon does not concern anything done in this .House. If a representative of the press were to abuse the privileges granted to him here it would be only right that you should deal with him. But neither the
Attorney-General or you, sir, has shown that the pressman who has been mentioned, has in any sense abused a privilege conferred upon him by the House. The person concerned has not done anything in this House during the sittings of this Parliament, or at any other time, so far as I am aware, that is contrary to the Standing Orders; yet at the instigation of the Attorney-General he is now to be victimized. Your power, Mr. Speaker, does not extend to controlling anything done in Government departments. This is a departmental matter, and involves a case in which some government official or a member of a party, has given departmental information to a representative of the press whose duty it is to obtain all the information he can for his principals. This pressman has published, nothing; he has merely passed on information which was supplied to him outside the House. The documents which have been referred to did not disappear from the table of the House, nor were they taken from your room, Mr. Speaker, or from any other part of the House.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– I surmise it. If the documents had been obtained from Parliament House, the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), would have used that fact in the course of his statement.
– I rise to a point of order. Political propaganda is not relevant to the motion before the Chair.
– I shall not permit honorable members to make observations which are irrelevant to the motion.
– If the documents had been taken from the table of the House or from your office, Mr. Speaker, the Attorney-General, in his endeavour to victimize Mr. Alexander, would have mentioned the fact.
– Again I rise to a point of order. I ask that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), be called upon to withdraw his statement that I have attempted to victimize any one.
– If the honorable member made that statement he must withdraw it.
– I made the statement, and it is true.
– The honorable member so offends that he brings himself dangerously near to being named. I ask him. to withdraw his statement, and apologize for having made it.
The honorable member for Wide Bay remaining silent-
– I name the honorable member for Wide Bay.
– I urge the honorable member for Wide Bay to obey the Chair, and to withdraw his statement and apologize for having made it. We are discussing the powers and privileges of the Speaker, but I do not think that there is any doubt as to his right to keep the House in order.
– I have no course but to obey the Chair, but I do not wish to be subservient to the Attorney-General. I withdraw the statement I made, and apologize. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will review your decision. Although it is admitted that yon have the right to exact obedience from honorable members of this chamber, I contend that it is possible that you may be wrong in regard to matters which do not actually affect this House. The information contained in the cablegrams that were published had nothing to do with this Parliament as such, and if you assume the right to take action in regard to this matter, the case having occurred in Canberra, you might as well assume a similar right in regard to a leakage of information from the Commonwealth public officers in Melbourne, or elsewhere. I submit that you have no right, under the Standing Orders, to take the action proposed. There is no previous instance of any Speaker using his power as you are endeavouring to do at *he suggestion of the Attorney-General in v matter affecting not this House, but only the public departments. Mr. Alexander, or any one else similarly situated, may be dealt with by the departments through the law courts or otherwise, but you, Mr. Speaker, have no right to deal with him as is proposed.
– I am anxious to obtain a little more information regarding the procedure to be followed in this case. I take it that the motion before the Chair refers to your power to deal with this situation; that it raises the question whether or not you have the authority to take the action you have said that you propose to take. There appears to be a doubt of your right under the circumstances of this case to remove a stranger, whether a press representative or any other, from the precincts of the HouSe. What 1, and those associated with me, desire to ensure, before final action is taken, is that the person coming under your official ban shall receive fair treatment, and that there shall be no doubt in their minds about what they are taking responsibility for. Under the terms of your ruling, it is difficult for honorable members to obtain the information they desire. It is not, I suppose, competent for you from the chair, to enlighten honorable members as to the details surrounding this question. It is true that the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) dealt at some length with the matter, but I feel that there may be some aspects of it, other than those dealt with by him, from which, if examined, useful light might be thrown on the point at issue. I am anxious to know how we can arrive at the actual facts. It is possible, if the action now proposed should be taken, that some future Speaker may accept it as a precedent, and exercise his powers against a press representative, not for doing what is alleged in this instance to have been done, but for criticizing Parliament or parliamentary institutions. We should have an opportunity of investigating this matter properly, and learning, if possible, what facts, other than the obvious ones, are involved.
– This is a life sentence.
– The barbarity of the punishment by exile.
– I have every respect for the authority of the Speaker in the exercise of his legitimate powers, but I feel that before this incident, is closed a representative of the Government, who is in possession of the facts as known, should place all the information available before honorable members. We ought to be quite sure, before, giving our vote on this important matter, that tilings will not be allowed to rest as they are, but that something will be done to disclose the real culprit. We should be convinced that we are not inflicting injustice upon any one who is associated with the conduct of affairs in this Parliament.
Mi-. MACKAY (Lilley) [11.47].- I express my regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have come to the decision to debar from the precincts of the House a representative of the press before honorable members have had an opportunity to express their opinions on the matter. You have repeatedly declared that you are acting under the powers conferred on you by the Standing Orders. You have quoted Standing Order No. 65, and it would, I think, be a useful contribution to this debate if you would explain in detail how your power is derived from that or any other standing order. This alleged offence was committed outside the parliamentary precincts altogether, and it is very questionable whether you have any jurisdiction in the matter. I have carefully examined the Standing Orders, and I cannot see in them anything which gives to the Speaker the power which you claim. It is not necessary to go into the merits of the case, but it seems to me that you have been unduly influenced by the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), who lias asked you to take the present action. In my opinion, it is for the department to take what steps are necessary to sheet home to the private individual, responsible the misdemeanour of which he may be guilty. It is a mistake to attempt to bring such a matter within the purview of this Parliament.
.- I regret that this matter has occurred at all. I do not accept the argument of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) that the documents in question were obtained outside this House, and that, therefore, this House is not called upon to take any action. In my opinion, every department of the Commonwealth is the concern of this House. I may be wrong in that; but such is my belief. No information has been made available which would justify the honorable member for Wide Bay, or any one else, in saying definitely where the information was obtained. We have only the statement of the investigating officers that the documents in question were known by Mr. Alexander to be secret and confiden tial: In my opinion, it matters not where he got them; the fact remains that he made use of documents which he knew to be secret, and not intended for his perusal.
– That is not fair.
– I do not want to be unfair; but that is the way the matter appeals to me. I have as much right to express my opinion as the honorable member has to express his. I do not say that my view is right; I have merely stated how the matter appeals to me. The person who was responsible for leaving the papers in a place where Mr. Alexander could get them is, in my opinion, a greater culprit than he is. I am entirely indifferent as to who that person may be. This matter, which is meant to be a motion of disagreement with your ruling, sir, has been brought before the notice of the House in what I regard as an irregular manner. If the intention was to move a motion disagreeing with your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I submit that action should have been taken under Standing Order 287. I appreciate that you, as Speaker, have certain rights and powers. It is for the House to say whether you have interpreted correctly the powers vested in you under the Standing Orders. I recognize that, as Speaker, it is your privilege and duty to interpret the Standing Orders until the House has removed you from the Chair.
– I express gratification that you, sir, have made it clear that, so far as it is possible to consider this matter as separate from political propaganda on the one hand, and from the martyrdom of an individual on the other hand-
– Not martyrdom, but persecution.
– If it is martyrdom, it is self-imposed.
– The AttorneyGeneral must confine his remarks within the limits of the motion.
– Surely the AttorneyGeneral’s reference to political propaganda was not in order ?
– I assure the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that whatever is being done in this chamber in connexion with the subject before us is entirely independent of any other action now being taken, or in prospect, by the Crown Law Department, with respect to either Mr. Alexander or any other person. When you, sir, directed attention to the Standing Order under which you acted, you made it clear that it was desirable that this matter should be discussed without regard to personal considerations. I agree that the Standing Order, and the interpretation of it should be considered entirely on their merits. The rights and privileges of members on the one hand, and the powers and prerogatives of the Speaker on the other, should be weighed calmly and dispassionately without regard to the supposed rights of or alleged injustice to any particular individual.
I regard the subject before us from a detached point of view. Government policy is not involved in any way, although the privileges of members, and the powers of Mr. Speaker are involved. It would be most regrettable if in an atmosphere of passion and prejudice we made a decision which would be binding and lasting as to the powers of Mr. Speaker or the privileges of members of this House. I ask honorable members to read the Standing Order carefully, and then to decide whether they would be prepared to take away the powers vested by it in Mr. Speaker. Standing Order 65 reads -
If at any sitting of the House, or in committee, any member shall take notice that strangers are present, the Speaker or the Chairman (as the case may be) shall forthwith put the question, “ That strangers be ordered to withdraw,” which shall be decided without debate. …
– What has that to do with the point at issue?
– By reading the Standing Order the Attorney-General only shows the weakness of his case.
– The honorable member’s interjection shows that advantage has been taken of this opportunity to indulge in political propaganda. Why should the reading of the Standing Order excite passion?
– The Standing Order read by the honorable gentleman has nothing to do with the matter.
– That portion of Standing Order 65 which I have quoted directs attention to a well-settled practice! - that no stranger has any legal right to enter the precincts of Parliament. He may do so only by permission. In that respect pressmen have no greater rights than are possessed by the poorest wayfarer who seeks the permission of Mr. Speaker to take a seat in the gallery.
– Has any one suggested otherwise ?
– Entirely as an act of courtesy, it has been the practice of various Speakers to allow representatives of the press to occupy seats in the gallery. Accommodation for the press has also been provided within the precincts of the chamber. It is all a matter of mutual understanding and goodwill. Generally, the relations of the press with the Parliament have been harmonious. The great body of pressmen appreciate the treatment meted out to them, and act accordingly. So complete are the powers of Mr. Speaker in regard to the persons who shall come and go in this House, that he has issued a general order to the attendants that when members leave the chamber, the doors shall be locked, and no stranger permitted to remain therein. He has complete charge of the building. Does the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), to whom at least I give full credit for being able to discuss this subject dispassionately, say seriously that we should abrogate the Standing Order which enables the Speaker at any time to restrain any disorderly person, or any person, for any reason, from having accommodation within the precincts of this House?
– Does the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) contend that the Speaker has the right to say who shall and who shall not enter this chamber?
– As strangers, yes, subject only to the special and deliberate direction of Parliament itself, and the exercise of that authority. Everybody who is not a member of this Parliament is a stranger in this House.
– And is here on the sufferance of the Speaker?
– Any one who is not an officer or a member of the Parliament is a stranger within the precincts of the House, and any honorable member who brings his friends or relatives within the precincts is subject, under this
Standing Order, and by the deliberate decision of the House, in accordance with the settled policy of the House of Commons, to the discipline of Mr. Speaker, who decides whether such persons shall remain in the House. The truth is, of course, that this rule of procedure and practice is governed by common sense. Therefore, when honorable members bring their friends or relatives within the precincts of the House, Mr. Speaker, knowing that he is interpreting the wishes of the House, as well as giving expression to his own desires, receives them with courtesy, and accommodates them to the best of his ability. But they have no rights here. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has been long enough in this Parliament to know that these matters are controlled in part by the direction and discipline of Mr. Speaker, who has received his authority by direct Standing Order and the long established practice of this Parliament and of the House of Commons.
– Is not the AttorneyGeneral challenging a proposition which is irrelevant?
– I am challenging a- proposition which was directly put to me by the honorable member for Fawkner, and I have, I think, given him a complete answer. We have also on this particular matter a clear precedent, with which no doubt you, Mr. Speaker, are familiar. On the 8th of May, 1911, a man whose name I need not mention, apparently a pressman, was excluded from the press gallery by the Speaker of the day for abusing the privileges of Parliament by using official paper for certain purposes, and that action. has never been challenged. It was entirely consistent with the practice of this chamber and of the House of Commons.
– In that case there was no objection taken in the House, and no discussion by honorable members. The House acquiesced.
– I do not deny for a moment that the House in the final analysis controls it own conduct. It controls the Chairman of the committees, and ultimately, so long as it acts within the Standing Orders, it controls the conduct of Mr. Speaker himself. The House may, after a motion has been made, expel any of its members. It has that power, but it must act according to certain procedure, and a motion must be formally carried. The House has complete control over its own composition and conduct. That is not to be denied. The point is perfectly clear.
– The point is what?
– If the honorable member had been listening instead of interrupting
– I am listening.
– I rise to a point of order. You, Mr. Speaker, informed the House early in this discussion that the execution was to take place at 12 noon. That horn- has passed.
– The honorable member has raised no point of order Upon the conclusion of the speech of the Attorney-General I shall make a statement.
– I have no wish to labour this subject. I urge all honorable members who are prepared - if there are any, and I hope that there are - to look at this matter dispassionately, to remember that we are dealing with the privileges and rights of members, the privileges and rights of visitors, and the powers of Mr. Speaker, and that those matters should be dissociated from personal considerations. It is clear to demonstration that Mr. Speaker has acted within the powers that were given to him by this Parliament when it adopted this Standing Order, and in accordance with well settled practice. Until that Standing Order is altered, he has the right to remove any stranger from the precincts of the House. When we come to alter it, we should be able to consider it coolly and coldly on its merits. That is the only way in which it should be considered; that is the only temperature in which questions of this kind should be discussed. I suggest that this matter is not being so discussed this morning. I am happy in the feeling that you, sir, have ruled soundly and unanswerably in what you have already stated from the Chair, and although, as I have said, this is not a question of Government policy, the Government will take its own action, in its own way, in the sphere in which it can act. I am not at present privileged to develop that argument. It is unanswerable that you, sir, have ruled correctly, that you have acted within the Standing Orders, and that the course that you propose to take is that which ought to be sanctioned by every reasonable man in and out of Parliament.
– In compliance with the statement that I made earlier in the day regarding my intention-
– I rise to a point of order.
– There can be no point of order while the Speaker is on his feet. The Speaker, when asked for information, is entitled to give it ‘ to honorable members. I was asked by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) what action, if any, had been taken in compliance with the statement that I made this morning. My order that the pressman in question must withdraw immediately from the precincts of this House, was delivered. He requested the privilege of remaining until the conclusion of this debate. I have granted that request, and he has thanked me for the courtesy.
– I rise to a point of order. I contend that the question before the Chair is one of privilege, and that no other business can intervene until it has been decided. I submit that the Chair had no right to intervene with a statement while the question of privilege was before the Chair.
– While I am in charge of this chamber, I shall conduct its affairs in what I consider to be a proper and lawful way, until I have a very clear indication that what I am doing is not in accordance with the Standing Orders.
.- The Attorney-General has hinted that I am quite incapable of considering this, or possibly any other matter, in a dispassionate way.
– Not incapable, but unwilling.
– The honorable gentleman forgets that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has had a good deal of experience in defending persons threatened with death.
– Exactly. I claim to be able to approach this matter quite dispassionately. I did not have the privilege of hearing the Attorney-General present the report to the House yesterday-
– I thought the honorable member knew nothing about it.
– And it is not necessary to know anything about it to discuss the motion before the Chair.
– As the honorable member has suggested, it is not necessary to know much about the merits of the case ; I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, have claimed that you have the right, under Standing Order 65, to take the action which you propose to take. Until I heard the Standing Order so well read by the Attorney-General I did not realize the purport of it. But the honorable gentleman lost himself in a cloud of words when he set out to show how and where the Standing Order confers power upon you, sir, to do as you propose to do. It appears to me that the framers of that order had in view the proper conduct of the business of Parliament in this chamber. The Speaker certainly is responsible for keeping good order, and for seeing that the business of the House is conducted in an orderly way. I quite realize, and it is obvious, as the Attorney-General has said, that no one who is not a member of the House has any right to be here. But the question is whether, in the event of a person being here, the Speaker has the right to turn him out. This order was never intended to be of a punitive character. In my opinion the order means that if the attention of the Speaker is called to the fact that strangers are in the House, or if he himself notices that strangers are present, he may, in the interests of the orderly conduct of business, direct them to withdraw.
In this particular case, it is suggested that Mr. Alexander was guilty of conduct which has earned the disapprobation of Cabinet. He was found to have been in possession of certain documents.
– The honorable member may not discuss that subject. He must confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair.
– I understand that’ you, Mr. Speaker, intend to take the step of expelling a member of the press from the chamber and the precincts of the House because he is supposed to have done a certain thing. I do not suppose that a Speaker would for a moment suggest that he had the right to expel a member of the press at his own sweet will. The expulsion would be made because that person had been guilty of doing something which the Speaker considered merited expulsion. But although the power which the Speaker suggests is conferred upon him under Standing Order 65 is not a punitive power, it is to be made the means, on this occasion, of inflicting a very severe punishment on a member of the press.
– Nothing of the sort.
– It cannot be suggested that the power is to be exercised in the interests of the orderly conduct of the business of this chamber. Not by any stretch of the imagination can it be suggested that the presence of this person in the press gallery will affect the orderly conduct of our business.
– Does the honorable member suggest, which is not the case here, that the greatest criminal in the country should be accommodated with a seat in the press gallery so long as he behaves himself ?
– No. The suggestion in the question which the AttorneyGeneral has addressed to me is characteristic. He wants to attach, by that question, the suggestion of criminality to the man about to be expelled.
– I characterize that statement as a dastardly and dishonest misrepresentation of what I said, and if it were not-
– Order! Order!
The Attorney-General continuing his remarks after having been called to order,
– I name the Attorney-General for repeated disobedience to the Chair. I feel most resentful that a Minister of the Crown should . so disregard my call to order. I ask the Prime Minister to take the necessary action.
– I appeal to the Attorney-General to apologize to the Chair.
– I apologize to you, sir.
– I now ask that the honorable member for Fawkner be called upon to withdraw his statement. The Attorney-General asked the honorable member a question by way of illustration. He said, “Does the honorable member suggest “, and then he interpolated, “Which is not the case here”. That parenthetical remark was purposely interpolated by the Attorney-General, who then went on to ask if the greatest criminal in the country should be admitted to the press gallery, because he behaved himself in an orderly way. Then followed the observation of the honorable member for Fawkner, which is objectionable.
– I rise to a point of order.
– The honorable member for Fawkner has expressed himself in language which is offensive. The words have been objected to, and I ask him to withdraw them.
– But, Mr. Speaker-
– There can be no point of order. I will not permit any disorder. The honorable member for Fawkner will kindly withdraw the statement complained of.
– Will you allow me to ask you a question, Mr. Speaker ? You do not wish me to do anything under a misapprehension. What am I asked to withdraw ?
– The Prime Minister, I thought, made that clear. I ask him to make a further statement if the honorable member is not clear as to which of his words are considered objectionable.
– I have no doubt that the Prime Minister finds all my remarks objectionable.
– It is within the right of the Prime Minister or any other honorable gentleman to object to any statement that he considers offensive.
– The objectionable statement made by the honorable member for Fawkner was that the AttorneyGeneral was endeavouring to attach criminality to the action of Mr. Alexander. Since the Attorney-General went out of his way, by a parenthetical observation, to assert that he was not suggesting criminality in this ease, the remark of the honorable member, for Fawkner was most offensive.
– Then I ask the honorable member to withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it, sir. I am quite sure that no honorable member of the House would, for a moment, dream of challenging your impartiality in the chair. In a discussion of this nature, where it is necessary to appear to dissent, or where one does, in fact, dissent from your ruling, one is apt to convey a general impression that one is challenging your impartiality. I wish to dissociate myself from any such suggestion. I simply appeal to you again, Mr. Speaker, if I may do so with respect, to read carefully Standing Order 65, because I understand that you have said that you rely upon that as authority for your action in regard to this particular expulsion. Again, I emphasize the fact that the Standing Order is not punitive, but merely regulative in its nature.
– And applies to the sitting only.
– It applies to the orderly conduct of the business of this House while it is sitting.
– May I address a question to the Chair?
– Not at this moment.
.- Before I record a vote in support of the motion submitted by the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley), I wish to give my reasons, briefly, for not voting in silence. First of all, my vote will not be cast as the result of any disrespect to yourself, Mr. Speaker. No one in this chamber recognizes your impartiality and fairness more than I do, or appreciates more the conscientious way in which you carry out your duties. I respond to the appeal of the AttorneyGeneral to deal with this matter quite dispassionately.
An Honorable Member. - Though he cannot.
– That is his affair, not mine. The Leader of the Opposition has clearly demonstrated, at any rate to the lay mind, that there is in this chamber a power entirely beyond you, Mr. Speaker. This House has power to dissent from, or disagree with, any decision you may make. Ultimate power lies with the members of this chamber. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) made that abundantly clear. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) has ineffectively attempted to reply to the arguments of the Leader of the Opposition. If there was any vestige of a case left, after the Attorney-General had spoken, it has been disposed of by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). It is because I feel that in a case such as this, the House itself should take action that I am voting for the motion. I disagree, not with your motives, Mr. Speaker, but with your judgment in the matter. I have had some experience in regard to this very type of case. I had the unpleasant duty in Tasmania of having to obtain the exclusion from the press gallery of the representatives of a particular journal. I did not dream of asking the Speaker of the Tasmanian House to exercise the powers that he had to deal with that matter. I took the responsibility of submitting a motion, and the House approved my action. The House was responsible for the action taken, and the press representatives referred to were excluded. That action was taken by the Parliament itself, and jio suggestion or request was made by me, as the Leader of the House, to the Speaker to take action as you are taking today. If your action is correct, you have wider power than we have ever dreamed of. The honorable member for Fawkner has pointed out that the presence of Mr. Alexander does not in any way affect the order of the House, which it is your duty to maintain.
– Also the good conduct of persons within the precincts of the House.
– Your decision in this case, Mr. Speaker, does not concern the good conduct of the House. Let me point out how far things may go if the principle of this decision is acted on. Not long ago a Minister - I need not mention his name, unless that is considered necessary, because this is only an illustration, and is not intended as a personal allusion - obtained possession of a file of the most confidential character, on the clear understanding that it was not to be used for publication. Yet a portion of the contents of that file were published by that Minister from the platforms of this country. If this action of yours to-day is right and justifiable, then some action, could, and should be taken in regard tot such a Minister, who was guilty of a breach of his trust, though no cognizance of it was taken by you. I do not ask that you should take notice of such action, because I do not think that it is within your rights and privileges to do so, but, if you took no action in that case, what right have you to intervene in the present matter? If a Minister or a member does something that is improper, it is surely more nearly within your province to deal with that matter than to deal with a pressman. Because of that, and because I feel that the right course on this occasion is to ask the House to deal with the matter, the Government itself taking the responsibility, I feel that I am compelled to vote for the motion.
– The illustration given by the honorable member for “Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) proves absolutely that he does not understand the question before the House. I shall show that statement to be correct in a moment. He has spoken of an occasion which is not within my knowledge when a Minister revealed the contents of a confidential file at a public meeting, and yet Mr. Speaker took no action. He has said that if Mr. Speaker could see his way to take action in the case of a pressman, he had much more justification for taking action in a matter affecting the conduct of a member of this House. But if the honorable member for Wilmot were acquainted with the powers that Mr. Speaker possesses he would, know that he could not expel nor even suspend an honorable member; that is a matter for the decision of the House alone. There is, therefore, no analogy between the present case and that to which the honorable member has drawn attention. Mr. Speaker’s power, however, extends beyond this chamber, a point which honorable members seem to have missed. .
– Where does he get that power ?
– Under the ordinary law and practice which clothes all presiding officers with certain powers. For instance, the chairman of a public meeting has extensive powers over that gathering. The presiding officer of this House has control over the precincts of the chamber, and over this building, except that portion of it which is the Senate’s, and that is controlled by the President of the Senate. Mr. Speaker has control over the officers and the offices of this House. Who has control over the accommodation provided and over the conduct of persons passing in and out?No one but Mr. Speaker. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who is generally very logical, has contended that the power given under a certain standing order is to regulate only and is not punitive. I quite agree with the honorable member in that, but I at once join issue with him and say that, on this occasion, the exercise by Mr. Speaker of his power is preventative and not punitive. Every honorable member who has spoken has given testimony to the impartiality of Mr. Speaker, but I want to remove any doubt there may be in any honorable member’s mind that on this occasion he has been moved to take action by the Government.
– Yesterday the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) said that he had requested Mr. Speaker to take action.
– The AttorneyGeneral said that he had suggested that action should be taken. In this matter, after investigation, Mr. Speaker acted absolutely on his own initiative. This Government would not lay down any line of action for Mr.’ Speaker in regard to matters which are under his sole control. It will take full responsibility for the sphere over which it has control, such las the granting of privileges in public departments to members of the press or the public. That is a matter which is within the control of the Government, and no action taken by Mr. Speaker will prevent us from proceeding with our investigations in order to find the real culprit. The honorable member for Fawkner contended that, if Mr. Speaker’s action is upheld, he will be given power over all strangers who pass in and out of this House. As a matter of fact, that is exactly a power which Mr. Speaker, and he only, exercises to-day. Of course, if he were to abuse it, the House could remove him after considering the matter on its merits. This motion, however, challenges Mr. Speaker’s right to come to any decision in regard to the admission of strangers. I contend that the honorable gentleman who presides over the deliberations of this House is the only person who is charged with the right to come to that decision, and that, if he is firmly satisfied in his own mind from evidence he may have obtained, from even 1,000 miles away, that the presence of a stranger within the precincts of the House is likely to endanger the property or documents of honorable members, he is entitled to say that that person shall not enter the precincts of this House.
– Is there not in that remark a suggestion of criminality?
– No; but there is a suggestion that any person who ‘is in the possession of documents, whether they be originals or copies, to which he is not entitled, until he can show his right to them, is not to be trusted where there are other documents.
– That applies to other pressmen who used and published these particular documents.
– According to this pressman’s written statement, he was the only one who had possession of these documents.
– He said that he had handed them to others.
– Apparently the Leader of the Opposition wants Mr. Speaker to go further in the action, he has taken.
– No. I want consistency.
– If we were to deal with the motion on the merits of the matter, I could make out a strong case; but I should not be in order in doing so. The practice of the House of Commons in regard to the admission of strangers reserves to the Speaker or the Chairman the power, when either thinks fit, to order the withdrawal of strangers from any part of the House. Honorable members have rights which cannot be interfered with except by the House.
– They are being interfered with now.
– The rights now in question are those of strangers, and not of honorable members. Strictly speaking, they are not rights. No stranger can enter this House, its precincts, or its galleries without a card of admission from Mr. Speaker, issued through his officers. Strangers have no rights or privileges in this House; they merely have permission to enter this building, and every one knows that that permission is freely given. But no one comes into the galleries in this chamber except by the consent of Mr. Speaker, whether it be given specifically or not; and it is a permission which can be withdrawn at any moment. The foot-note on the card issued to pressmen states that the card may be withdrawn at any time by Mr. Speaker, and all that Mr. Speaker has done on this occasion has been to withdraw a permission previously given. It is preventative, and not punitive, action, because Mr. Speaker, from information he has obtained, has formed the opinion that a courtesy, or permission, previously extended to one individual should be withdrawn.
– We have heard from the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) some special pleading on several points which fails to carry conviction, because on those points every one in this House is in agreement. The right honorable gentleman said, for instance, that the rights of Mr. Speaker were identical with those of the chairman of a public meeting. That is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said at the beginning of his speech, and it is exactly what is provided for in Standing Order 65, which deals with the business of the House and with the sittings of the House. Under the definition the Prime Minister has just given, surely there can be no justification for the action to which honorable members are taking objection. The Prime Minister went on to say that there had been no attempt on the part of the Government to move Mr. Speaker to take action. I am one of those who believe in the absolute impartiality of Mr. Speaker, just as I have always believed in the impartiality of his predecessors, no matter what their political leanings may have been, and just as I am satisfied as to the impartiality of the officers of the House. Every member of the House is able, at all times, to get the fullest information and assistance from the Speaker and his officers. Therefore, the impartiality of the Speaker is not in question. “When, however, a Minister of the Grown states that certain punitive action has been taken by the Government, and that the Speaker will be moved by the Government to take similar action, a very dangerous precedent is established. The offence alleged did not take place in this House, or so far as we know in Canberra, and Parliament was not sitting at the time when it is said to have been committed. The Prime Minister has said that the action which you, Mr. Speaker, have taken is not punitive but preventive. The standing orders include certain curative provisions, but I am not able to see anything in them that provides for prevention, nor do I think that you, Mr. Speaker, have jurisdiction in this matter. Your responsibility relates to occurrences in and about Parliament, not to occurrences absolutely independent of Parliament. No evidence has been adduced, by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) that the alleged offence was associated with Parliament; indeed there is no evidence of an offence at all. One individual is singled out for condemnation although we are told that many shared the fruits of his action.
– How does the right honorable member know that?
– The cablegrams were published in many newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald, but is any action being taken against, say, Mr. “Warwick Fairfax, a proprietor of that journal? I shall support the motion because I believe that you, Mr. Speaker, have exceeded your powers. After the rights of the House in this matter have been asserted, we can decide whether the exclusion of any individual from this building would be just. That, however, is an issue distinct from this motion. The duties and privileges of honorable members will have been invaded to some extent if your action is upheld. Under Standing Order 64, every honorable member may, on each day of sitting, issue written orders admitting not more than three strangers to the galleries. If Mr. Alexander received a card of admission from an honorable member, after you, Mr. Speaker, had excluded him, would he be entitled to remain in the House? I think we can assert the rights of the
House in this matter, without giving judgment on the merits of the particular case that has arisen.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– As this matter has been thoroughly ventilated I propose to make only a few observations on it generally, before dealing briefly with a particular aspect. “With great deference to you, sir, I submit, that had you not specified the Standing Order under which you proposed to take this very drastic action, your position would have been infinitely stronger than it is. Standing Order No. 65 has no relevance to the alleged act for which Mr. Alexander is being dealt with. It refers to the withdrawal of strangers from the chamber, and is part of a section of the Standing Orders which vests in the Speaker the power to protect, the House from disorderly and unruly conduct on the part of strangers. As the Prime Minister stated, it gives Mr. Speaker powers similar to those possessed by a chairman presiding over a public meeting. I remember quite distinctly an occasion when a member from another place mistook the chamber in which he is entitled to sit and wandered on to the floor of this chamber. The Speaker very promptly and rightly instructed the SergeantatArms to indicate to that stranger that he was transgressing. No one will contest the Speaker’s right to act on such occasions, to preserve this chamber from intrusion and disorderly conduct by strangers. Honorable members will agree with the Prime Minister that Mr. Speaker is vested with rights similar to those of a chairman at a public meeting. Such a person has authority over that meeting, and whatever takes place at it, but. it would be obviously absurd for a person attending the meeting to claim that another who was present had done something on a prior occasion which offended him or an organization of which he was a member, and on that ground request the chairman to exercise a punitive power against him by excluding him from the gathering. That, I submit, is analogous to the matter now occupying the attention of honorable members. If the speech that the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) made yesterday afternoon meant anything, it intended to impress the House that some serious offence had been committed for which Mr. Alexander was responsible. I shall not enter into the merits or demerits of the case; I suppose that I should not be permitted to do so. Nothing has been proved against Mr. Alexander. The allegation is that he will not disclose to the Government certain information. Any action that may be implied against him occurred beyond the precincts of the House, so that even if it could be substantiated it would be outside of Mr. Speaker’s jurisdiction. However, the charge is not that he has committed any overt act, but simply that he will not do a certain thing that the Government wants him to do. Because of his refusal the Government calls upon you, sir, to exercise a power, you believe you possess under Standing Order No. 65, and which, I submit with all due respect, you do not possess. Standing Order No. 65 confines the authority of the Speaker to an action
Occurring within the precincts of the House.
There can not be the slightest doubt in the mind of any honorable member who views the matter dispassionately and judiciously, that the provisions of the Standing Order are being utilized punitively, to penalize a person to whom it does not apply.
– The Government proposes to punish him because he will not tell.
– Yes; the Government is taking this, action because Mr. Alexander is not disposed to disclose certain information. He is not guilty of a misdemeanour that would entitle Mr. Speaker to deal with him under the provisions of Standing Order No. 65. We are dealing with one of the great institutions of the country, the press.
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in proceeding along those lines.
– Do you, sir, know what I am about to say?
– I heard sufficient to know that the honorable member was out of order. I will read the motion that is before the House, to obviate any excuse for the honorable member transgressing. It is -
That the expulsion of a member of the press from the press gallery or precincts of the
House is a question for the House to decide, and is not a matter for decision by the Speaker, acting either on his own authority or at the suggestion of the Ministry.
- Mr. Alexander is a member of the press, one of the great institutions of the country. Surely the matter should not be treated as though we were dealing with some drunken or disorderly person who gained access to the chamber. That might be implied by the exercise by Mr. Speaker of the powers conferred onhim under Standing Order No. 65, which he is using against Mr. Alexander. I claim that if this Parliament has any rights they are vested in its members, and not in you, sir. The protection and safeguarding of the rights and privileges of the House rests with its individual members, who should guard them jealously and surrender them to no one whose position is analagous to that of a chairman at a public meeting. Those sacred rights have been won at a great price, and it is the duty of honorable members to assert and preserve them. Theirs should be the power to determine who should and should not come within the precincts of the House.
.- Quite a lot of enthusiasm has been displayed in this debate. One can only hope that the House will show as much enthusiasm in a more worthy cause. After all, the question resolves itself into one of whether the Speaker has or has not the right to act as you, sir, have acted. I have been a member of this House for many years, and have seen a number of Speakers come and go; and so far as I can recall they have all held, and have acted as though they held, the authority that you have exercised in this matter. On some occasions their decisions have been- a trifle irksome to us when we sat on the other side of the House, and we sometimes considered that they did what they ought not to do. That, however, will always be the case. If honorable members opposite wish to alter the Standing Orders to enable each and every member to have the right to say who shall come and who shall go in this House, why do they not approach the matter in the proper way, by giving notice of motion for the recision of the powers under which you have acted? I regret very much that, at the moment at any rate, the House has not the opportunity to explore and deal with the question in all its phases and ramifications. The Opposition, had they so desired, could have made it possible for us to do so ; but, instead of availing themselves of that opportunity, the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) brought down a motion that is a complete challenge to the Standing Orders under which this Parliament operates, and to an authority that I feel confident he would very jealously have guarded had he been the occupant of the chair. I trust that the honorable member will not feel that I am reflecting in any way upon him, because I am not, when I say that while he was Chairman of Committees he exercised his powers to the fullest extent. I have no complaint to make about that ; nor do I think that he should complain to-day when the Speaker exercises his authority.
Shortly, my view is this : I have every confidence that you, sir, as Speaker, will not do anything that can be construed as partisan, punitive or unjust. I . am willing to leave in your hands the decision of this matter. I am not prepared to interpret the Standing Orders. Many interpretations of them have been given, but each appears to differ from the others. I accept your interpretation of the Standing Orders, and your statement of the power that you possess.
– No matter who suffers, or how he suffers?
– Whether any person is suffering or not, is another matter. If the judgment is right, somebody has to suffer a hardship. That has nothing to do with the judgment; rather is it the fault of the law, which can be altered if such action is thought desirable. If I could examine the question whether any person is suffering an injustice, I would willingly do so and clearly indicate my opinion. I hope that, if possible, the Government will give this House an opportunity to do so. In such an event, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) would have no complaint to make as to my openness in expressing the views that I hold.
– Have a go now !
– I do not want to do so, because I have no wish to come into conflict with the Speaker. That, in a nutshell, is the position as I see it. I have always recognized that, in a general way, the Speaker has the power which you, sir, now claim to possess. You have taken certain action, and if you have acted wrongly the fault lies with you. I do not think that you have. I repeat, that if honorable members do not want the Speaker to have this power, the only thing for them to do is to amend the Standing Orders. It is all very well for the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) to assert that honorable members have rights in this House. The majority of us have rights but nothing else. That was my experience during ten years in opposition, when the name of the Opposition was mud. When honorable members opposite sat on this side of the House, and we sat there, we were not given one quarter of the consideration that this Government has extended to them. Those who command a majority in this House can do anything, even to the extent of removing one gentleman from the Speakership and appointing another, so long as they act constitutionally and within the ,. limits of their powers.
– We do not object to that. What we object to is one man exercising powers over us.
– The honorable member for Warringah has not been in this House for many years; but some other honorable members who are objecting to the action of the Speaker have been here longer than I have. While they sat on the Government side of the House they did not attempt to take this power from the Speaker, but were only too glad to use it whenever it suited them to do so. That fact might very well be stressed.
I conclude by saying that I hope that the Attorney-General, or whoever is in charge of this matter, will continue the investigation into it, in an endeavour to sheet home the blame for the divulging of these documents. I am bound to say, however, that the publication of secret, confidential documents, leaves me somewhat cold. Too much secrecy is observed in regard to the operations of responsible governments in this age of democracy. If the people were more fully acquainted with the nature of such secret documents it would be better for democracy.
– I assure the honorable member that it is not the secrecy of the documents that is in question.
– I quite realize that, and make the remark merely in passing. While the present) practice is a recognized part of the governmental system it should be. honoured to the full. I am not much concerned about the person who obtained this information and published it. If it came from an unauthorized source the man who gave it to him is more guilty than he. That, however, is not for me to judge to-day. I am content to leave the matter in your hands, Mr. Speaker, and your decision will satisfy me.
.- The Speaker has decided to take action to remove a pressman from the galleries and the precincts of this House because he has offended in a certain direction. We now ask the House to say whether that action ought more properly to be taken by the House itself, or whether the Speaker has the right under the Standing Orders to expel a pressman for an offence such as is alleged to have been committed.
In discussing this motion, one has to consider the nature of the offence. Apparently the Government considers that the person concerned has committed an offence because he revealed the contents of certain documents to which he was not entitled to have access; but he has not abused any privilege or in any way interfered with the proceedings of this House. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) stated that he had invited you, sir, to take certain action because of alleged guilt, but this man unless he has committed some offence should not be dealt with by the Speaker against the wishes of this House. It appears that the only charge which has been laid against him by the Government is that he had certain documents in his possession, that he was not prepared to disclose the source from which he obtained them, and that the onus is upon him to prove the source from which they came. But as the Attorney-General said to-day that the investigation has not yet been concluded it would appear that the case would be prejudiced by any action which may now be taken by you, Mr. Speaker, or by the House. If the Government believed that the person concerned should not be allowed in the gallery or the precincts of the House, it should have asked the House to decide the matter. It would appear that the Government is evading its duty by placing upon you, sir, the responsibility of arriving at a decision. I am definitely of the opinion that this is a matter which the House itself should decide, and that the Government should have invited the House to take action if it considered such a course necessary. The person concerned has not in any way abused a privilege, or interfered with the proceedings of this Parliament. The offence which is alleged to have been committed is that he had in his possession certain secret documents, the contents of which should not have been revealed to the public. Is that an offence against this House or against honorable members?
– The nature of the offence is not under consideration.
– Clearly, there must be some offence, and its nature should determine whether the House or Mr. Speaker should act. If further inquiries are being conducted, and the person responsible is to be brought before a proper tribunal, no action whatever should be taken in this chamber.
.- I shall preface my very brief remarks on this subject by expressing the utmost confidence which I feel, sir, in your impartiality. You have always treated Ministers and members alike, regardless of the position they occupy in the House. The question we have to decide is whether, in the action which you propose to take, you are not exceeding the powers conferred upon you as the presiding officer in this House. Undoubtedly, under Standing Order No. 65, very complete power and authority is given to you with respect to happenings in this House and its precincts. But the fact has been clearly established that the documents which have formed the subject of this discussion were obtained, not from this House or from its precincts, but from somewhere outside - probably from a government department, or from some person whose work is not directly associated with this Parliament. That is obvious, as this House was not sitting when the incident occurred. I submit, with the greatest respect, that the action you pro- pose to take suggests that your authority is not confined to what occurs in this House and its precincts, but also embraces happenings outside. If that is the case you are making the task of your successors very difficult and, by creating such a precedent, you will, in effect, cause them to become the policemen, of the Federal Capital Territory.
Motion (by Mr. Ward) put.
That the question be nowput.
The House divided. (Mb. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . Nil.
Question so resolved in the negative.
Standing orders suspended to enable questions upon notice to be answered.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. A few minutes ago when the House was in division, and also immediately afterwards, certain remarks were made to me regarding my action in voting when I had given a pair to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James).
– A very sick man.
Honorable members interjecting-
– When a personal explanation is being made I ask that the honorable member who is speaking be heard in silence.
– My action in voting was described as despicable. It was not so despicable-
– In making a personal explanation, the honorable gentleman is is not entitled to make general observations. He must content himself with correcting any misrepresentation to which he claims he has been subjected.
– I used the word “ despicable “ because that word was used by the honorable member responsible for the despicable scene which occurred this morning. It is true that I gave a pair to the honorable member for Hunter, who is supposed to be a government supporter. But the motion before the House was one moved by a private member. The closure was moved, not by a member of the Government, but by a private member who, although he sits on the right of the Chair, does not belong to the Government party. I, therefore, did not consider myself bound in any way by the pair that I had given.
The other motion - one dealing with a question of privilege - which was raised by the honorable member for Oxley, a private member, dealt with a matter affecting the rights and privileges of private members of this House, including myself. The life of the Government did not depend on the decision. The party to which the honorable member for Hunter is assumed to belong was divided on the motion, three voting against it, and one for it. As I am not a thoughtreader, I am unable to say how the honorable member for Hunter would have regarded the motion had he been here instead of being some hundreds of miles away. I make no apology for voting in that division. I do not consider that I have in any way dishonoured the pair that I gave. The motion was not in connexion with any government measure: it was one moved by a private member in relation to a matter of privilege. It affected me, not as a member of any party, but as a private member of this House, and I feel that I was perfectly entitled to vote.
picturegram service- radio research - Commemorative Postage Stamps.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained from the Commonwealth Bank, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Some of the information asked for by the honorable member is not readily available. This information is being obtained, and replies to the honorable member’s questions will be furnished as soon as possible.
– On the 17th April, 1931, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked the following questions, upon notice-
I am now able to give the following answer to the honorable member’s questions : -
– On several occa sions recently questions have been asked whether, in view of the present very serious depression, the Commonwealth would grant some relief to the community, particularly the farming community, from the provisions of the Bankruptcy Act. It has also been suggested that the Commonwealth should proclaim a moratorium. It is desirable that the position of the Commonwealth in this matter should be clearly stated. At the outset, it should be understood that the Commonwealth Parliament has no general power to legislate for the creation of a moratorium. A moratorium was certainly established by the Commonwealth in war time, but only as an exercise of the defence power. That power would not avail to support the establishment of a moratorium at the present time. If a moratorium is desirable, it cannot at the present time be provided except by the States. A moratorium in itself, that is, a postponement of the right to take legal proceedings for the recovery of debt, is not inconsistent with the Bankruptcy Act, although it precludes bankruptcy proceedings from being taken, because it prevents the debt from becoming due. An instance of such legislation is the act known as the Debt Adjustment Act, which was passed by the State of South Australia in 1929. That act provides for the creation of an office of Director of Debt Adjustment. It is one of the duties of the’ Director to endeavour to bring about an amicable arrangement for - the payment of the indebtedness of farmers, without recourse being had to legal proceedings. The Director is empowered, in cases where he thinks it desirable to do so, to grant to a debtor farmer a protection certificate, which, within certain limits, has the effect of preventing the commencement of actions for the recovery of debts, and the taking of proceedings in the nature of execution of judgments already obtained. Certain powers are given to creditors to object to the issue of such a certificate. As the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Act does not prescribe the conditions under which a creditor may obtain judgment and execution in respect of a debt, a State act on the lines of the South Australian Act appears to be within the legislative’ sphere of the . States. The suggestion that the Commonwealth should suspend the provisions of the Bankruptcy Act, either as regards all debts or as regards any particular class of debtors, is one which would not be in the interests of the community, and therefore it cannot be entertained by the Commonwealth Government.
– Yesterday, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) asked me a question, without notice, in regard to information supplied to him by the Treasurer showing the actual distribution to the States from moneys in the Federal Aid Roads Trust Account for the financial years 1928-29, 1929-30, and 1930-31 (nine months). I desire to inform the honorable member that all moneys allocated to the States from the Federal Aid Roads Trust Fund were for the purpose of road expenditure as prescribed by the Federal Aid Roads Agreement.
contractual Obligationto British Government.
– On the 17 th April, the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I have now obtained the following information : -
– On the 26th March, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) asked me the following questions, upon notice . - 1.What is the membership of the Waterside Workers Federation?
I have no official information on the subject, but figures made available are shown hereunder -
Mr. SCULLIN (through Mr. Holloway). - On the 10th December last, the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) asked the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) whether certain information regarding unemployment amongst members of the Waterside Workers Federation could be made available. No official information is available, but figures supplied are shown below. A return was obtained through the courtesy of the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, giving the following figures, which, according to a recent communication from the federation, indicate approximately the present position: -
– by leave - As honorable members are aware the Nairana was placed on the winter run of the Tasmanian mail service last year by a special arrangement between the exPostmasterGeneral (Mr. Lyons) and the Tasmanian Steamship Company. This arrangement provided that that vessel would be taken off the winter run from the 16th of May to the 31st of July. Recently my department received a letter from the Tasmanian Steamship Company, stating that the company intended to take the Nairana off the run on the 6th of May this year, instead of the 16th, and to place it back on__the run in the middle of August. That arrangement, of course, is not so satisfactory as the previous one. One of the officers of my department wrote to the Tasmanian Steamship Company on this subject, and received a reply to the effect that it was necessary to take the vessel off the run ten days earlier, because definite arrangements had been made for docking it; but, as a result of my representations, the company has agreed to replace the Nairana on the run on the 1st August.
– When will the Loongana resume the north-western run?
– I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member know.
The following paper was presented : -
In committee (Consideration resumed from 23rd April, vide page 1273) :
Clause 3 (Denomination, &c, of notes).’
.- This clause proposes to amend section 60h of the Commonwealth Bank Act, and its marginal note is “Denomination, &c, of notes “. The word “ &c.” is the most important part of this provision, and it is now proposed to be struck out. Section 60h will in future relate only to the denomination of notes. These words may look innocuous, and relatively harmless, as they appear in the clause, but when reference is made to section 60h it will be seen that it provides as follows: - (1.) Australian notes may be issued in any of the following denominations, namely, Five shillings, Ten shillings, One pound, Five pounds, Ten pounds or any multiple of Ten pounds, and shall -
That will still be the law if this clause is passed. The section continues -
That will continue to be the law. The next paragraph reads -
The clause proposes to omit the words “ in gold coin (or, in the case of a single five shillings Australian note, in silver coin)”. Therefore, if this provision becomes law, paragraph (c) will read -
What an illuminating enlightening and valuable provision to have in our Statute Book! Why not dispense with it altogether since it does not mean anything? Why speak of the redemption of the notes at all ? Why not simply strike out paragraph (c) so that the section will provide that Commonwealth notes may be issued in certain denominations, that they shall be printed and issued by the Commonwealth Bank Board, and that they shall be legal tender? That is what this legislation means. Why preserve any pretence of the promise of the Treasurer to redeem the notes? This wonderful promise has not yet been drafted, and I suggest that honorable members on that side should try their hands at settling the terms of this promise by the Treasurer to redeem the notes. What does such a promise mean? It means that if a note is presented at the Commonwealth Bank another one will be issued in exchange for it - perhaps a nice new clean note. If there were even the promise of a clean note that would be something, but I do not anticipate that there will be even that amount of reality in the promise. Why not go straight to the substance of the matter and eliminate all reference to redemption, for it is a meaningless, futile, foolish pretence and a sham. I could say a good deal more about it. I rather envy the person who will have the duty of drafting the promise to redeem these notes. The notes in circulation at present bear the following promise: -
The Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia promises to pay the bearer£l in gold coin on demand at the head office of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
– That promise is a lie. The Treasurer cannot redeem all the notes in gold.
– That is a matter for the Treasurer and the honorable member to discuss. I know that the honorable gentleman has been very concerned about the necessity for introducing veracity on to the face of our notes, and that it must be a comfort and a great satisfaction to him to know that the Commonwealth has, unfortunately, reached the position when he is able to justify the proposed change. To me it is a matter for very great regret.
– The notes are legal tender.
– The promise on them is to be altered by omitting all reference to gold coin. I suppose the new note will read-
The Treasurer of the Commonwealth promises to pay the bearer £1 -
The “ £ 1 ” is repeated three times, though I do not suppose it means that £3 will be paid. Perhaps it means, as I have heard some people outside this chamber say, that when the fiduciary notes and the ordinary Australian notes are both in circulation the bearer will get a “ fid. “ for a “ quid “. I consider that all reference to redemption might well be omitted.
– The notes will be beyond redemption.
– They will be beyond, below or above redemption. There will be no significance whatever in any promise to redeem. It cannot be said that a note is redeemed if another note is given in place of it. Of what use is it therefore to say that the notes will be redeemed?
– Is this one of the proposals of the Leader of the Opposition for restoring confidence?
– I fail to appreciate the point of that observation. The honorable gentleman occasionally makes observations, which have just floated to the surface of his mind, on subjects to which other honorable members have already given a good deal of study. My point is that such a promise as this to redeem these notes will have no significance.
– No one would ever have any confidence in the Leader of the Opposition as a politician.
– I cannot hope to aspire so high as to earn the confidence, as distinct from the esteem, of the honorable member; but I really think that he means better than he speaks. It would be unkind of any one to suggest that his character should be judged by the speeches he makes. I assure him that I hold a much higher opinion of him than of his speeches, but I hasten to apologize to him lest my remarks should cause him embarrassment among his friends. If this clause is passed the notes will be legal tender, but they will not be redeemable. If the Treasurer were here I should ask him to omit paragraph (c) of sub-clause 1 of the section; but I can hardly hope that the Government, in his absence, would dare to agree to anything. If this bill is passed, we shall have a most remarkable measure on the statute-book. I suggest that we should try to avoid making our currency something in the nature of a laughing stock, and that therefore, we should strike out the promise’ to redeem.
– The Leader of the Opposition is afraid that the clause will be carried; that is what is worrying him.
– The honorable member for East Sydney may, though I am not sure, be able to express his own thoughts, but he is certainly unable to express mine. There can be no question but that these notes will be inconvertible. Everybody knows that. I, therefore, suggest that they should not fear a promise that they will be converted, for there would be no meaning in it, and it is just as well that we should tell the truth on the face of our legislation. The honorable member for Werriwa, with his enthusiasm for unimpeachable veracity, wants to tell the truth on these notes. It would be stupid for the Government to issue the notes with the promise to pay upon them.
.- I am quite prepared to support the proposal that the notes should bear no promise to pay, and I do not think that the Government would offer any objection to it. Possibly, the retention of this provision in the act is an oversight. The stupidity of some honorable members about this gold hoodoo is enough to make a man sick. The Leader of the Opposition has said that the notes at present in circulation carry a promise that they will be redeemed in gold; but he knows that the promise could not be fulfilled.
– But the promise is
– Governments, treasurers and politicians, are in the habit of making promises which they know very well can never be fulfilled, and which they do not intend to fulfil. The Leader of the Opposition has admitted that the notes are legal tender, yet he talks as though there is some significance in a paper currency having a gold backing. He knows very well that all our legal tender laws are based upon what is known as the Pitt Act of 1844, which laid down that debts of more than £2 could only be legally discharged in gold. That meant that if a creditor demanded gold in settlement of any debt in excess of £2 the debt could not be discharged until he .received it. Debts under £2 could, under that act, be discharged in silver, and’ debts under one shilling in copper. But the clays of the alleged gold basis of redemption are past. They passed immediately upon the enactment of the laws which made paper money legal tender. No man will demand gold when he knows that notes can be paid over the counter to anybody and must be accepted as the legal discharge of a debt. “We have had no need for a gold backing to Commonwealth notes since the day when they were made legal tender, and it is unnecessary to have a gold backing to paper money that is made legal tender. Not one person in the community worries whether there is a sovereign behind every note issued, so long as the acceptance of notes in discharge of debts is compulsory. The promise to pay in gold, which is given under the present currency system, is mere make-believe. I hope that the Government will eliminate humbug in this matter and drop the claim that Commonwealth notes may be redeemed in gold at the Treasury. Then we shall have the people thinking seriously along the lines of sensible currency.
– And financial reform.
– Yes. It is amazing that the Leader of the Opposition, with his intelligence, should advance such a childish argument as we have heard from him this afternoon for acceptance by a committee of grown men, let alone a body supposed to be the elect of the people. [Quorum formed.’]
Clause agreed to.
After section 60h of the principal act the following section is inserted : - “ 60ha. -
– I move-
That proposed new section 60HA be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following new section - “60ha.- (1.) Any sum payable, in the Com monwealth or in any Territory under the con trol of the Commonwealth, under any contract or agreement, whether made before or after the commencement of this section, may be paid in Australian notes or Treasury Notes issued under any other act, notwithstanding any provision in the contract or agreement requiring payment in any other currency. (2.) Any provision in any contract or agreement, under which any sum is payable in the Commonwealth or in any Territory under the control of the Commonwealth, which requires the payment of any further or additional amount by reason of the rate of exchange existing with any other country shall, subject to this section, be void and of no effect. ( 3. ) A further or additional amount of which payment is required shall be deemed to be required by reason of the rate of exchange existing with another country if in the opinion of any Court of competent jurisdiction it is in fact required for that reason, notwithstanding that in the contract or agreement that reason is not expressed or some other reason is expressed. (4.) The Governor-General may, by notice published in the Gazette, exempt from the operation of sub-section (2.) of this section contracts and agreements, of such class - as is specified in the notice, whether made before or after the date of publication of the notice.”
The principal alteration is that contained in proposed new sub-section 4.
– The second sub-section is also new matter.
– Yes ; but the principal amendment is contained in the fourth sub-section. Some anxiety arose in the minds of insurance and shipping firms that the proposed new section might interfere with existing contracts; but the Government has no intention to permit that. “When the Treasurer was introducing the bill he pointed out the necessity for this amendment of the law, and quoted a statement from the Australian Law Journal of the 15th March, which suggested the following provision in regard to mortgages: -
If on the date on which the principal sum is paid to or received or sued for by the mortgagee the telegraphic exchange rate between Australia and London is against Australia, and is in excess of the existing rate against Australia of £30 per centum, I will on such date pay to the mortgagee in addition to the principal sum such sum per centum of the principal sum as is equal to the amount of the said excess.
Such a provision would enable a mortgagor, under inducement or pressure of the mortgagee, to contract out of certain rights he has in the discharge of his obligations in event of exchange going higher than 30 per cent. Provision is therefore made in the bill that any contract of such a nature should be null and void. It was desired to prevent the proposed new section from voiding certain existing contracts, some of which applied to shipping. I received deputations from representatives of the Overseas Transport Association, which comprises ship-owners and shippers, and I gave them an assurance that it was not intended under this measure to render those contracts null and void. I promised that if an amendment were necessary to provide against that the Government would submit one. Under the legal advice that we have, this matter can best be safeguarded by proposed new sub-section 4.
.- This amendment is designed to place the burden of any alteration in exchange rates always upon the person who receives money, and never on the person who pays it. I cannot see any virtue in putting that burden on one class rather than on another. Why should not persons contract upon such a basis as they think proper? The effect of this clause is to make void provision for the variation of payments according to increases in exchange rates. Therefore, it places the loss always upon the creditor. I know that there are some persons who have a general abhorrence of creditors, and think that a debtor is always a poor man whose interests are to be considered in preference to those of a creditor; but legislation of this kind, animated by such sentimental considerations, generally destroys itself. It reacts against debtors, against those who desire to buy goods on terms, or who wish to borrow money. It puts up the prices of goods against them, and increases the price of the money that they wish to borrow. In the long run, I am doubtful whether it produces any useful effect. Sub-section 3 of the proposed new section is rather a remarkable provision. There may be legislative provisions of this character somewhere in. the world, but- I call the attention of the committee to its farreaching nature. It states - (3.) A further or additional amount of which payment is required shall be deemed to be required by reason of the rate of exchange existing with another country if in the opinion of any Court of competent jurisdiction it is in fact required for that reason, notwithstanding that in the contract or agreement that reason is not expressed or ‘‘some other reason is expressed.
As a general rule contracts in writing are construed according to their terms. The legislature quite rightly in a number of cases provides that certain agreements should be void as contrary to public policy or contrary to good morals or something like that; but I am unaware of provision in any law which makes it possible for a court, and, indeed, invites it, to hold that, although a contract says one thing and both parties to it agree that that is what it says and means, it is at liberty to hold that the contract means something else. I am afraid that this provision may produce effects which are not at all contemplated or intended by the Government. It will be particularly and, I suppose, exclusively, so far as 1 can see, of importance in connexion with transactions with other countries; because upon contracts made within Australia and between Australians the rate of foreign exchange - is never introduced as an element. But if an Australian is buying or selling goods abroad, this provision will become important, and it will be so in relation to any contracts or agreements made in Australia which are subject to Australian law. It can, speaking generally, have no operation or effect in relation to agreements made outside Australia, and the place where an agreement -is made depends, in law, on the place where the offer is accepted. As I have already said, any one with a reasonable degree of legal competence, if he so desires, ‘ would be able to run rings around a provision like this. It is the sort of thing which makes me regret that I am spending my time in this chamber instead of in another place, where it would be likely to help to support a very deserving class of the community, namely, the lawyers and their families. It is the sort of thing which I, as a barrister, would welcome if I were able to regard these matters entirely from the point of view of self-interest. Those who are clever enough to be able to obtain sufficiently skilled advice will be able to evade the effect of this section. It cannot apply to most contracts made outside Australia, and it is merely a matter of introducing new commercial practice to evade its application altogether.
It is recognized that the whole section cannot be allowed to operate universally, and accordingly under sub-section 4 the Government may exempt any class of contracts from the operation of the section. That circumstance, in itself, indicates the difficulty and the possibly unsound nature of the general principle involved in the whole section. A certain principle is to be applied, but the Government may exempt any one from it, although there is no line of discrimination to indicate what matter the Governor-General must take into account in determining whether or not there should be an exemption from the operation of the section. Consequently, the matter is left merely to the will of the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has referred to the Overseas Transport Association and the contracts into which it has entered for the shipment of goods to and from Australia. These contracts represent the result of many months, indeed years, of work, and a bill was passed through this House last year in order to give efficacy to them. Under them, the shipping companies make firm contracts with the shippers, including a rebate arrangement if the shippers transport all their goods by the lines controlled by the association, and the general judgment is that such contracts are desirable in the interests of Australian trade. They contain provisions which secure to the ship-owners a definite return, and provision is therefore made for an adjustment of exchange. But they are necessarily long-term contracts and the parties to them want to know where they stand under this legislation. I doubt whether sub-section 4 will sufficiently safeguard their position under these contracts, the whole matter being optional and at the discretion of the Government. There is no provision of law exempting them.
– This is a provision of law which exempts them.
– It is a provision under which the Government may give an exemption from time to time and for such time as the Government itself fixes, but I have some doubt as to whether that will be regarded as having sufficient certainty about it to enable the shipping companies and the others concerned in Australia to continue to operate under the terms of their present agreements.
I invite the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) to the fact that the power to exempt is limited to contracts and agreements of a class specified. It might be necessary to exempt a particular contract between A and B, and the exemption of such a specific contract might not be possible under this provision unless a weird description of “ a class “ were invented. I suggest that in order to avoid any possible legal controversy the Government might give some consideration to extending the power to exempt by allowing it to cover specifically identified contracts and agreements as well as contracts abd agreements of a class specified: I agree that it would be unwise to limit the provision to specifically identified contracts and agreements, because the expense and work involved would be unjustifiable, but it might be desirable for the Government to have the power to exempt some particular contract which may commend itself to it as being a proper subject for exemption. If the Prime Minister is not prepared to make up his mind at the moment I shall be satisfied if he will give consideration to the points which I have raised, and have the matter adjusted in another place.
– The suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that I should give consideration to the question of extending the power to exempt will ‘receive attention. It may be that the clause as it stands would not give us power to exempt a specific agreement, though I am under the impression that it was designed to do that. If there is a specific contract which should be exempted provision to that end should be made. Specific contracts between shippers and ship-owners should, I imagine, come under this clause. “With regard to the honorable gentleman’s remarks about subclause 3, it has been drafted so that there shall not be an evasion of the intention of the whole section. The purpose of the clause is to prevent in certain cases creditors from forcing debtors to sign contracts under mortgages ‘or agreements requiring them to make payments in currency other than Australian currency or to make increased payments in Australian currency in the event of any adverse exchange movement between Australia and other countries. That, I think, is a very desirable provision to have in the bill. It is recognized, of course, that such a clause may also tie up contracts dealing with oversea matters, such as firm contracts between shippers which may contain a provision for the payment of freight at the port of shipment or the port of destination. Obviously, one contract or the other might be declared void if it were not provided for in a specific clause giving the power to exempt. This power to exempt, I may add, is administrative, to be used in the public interest, and in its exercise there need be no greater discrimination than under other legislation, which authorizes the Government to make regulations, which is, of course, an essential power. I shall certainly look into the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition and see if the meaning of the words “ such class as specified “ may not be further extended.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I shall be glad if the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) will give instructions for honorable members to be supplied with a roneo copy of the paper laid on the table of the House by the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) dealing with the leakage of cable messages that passed between the Prime Minister and the Acting Treasurer during the absence from Australia of the Prime Minister. I am not asking that the paper be printed because of the expense involved ; but roneo copies should, I think, be made available to honorable, members as soon as possible.
– That will be done.
– I presume that, with regard to the new Standing Order agreed to by the House yesterday, arrangements will be’ made by you, Mr. Speaker, to have copies interleaved with the other Standing Orders for the convenience of honorable members.
– I shall give instructions to have that done.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.52 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 April 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310424_reps_12_129/>.