16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. M. Nairn) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I do so in order that the secret meeting of members of the two Houses, which was held yesterday and adjourned until to-day, may be continued.
MrBRENNAN (Batman) [2.32].- Are we to understand that this is a motion for the adjournment of the House?
– That is the English of it.
– I propose to employ a little English myself.
– That will be something fresh.
– I am familiar not only with the language but also with the British tradition of liberty and fair play. Yesterday, at least, honorable members of this Parliament were free to exercise their rights to the extent of asking questions and receiving answers - at times, only answers of a kind. Yesterday I asked a question which had nothing to do with the war, but related to correct constitutional procedure and the maintenance of the principles of responsible government, and the Acting Prime Minister said that he would answer my question in a secret meeting of members of this Parliament.
– The honorable member was not here to hear the answer.
– On principle I was not here to hear it ; and I protest against the proposed method of answering it. I say now that my constituents were entitled to know at once both the question and the answer - if there was an answer.
– There was not.
– The honorable gentleman said that he would deal with my question behind my back, in thestar chamber, behind closed doors. I am not satisfied with that.I tell the honorable gentleman now that he will be compelled to answermy question; either he will do so in words or his silence will prove that he has no answer. He may please himself. Apparently, two days and two nights of the time of this Parliament, which was convened for the discharge of public business, is to be taken up in exchanges between Ministers and honorable members in circumstances which are not consistent with the democratic principle, and, in fact, do grievous violence to the principles of democracy for which men at this very moment are being asked to lay down their lives. Was not the sitting yesterday sufficient for the purpose: of retailing with bated breath the secrets of the Government - if there were any secrets - and burdening honorable members with information which they could not use in the interests of the people who sent them here ? Is it necessary to give the whole of this week to this clandestine method of dealing with public business? Must we have the whole of the time, not merely a fraction of it, occupied in this way? Was it not possible yesterday to deal with the matters which were regarded as secret and which, apparently, members wanted to know for their own information ? I have no desire to be burdened with governmental secrets; I have no place in this Parliament except as a representative of the people. There is no other purpose to be served, and for no other purpose was I sent here. I repeat - because it needs to be repeated - that yesterday when I asked a question which could not in any conceivable circumstances have heartened the enemy or given to him information of value, I was told that that question would be dealt with in a secret meeting. I do not profess to know, nor do I desire to know, whether or not the Acting Prime Minister purported to deal with that question in secret. I propose to deal with it in the only way that I am qualified to speak about it, namely, as a member of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. I have no other standing, and no other interest in the matter. No doubt the Acting Prime Minister is a political neophyte; he has had little experience in the conduct of public business; already since his accidental promotion to the position which be now holds he has committed grave blunders which reveal him as a man inexperienced in the niceties and, indeed, in the fundamental principles of public affairs. I invite him to come out into the open, and let the wind blow upon him and the sun shine upon him. He has no authority whatever , so far as I know, to introduce the star chamber here. I have no desire to be a party to the star chamber either as an auditor of the inquisition or as an exponent of the policy of the inquisition. I say to the Acting Prime Minister, “ Come out into the open and face the people like a man. Better to go down under the searchlight of criticism and under the scathing influences of the attack that will be rightly made on the Government than shirk, as you are doing, your obligations to the people and the country by a continuation of this policy of secrecy, of meeting where you may not be heard, where a seal is placed on the lips of those who hear you so that they may not criticize you in public - in other words, so that you may not be found out “.
.- I expressed the view in this chamber yesterday that we should not adopt a prejudiced attitude towards a secret session. I attended the meeting yesterday, and I believe that my view was justified. I benefited very considerably from the information that was given to us by Ministers. I am entirely convinced that I have a much better background now upon which to form opinions in regard to international affairs, and the war effort generally, than I would have had if I, like the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), had not attended. Perhaps he has no need to attend such a meeting in order to formulate his views on international affairs. That is his business, and I do not condemn him, but I hold the view that the meeting was an outstanding success. At this meeting, which was recommended to honorable members by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), things were said, not all of which could be said on the floor of this House this afternoon, and that, I am convinced is the opinion of most honorable members who attended.
However, the refusal of the Government to allow questions without notice this afternoon is not, in my opinion, justified. We have been in recess for three months. There are many vital and pressing issues to bring before the House. There is every possibility that Parliament will not sit for very long. I see no international matters requiring urgent attention which would prevent our devoting an hour, or an hour and a half, to questions without notice. I do not propose, if I can help it, to be denied the right of asking questions this afternoon. I want the Acting Prime Minister to know that I oppose the elimination of questions.
.- I join with the honorable member for Batman (Air. Brennan) in protesting, not only against any further delay by the House in carrying on with its ordinary business, but also against the infringement of the rights of honorable members by preventing them from asking questions without notice on urgent matters of public importance. I cannot join with the honorable member for Martin in saying that yesterday’s secret meeting of members was an informative one, but I have had it reliably reported to me that, while certain Ministers were making statements, there were more members outside the chamber than inside, and of those inside more were asleep than were awake.
– The honorable member should have been there to see for himself.
– Therefore, I think that the honorable members who are now trying to impress the public with the importance of the declarations made yesterday are merely seeking to excuse their own failure to protest against the infringement of their rights as representatives of the people. Yesterday the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) gave an undertaking that the report from the Inspector-General of Administration in regard to the Abbco bread case would be tabled in Parliament to-day. It is significant that the Acting Prime Minister has not given the Minister an opportunity to table the report before honorable members again go into secret conclave.
– The procedure proposed will not prevent the tabling of the report.
– Perhaps not, because the Acting Prime Minister may now have made up his mind to take action, but he did not previously intend to allow the report to be tabled. Honorable members on this side of the House have repeatedly had to ask questions regarding the military boots scandal, and eighteen months ago we urged that an inquiry be held into that affair, while the Government and its supporters were seeking to protect the profiteers. We protested when the Chief Inspector, Mr. Gill, was forced out of the Service because he was insisting that manufacturers should adhere to the terms of the specifications. The Government permitted him to be victimized, and rewarded the firms responsible by giving them more orders. Among those firms was Fostars’, which, as has now been revealed, forged the inspector’s stamp so that materials not duly passed might be used in the making of boots under military contracts. Are we not to exercise our right as members of Parliament in order to expose these abuses? Is it not important that thousands of pairs of defective boots have been sent overseas; that Australian troops fighting over rough country are shod with boots that will probably fall to pieces on their feet, thus jeopardizing their safety and the success of campaigns in which they are engaged? Does the Government think these matters sufficiently important to be raised on the floor of the House, or does it think it more important that the Minister for the Army should be able to make long-winded statements tracing the history of the war since it was first declared, and telling honorable members things which have been repeated over and over again in the public press and from public platforms from one end of the country to the other? I do not know whether the Acting Prime Minister consulted with anybody else, but there does appear to be a good deal of collusion with the idea of preventing honorable members from exercising their rights to criticize the Government and to expose scandals.
– They will keep. What does the honorable member mean by collusion ?
– The Acting Prime Minister to-day admitted that his failure to answer a question by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was not because to do so might disclose secrets of naval or military importance, but because he wanted to protect somebody else against the wrath of the honorable member for Batman. When I speak of collusion I mean that, when the rights of the representatives of the people are being attacked, and there is no protest from most honorable mem bers of this House the very silence of honorable members in regard to these matters leads one to believe that they consent to what the Government is doing. No other construction can be placed upon their attitude. I say that members of the Government, including the Minister for the Army and the Acting Prime Minister, by their gagging of members of Parliament - for that is what it amounts to - are permitting profiteering to go on, and are protecting those who are responsible for the bread scandal in New South Wales, and those who are responsible for the military boots scandal, and they are doing so under the pretence of holding secret sessions of Parliament, at which they may informhonorable members of the gravity of the situation. Referring to the recent grave warning which was signed by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) the Leader of the former Australian Labour Party (Noncommunist) (Mr. Beasley) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), an honorable member said yesterday that the meeting of service chiefs in Sydney had been arranged some considerable time before the issue of the warning.
– What has that to do with the present proposal ?
– The Acting Prime Minister knows that the Government issued the warning in an endeavour to hoax the public.
– I rise to order. I ask that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) be ordered to withdraw that remark, because the word “ hoax “ is unparliamentary, and is objectionable to the Government. The summoning of the service chiefs was not a hoax.
– I ask the honorable member for East Sydney to withdraw the word “hoax”.
– I withdraw it, and substitute the phrase “unwarranted scare”.
– A distinction without much difference!
– When General Sturdee arrived in Sydney in response to an urgent summons, he was interviewed by representatives of the press. Asked whether he desired to make a statement, he replied that he did not know what it was all about. That avowal justifies my asking those who signed the grave warning to submit to Parliament an explanation of their actions.
– That explanation was given last night.
– Ever since Japan joined the Axis, the position in the Far East has been grave, but the situation was no graver when the warning was sounded than it was when Japan linked itself with Italy and Germany. The maintenance of peace in the Pacific depends upon whether Japan desires to become actively associated with the Axis partners. The Commonwealth Government has no information which warranted it in issuing such a warning as that which it issued to the Australian public. In my opinion, it exploited the situation for political purposes. Workers in industry were demanding that the rights which they had fought for and won over many years should not be infringed, and the Government wanted them to accept any conditions or standards applied to them by the class that it represents in Parliament. We are entitled to take advantage of the few opportunities that are presented to us in Parliament to protest against what was done. For months Parliament has been in recess and honorable members have had no opportunity to ventilate such matters. Returning now to Canberra with numerous complaints, we desire to question the Government about methods which have been adopted to compel military trainees to enlist for service overseas, and all the “ ramps “ regarding supplies to military camps, and military, naval, and air force contracts. Unfortunately, we have been denied an opportunity to probe such matters. The Acting Prime Minister, after announcing yesterday that a secret meeting of members of the Senate and of the Souse of Representatives would be held, extracted from each member attending it a solemn and sacred pledge not to divulge any of the information disclosed at that gathering. Honorable members associated with me in making this protest are probably more patriotic in seeking to ensure the proper defence of this country, and not its exploitation, than are some honorable members who desire precisely the opposite. We were prepared to honour any undertaking to prevent the disclosure of information which might be of value to the enemy; but the exposure of instances of profiteering and racketeering in the Commonwealth is certainly not vital military information calculated to assist Italy and Germany. If we can expose such practices publicly and compel the Government to take action against the responsible persons, our action will promote the national interest. However, if I were to attend a secret meeting and ask questions about boot contracts or bread contracts in New South Wales, I would be pledgednot to divulge the replies that were submitted to me. The Acting Prime Minister informed honorable members that they could attend the secret meeting only on condition that they undertook to observe strict secrecy about any matter mentioned at the gathering. Therefore, though we may question the honorable gentleman about bread contracts, we must not mention publicly any information which we might secure.
– The honorable member could refer to such matters in a day or two, or next week.
– The pledge which the Acting Prime Minister yesterday extracted from honorable members before they were permitted to attend the secret meeting would debar me from so doing. I would be bound not to divulge the information. I join with the honorable member for Batman in protecting against this further infringement of the rights of the representatives of the people. If we ask our young men to sacrifice their lives for democracy, we should ensure that their representatives in Parliament are not prevented from exposing acts of profiteering and racketeering.
– When the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) yesterday invited honorable members to attend a secret meeting in order to hear information about the progress of Australia’s war effort, several of them stated that such a gathering would be futile. With that view, I was inclined to agree; but last night, honorable members who attended the meeting heard some most important statements from Ministers, particularly the address delivered by the Acting Prime Minister, and I then realized that the meeting was more than justified. Like the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) I believe that the representatives of the people in this chamber have certain rights that should be zealously guarded, but the rights of the people themselves must predominate to-day, when the paramount objective of the British Commonwealth of Nations is to win the war. We should be content to hear from Ministers the progress that is being made in Australia to assist Great Britain in this period of grave emergency.For my part, I am as keen as any one else to preserve for private members the rights which Parliament has conferred upon them, particularly the privilege of expressing themselves freely in the chamber; but I also recognize that we shall be well advised to listen to further reports by Ministers on the activities of their departments in connexion with the war effort. We have yet to hear the reports of the Minister for Air (Mr. McEwen) and the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator McBride), and, personally, I am most anxious to listen to their utterances. The honorable member for East Sydney would be well advised to hear what they have to say. I understood the Acting Prime Minister to say yesterday that an honorable member’s discretion would govern any information that he cared to divulge.
– I did not make that statement. Honorable members who attend the meeting are placed on their honour not to divulge any of the information that is submitted to them there.
– Then I was mistaken. Apparently every honorable member is pledged not to divulge any of the information, which he hears at the secret meeting, concerning the progress of our war effort. But the honorable member for East Sydney should bear in mind that, if the reports contain anything of a serious character, he will still be at liberty to discuss the matter in the House. If a company to which a Government contract has been let is allegedly guilty of fraudulent intent, it is open to honorable members to take appropriate action, which will not interfere with our paramount objective of helping the Empire in these hazardous times. I am prepared to defer any questions until to-morrow. I do not regard questions which I might address to Ministers as of greater importance than the matters we propose to discuss at the secret meeting. Certainly they are not so important that we cannot wait a few days for an answer. I give my unqualified support to those honorable” members who have urged that we must guard the privileges of members in relation to the asking of questions on public matters, but I suggest that, at a time like this, we should hear what Ministers have to say before we proceed to the consideration of private members’ business.
– This is the Parliament of a democracy, and we who are here are the representatives and the trustees of that democracy. As such we have a responsibility far in excess of that of any individual member of that democracy. In the very nature of things, we should be as fully informed as it is possible for us to be, so that our responsibility may be wisely discharged. We cannot discharge it with even such poor wisdom as we might possess unless the greatest amount of fact is at our disposal, and we know the precise situation in all its aspects. To the extent that we are not informed our judgment must suffer at least some impairment; we cannot give the maximum of our counsel although we have, I submit, the maximum of responsibility. The Government is responsible to this Parliament ; individual members of the Parliament are responsible to the people. The Government has declared the situation to be one of the utmost gravity; it is common knowledge that the whole future of representative government, as we know it in this country, is at stake. The Government says “We desire to inform members of the Parliament far more fully than has hitherto been possible, so that at this period of the war, they, the representatives of the people, may have a stocktaking of what we have done and what the situation is.” That is the right and proper thing to do, having regard to the fact that we have now been at war since the 3rd September, 1939, and that the state of the war to-day is far different from what it was at any earlier period. I shall not examine all that has taken place other than to say that, despite what might be said, wherever it might be said, and by whomsoever it might be said, the document which was issued under the joint signatures of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) and myself, was one to which I subscribed with a full sense of the meaning of every word in it, and every implication associated with it.
Honorable MEMBERS - Hear! Hear!
– I do not lightly subscribe my name to any document; especially do I not lightly subscribe my name in association with that of the leader of an opposing political party. In this case I did so not lightly, but with the most sober sense of duty to the men and women of this country. I stand to it to-day. I merely ask that the Government shall be allowed to submit to the members of the Parliament an outline of the situation at that time and how it arose, so that they may at least have some realization of what were the actual facts. What is it that the Government asked us to do yesterday, and asks of us again to-day? It is nothing more than to be allowed to put before the members of this Parliament, amongst other things, a statement of the naval position of Australia, which involves, of course, consideration of the naval position of the British Empire and of other countries as well. Is that a matter to be bandied about in the newspapers, to be the subject of all sorts of speculation and conjecture by those who cannot possibly know the facts? Is the country to be exposed to all sorts of constructions in other countries founded upon distorted accounts of what ha3 been said in this Parliament? The rest of the information to be given consists of a statement which may be described as military intelligence.
– And naval dispositions.
– Naval matters, naval dispositions, and naval strength, of both Australia and Great Britain. Surely to goodness, having regard to what has occurred, to what I at any rate know to be true, nobody will say that the position of Australia in a naval sense is such to-day that we can talk about it lightly and refuse to listen to the facts or that we can form opinions about it without knowing the facts. Does anybody suggest for one moment that in order that we might be equipped to know the facts it is imperative that everybody else in Aus tralia shall know them, which inevitably would mean that those who are enemies of this country would also get to know them ? The safety of this country was the sole purpose of the message which the three leaders submitted to. the people of Australia. All the matters integral, and related to the safety of this country, come within the major responsibility of every member of this Parliament. The Prime Minister and his Ministers carry a very grave responsibility because of the offices which they hold; but this Parliament has consented to the setting up of a further branch of responsibility in connexion with the conduct of the war. At the request of the Opposition, and as an alternative to certain proposals by the Government, a body has been established which is sworn to respect the knowledge which comes to it and to give wise counsel. To be a “ faithful counsellor “ - that is the oath taken by members of the Advisory War Council. That advisory body has a trusteeship to this country and to the Parliament. It desires that honorable gentlemen who also have responsibility shall not discharge it without possession of at least knowledge of the major facts and the substance of the situation. It is silly to say that every man in this country is entitled to know what members of Parliament know. Motions have been moved at conferences of the Australian Labour party that the press be admitted, and I have opposed them. They have invariably been rejected because we would not give to our political enemies knowledge of what the Labour council of war was going to do, or how it was going to do it.
– A good point.
– Good or bad, it is no new thing for me, or for any other man who has responsibility, to have to accept a duty that involves standing up ito propositions knowing full well he could not supply the reasons for them, because from the very nature of the case disclosure would not be wise. All this talk about star chambers, about smothering up profiteering, about operating in the interests of the monopolists of Australia, has its proper place. I say frankly that there is no question of profiteering involved in what the Ministers desire to state to the members of the Parliament at the secret meeting. No defence of profiteering will be tolerated by rae, for profiteering is in itself an offence against the safety and welfare of Australia, not only while we are at war but also a’t any other time. I am not going to have it alleged, or even construed by those whom it may please so to construe it, that by standing up for Australia and its safety at this time I am in active collusion with persons who wish to exploit the country and impose worse conditions upon the workers. My record of 35 years’ service in the Australian Labour movement speaks for itself. I have never stood for injustice to the workers. I have always resisted injustice to them. As a matter of fact, since this war began, I have done more to secure justice for the workers than any other man in Australia has done.
.- After the admirable speech just delivered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) it is not necessary for me to say very much. I feel, however, that I should say a few words because I refrained from taking part in yesterday’s debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House, and so did not submit my views concerning the desirableness or otherwise of holding the proposed informal joint secret meeting. When the joint statement was made some “time ago by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) and the Leader of the Opposition concerning the critical stage that the war had reached, I was one of the critics of it. I said publicly that the statement contained either too much or too little, and that it had a tendency to give the people of this country the jitters. But as I wished to hear what the members of the Government had to say in connexion with the matter I was prepared to participate in the proposed informal joint secret meeting. Just after that joint statement was made I was frequently stopped by people in the streets of Launceston and asked what was behind it. My reply was that I did not know any more about it than the people at large knew. I do not think that members of Parliament should be placed in that position. After all, we are the elected representatives of the people in our various constituencies. I entirely agree with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition on that point. As I consider that the general facts of the war situation should be made known to members of the Parliament, I was willing yesterday to agree to the holding of the joint secret meeting and, having heard most of what was said last night by members of the Ministry, I entirely agree with the opinion expressed here this afternoon that we all are in a better position now to appreciate the realities of the war situation. The Acting Prime Minister made an admirable speech. I consider that the secret meeting should be continued in order to enable Ministers to submit to us all the information that they can make available, for we shall then know the situation as Ministers themselves know it. I am also of the opinion, however, that honorable members should regard as confidential the information that is conveyed to them. But even under those conditions I shall be better able to deal with the questions of my constituents than I have hitherto been. I desire to be as fully informed as possible on the whole subject, for if I know the facts I shall be able to reply intelligently to questions that are put to me, even though I shall not reveal secret information. I hope that when the secret meeting is continued, Ministers will not “ dish up “ matter that has already appeared in the press. That was not done to any great degree last night. It is true that there was some chaff with the wheat, but at the same time it must be admitted that there was a good deal of grain. In these circumstances I trust that the joint secret sitting will be continued.
.- My words on this subject will be few. Yesterday the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) drew a distinction between delegates and representatives. I do not regard the members of this House as delegates. We all are representatives. A representative of the people takes upon himself the responsibility of making decisions in the people’s name, and for those decisions he must be held responsible to the people. He evades his responsibility to the people if he shelters behind the secrecy of the information upon which he bases his actions. Unless he can tell the people upon what information, and for what reasons, he has acted in a certain way. he deprives the people of their opportunity to deal with him as their representative. For that reason I contend that secret parliamentary proceedings are entirely inconsistent with true representation.
– The same argument could be applied to Cabinet.
– Not at all, for the members of the Cabinet are not sitting in Cabinet as the representatives of the people.
– Of course they are!
– I disagree with the honorable gentleman. The members of the Cabinet are the servants of the Crown and are sworn to treat as secret the counsels of the Crown. Members of Parliament are not sworn to secrecy. I am sitting here as the representative of the people, and I am responsible to the people for the speeches I make, the votes I give, and the actions I take. I evade my responsibility to the people if I shelter myself behind any confidential and secret information that I may receive.
– Are there not many people in the honorable member’s constituency with whom he would not trust war information?
– And would the honorable member be willing to allow the press to attend caucus meetings of his party?
– Yes, as far as I am concerned, I would. In Victoria, the members of the press are invited to attend our political Labour conferences. Before I deal with that subject, I wish to say that it is my settled opinion that secrets which are vital to the safety of this country should not be disclosed even to members of Parliament. I remember that last year the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in objecting to the holding of a secret session of the Parliament, said that if secrets were told to the Parliament they would soon cease to be secrets. I agreed with the right honorable gentleman. A secret may remain a secret as long as it is locked in the breast of a few men whose reputations and prospects are at stake: but, as you widen the area within which it is known, so you increase the difficulty of keeping your secret.
The Leader of the Opposition attempted to draw an analogy between the attitude of the Labour party and, I suppose, of the United Australia party, in respect of their own deliberations, and the attitude that should be adopted by this Parliament. As a member of the Labour party I have a duty and an obligation to report to my constituents upon what I have done at Labour conferences, and upon the reasons why I made certain decisions. I suppose I have had as much experience of the inner workings of the Labour party as any other honorable member of the House has had. I have always considered it to be my duty as a member of various Labour conferences to go back to the people who elected me to represent them and explain to them the reasons why I recorded certain votes and why the conference took certain action. We do not always: refuse to admit the press, but when we exclude strangers from our conferences, we exclude persons who are not members of our organization and are not interested in our business.
– They would not be there if they were not interested.
– They might be interested in the loose sense in which that word is sometimes used, but they would have no right to receive information. When I am in this chamber I represent not only the members of my own party, but also every other person in my constituency. I must be able to go on the platform and justify in public every vote that I have given in this House.
– No vote is taken at a secret sitting.
– My objection to a secret session is that members are given information upon which their future conduct and attitude as representatives of the people is to be governed. Members will then say to their constituents, “ We heard at a secret session things which made us believe that this legislation was necessary. We are not prepared to say openly what those things were, but things which were divulged to us in confidence convinced us of the need for this legislation. You may not like the things for which we voted, but we voted for it for good reasons which, however, we are not prepared to disclose to you, and are, in fact, pledged not to disclose to you.” In my opinion, such an attitude is a breach of the duty of a representative of the people. I realize that when the Acting Prime Minister said yesterday that he desired to exclude from the secret meeting every one who would not give a pledge to divulge nothing that he heard, he did not intend to insult any one. I did not regard his action as insulting or offensive, and I did not wish the action that I took to be regarded as offensive. Realizing that there is room for differences of opinion, I merely state my views.
– I attended the secret meeting yesterday freely and not merely as the result of advice given by my leader, because I was anxious to get all the information possible, particularly in regard to the defences of this country; but I remain unconvinced that the secret meeting was necessary or, at least, that it should have taken so long. The procedure was unduly lengthy. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) could have given us the kernel of the situation in much shorter time. Instead, various Ministers read from lengthy typewritten manuscripts, some going so far as practically to relate the history of the war.
– Time is being wasted to-day.
– I shall not waste time. I agree with the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) that there is no reason to deprive honorable members of their democratic right to ask questions.
– Honorable members may ask questions upon notice ; if they do so, they will get answers in writing, but, of course, not so much publicity.
– The Acting Prime Minister himself is not unappreciative of the value of publicity. I repeat that the matters dealt with yesterday could have been placed before members in much less time than was actually taken. The long dissertations indulged in by some Ministers suggested that they were adopting stone-walling tactics, possibly in order to forestall a hostile move against the Government. According to prophecies in the press, the secret meeting was expected to last a week, but I do not think that the information given to us yesterday was such as to justify so long a period. I understand the attitude of those honorable members who stayed away from the meeting. Some Ministers admitted that much of the information placed before members at the secret meeting was not really of a secret character; they did not distinguish between what was secret and what was not secret. Consequently, 1 am in a dilemma, in that if I raise certain matters on the floor of the House, I may be accused of referring to something which was disclosed at the secret meeting. I should have a clearer conscience had I stayed away from the meeting.
– The honorable member may stay away from the next meeting.
– I shall attend the next meeting in order to hear all that will be said, but I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will get to the point more quickly than he did yesterday and then get on with the business of the country by introducing legislation. When the secret meeting is over, we shall be in a position to know whether the Government took this step in order to avoid a hostile motion or because it was not ready with any legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following answer to a question was circulated: -
Whether expenses of members of committees and councils, including the Advisory War Council, upon which there is parliamentary representation, are paid by the Government; if so, are they paid on the basis of a flat daily rate, and, if so, what is the amount, or are the individual members obliged to submit detailed statements of the expenses incurred?
House adjourned at 3.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 March 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1941/19410313_reps_16_166/>.