18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 2.30p.m. and read prayers.
– Some time ago, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture promised to make inquiries about the importation and price of wire, barbed wire and wire netting. Is the honorable gentleman yet in a position to give any information to the House?
– I shall be glad, with the permission of the House, to make d statement to-morrow about wire, barbed wire and wire netting.
– Has the Prime Minister yet investigated the Labour party’s advertisement, the publication of which he admits having authorized, and which grossly misrepresented a statement issued by the National Bank of Australasia Limited ? Has he discovered, as the result of his inquiry, that what the National Bank of Australasia Limited actually stated was - that from the official estimate of last year’s national income adjusted in terms of the wholesale price index and the population increase, it would appear that real income per head of population had improved to the extent of about 14 per cent, on pre-war levels.
Did the bank’s statement continue - yet how can the finding that real income has increased be reconciled with the experience of great numbers of people who now find their present income less than adequate to obtain goods and services which nine years ago were relatively plentiful and inexpensive.
Does the right honorable gentleman know that the statement proceeded -
The answer lies partlyin the fact that a much higher proportion of income is absorbed in taxation and further the figures are averages only, and take no account of changes in the distribution of incomes between individuals and groups.
Does he know that the statement contained the following words: -
Another reason why the comparison-
– Order : The honorable member is not asking a - question, but is endeavouring to put forward argument.
– Does the Prime Minister know that the statement issued by the National Bank of Australasia
Limited disproves the statement which was published in the Labour party’s advertisement? If the right honorable gentleman has discovered that the statement by the bank is true, will he issue directions for the alteration of the advertisement in order to correct the Labour party’s earlier misrepresentation ?
– I have not read the report to which the honorable member referred last Tuesday hut, in accordance with the promise that I then gave, I shall do so when more important matters have been disposed of. I shall supply a written reply to the other points that the honorable gentleman has raised.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House of the quantity of wheat under f.a.q. standard that is still unsold, and of the number of bushels that is likely to be left unsold when the forthcoming harvest commences? Will he further inform the House of the position with regard to silos in New South Wales?
– After making allowances for reserves needed for our own use, it is estimated that the quantity of under f.a.q. standard wheat on hand at the present time is 14,000,000 or 15,000,000 bushels. If we succeed in making sufficient ‘sales, it is estimated that that amount will be reduced to 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 bushels by the time that the new harvest starts to come in. The latest sale of under-grade wheat about which I have any information is one to Japan of 25,000 tons, at a price of 12s. 4d. a bushel f.o.b. It is hoped that the New South Wales wheat silos will be cleared by the end of November, so that they may be used to handle the new season’s crop.
Air Accident in New Guinea.
– Can the Minister for
Air make a statement with regard to the aircraft disasterat Lac in April of this year? Is it correct that instructions have been given that Guinea Air Traders Limited is to be prosecuted for a breach of the civil aviation regulations? If so, when and where will the case be heard ?
– The report of the Crown law authorities reachedmy office last night, and I read it to-day. It is intended to take legal action against the company to which the honorable gentleman has referred. It will be necessary to go through certain formalities, and I am not yet in a position to say when the case will be heard, but it will as soon as possible.
Victorian Slaughtermen’s Strike
– Thereis a grave, possibility of the Victorian slaughtermen’s strike extending to Queensland and other States. Will the Minister for Labour and National Service say whether efforts are being made to settle the dispute and avert the danger of other States becoming involved ?
– Arrangements have been made by Mr. Commissioner Kelly for a conference to be held in Melbourne, commencing at 10.30 a.m. to-morrow, between representatives of the exporters’ section of the employers, the wholesale butchers, William Angliss and Company (Australia) Proprietary Limited, and the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. The union has decided to confine the dispite to Melbourne. I am hoping that the conference will be successful in averting the danger to which the honorable member has referred.
superannuation and compensation.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister and relates to the administration of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund and to the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act. Perhaps I may explain the question by stating some facts. A lineman in the Postmaster-General’s Department named H. J. Weight, who lived at Shepparton, was injured in 1930 in an accident caused by the breaking of a telegraph pole. As a result he was rendered unfit to continue his work. He was retired
Un superannuation, which amounted to 1:5 a fortnight. He was granted compensation under the Commonwealth “Employees’ Compensation Act at the rate of £2 Os. Sd. a fortnight, giving him a gross income of £7 Os. 8d. a fortnight. In 1947 the Government increased superannuation benefits by 25 per cent. The net result was to increase this injured lineman’s superannuation pension from £5 to £0 5s. a fortnight; but at the same time he was informed by the Postmaster-General’s Department that as the result of the increase of the superannuation pension hi.compensation payments had been reduced from £2 Os. Sd. to os. Sd. a fortnight. The final result was that this injured man. who, incidentally is a married exserviceman whose two sons served in World War II., and who has two children still at school, has had his income reduced by 10s. a fortnight. Will the Prime Minister state whether this action is in accordance with the policy of the Government, or whether some miscarriage of justice has taken, place which the right honorable gentleman should have attended to! Will he also ascertain whether other people are similarly adversely affected?
– A number of instances of anomalies with respect to superannuation and workers compensation benefits have been brought under my notice from time to time. A Common- : wealth Employees’ Compensation Bill was presented to the House by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction recently for the purpose of correcting some of the anomalies to which attention had been drawn. Some of the aspects dealt with by the honorable member may have already been covered by that bill. For greater accuracy [ shall obtain a copy of the honorable member’s question and I shall furnish him with a written reply to it as soon as possible.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware that under the present arrangements cheese controlled by the Equalization Committee is unable to compete with milk products sold in the open markets of the world which are free from control? If the Minister is aware of this, will he indicate what action he has taken, or proposes to take, to remove this anomaly thus enabling cheese manufacturers to compete with th, manufacturers of milk products on an equal footing?
– All cheese processed in Australia is the subject of a contract between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Australian Government. The equalization of returns from cheese sold locally and that sold overseas is carried out by Equalization Limited. ] am making inquiries into the matter but so far as I can ascertain it is not admitted that cheese manufacturers cannot compete with butter and other factories processing milk. I admit that there has been a disputation, and I am taking steps to have officers made available to investigate the figures of some of the complaining butter and cheese factories to see whether there is any real substance in the allegations that have been made that they cannot compete with the people who purchase milk for processing purposes. We will have some officers seconded to that work. In regard to the statement that cheese is sold in the overseas markets of the world I point out that the great bulk of cheese is sold to the United Kingdom at contract prices. Small quantities are, of course, going to other markets.
BROADCASTING of Proceedings.
– I- direct a question to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, affecting the privileges of members of this Parliament. I draw your attention to a report in the Melbourne Herald yesterday purporting to give, not only the decision, but also the details of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee. Was that information officially supplied to the press? If so, on what authority was it so supplied? If not. since the information is exclusively the property of this Parliament, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have the usual inquiries made by the competent officers with a view to having this disclosure of official information investigated ?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member has referred. After I har examined it, I shall decide what action
I shall take in the matter.
– During my absence from, the House last week, I took the opportunity of listening to some of the broadcasts of parliamentary debates. I also heard public comments concerning them. A consensus of the opinions that I heard expressed is that the debates are full of sound-
– The honorable member should now ask his question.
– As the “glamour boys” of the front benches are allotted all of the most suitable broadcasting time, and as there is to be hd increase of the numerical strength of the House, will the Prime Minister give consideration to the setting up of an allparty committee,, or some other parliamentary machine, to give attention to ( a) the shortening of speeches, (b) balloting for positions when the proceedings ire being broadcast, and (c) the improvement of the broadcasting mechanism installed in the House in order to eliminate interjections and other adventitious political sounds?
– Matters associated with the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament are dealt with by Mr. Speaker and Mr. President in association with the committee set up for that purpose. I shall, however, bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of Mr. Speaker. The matter raised in the second part of the honorable member’s question does not come directly under my control, because it is one associated with certain functions of the House, in connexion with which several authorities ii re concerned. I shall certainly have the honorable member’s question brought to the notice of those authorities.
– In view i>f the recent additional drastic cuts in petrol and the provision that ration rickets which are not used within the two-monthly rationing period are cancelled, will the Prime Minister consider the reasonableness of allowing country motorists to accumulate tickets in order that they may take their wives and families for seaside holidays at halfyearly or yearly periods, which is most desirable ?
– I think the most that I can promise is that I shall discuss this matter with the Minister for Shipping and Fuel. A question was raised in this House yesterday concerning tourist buses, which, of course, provide facilities for families to travel to certain centres. It was suggested that services should be curtailed. The honorable gentleman now raises the question whether provision might be made for country people to drive cars to seaside resorts. These requests appear to be in conflict. However, I shall refer the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Shipping and Fuel.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question relating to the petrol situation, which as he knows, is causing great concern in the cities and particularly in country districts where production, and social and sporting life depend, on transport. Has the right honorable gentleman seen the published figures to the effect that in the Netherlands East Indies petrol production exceeds 2,600,000 tons per annum, whereas Australia’s requirements are 380,000 tons ner annum ? Can he inform me where the petrol refined in the Netherlands East Indies is sent? Why cannot Australia obtain more petrol from that source? Is some of the petrol* being sent to the United States of America? If it is, has he seen published figures showing that America’s petrol position is eminently satisfactory, and that this year, the United States’ reserves will exceed the reserves for many years past? Can he inform the House of the progress that has been made with synthetic fuels. I should also like information about the development of the shale oil deposits at Newnes and Glen Davis. If he cannot supply the information now, will he have a statement prepared and furnish it to the House at a later date?
– The figures which the honorable member has quoted for the production of petrol in the Netherlands East Indies are not correct. On a previous occasion, I informed the House that Australia -had rendered assistance to the oil companies in the Netherlands East Indies by supplying them -with launches and barges for the purpose of enabling them to begin production. The Vacuum Oil Company Proprietary Limited has oil refineries in Sumatra, and the Shell Company has oil refineries at Balikpapan and elsewhere in the Netherlands East Indies. The refineries at Balikpapan were badly damaged, during the war, but the Vacuum Oil Company of Australia Limited, has been able to get its refinery at Sumatra into operation fairly rapidly. I understand that both oil companies are increasing production, but I am not able to inform the honorable member of the exact output of oil from those sources. One of the problems associated with petrol at the moment is not so much the supply of crude oil as refining. The closing down of the big refinery at Haifa has meant the loss of production of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 tons of oil per annum. Proposals are now under consideration, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in other countries, for the construction of additional refining plants. It is perfectly true that oil may be diverted’ from the Netherlands East Indies to countries other than Australia, but the destination of the oil is a matter for the companies concerned to determine. The Vacuum Oil Company lias already ‘brought a num’ber of tankers to Australia. However, rather than cover at this stage all the ground involved in the honorable members question, I shall adopt his suggestion and prepare a statement on the subject.
M.r. DALY. - Is the Minister for Transport in a position to advise the House of the approximate number of applications outstanding for motor cars and motor utility trucks of North American origin? Can he also inform the House how long he anticipates it will be before the demand for such motor vehicles has been satisfied?
– The latest return indicates that, at the end of September, there were 73,500 unsatisfied applicants for American motor cars and utilities of up to 1 ton capacity. The demand is increasing, and in the last two months the number of unsatisfied applicants has increased by approximately 5,000. If nu further applications were received ii would take about four years, at the rat* at which vehicles are now entering Australia to clear off the arrears. The Government intends to abandon control a.j soon as possible, but before doing so, we shall seek a conference with the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries with a view to making an arrangement whereby the distributors themselves will ensure that essential users are given first priority.
– -Has the Minister for Air any information to support the report, that the programme for the production of Tudor aircraft has been cancelled? Is it true that £150,000 was expended by the Government on this experiment, including a considerable amount on toolingup? Will some of this expenditure be salvaged, or will the whole amount have to be written off ? ,
– It has been decided not to proceed with the building of Tudor aircraft, but I do not think that all the money expended on tooling-up will be wasted. It is intended to proceed with the construction of Lincoln bombers, and the knowledge gained by the men who were employed on the Tudor aircraft project will be of use, as will the tools and some of the materials obtained for the construction of Tudors.
– Has the Prime Minister seen a press statement headed. “ Can’t save a cent “, of which the following is an extract: - “ I can’t save a cent “ - The cry is heard from New York to California. And behind the cry, signs are appearing that the average American family’s purchasing power is strained to the limit. Private indebtedness is the highest in U.S. history, and banks report that personal savings are declining. . . . Meal prices are up 30 to 100 per cent, and customers are falling off.
– I rise to a point of order. I should like your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on whether there is any difference between reading from a newspaper and reading from a newspaper cutting? Recently, you prevented me from reading from a newspaper when I was asking a question.
Mp. DEPUTY SPEAKER. - An honn ruble member when asking a question is not. entitled to read from a newspaper or from a newspaper cutting.
– There are reports if unemployment iti the United States of America. If the Prime Minister has seen the statement of the Commonwealth Statistician, as I am sure he has, that deposits in Australian savings banks are at the record high level of £68-7,000,000, an average of £S8 a head, as against an average of £35 a head before the war, can lie say whether this desirable state of affairs is due to the economic policy of the Government, and whether the conditions which obtain in the United States nf America are likely to affect the economic position of Australia?
– I do not remember reading any particular article on the subjects to which the honorable member has referred. Of course, I do read a large number of extracts from American economic papers, and I am supplied by our Bureau of News and Information in the United States of America with facts which enable me to obtain a knowledge of the opinions of various people who claim to be authorities on economics in that country. The impression which I have gained from reviews of the position is that at the moment, as the result of rising prices, Americans are spending, in the aggregate, more than they are earning, and that there has been some tightening up in the matters which the honorable member has mentioned. Some economics reviewers are pessimistic about the position, and believe that a measure of recession is inevitable. Others believe that the Marshall Aid plan and the demands that it makes on American industry, and the rearmament programme which is proceeding in that country, will provide a further stimulus to industry and production. It is true, as the honorable member has stated, that the economic position of Australia is equal, if not far superior, to that of any other country in the world. It is also true that savings bank deposits, which represent the savings of the workers, continue to increase. The best instance of the opinion held by people in other countries of our economic position is provided .by the success- of the Australian, conversion loan in London recently.
– My attention has been, directed to the care of a widow whosetwo sons, one of them unmarried, were killed in World War II. I understand that she is entitled to a repatriation benefit. Will the Minister for Repatriation inform me whether my impression is correct? If it is, what is the extent of the payment to which she is entitled ? Does the fact that her husband died early this year prevent her from receiving the benefit ?
– Under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, provision is made for the payment of allowances to the mothers of sons who were killed in the war or who died as the result of war injuries. Several kinds of benefits are provided, hut the principal one is applicable to a widow whose unmarried son was killed in the war, and the rate of payment in that case is much higher than in other cases. If the honorable member will supply me with the details, I shall ascertain whether the widow to whom he has referred is entitled to a benefit. From the information that he has conveyed to me in his question, I think that she is.
– I direct to the Minister for Immigration a question relating tn the Nationality Bill, which the House will consider in the near future. Will the Minister give me the names of the persons who represented Australia at the special conference held in London to discuss with the United Kingdom Government and the governments of other dominions certain matters which are now em’bodied in the Nationality Bill? I understand that the conference met in London in February, 1947. Can the Minister also (rive me the names and qualifications of the representatives of the other dominions who attended that conference? Finally, were any minutes of the proceedings kept? If they were, are they available to honorable members for perusal ?
Mi-. CALWELL. - The names of the two officers of the Commonwealth Public Service who attended the conference of experts on the subject of nationality, which waa held in London in January, 1947, were Mr. John Horgan, who is the assistant secretary of the Department of Immigration and the best authority in the Australian Public Service on nationality law, and Mr. L. D. Lyons, an officer of the Attorney-General’s Department, who is a bright young lawyer with a comprehensive knowledge of the subject of nationality. The representatives of the other dominions were equally expert and equally qualified to speak on behalf of their respective governments. I cannot recall their names off hand, but I shall obtain the information for the honorable gentleman.
– Were any minutes or records of the conference kept?
– I do not think so. However, the decisions of the conference were unanimous. All the other dominions have given effect to them, and Australia is about to follow suit.
– Has the Minister any minutes of the conference?
– The decisions are thi’ in inures of the conference.
– Will the Minister for Immigration say what steps are taken bv his department to police undertakings given by relatives and nominators of Austrians, Germans and other- restricted classes of migrants that they will provide accommodation and accept responsibility for the migrants they nominate? If migrants in this category are found to be occupying accommodation other than that which was guaranteed for them, what, action is taken by the Department of Immigration?
– Complete and satisfactory steps are taken by my department to ensure that nominators have accommodation for persons that they nominate. First, an inspection is made to see that the accommodation exists, and secondly, inquiries are made to see that the migrants are occupying only the accommo dation that their nominators undertook to provide for them. I have not heard of any instances of persons who were nominated living in accommodation in this country other than that which was guaranteed for them by their nominators. In the hypothetical circumstances that there are such cases, I assure the honorable gentleman that steps will be taken to see that only the accommodation that was promised to the migrants is occupied, by them. If other accommodation is so occupied, we shall find ways and means of bringing home very forcibly to both the nominators a.nd the nominees that they have broken an undertaking.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether negotiations for the withdrawal of the Tasmanian Government from partnership with the Australian Government in the production of aluminium ingots in Tasmania havereached an advanced stage? Were any steps taken in this direction by the Minister for Supply and Development during his recent visit to London? Has the Tasmanian Government approached the Australian Government on this matter? If so, will the Prime Minister give some indication to the House of the present intentions of the two Governments in relation thereto? Has the Premier of Tasmania indicated his willingness to sell the interest of the Tasmanian Government in the industry to a private company? If so, is this attitude due to a recognition by the Tasmanian Government and the Australian Government that the industry has not progressed under Government control as well as it could be expected to progress under private enterprise? If these suggestions are correct, do they indicate the necessity for legislation by the Tasmanian and Australian Parliaments?
– An agreement exists between the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government for the establishment of an aluminium industry in Tasmania. Not much of a physical nature has been done with regard to it because it has been necessary to make extensive preliminary examinations of a highly technical kind. Difficulty has been experienced in obtaining the services of men who are thoroughly acquainted with this kind of work. Personal discussions have taken place between the Premier of Tasmania and myself with regard to certain aspects of the establishment of an aluminium industry in Tasmania. Some British companies have indicated that they are interested in the production of aluminium in Australia. I discussed this matter with certain people when I was in London and have also done so since my return to Australia, and no doubt the Minister for Supply and Development has followed the same course. I am not able to give the honorable gentleman any details of a proposed change, or to indicate the likelihood of any change. The question of the production of aluminium on a larger scale than was originally proposed has also been the subject of discussion. So far, I have merely discussed it in an unofficial manner with the Premier of Tasmania. No formal letters have yet passed between us. As soon as any concrete results are achieved, I shall inform the honorable member accordingly.
– I lay on the table the following paper : -
Commonwealth Electoral Act - Report, with maps, by the commissioners appointed for the purpose of redistributing the State of Victoria into electoral divisions.
Ordered to be printed.
– I have received from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral the following communication in connexion with the AddressinReply:
Mr. Deputy Speaker, 1 desire to acquaint you that the AddressinReply at the opening of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Parliament was duly laid before His Majesty the King, and I am commanded to convey to you and to honorable members His Majesty’s sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your Address gives expression.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the notices of motion, general business, taking precedence of all other business this day.
Mr. A. W. Fadden, M.P. Interrogation by Commonwealth InvestigationOfficers.
– I move -
That it is a breach of privilege that the right honorable the Leader of the Country party should be interrogated or sought to be interrogated by security police at the instigation of the Prime Minister and the Government in the precincts of Parliament and in his official room in respect of matters occurring in and arising out of the discharge of his public duties in this National Parliament.
The results of this debate will live long after the chief participants in it are forgotten. The debate, in fact, may be a milestone in the constitutional history of Australia. I make that statement because in its report on the Sandys case, a select committee of the House of Commons said -
The question . . . directly affects not only members of Parliament in the discharge of their duties but . . . indirectly concerns every individual citizen whose right it is in the last resort to have his grievance ventilated by speech and question on the floor of the House of Commons.
Their inquiry, therefore, though largely concerned with what are known as privileges of Parliament, is, in fact, connected with questions of freedom of speech and the protection of the individual from pressure by the Executive, which lie at the very root of our democratic system.
The facts on which I found my complaint of breach of privilege form an almost complete parallel with the Sandys case. In presenting my argument to the House, I ask the indulgence of honorable members so that I might trace the history of what has now become a major issue in Australia to-day. Nearly four months ago, on the 13th June to be precise, the
Sydney Sim published the following story from its Canberra representative: -
The British Government is urging Australia to impose more stringent secrecy safeguards on scientists associated with the Central Australian rocket range project.
Britain insists that only scientists who will give unqualified assurances that they will comply with secrecy requirements should be employed on the project.
It is understood that a reason why the United States Government is not co-operating on the project is it fears for the secrecy of its scientific data. lt is supplying data to Britain on condition that it is not made available elsewhere.
Australia is not specifically mentioned, but it is understood that the “ elsewhere “ referred to is Australia.
On the following day, under the heading “Dedman is Satisfied on Security”, the following appeared in the Sydney Sun : -
Canberra, Monday. - Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) said to-day he was “perfectly satisfied “ with the security measures to protect rocket range secrets. “ As far as my knowledge goes, the same opinion is held by the British Government “, he said.
Mr. Dedman said that he had no comment to mate on a report that the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research had been “frozen out” of rocket range secrets at the request of the British Government. “ From the security angle, what the British Government thinks about security is not a matter for public discussion “, he argued.
So, it will be seen that, more than four months ago, the Australian press called attention to the fact that Australia was being denied important defence secrets. [ turn now to the 24th July, when the Sydney Morning Herald, in an article headed “ U.S. Hugs Secrets, Leakage Here Feared “, stated that it was understood that the United States had in the last year shown reluctance to reveal atomic research secrets to Australian scientists because, it was claimed, leakages were likely to occur through Australian Communists.
– Order ! I inform the right honorable gentleman and a]l other honorable members at the outset of the debate that discussion of the motion must be confined to the specific terms of the motion which are -
That it is breach of privilege that the right honorable the Leader of the Country party should be interrogated or sought to be interrogated by security police at the instigation of the Prime Minister and the Government in the precincts of Parliament and in his official room in respect of matters occurring in and arising out of the discharge of his public duties in this National Parliament.
Honorable members may not discuss the merits or demerits of a matter which has been raised in the House and elsewhere in relation to security, or any other matter of that kind. The debate must be confined to the incident which took place in this House and in the precincts of this House and any matters that ha ve a direct relation thereto.
– On a point of order, I assume that it will bc permissible for honorable members to refer to antecedent events as part of the background against which this incident took place. If we are not permitted to do so, how can we debate the subject-matter of the motion?
– All honorable members are reasonably familiar with the background of this incident. I have allowed the Leader of the Australian Country party to make passing references to antecedent events in order to present his case. References to matters extending beyond the actual incident that took place in the House must be limited. Only passing references to them will be permitted. Otherwise the debate must be confined to the incident which took place in the House.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but at the same time I fail to see how I shall he able to present my case in its true atmosphere and at the same time do justice to myself unless I am permitted to traverse the background of the incidents which led the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to direct certain officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service to interrogate me in my office. With due respect I submit that it is not fair to curtail the debate to the degree indicated by the Chair.
– Order ! The Chair does not wish to confine the debate. The Leader of the Australian Country party himself has confined the debate by the terms of his motion. The debate must be limited to the terms of that motion.
– Many things happened prior to my ventilation of this subject in the House. The first of them must assuredly have come to the knowledge of the Government and its investigation officers, or it should have done so, as far back as the 1 3th June last. What I disclosed in the House were the facts as published in t he press. In addition I brought proof that responsible Ministers had misled not. only the House but also the country in this matter.
– Order ! That matter may not be debated.
– The commencing fact that prompted the making of my motion was the visit of two men in plain clothes, accompanied by a parliamentary messenger who ordinarily accompanies interviewees, to my typists’ office a week ago to-day. They requested an interview with mo. The name given was “Mr. Wilks”. It was not until they were actually in my room and had introduced themselves that I knew they were investigation officers and not interviewees such as every honorable member sees in the ordinary course of his business as a parliamentarian. In the first instance they inquired at the side door, and then they came into my room through the front floor of the room opposite the entrance from the corridor to this chamber. No telephone request for an interview had been made, and no mention was made of the fact that the men were investigation officers before they gainedaccess to my office. The fact that one of them, for the purpose of gaining access into my office, stated his name to my staff as “Mr.”, and did not preface it with “detective inspector”, shows how carefully they concealed their identities and the t rue purpose of their mission until they had established themselves within the four walls of my official office. That is apparently what the Prime Minister described as “security police asking for and being afforded an interview “ and what he subsequently described as a “voluntary interview”, in his letter to me. I reiterate that the security police gained access to my room by not disclosing their identity until they were inside. By accident or design, they passed themselves off to my typist as ordinary citizens wishing to see me. Any member of the public is entitled to request an interview with me as a member of this Parliament. That so-called voluntary interview, at the express direction of both the Prime Minister and the Acting Attorney-General, occurred a week after I had raised the matter on the floor of the House. By that time those Ministers should at. least have had before them the report on the Sandys case, and consequently should have known the extent of the privileges of honorable members. Interference by the Executive with members of Parliament in the free exercise of their duties has, from the dawn of constitutional history, been bitterly resisted in England. In the petition by the Commons to James I. in the early sixteen hundreds, it was asserted that -
Freedom of debate being onceforeclosed, the essence of liberty of Parliament is withal dissolved.
Pym subsequently said -
Parliaments without parliamentary liberties are but a fairand plausible way into bondage.
It was a favorite device of the Stuart kings, who apparently had the same idea of divine right of the executive as have some modern dictators, to throw into prison any member of the Commons who was too outspoken in the House to suit, them, their policy, or their cause. Sir John Eliot and Sir Dudley Digges were two of the earliest martyrs to be committed to the Tower in the cause of free speech. James II. lost his crown - even as the Australian Prime Minister lost his head - largely through attempts to interfere with the parliamentary privilege of free speech, and his immediate successors, William and Mary, were compelled to subscribe to the third great charter of English liberty, the Bill of Rights, in 1689. This gave the death-blow to the theory by which the Stuart kings had attempted to resist parliamentary privilege. Section 9 of the Bill of Right states -
That the freedom of speech, and debateson proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside parliament.
That is the law in Australia to-day, and the privileges springing from it are equally part of our law by section49 of the Constitution, which lays down that the powers, privileges, and immunities of a member of parliament shall be such as are declared by the Parliament and until declared shall be those of the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and of its members and committees at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
The Sandys case is an exact parallel to mine and, I submit, is binding on this House and upon its members, for the same settled and established reasons. About ten years ago a member of the House of Commons, Mr. Duncan Sandys, heard a speech by the Secretary of State for War, who intimated that the antiaircraft gun position was entirely satisfactory. That was just before World War II., and the international position was not unlike that prevailing, unfortunately, in the world to-day. On being asked by Sandys whether he wa9 stating the truth, the Secretary of State reaffirmed, his statement. Sandys had in his possession secret information to the contrary, and he drafted a question to the Minister, giving precise details of antiaircraft guns and their positions, which effectively proved that the Minister was not telling the truth. His question was provoked by the Minister’s original denial on a most vital defence matter, and in the face of such official denial, Sandys acted in the interests of the defence of the country in getting at the truth in the only possible way left to him. The Attorney-General questioned Sandys and pointed out that failure to disclose the source of his information could mean imprisonment for two years. He said that a refusal could result in a charge under the Official Secrets Act.
Up to this point, at least, the two cases are strangely parallel. I have also been threatened with the Crimes Act, imprisonment here under that act, I am told, being for seven years. Also, according to a statement which appeared in the press and attributed to the spokesman of the Government, I have also been threatened that I am liable to be expelled and will be expelled. I challenge this Government, in the name of democracy and constitutional authority, ro expel me.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman is entitled to be heard without interruption.
– The Acting AttorneyGeneral did not himself interview me, but, at the express dictation of the head of the Executive, the Prime Minister, he sent his security police or gestapo to do so.
In principle, there is no distinction between the Sandys case and my case. In England, the British Parliamentary select committee, whose decision is, I. submit, binding on * this Parliament under the Constitution, completely upheld Sandys’s parliamentary privilege, and denied the right of the AttorneyGeneral or any court of military inquiry to question Sandys. Mr. Attlee, who was then leader of a political party opposed to Sandys, and who is now the Leader of the Labour Government in Britain, said in that debate -
I think that the issues are very farreaching. I think they are of the utmost importance to . . . democracies throughout the whole world. They involve tin- liberties and the rights of members in this House, acting in the performance of their duty to their constituencies. There can be no greater blow to democracy than the admission of any right of the Executive to hamper, hinder, or restrain members of this House from carrying out their duty to the nation. The freedom of members from pressure by the Executive was forced and won years ago, and must be df fended against attack, even if that attack should be cloaked under anxiety for th<national safety. . . . We cannot have tinassumption that members of this House n ridelliberatei y acting against the interests of the country. . .
If it once could be thought that members could be brought up and interrogated and obliged to give up the source of their information when they speak in this House on the ground that it was suspected they were using official information improperly got, there would come a cutting away of members from the public service, and there would be apprehension among members of the Public Service when mixing- with members of Pari in ment. . . .
In practice members do not abuse their privileges. We are not a House of spies or traitors. …
I should like the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) to note that. Mr. Attlee continued -
I beg all honorable members, irrespective of party, to realize that this is not a light matter. It is a very big matter and involves our rights which we had from our forefathers. and which wc have to protect and hand down to our successors. In these days when liberty is challenged and derided in other countries we should be especially vigilant to set an example to the world of the preservation of our parliamentary rights.
If this Parliament once decided to break with, the upholding of freedom, an example of which comes to us from the Mother of Parliaments, it would be a sorry day for members of this House, irrespective of the party to which they belonged. There would be no trust between their constituents and themselves. They would be subject to shadowing by the secret police and the gestapo that have been set up by governments such as this. The electors would be afraid to approach their members, whose telephones would be tapped, and whose mail would he interfered with. Every, statement made on the floor of the House could be made the excuse for subsequent questioning by the AttorneyGeneral’s secret police, and imprisonment could be the penalty for a refusal to supply information. It is the business of this Government, as of every government, to guard its own secrets, and it cannot escape that responsibility by attempting to cast it upon members of the Parliament, who have no hand in deciding what information should be withheld from publication.
We, in this Parliament, are all representatives of the people. This is not Chifley’s Parliament! It is not the Labour party’s Parliament! It is the Parliament of the people of Australia. We owe a duty to the people whom we represent. My responsibility to my electors is greater than any fear of reprisals. At the first hint that there had been a leakage of security information, the Government should have closed the gap if
ODe existed. The Government and its investigation service should have been sufficiently vigilant to know as far back as June last, that there had been a leakage, but nothing was done to investigate the matter, important as it is now claimed to be. Why was that? It was because the Minister for Defence, by his misleading and untruthful statement, had bluffed his way through, and the Government was prepared to let the matter rest there. That was the position until I made any statement. Then the opportunity was taken to make of it a political matter, rather than one which had a bearing on national security. If any matter affecting security was involved, why did not the Commonwealth investigation officers begin their inquiries two and a half months ago, when the newspapers first printed reports on the subject? Newspapers in Johannesburg and New York, the London Graphic and our own newspapers published the same information as I disclosed. The only difference was that they did not have the means to disprove the misleading statement of the Minister. I produced proof, and I must now defend my rights and privileges as a member of this Parliament, which is an integral part of our British institutions. The action of the Prime Minister in directing Commonwealth investigation officers to interrogate me is now unmasked as a political manoeuvre, rather than as something which was done in the interests of the national security. The Prime Minister hopes to divert attention from the real issue, which is the truth or falsity of my disclosures, his own probity and that of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), and the state of preparedness of Australia’s defences in the event of a third world war. The fundamental principle involved is whether the Executive or the Parliament shall be supreme. If Ministers are to be regarded as oracles, and their statements or misstatements, even on the most vital defence matters, are not to be questioned by members without fear of reprisal, then the Ministers become dictators, and the authority of Parliament is no more. If to-day members of the Parliament refuse to defend their privileges - and this applies to members on both sides of the House - they cannot afterwards complain if they, in their turn, have their private lives investigated, their private telephones tapped, and their freedom of speech curtailed. As Mr. Benn, a member of the select committee in the Sandys case, said -
Cabinet Ministers, in their relation to the House in which they sit, arc in the first place colleagues of all other members, and only secondarily executive dignitaries.
The substance of the parliamentary privilege that they have to respect is the recognition of all their colleagues as confidential and responsible counsellors of state, who are prima facie to be trusted and, if they are found to possess and use official secret information, presumed to be acting from motives as patriotic as those of any Minister.
Unless this honorable presumption is allowed alike to supporters and opponents of the Government, the parliamentary system loses its foundation.
We have not yet been informed by the Prime Minister of the truth or falsity of the statement referred to in my original question to him. He is strangely reticent on what is, in fact, the very kernel of the matter.
-Order! The honorable member is not entitled to discuss the contents of the documents.
– The Prime Minister, instead of threatening police action, could have treated the matter as one between responsible counsellors of state. Did he invite me to come to his office? No ! He resorted to abuse, and called me a “ fence “, a receiver of stolen goods, and at the same time refused to say whether the documents were true or false. Did he approach me and seek my cooperation? He did not. He, as head of the Executive, attempted to use his gestapo to intimidate me. Since he used his secret police against me, he would use them against other honorable members who dared to question his Executive acts. f.f once the Executive, as represented by Cabinet Ministers, is given power to override the Parliament and the privileges of members, then at that very moment our free democracy ceases to exist, and the institution of Parliament, as we know it, is supplanted by a dictatorship of nineteen Ministers answerable to do one but themselves. That is the plain issue, and it cannot be avoided. As the Times said in commenting on the Sandys case -
Of any deliberate attempt to encroach upon the historic privileges of the Parliament the committee found no trace. What they did find, and allowed it to appear at least between the lines of their report, was a growing tendency to depart from the traditional relationships between Ministers and private members nf Parliament.
Here the intangible spirit of the constitution is at issue, and the point was developed very ably by Mr. Wedgwood Benn. . Cabinet Ministers, he argued, in their relation to the House in which they sit, are in the first place colleagues of all other members, and only secondarily, executive dignatories
I have made this motion in the interests of constitutional government in Australia, and in order to scotch the activities of a gestapo, and prevent the setting up of a dictatorship.
– I second the motion, and reserve my right to speak.
– I do not propose to speak at such length as the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has done, because the issues involved are. very simple. The right honorable gentleman has made some strong comments about the fact that two officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service called upon him, I think, last week-
– The Prime Ministerknows when they called upon me. It is a week ago to-day.
– I think that it will be admitted at once, even by the right honorable gentleman, that the investigation officers did not accost him anywhere in the precincts of the House or in his own rooms. They were taken to his room with his own consent, I presume, by a messenger. That does not seem to me to be an attempt, under duress, to make the right honorable gentleman see those two officers. Some of the facts about the interview to which he has referred are most interesting. When the two officers entered his room, they introduced themselves to him. About the first intimation that they received from the right honorable gentleman was that he intended to summon the press.
– That was not the first intimation. The Prime Minister should keep to the facts.
– Order !
– I do not propose to submit to that.
– Order ! The Leader of the Australian Country party has concluded his speech, and he must not interrupt the Prime Minister. I ask him to remain silent.
– I did not desire to cover all that ground, but as the right honorable gentleman has questioned some of my statements, I shall deal with the incident in greater detail. It is true thai something happened between the time he shook hands with the two officers and invited attendance of the press. He observed the formality of asking them “’ How do you do? “, and they intimated to him who they were. They also informed him that they were seeking information about a. document regarding which he probably had some knowledge. lt any rate, some conversation took place between the right honorable gentleman and the two officers at that point. “When they asked him about the document, he said, in effect, “We shall call the press and have this matter out before them “. Eis secretary was called, and was told to summon the press, I regard the matter of the document as most serious, and the right honorable gentleman indulged in a great deal of dramatics about that particular interview. In the meantime, there was a short conversation and the right honorable gentleman’s secretary brought in the press. What was the position at that stage? The two officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service had been admitted to the right honorable gentleman’s room with his own consent. After shaking hands with him and explaining to him who they were, they asked him for permission to examine the document -
– They did not.
– The investigation officers said to the right honorable gentleman, in effect, “ We are officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service and we are instructed by the Acting Director to interview you in regard to a document about which you know something “. That is really what they said. The right honorable gentleman thereupon asked his secretary to call the press, and the pressmen came to the interview. It was made very clear before the interview had preceded very far that the right honorable gentleman wanted to have a public meeting, in fact something like a fi reus about this particular matter.
– No, the clown was a absent
– The right honorable gentleman asked the two investigation officers to produce their authority. They did so, and told him who they were. No difficulty arose about that matter because they naturally carried their authority with them. Then the right honorable gentleman, I understand, said, “Here is the press. What do you want to say t.o me ? “ Obviously, he did not intend to have a private conversation with the two investigation officers whom he had consented to admit to his room. In the circumstances, the officers naturally intimated that they did not desire to continue their inquiries. Then an “ urger “ arrived.
– Will the Prime Minister be more explicit and define “ urger “ ?
– The “urger”, the secretary, or a. member of the right honorable gentleman’s staff-
– Need the Prime Minister insult a public servant ?
– That officer butted in-
– I rise to order. The reference to my secretary as an “ urger is objectionable to me, and I ask that the remark be withdrawn.
-Order! The Standing Orders only provide that objectionable remarks addressed to honorable members in the chamber shall be withdrawn. The Prime Minister is in order.
– I do not desire to exercise my privilege. If the remark is offensive to the right honorable gentleman, I withdraw it.
– The Prime Minister should know that it is offensive to me.
– A person, a member of the right honorable gentleman’s staff, then butted in, and said to the investigation officers, “ Go on; say what you have got to say “.
– He did not do any such thing.
– Order ! I do not desire to name the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden). He is sitting at the table, and is constantly interrupting the Prime Minister. I shall not allow him to continue to do so. I ask him to move away from the table if he is not able to control himself.
– I apologize.
– The investigation officers had to rebuke the official. They said that they had come to discuss a matter with the Leader of the Australian Country party, but not in the presence of the press or with an officer urging them to “go on and talk”. The right honorable gentleman did not want them to say anything, but apparently somebody else did. I shall put a” few plain questions to i he House. Can anybody say that the right honorable gentleman has been denied, or that an attempt has been made to deny him the right to say in this House, or in the precincts, anything that lie wants to say about security or documents? Secondly, has anybody ever attempted to interfere with the right honorable gentleman in any way? The answer to both questions is “ No “.
– Does not the Prime Minister consider that that is intimidation ?
– Order ! The Acting Leader of the Opposition ii nisi; not interrupt.
– I rise to order.
– There is no point of order.
– I submit that there is a point of order. The Prime Minister has addressed two questions directly to honorable members, and I claim that. I have the right to answer.
– Order ! The Acting Leader of the Opposition will not put that one over the Chair. The Prime Minister put his questions in a cerr lain form, and honorable members are entitled to reply to them in their speeches. 1 shall deal without warning with any honorable member who interrupts.
– So that no honorable members’ susceptibilities shall be offended, I shall approach the matter in another way. Neither the Leader of the Australian Country party nor any other honorable member has been prevented from expressing, nor has any attempt been made to prevent an honorable member from expressing any views in this chamber, in the precincts or elsewhere, about security. Suppose investigation officers approached a messenger attached to my office and asked whether they could interview me, and with my consent entered my room and saw me. I should not regard that as a grave breach of privilege, because I could say that I would not see them, or, when they came in to my room, I could tell them to leave-
– The right honorable gentleman happens to be the Prime Minister.
– Order ! I shall not warn the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) again.
– I shall now refer briefly to the celebrated Sandys case. The right honorable gentleman could not have relied on a weaker case in seeking a parallel to the matter now under consideration. Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article outlining the circumstances of the Sandys case, and. like drowning men, members of the Opposition seized on it. Of course, it is not a parallel case. It is regrettable that the newspaper did not give the complete details. A question was raised about information which Mr. Sandys had used in. the. House of Commons. He complained to the House, and claimed privilege. Mr. Speaker pointed out, as -was done in thi? case, that the proper procedure was for the honorable member to give notice of a motion. The Prime Minister agreed to fix a time for such a motion to be discussed. Notice of motion was given accordingly. However, the salient point in the Sandys case was that, before the House had considered the matter, Mr. Sandys was summoned to appear, in uniform, as a witness before a military court of inquiry. That act constituted the breach of privilege. Mr. Sandys was an officer of an anti-aircraft brigade. Thesummons to appear in uniform before a military tribunal bore the appearance of an attempt to compel him to give information before the House had considered the propriety of his being asked to give that information. The Sydney Morning Herald, which used to have a reputation for accuracy, omitted to mention that salient point. So; also, did the Leader of the Australian Country party.
I shall now place on record a letter which I wrote to the right honorablegentleman in reply to one which I had’ received from him. Incidentally, T expect to be shown the courtesy of beinggiven time to receive a letter before T read a copy of it in the press. My letter to the right honorable gentleman stated -
I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 7th October in which you set up a contention that the seeking of an interview with you by officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service on that day in your room in Parliament House constituted a breach of parliamentary privilege. As you are of course aware, your letter did not reach me until after you had published it to the House of Representatives and it had appeared in the press.
May I remind you that all that has occurred is’ that two officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service, charged with the duty of ascertaining whether certain documents to which you had referred were either stolen or were forgeries, asked for, and were accorded, an interview with you.
Their purpose in approaching you, as indicated subsequently in the letter of the same day addressed to you by the Acting Director of the Investigation Service, was merely to ask that you allow them to examine the documents.
The taking of that course by the investigation officers can hardly be regarded as other than a preliminary step in order that they might be in a position to pursue their inquiries with a clearer understanding of what the nature, and the direction, of their inquiries should be. Nor does it appear to me that any person, not even a member of Parliament within Parliament House itself, can have any legitimate objection to a request of that’ kind, a request courteously made at a voluntary interview - not, be it noted, an. “ interrogation “ either in the sinister sense that you attribute to that expression or in any other sense.
It was thought that you. as one who has borne responsibility as a Minister of State, would be only too sensible of the serious implications of the suggestion that the documents have been either stolen or are forgeries. Consequently, it was felt that you would be willing, and” indeed you would have felt under an imperative obligation, to aid proper inquiry to determine whether these documents were the subject of theft or forgery. I regret to note that there is no recognition at all in your letter of any such obligation.
The contention that what has occurred amounts to a breach of parliamentary privilege seems to me entirely misconceived and unwarranted, and I think, on reflection, you yourself will be forced to that conclusion. No one is more solicitous for the maintenance of the privileges of Parliament than I am myself, but, were your contention of privilege conceded, privilege would tend to become so strained as to lose its meaning and purpose. For your contention -is tantamount to a claim that, as a member of Parliament, yon arc to be regarded as virtually immune to any official approach whatsoever in relation to any document to which you may chance to have referred in proceedings in Parliament, notwithstanding the authenticity of the document is the subject of official investigation and the result of the investigation may have an intimate bearing on the orderly conduct of government and on national security. I am quite unable to accept such a claim as valid, and I am advised that no support for so extreme a proposition is to be found in parliamentary law or practice.
I am firmly of the view that co-operation on your part is properly to be looked for in this matter, and I urge that you reconsider your attitude and allow the documents to be examined by the investigation officers. That is all they sought to ask you.
With regard to your first question, as already indicated, the purpose of the interview was to seek examination of the documents in question.
With regard to questions 2, 3 and 4, J have nothing to add to the statements already made by me in Parliament. It would appear from your letter that members of the joint Opposition parties refuse to co-operate in any investigation directed to the question of whether thefts or forgeries have been committed by persons within or outside the Public Service.
– Pure propaganda !
– Never mind about propaganda. Two documents have apparently come into the hands of the right honorable gentleman. The first is the property of the British Government, if it is genuine. If it is not a genuine document, it is a forgery. I emphasize that if the document is a genuine one, it is not the property of this Government but the property of the British Government. The second document is apparently marked “ confidential “ and relates purely to departmental matters. If that is a genuine document, it has been stolen from somewhere. If it is not a genuine document, it is a forgery. The Government made a request to the right honorable gentleman, who is a Privy Councillor and an ex-Prime Minister of Australia, to assist it in attempting to discover whether there are thieves or forgers in the Public Service or elsewhere. It appears clearly from the letter that the right honorable gentleman wrote to me and from the speech he has made to-day that the Government can expect no cooperation from him or other members of the Opposition in that inquiry. The Government knows, therefore, precisely where it stands. It knows that the activities of thieves or forgers, no matter what damage they may do, will be condoned by honorable members opposite, or at any rate will not be revealed unless they may be turned to political advantage. There has been a great deal of shouting about security. An opportunity has been afforded to honorable gentlemen opposite to assist in apprehending either thieves or forgers, but they have declined to perform that national duty. Anything that they have said on this matter in this House has been said with the object of gaining some political advantage and not to benefit the country. They can go on their merry way. If there are thieves in the Public- Service, I do not suggest that the right honorable gentleman himself meets them, hut they know that if they hand their stolen material to the right people, those people will pass it on to the Opposition and, if it has some political value, it will be made public irrespective of what damage might thereby be done. I do not think that that is a very nice state of affairs.. If the Leader of the Australian Country party, with whom I have always had very pleasant relations in this Parliament, feels that it is, I can only say that my conception of privilege is totally different from his. It has been said that parliamentary privilege is a marvellous thing, but it has also been said that it is a coward’s castle. I value it highly. I dislike the violent and sometimes slanderous attacks that are occasionally made upon people under the protection of parliamentary privilege, but privilege is of great benefit when members of the Parliament find it necessary to make statements that, although they are perfectly true, may be regarded in law as libellous.
I conclude on this note. Nobody is imperilling the privileges of any member of the Parliament. No attempt has been made to> imperil these privileges. Further than that, there has been no offence against privilege. Whatever interview was granted by the right honorable gentleman was granted with his consent. When he said that he would give no information, the officers went away. That was all that happened. There was no duress. He was not accosted in halls or hotel lounges. If officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service wanted to see- a person, I should have thought that the obvious and most courteous way in which to do it would be to. see. him in his office and not to- accost him in a hotel lounge, or on an aeroplane or a railway station. We know precisely where we stand. We need expect no help from members of the Opposition. If at any time a person is prepared to steal something from “ a government department that may be used for political purposes, he will know where to take it. If it has some political value, he will always know where to find people who are prepared to use it. Those who do use it will claim parliamentary privilege or, as other people would put it, take shelter in a coward’s castle.
– The right honorable gentleman has said that before.
– It will bear repetition. The Government now has it in black and white that, no matter whether national security is imperilled or not, it need expect no assistance from those who rant so much about security.
.- We have listened to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley)- attempting, to defend a serious invasion of the privileges of members of the Parliament. We have also listened to laughter from the Government benches during the debate on this farreaching issue. The right honorable gentleman attempted to lay down a smokescreen to conceal the real issue. He spoke of thieves and forgers, but he had not the faintest idea of what he was talking about. How can a document be said to be a stolen governmental document if it is- not a governmental document ? How can a non-existent document be forged?
Eight from the beginning of this matter, the Opposition has asked the Prime Minister, in terms that cannot be misunderstood’, “Is this document a genuine governmental document ? “ For some time the Prime Minister has been in possession of out offer to consider the position if he will say that it is a governmental document, but he has refused to do so-. The Government is trying to lead the people of Australia to believe that it is a stolen document when they do not know whether it belongs to a government or not. Does that make sense ? It is- said that if the- document is not a stolen one it is a forgery, but a document cannot be forged unless it exists. The crux of the matter is whether or not there is a certain governmental document in existence. Throughout this controversy, the Prime Minister has sought to put down a smoke screen, but the public are “ taking a tumble “ to him.
– Order !
– The right honorable gentleman speaks soft words to the people to make them believe he is a democrat, when his every action indicates that he is an autocrat.
– Order ! If the honorable gentleman does not resume his seat when I rise, I shall have to deal with him. He is not entitled to indulge in an attack upon the Prime Minister.
– Why not?
-Order! The honorable member is aware of my previous ruling. He has sought to discuss the background of this incident. The debate must be confined to the subjectmatter of the motion of privilege.
– The Chair permitted the Prime Minister to deal with the background of the incident leading to the motion of privilege. I understand that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, asked for leave of the Prime Minister to interrupt his remarks. You permitted the right honorable gentleman to make an attack on honorable members on this side of the House and you refuse to allow us to reply to it.
– Order ! The honorable member must not reflect on the ruling of the Chair. The Prime Minister sought to establish that no breach of privilege had occurred.
Honorable members interjecting,
-Order! Until now the debate has been conducted in an orderly fashion. I insist that honorable members refrain from interjecting. Every honorable member must be heard in silence. The honorable member for Warringah is debating matters irrelevant to the motion before the House. The debate must be strictly confined to the incident of the calling of the investigation officers upon the Leader of the Australian Country party.
– For the time being I shall direct my remarks solely to cer tain allegations made by the Prime Minister. I assume that if they were relevant to the motion before the Chair, our replies to his charges are also relevant.
-Order! The Chair will be the judge of that.
– The charge which the Prime Minister is seeking to make is that the documents quoted from in this House were either forged or stolen and that the Opposition is doing nothing about it. As the right honorable gentleman and every member of the Cabinet know, the truth is that they have been asked to say whether or not the documents are genuine Cabinet documents. They have refused to make an admission on that point one way or another. How, in these circumstances, the issue can be closed in that way I am at a loss to understand. The Prime Minister has sought to make it appear that two investigation officers, let
U3 say, two gentlemen of the police force, went to the office of the Leader of the Australian Country party who, when he saw them, said, “ Come in and sit down “, shook them by the hand and asked, “What is it all about?” The truth is that these men were sent there as the result of intimidation exercised by the Prime Minister in this chamber. That is the whole gist of this matter. I propose to go into what was said by the Prime Minister of this country who now tries to suggest that there was nothing improper about intimidating members of the Parliament by seeking to prevent them from exercising their free and deliberative rights. On the 5th October the Prime Minister, again using terms that seem to come so inaptly from the political leader of this country, spoke about “ stooges “ and “ urgers “ who steal information from confidential documentsand disclose such information. The right honorable gentleman said -
Thus, the Commonwealth Investigation Service, while continuing its efforts to tighten up the security of the country, now has thrown upon it the additional task of supervising the activities of members of the Parliament.
What do those words mean? If those words do not mean the institution of the gestapo, as it is known in European countries, words mean nothing at all.
The Acting Leader of the Opposition asked -
Will the Prime Minister elaborate that statement? lt implies a threat, and the right honorable gentleman should say what he means.
The Prime Minister replied -
In case there is any mistake about the matter, I repeat that members of the Parliament have been prepared to quote from documents which they know are either stolen or forged.
The honorable member for Indi by interjection asked -
What are they!
The Prime Minister replied -
In this instance it did not matter what they they were. The action taken by those involved is entirely discreditable. The Commonwealth investigation officers will not be remiss-
Mark these words - in their task of ensuring that public documents shall be safe from not only the Communists, hut also others who are prepared to use them, not in the national interest, but solely in order to gain some paltry political advantage, not caring to what degree the country may be thereby discredited.
Then the right honorable gentleman continued -
That brings us to what is to me a very unfortunate position, that is, that the Government becomes obliged to supervise even the activities of some members of the Parliament.
Tn the face of that statement from the Prime Minister where is there room for any suggestion that the visit of the investigation officers to the Leader of the Australian Country party could be described as a “ voluntary “ interview and not one made in pursuance of the intimidatory threats made by the Prime Minister? Immediately afterwards, we are told, two investigation officers were sent to look at the document. To look at what document? A document which it was alleged had been stolen? If the officers knew that it was a stolen document they did not need to look at it. If they knew that it was a’ forged document they did not need to look at it. The sole purpose of their visit is transparent. The story of their visit to look at the document will not fool “Blind Freddie”. No man in his senses would be fooled by it. The truth is that the investigation officers visited the office of the Leader of the Australian Country party solely to in terrogate him. They were to find out the source of his information. That is the gist of this matter. It raises the question of far-reaching importance to the proper discharge of parliamentary government. The incident took place in quite clear circumstances. The Prime Minister issued threats in this House of his intention to supervise the activities of certain members of this Parliament, of whom, clearly, the Leader of the Australian Country party was one. Immediately afterwards two investigation officers were sent to the office of the Leader of the Australian Country party. They appeared there ten minutes before the Parliament assembled. It is said that the Leader of the Australian Country party granted them an interview. Any one who wishes to know the whole truth of the matter must realize how idle is such a statement because the immediate reaction of the Leader of the Australian Country party was to raise the matter on a question of privilege in this House. Does that indicate that he had freely interviewed these two investigation officers? In a word the alleged interview was unquestionably the commencement of an interrogation which would have continued had the officers been permitted to proceed. That is the very fabric of the motion submitted by the Leader of the Australian Country party. Unless members of the Parliament are entitled to claim privilege in respect of information that comes to them, there can he no proper discharge of their duties in this Parliament. Thus, the maintenance of our privilege is a matter which not only touches us as members but also goes to the very framework of our democratic institution. It is rather significant to compare the reaction of the Prime Minister to the challenge to privilege in this House, with that of Mr. Attlee, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and a representative of the same party, at least in name, when a similar matter was raised in the House of Commons. I shall deal with the Sandys case and show in quick outline how hopelessly again the Prime Minister of Australia has been misinformed. The right honorable gentleman did not read the Sandys case; he simply read what somebody gave him to read. He did not know that there were three matters in the Sandys case ; he thought there was only one. Mr. Attlee, the present Prime Minister of Great Britain, uttered words which have a direct bearing on this matter and should sink deeply into the minds of the members of the Government. This is what took place. Sandys had information given to him which, it was admitted, was a breach of the British Official Secrets Act of 1911. There was no dispute about that. -He had received highly official secret information with respect to the anti-aircraft defences of ‘Great Britain. That he had received information in breach of the act was not disputed. ‘The Sandys case is somewhat different from this case in that not the slightest evidence has been given, because the Prime Minister has refused to make an admission on the point, that the document used by the Leader of the Australian Country party was in fact a State document. Sandys received the same sort of threat from the then Attorney-General and the then Secretary of State, who told him that unless he disclosed to them the source of his information he would be lia’ble to imprisonment for a period of up to two years. The matter was raised in the House of Commons, .and while it was under discussion, Sandys was called before a military court of inquiry. Sandys also objected to .that inquiry as a breach of privilege, because he said that, in that way, the Government was seeking further to interrogate ‘him with a view to ascertaining the source of his information. The matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges and such was its appreciation of the privileges of private members that it was established and had dealt with the matter within 4’8 hours. The committee held that there had been a breach of privilege in ‘both of those actions. Not in one of them, but in both of them! The committee said that the. attempt by the Executive to intimidate a private member in the discharge of his duties, and the action of the Army Council in referring the matter to a court of inquiry, constituted ‘breaches of privilege. When the committee’s report was being debated in the House of Commons, Mr. Attlee uttered words which I suggest might well have been read by the Prime
Minister before he made his fatuous speech on this matter. Mr. Attlee said -
Looking for a moment at the issues raised by the possible use of the Official Secrets Act, the real danger is that it gives the Government the power to interrogate persons and to force them to state the source of their information if it is thought that that information has been obtained by breach of that Act … If it had been suggested that the Acts could be used, or might be used, to restrain the members of this House from fulfilling their functions, it would have “been vehemently rejected.
Apparently this Government claims that because of the exigencies of the State it should have authority -to present *us from handling any information that may come to us. If we cannot speak freely .here we cannot get information on many points. Mr. Attlee continued -
These acts were directed ^against (people who were acting against the interests of .this country. The acts .allow the assumption that persons are acting .wrongly, .but .w* cannot ha.ve .the assumption that members -of this House .are deliberately .acting .against the interests of this .country.
In the Commonwealth legislation, of which the British ‘legislation is the prototype, there is an express provision that nothing in the legislation shall derogate from the rights and privileges of members ..of the Parliament. That was inserted for obvious reasons. Mr. Attlee continued, .and .this is ‘Something which I should likee every Minister .in this House to listen to ‘very carefully -
Ministers axe not the masters o’f Parliament; they *ave its .’servants; and every one of .us has .a duty ‘to .make himself .acquainted with the subject-matter with which we have to deal, lt is out duty to understand all the Departments df State, and it would “be ‘an extraordinarily dangerous thing if .anything were done which would impair tie efficiency of this House. That is where I see the danger of the application of the Official Secrets Act to the Members of this (House. I am not judging whether that occurred in this case, but the fact that it has been applied to Members of parliament shows the possibilities. It is not so much the actual application of the inquisitorial powers of this Act to Members of Parliament, as the apprehension.
In other -words, there would he the fear by public servants, lest it be said that they spoke to members of Parliament, and that as a consequence, they may be visited by security police. They would fear subsequent action against themselves. There would also be fear by members of the Parliament, who have previously been Ministers of State, lest it might be said that they have revealed secrets which they acquired during the course of their experience as Ministers. Men who served overseas in the Army and acquired secrets in that way would be afraid to apply themselves to a debate, or to make a criticism against the Government, because it might reveal portion of that secret information. In any of those instances the person concerned could expect that subsequently the secret police would rap on his door and say, “We should like to know on what information you based your question and your criticism. Where did you get the information from ? “ How could the Parliament discharge its duties in those circumstances? How can it discharge its duties if honorable members, instead of enjoying immunity, can never acquire any information in any capacity, whether as Ministers of State or in any other capacity, and be fearless in the use of that information?
Mr. Attlee continued ;
If it is once thought that Members of this House can be brought up and interrogated and obliged to give up the sources of their information when they speak in this House, on the ground that it was suspected they were using official information improperly got, there would soon come a cutting away of Members of this House from the public service, and there would be apprehension among members of the public service when mixing with Members of Parliament. They might easily say something which a Member might use afterwards, and it might be traced to them.
Let us compare that statement with the statement made by the Prime Minister of Australia on the 5th October, with regard to the Public Service, which was as follows: -
I can only say that in future I should think that no decent public servant in this country would care to be seen talking to the kind of people who quote from what, on their own confession, is a stolen document.
This statement by the Prime Minister was intended for the hearing of and consumption by public servants. Here, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) intimidated the public servants by saying to them, in effect: “Do not be seen talking to, or giving information to, members of Parliament, because they may, at any time, be criticized for asking any ques tions which are suspected by the Government - not proved, but only suspected - to be based upon confidential information, that could come from you “. Apparently, if the Prime Minister had his way, the investigation officers could come to an honorable member at any time of the day or night and say, “ Where did you get the information from? That has been- the hallmark of all despotic governments throughout the world, and I should have thought that the Australian Labour party, or its private members, would have examined the consequences of such a practice, not only to honorable members on this side of the House, but also to themselves, and to the future of this Parliament if it is to be retained as a democratic institution. I shall continue to quote Mr. Attlee’s words, because I want them to sink home. That right honorable gentleman also said -
I am not going to anticipate in any way what will be the recommendations of the Committee, but I do say that the supreme issue raised, on which the House will expect guidance, is the reconciliation between the exercise by the Government of powers which it is necessary they should have for the safety of the country, and the exercise by lion. Members of rights essential for preserving the liberties of a free and democratic people. That is the issue, and I think an avoidance of conflict will be effected less by any hard and fast lino of theory than by actual practice. Mostly in our constitutional matters we settle these things in practice rather than in theory.
What did the committee determine? There were three matters which went before them. The first was the question of the action of Ministers of State in intimidating a private member. The second was the action of the Army Council in calling Sandys before it for the purpose of interrogation. The third was the general attitude of members of the House of Commons in respect of information that came into their custody or under their notice, in breach of the Official Secrets Act of Great Britain. What did the committee decide? It upheld what would be denied here by rejecting this motion. It upheld the supreme right of a member of Parliament to receive information so long as he does not solicit it, and then to use it to the best interests of the country. Mr. Churchill has pointed out time and again in Great Britain that that secret information has saved the country because members of the Parliament knew what the real facts were and had directed the attenton of Ministers to the facts and had confounded them. He said that the convoy system introduced during World War I. resulted from intelligent criticism which was directed against the Government. That criticism was based on confidential information that came into the hands of the members themselves. Thousands of lives were thereby saved, and a great agency in the winning of the war was able to work because of those circumstances. It comes down to this, that the members of the British Parliament have had longer experience than we have had, and whilst they tend to enlarge parliamentary privilege, we diminish it. The Committee of Privileges in the Sandys case stated -
Your Committee are of opinion that disclosures by members in the course of debate or proceedings in Parliament cannot be made the subject of proceedings under the Official Secrets Act.
In view of that decision, what was the purpose of the Government in seeking to interrogate the leader of the Australian Country party ? What was its purpose in sending two security police to him ten minutes before the House assembled? By ancient law, whatever takes place in this Parliament cannot be questioned in any way outside this Parliament. That princple should apply to-day as effectively as when it was first introduced into parliamentary practice. Can there be any doubt whatever that there has been an infraction of the principles and privileges of this Parliament
The evidence annexed to the- report of the British committee is interesting and I shall quote the following paragraph by Sir Gilbert Campion, Clerk of the House, under the heading “ Privilege undiminished by the passing of . the Official Secrets Acts “ from the memorandum submitted : -
Whatever be the extent of the immunity from criminal prosecution enjoyed by members of parliament by virtue of parliamentary privilege, it is in no way diminished by the Official Secrets Acts, for no statute is ever extended to destroy the privilege of either House of Parliament without express words in the act.
In our legislation there is express provision retaining those privileges. The view of Sir Gilbert Campion is supported by an annexure to the report, which I take leave to read. It is in the form of a letter from the clerk of the committee to the Attorney-General, and reads as follows : -
The question was raised during yesterday’s proceedings whether the ninth article of the Bill of Rights had not been repealed by implication by the Official Secrets Acts 1911, so far as the unauthorized disclosure of official information is concerned. It is clear to me from what you say on page 4 of your memorandum that you do not take this view, but if you would authorize me to tell my Committee so, it will save them from having to hear evidence on the point.
The relevant portion of the reply to that letter reads as follows : -
With regard to the point raised in the first paragraph of your letter, you were right in assuming that the statement which I made on page 4 of my Memorandum was based on the view that the Official Secrets Acts had not repealed by implication the ninth article of the Bill of Bights.
Let us consider the Bill of Rights. It is part of the law of this land. It was an act which was wrung from reluctant kings to preserve the principle of free speech in the Parliament by men who in those early days realized apparently much better than many of us do to-day, how essential it is, above all things, that members of Parliament may say what they will in the public interest without fear and without intimidation. That is essential to the preservation of parliamentary government.
In 1908 a committee went into the matter of parliamentary privileges in this country. It drew attention to the fact that by the Constitution there is preserved to this Parliament and to every member of this Parliament all of the privileges and all of the immunities which apply to the House of Commons. One of those privileges was the protection of the Bill of Rights itself. Certain words of that act should be repeated so that we all may he quite sure that we know what they mean, for they establish very clearly that in this particular instance there has been a clear breach of the law. These great and far-reaching words were included in the act - . . the freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
Could there be a clearer case of the’ disregard of that provision than the present one? Let us review what took place. Inside of this House the Leader of the Australian Country party regarded it as his duty to the Parliament to show that Ministers of State and indeed the Prime Minister himself, were giving false information to the people of this country. The Leader of the Australian Country party quoted two documents. It is not a matter of whether they were genuine or not. The Leader of the Australian Country party was questioned about what had taken place inside the House, because the documents were quoted by him in this House. Could there be any clearer case of an infraction of parliamentary privilege than this one?
It is not without significance that the Prime Minister should speak about the revealing of official secrets, and should seek to castigate the Opposition. He was not so reluctant to reveal official secrets himself. Another question hinges on that. The Prime Minister not very long ago said that no force in Europe to-day could withstand the Russians sweeping right through the continent. He added that his statement was based on private correspondence and official documents from British Commonwealth sources. Surely we have a case here of Satan reproving sin. The Prime Minister did not quote the exact words of secret official documents, but in his feckless way he told the whole world the contents of those documents, and his statement was published throughout the world. I want to make it as plain as possible that the issue involved in this debate is not what happened to this or that document. The documents are beside the real point. The real issue touches on any criticism by any member of the Parliament or the Executive. This is the same fight which has been waged over and over again, the fight between the Parliament and the Executive. At one time, it is against a despotic king; at another, it is against despotic Ministers who are members of the Executive. If honorable members do not realize that there is inherent in this motion an issue of far-reaching importance to our parliamentary institutions, it will be a bad day for us.
[4.47 J. - The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) began his speech by relating a series of alleged events as background to the incident which occurred within the precincts of this chamber, and in regard to which he claimed that a breach of privilege had been committed. He read what purported to be a number of press statements, and then he seized on the opportunity, as also did the honorable .member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) to attack my integrity. In the light of the statements made in this House last week and this week, and in the light of the alleged documents, stolen or forged, as the case may be, I have examined all the speeches that I made on the subject of security, and there is not one word in them that I would alter. Therefore, any charge which the Opposition might make against me of having misrepresented certain things to this House is entirely false.
The Leader of the Australian Country party referred to the Sandys case, and I propose to refer to it also. It may be that there are some similarities between that case and the incidents we are now discussing, but there are also some very great differences. Mr. Sandys had received certain secret information. “What did he do with it? He took it to the Secretary of State, and discussed it with him in private. He did not put his question on the notice-paper until he had failed to get satisfaction from the Secretary of State.
– It was never put on the notice-paper.
– Well, he did not make the matter public.
– The Chair has intimated that interjections are highly disorderly. That warning will not be repeated, and any honorable member who ignores it will be dealt with promptly.
– As I have said, it was only when Mr. Sandys could not obtain satisfaction from the Minister concerned that he made the information public. The situation was the same in the Winkler case. The former Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, did not make the information public until he had taken it to the then Prime Minister, who is the present Leader of the Australian Country party, and to the present right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies). Thus, there is a great difference between those two cases and the case we are now considering. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made it clear that there was nothing wrong in two officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service coming to this building, and asking to see the Leader of the Australian Country party. It “was not an interrogation in the sense that the officers forced themselves into his presence, or demanded that he should answer certain questions. The officers also came to me. I did not shelter behind privilege. I spent one and a half hours with them, and answered all the questions that they put to me about the matter. However, I am not so certain that the Leader of the Australian Country party could not be interrogated, either in this House oroutside of it, because, let it be clearly understood, a criminal offence has been committed with regard to those documents.
– Then let the Government take action.
– The right honorable gentleman will not help us to take action. That is the trouble. The plain fact is that the documents were either stolen or forged. In either case, a criminal offence has been committed. Let me read the relevant sections of the Crimes Act. Section 5 is as follows: -
Any person who aids, abets, counsels, or procures,or by act or omission is in any way directly or indirectly knowingly concerned in, or party to, the commission of any offence against any law of the Commonwealth, whether passed before or after the commencement of this act, shall be deemed to have committed that offence and shall be punishable accordingly.
The following is the section which relates to forgery: -
A person shall be deemed to forge a seal, signature, document, register, or record, as the case may be -
There is a further section touching on the matter. It reads -
1 ) Any person who forges, or utters knowing it to be forged -
Section 70 deals with offences by public officers or against public officers. It is as follows : -
Any person who, being a Commonwealth officer, publishes or communicates any fact which comes to his knowledge by virtue of his office and which it is his duty to keep secret, or any document which comes to his possession by virtue of his office, and which it is his duty to keep secret, except to some person to whom he is authorized to publish or communicate it shall be guilty of an offence.
It must be clear that, since the documents were either stolen or forged, a criminal offence has been committed. Surely, it was right for the Minister concerned, the Acting Attorney-General (Senator McKenna), to instruct his officers to make inquiries to find out who committed the offence. It is not a matter of interfering with the rights and privileges of the Leader of the Australian Country party or of any other honorable member. The right honorable gentleman is free to quote any document he likes, whether it be stolen or forged, but the inquiry related to a criminal offence antecedent to the publication in this House by the Leader of the Australian Country party of the contents of the documents. It related to a matter quite separate from the statement made by the right honorable gentleman, which was the receipt- of documents which were either stolen or forged. It was quite right that officers of the Commonwealth, instructed by the Acting Attorney-General, should make inquiries in an attempt to sheet home the offence to the criminal, whoever he might be, who either stole or forged the documents. It was right that the officers should try to obtain the necessary information from whatever source they could, including members of this Parliament, if they can throw any light on the matter. It is true that in this, as in other inquiries of the kind, a person, whether a member of the Parliament or a member of the public, who is questioned need not answer the questions put to him. He can say, “ I refuse to answer “, or “ I do not know anything about it “. However, the Acting Attorney-General, and the officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service, would be recreant to the trust reposed in them if they did not try in every possible way to find out who committed the offence. The Leader of the Australian Country party, by taking up the stand he did, has shown that he is not prepared to assist in sheeting home this very grave crime, because it is a grave crime since it endangered our good relations with other countries.
There is no question but that the officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service were entitled to act as they did, and that their action did not constitute a breach of privilege. That point is brought out in the Sandys case itself. The honorable member for Warringah quoted several paragraphs from the report of the committee which considered the Sandys case, but he did not quote paragraph 16, which is as follows: -
Your committee are of opinion that the soliciting or receipt of information is not a proceeding in parliament and that neither the privilege of freedom of speech nor any of the cognate privileges would afford a defence to member of parliament charged with soliciting, inciting or endeavouring to pursuade a person holding office under the Crown to disclose information which such person was not authorized to disclose or with receiving information knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that the information was communicated to him in contravention of the Official Secrets Act.
I have already quoted the relevant sections of our own Crimes Act in order to show what constitutes an offence under it. For our purposes, it corresponds to the Official Secrets Act of Great Britain. I suggest that the Leader of the Australian Country party, before he came into this House on the day he made his statement, was the receiver of information. In order to use the information in this House, ha must have received it from somebody.
– Then take action against me.
– Does the Minister propose to read the remainder of the paragraph?
– Yes, I shall satisfy the honorable member in a few moments. It is perfectly clear that the Leader of the Australian Country party received information. .That act was quiteseparate from his reading of the quotation from a document in the chamber, and. the investigation officers were entitled toask him questions, which he could refuse to answer, as to how he came to receivethat information. The paragraph con,tinues -
It might well be that what the defendant had said in the House had caused the authorities to institute inquiries, but if the prosecution could prove its case without giving evidence of what he had said, the proceedings could not be regarded as a questioning of a debate or proceeding in Parliament. If, however, it were necessary in order to prove the fact charged to .produce evidence of what the defendant had said in the -House, it would be in the power of the House to protect him by withholding .permission for the evidence to be given.
I direct attention to the words, “within the power of the House itself”. That does not mean within the power of any particular honorable member opposite, to decide whether the House should give permission. The criminal offence is distinct from what the right honorable gentleman did in this chamber. He merely quoted from a document, and he has claimed that he was entitled to do so. The public shall be the judge of that claim. But .before the right honorable gentleman made the statement an offence was committed against the Crimes Act.. As the report from which I have just quoted shows, the right honorable gentleman is not protected by parliamentary privilege from any act that he has, done antecedent to the statement that he made in the chamber.
I have now accomplished what I set out to do at the beginning of my speech. I am not ashamed of any statement which I have made in this House up to the present time. I have also made it plain that a breach of the Crimes Act has been committed, and that it is the duty of the Government to make all possible inquiries to try to sheet the crime home to the responsible individual. In connexion with those inquiries, the investigation officers are entitled to question any person in the community, including members of the Parliament. I submitted myself to questioning by them, and I hope that the information which I have been able to give to them will hasten the day when the criminal will be discovered. Had the Leader of the Australian Country party given to the investigation officers the assistance which this country was entitled to expect him to give, the matter would have been cleared
Up long ago. But the Leader of the Australian Country party and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) want to lay down the terms on which they will permit the alleged confidential documents to be seen. It is obvious that it would be of great assistance to the investigation officers if they could see a copy of those documents for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were photostats, whether they were complete documents or whether some parts of them are missing.
– Have a look at the document.
– It appears to be a photostat.
– The Minister would fall for anything.
– I shall leave that matter to the investigation officers. If the right honorable gentleman were as prompt in assisting them as he is in endeavouring to make jokes about this very serious matter, the investigation would proceed much more quickly than it is doing. There was no suggestion whatever on the part of the officers who interviewed the Leader of the Australian Country party that they would bring pressure to bear on him, or were intimidating him in any way. What, in fact, they did was to seek his collaboration to clear up a matter relating to the security of this country. For months, the right honorable gentleman and other honorable members opposite have been emphasizing the necessity for tightening up security measures, but when they have an opportunity to assist, they refuse to give any help to the Government and its officers.
.- Several issues have been raised in this debate, but I do not intend to be sidetracked from the main one, that of privilege. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), in his speech, accused the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) of cowardice, and of sheltering behind parliamentary privilege in making certain attacks and charges. Had the Prime Minister been outside the House when he described the secretary to the Leader of the Australian Country party as an “ urger “, he would be liable to proceedings for defamation, and would not be able to claim parliamentary privilege. While the Prime Minister was addressing the House, he made a most cowardly attack upon one of the finest civil servants in the country, whose only crime, if crime it be, is his loyalty to his leader. Therefore, the Prime Minister himself, in attacking that public servant, took advantage of the protection afforded by parliamentary privilege.
The Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) has invoked the Crimes Act, and has attempted in every possible way to conceal the real issues in this debate. He has alleged that the document has been either forged, or stolen. However, neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister for Defence will admit that the document is genuine. Their attitude indicates that it is genuine. If the document is genuine, it is self-evident that the Minister for Defence has told untruths to this House and to the country in relation to defence matters. For example, Mr. Harrison directed the attention of Mr. Dedman to press reports to the effect that America had refused to make available to Australia information on atomic energy. Mr. Dedman denied the truth of those reports.
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable member for. Richmond is not in order in referring to the
Minister for Defence as Mr. Dedman, and to the Acting Leader of the Opposition as Mr. Harrison. The Standing Orders provide that an honorable member must be addressed by the name of his constituency.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lazzarini). - I uphold the point of order, and I also remind the honorable member for Richmond that he must not pursue his present line of argument. He must confine his remarks to’ the terms of the motion.
– I shall not pursue that line of argument. Parliamentary privilege is a matter which directly concerns every honorable member, regardless of the political party which he supports. In the course of the years, the Opposition of to-day becomes the government of to-morrow and vice versa. The privileges of all members of the Parliament, irrespective of their party affiliations, must be safeguarded, not in their own interests, but in the interests of the people whom they represent, so that members may speak their minds freely in the National Parliament.
Parliamentary privilege is not of recent origin. At the commencement of every British Parliament since the 6th Henry VIII., it has been the custom for the Speaker to present the following petition to the King’s representative, the Lord Chancellor: -
Tn the name, and on behalf of the Commons, to lay claim by humble petition . to their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges; particularly that their persons and servants might be free from arrests and all molestations; that they may enjoy liberty of speech in all their debates; may have access to Her Majesty’s royal person whenever occasion should require; and that all their proceedings may receive from Her Majesty the most favorable construction.
The King’s representative replies -
Her Majesty most readily confirms all the rights and privileges which have ever been granted to or conferred upon the Commons, hy Her Majesty or any of her royal predecessors.
When the petition claiming undoubted ancient rights and privileges was presented to the autocratic Queen Elizabeth, Her Majesty rebuked Mr. Speaker in these words -
The members of the Commons have no right to speak what i8 freely in their mind. They hu ve only the right to say “ aye “ or “ nay “.
The Commons retaliated. Before Mr. Speaker presented the next petition to the Queen, the House passed a bill to emphasize its undoubted right to initiate legislation. That practice has never been discontinued and dominion parliaments observe it. When this Parliament began the present session on the 1st September last, the Prime Minister introduced the Acts Interpretation Bill, and moved that it be read a first time. It will not be proceeded with, but will remain on the notice-paper as a gesture to the insistence of the House of Commons about 350 years ago that it intended to preserve its privileges. But our liberties are likely to be bartered away unless we take action to safeguard them. When an attack is made in the House of Commons upon parliamentary freedom of speech, or an attempt is made to molest or intimidate any member, every other honorable member, regardless of the political party to which he belongs, who has a sense of public duty and a regard for parliamentary traditions, springs to his defence and fights for the preservation of freedom of speech. The privileges of the House of Commons were adopted by the Congress of the United States during the War of Independence in 1776. Section 6, clause 91 of the American Constitution contains the following words : -
Those words first appeared in the Bill of Rights, to which the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has referred. That freedom is enjoyed by the House of Commons, the Congress of the United States of America and the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. But honorable members must observe and uphold it. This is not the only occasion on which a member of the Parliament has maintained his right not to be questioned on statements that he has made in the Parliament. When the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) was asked to give evidence before a royal commission, he invoked section 9 of the Bill of Rights and claimed that he was not answerable to any one outside of the Parliament for anything that he had said inside it. The honorable gentleman was perfectly correct in so doing.
– The honorable member did not say that at the time.
– The Minister was perfectly within his rights in adopting that attitude, even though it was inconsistent with what he had said in the Parliament.
I want to show how the privileges of the members of the Parliament have been fought for and safeguarded. One honorable member went back to the time of -James I., and I propose to go back to the ;time of Charles I. Those who have read the history of that dramatic period in British history will recall that at that time five members of the House of Commons were causing Charles I. considerable trouble. They were John Pym, John Hampden and three others whose names I cannot remember. Charles I. thought that they had been speaking too freely in the Parliament, and he determined” to arrest them. When he arrived at the House of Commons, he found that they had disappeared. They were shielded by their colleagues. I direct the attention of the House to the similarity between what was said by Charles I. on that occasion and certain passages in the letter that was written to the Leader of the Australian Country party by the Prime Minister. Charles said -
Since I see that my birds have flown, I do expect from you that you shall send them unto me as soon as they return hither. But I assure you on the word of a King that I never did .intend any force-
He arrived with a guard of 80 ruffians, all armed to the teeth - but shall proceed against them in a legal and fair way, for I never meant any other.
When Charles arrived at the House of Commons, he said -
Gentlemen, I am sorry for this occasion of coming unto you. Yesterday I sent a Serjeant-at-Arms upon a very important occasion to apprehend some that by my command were accused of very high treason, whereunto I did expect obedience and not a message. I must declare unto you here that albeit no king that ever was in England shall be more careful of your privileges, to maintain them to the uttermost of his power, than I shall be.
In the letter that the Prime Minister wrote to the Leader of the Australian Country party, he said -
The contention that what has occurred amounts tr> a breach of parliamentary privi lege seems to me entirely misconceived and unwarranted, and 1 think, on reflection, you yourself will be forced to that conclusion. No one is more solicitous for the maintenance of the privileges of Parliament than I am myself, but, were your contention of privilege conceded, privilege would tend to become so strained as to lose its meaning and purpose.
That was all very much like the statements of Charles I. It is 350 years since Charles entered the Palace of Westminster to intimidate the free Englishmen of that day, but the spirit lives on. The parliamentarians of Britain were then resisting the Executive of the day. We now have a constitutional monarch, who has no power to appoint Prime Ministers and virtually no Executive authority. The Executive to-day is the Government, and it is that Executive which is seeking to abrogate the privileges of members of the Parliament, just as the Executive sought to do long ago. This attempt must be resisted. If the right honorable member for Darling Downs had to go to prison, he would go for a worthy cause.
The Minister for Defence said that the Leader of the Australian Country party had contravened the provisions of the Crimes Act, but he did not refer to section 22 of that act, which states -
Nothing in this Act shall derogate from any power or privilege of either House of the Parliament or of the Members or Committees of either House of Parliament as existing at the commencement of this Act.
The Minister failed to refer to that paragraph. He was, as usual, attempting to mislead the House. The privileges that are enjoyed by members of the Parliament are also guaranteed by section 49 of the Constitution. That section provides that -
The powers, privileges and immunities of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, and of the members and the committees of each House, shall be such as are declared by the Parliament, and until declared shall be those of the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom. . . .
We do not, however, rely upon those provisions, but upon the common sense of the English-speaking people.
I propose to refer briefly to the Sandys case. The Prime Minister was either misinformed on that matter or again he attempted to mislead the House on it this afternoon-. He said that there was little similarity between this case and the Sandy’s base: He said the point was that Mr. Sandys was required to appear in uniform before a military tribunal after he Had given notice of motion with regard to a matter of privilege. The facts are that Mr. Sandyswas interrogated by the Attorney- General afterhehad intimated to the Secretary of State for War that he proposed to ask a certain question which indicated that he had knowledge of antiaircraft secrets. The Attorney-General made certain statements to Mr. Sandys, which Mr. Sandys interpreted as threats, whereuponhecomplained to the House andclaimed privilege. The Committee of Privilegeswasnot appointed to considerwhether it was correct for the miliaryauthoritiestosummonMr.Sandys beforeamilitary tribunal,but to investi- gatetherightof theAttorney-General eventoquestionhimon the matter. The reportof theproceedingsofthe committee showsthat thefollowing para- graph was sought to inserted inthe report:-
Further one ofthe purposesofthe two interviewswhich the Attorney-General sought with Mr. Sandys was to prevent the question being put down. All these proceedings were based on the assumption that the Official Secrets Act could properlybeinvoked to prevent the member fromputting down a question. Thatassumptionis entirelynovel and undermines the freedom of debate and question in Parliament, which was assured by the Bill ofRights.
So far as your committee are aware, this is the firsttime that such an interview as that betweenthe Attorney-General and Mr. Sandys has occurred, and your committee hope that it will be the last. The Ministers concerned, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for War and the Attorney-General, when they turnedtheir minds to the wholly inappropriate weapon of the Official Secrets Act appeared to ignore the fact, which ought to have been present to their minds, that the House of Commons disciplines itself either through the senseof responsibility of individual member’s or if necessary, by penalaction by the House against the offender. Their second report will your committee hope, define clearly the scope and imparlance of parliamentary privilege. Thisshould prevent the possible recurrence ofsuch incidents since Ministers would have it brought forciblyto their minds that the freedom of members of parliament to carry on theirwork free from molestation isa matter which must be respected by them at all times.
The author of that paragraph was Mr. James Maxton; one of theoutstanding left-wing members of the House of Commons: The motion for its insertion in the report was supported by two other members of the committee Mr. Maxton defended parliamentary privilege in unequivocal language.
-He wouldbe sorry to hear the Honorable member for Richmond (Mr.Anthony) agree with him.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) treats parliamentary privilege as a joke. This question is bigger than political parties; because it affects our whole democratic system. If freedom of speech is to be stifled, if members of the Parliament are to be molested-
– The right honorable gentleman was not molested.
-I amglad that the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) has made that interjection. I am attempting to keep my argument free from party politics, because I believe the question is bigger than that. The question of molestation was brought be- for thePrivileges Committee of the House of Commons in 1946 in the” Face theFacts”poster case . Sir Gilbert Campion,the Clerk of the House of Commons, and probably the foremost authorityon theprecedents and practices of the British, parliamentary system, was called before the committee andasked how he would define molestation. This is what he said -
Molestation is a very general word. Surely not only physical molestation but anything that annoys or impedes amember in discharge of his duty, subjects himto annoyance or impediment in discharging hisduties in the House, is molestation.
That is the interpretationplaced upon the word by Sir Gilbert Campion. I emphasize what has already been said by the honorable member for Warringah. If a policeman goes to a m an’s home and says to the man, “ I want to question you about certain things “, and the policeman happens tobe a member of the investigation service of the country, his visit could constitute a formof intimidation. Indeed; such a visit has always been so regarded. We knowtheunfortunate history of many European countries. We know of instances in which men have been taken from their homes in the middle of the night. First, there is a tap on the door; then the man is asked politely to come along and have a word with the senior officers at head -quarters. He is never seen again. That is the beginnings of the gestapo system. The Prime Minister should be the chief defender of our privileges just as is his opposite number in Great Britain, Mr. Attlee, who, in one of the finest speeches he has made in the House of Commons, identified himself with the rights of members of the Parliament.
I propose to say only a word or two in regard to what has been described as the “ voluntary “ nature of the interview with the Leader of the Australian Country party. Whether it was voluntary or not, this interview was in complete breach of the privileges of the right honorable member.
In conclusion I desire to quote the greatest authority of the age on constitutional questions, Lord Bryce. In his work, Modern Democracies, Lord Bryce wrote -
Enough to say that although the conception »f individual liberty may be made to include the exemptions our ancestors contended for in the 17th Century, and although every kind of individual liberty may be called a civil liberty - there is this significant difference that the civil liberties of those older days were extorted from arbitrary monarchs, whereas what we call individual liberty to-day, has to he defended, when and so far as it needs defence, against the constitutional action of a self-governing community.
The fight is still being waged. Although these principles were laid down 500 years ago, the struggle still continues between the Executive, which believes it is allwise and all-powerful, and the other members of the Parliament. If, as the result of governmental action, we allow the privileges of members of the Parliament to be still further whittled away, to that degree we shall approach more closely the authoritarian and totalitarian state which has proved so disastrous in other countries. I hope that when the feeling which has been aroused by this incident has died down a more balanced view will be taken by honorable members opposite of what it will mean te them as well as to us of members of the Parliament are denied their rights. The day will undoubtedly come when, with the swing of the political pendulum, honorable members now sitting behind the Government will bc in opposition. Then they may be glad to invoke parliamentary privilege to protect their rights against a majority. When that day comes it is to be hoped that they will be able to say that to-day they defended the general rights and privileges of all members of the Parliament.
.- I agree with honorable members on both sides of the House that this is a very serious debate on the question of privilege, but I cannot understand why it has not been brought down to the ordinary levels of good behaviour, and why the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has been beating his breast around the House and the precincts of the House since last Thursday concerning it. The protestation of the Opposition that parliamentary privilege is a matter of high dignity, and one of the most precious things we have in the Parliament, has been debased on the dramatics of honorable members opposite. There is an atmosphere abroad in the House of Sexton Blake and his bloodhounds looking for some missing documents. Apparently the fire of the bull of New England, who is not in the l Louse to-day, has been injected into his leader, the right honorable member for Parting Downs, who normally sits in clare proximity to him. The impassioned speech appeared to come from -a man protesting his own cause too much. The speeches of honorable members opposite have been quite out of character. The first complaint of the right honorable member was that his rights had been threatened. He referred to the privileges the members of the Parliament have enjoyed since the early days of the seventeenth century. He spoke of the privileges of the Parliament and of the King rather than of the people and the Parliament. He took us through devious by-ways of history in a speech written, no doubt, by his very good secretary; but when he came to the nub ofhis case, and sought to drawan analogy between it and the Sandys case, he left out the relevant portions of the Sandys case which were subsequently quoted most damagingly against him by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley). The Prime Minister quietly and sincerely made his points. When the Leader of the Australian Country party got to that section of his brief, he decided to do nothing about it because he felt that the Sandys case did not strengthen his argument. I hesitate to join issue with the lawyers in this House, particularly with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who is indeed a very great lawyer if one may judge by the volumes which obscure our vision of his noble stature. The honorable member quoted authorities which unfortunately for him cancel themselves out. Some of them even cancel out the honorable gentleman himself. He quoted authority after authority until he was wearied and there was no original thought left in him. At the risk of being considered a humorist, I should say that his quotations from authorities on parliamentary practice and procedure were a sort of happy combiniation of nuts and May.
– Order !
– The honorable gentleman, by surrounding himself with books, has created a figure of great legal dignity. It may be said of him as Shakespeare said of Henry V., recently so admirably portrayed by Sir Laurence Olivier -
Turn him to any cause of policy,
TheGuardian knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,
The air, a charter’d libertine, is still,
And mute wonder lurketh in men’s ears,
To steal his sweet and honeyed sentences.
Unfortunately, in assisting the right honorable member for Darling Downs, the honorable member for Warringah unloosed more than his garter; he stripped him altogether; he revealed to us the fact that, he was naked of a case in this matter of privilege. He allowed his enthusiasm to go too far and he showed the right honorable member for Darling Downs as the sorry figure of a man trying to get out of the mess of his own creation. Since the honorable member for Warringah has been the attorney of the honorable member for Darling Downs in the past, he should have had some experience of this. ‘ In another case relating to stolen documents the honorable member for Warringah was the attorney of the right honorable member for Darling Downs and it cost the right honorable gentleman £400. I hope that, in this instance, his advice is very much better if no cheaper.
– That is an absolute lie.
– The right honorable gentleman admitted that the honorable member for Warringah would have been underpaid at £400, so there is no need for me to make an apology on that point.
– I rise to order. Earlier in the debate you gave a ruling. Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the effect that the debate should be kept within certain limits. I ask you, sir, whether the derogatory observations made by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), in relation to some other action taken by an honorable member on this side of the House is in order, and, if not, whether you will ask the honorable member to return to the motion before the House.
– Order ! I have already called the honorable member for Parkes to order. If the Acting Leader of the Opposition had been listening he would have heard me do so.
– I propose now to refer to the statements made by the right honorable member for Darling Downs in regard to security. For a number of months, nay, for years to my knowledge, the right honorable member has complained in this House of the inefficiency of our security measures and of those public servants doing the job; but he finds them very efficient when his privileges as a member of this House are threatened. I listened with bated breath to his story of the interview with the officers of the investigation service of which he has complained. I have had some experience as a journalist. 1 have heard of men going up into the skies and down into the depths of the sea for experimental purposes and for a news story, but this is the first time I have ever heard of a man who wanted to be interviewed by investigation officers in the presence of the press. That action probably reaches the dizzy heights of journalism. The honorable gentleman’s future employment by, some newspaper or other is assured. The two investigation officers quietly asked a few questions. They were taken to his office and ushered in, but when they asked to see the document from which the right honorable gentleman had quoted, then, and then only, was the press invited to be present. Was there some reason why members of the press were called in ? Is there any connexion between these documents and the press? Is that yet to be revealed? There are rumours, and one does not want to repeat them in this House under privilege, that other people are involved in this thing and that there are sections of the press which have something to answer. I mention that in passing because in the interests of security and of our great parliamentary institution I think that everything that has to be said should be said. Getting hack to the question of this whole unfortunate business, despite what the books say, despite what May says in his Parliamentary Practice. and despite the Sandys case, which is not completely analogous, as has been proved by the Prime Minister, there are some people in this country who are vitally affected by the debate concerning these documents and by the charges levelled against one another by honorable members in this House. What the people want to know, so far as I can’ gather, and the questions that remain to be answered by the Opposition, particularly by the right honorable member for Darling Downs, are first, whether a public servant was suborned in the matter of these documents, and, secondly, was a document stolen or forged ? There is an extraordinary reply to that contained in the letter which the right honorable member for Darling Downs wrote to the Prime Minister, the most amazing correspondence I have ever seen, and which should make good reading for jurists for a long time to come. The right honorable gentleman was asked to tell us whether the document was genuine or not, and the reply was in effect -
Tell us whether it is genuine or not and wo will tell you, or consider telling you, where we got it.
That is just the same as a pickpocket saying to his victim, “ Is this hard or soft currency I’ve got from you or have I been tricked ? “ In effect, the right honorable gentleman says, shorn of all the legal sophistries, “ Tell me if the document is genuine, and I will tell you where I got it “. The right honorable gentleman finds he has a weak case, and nothing he has said in the House to-day strengthens that case. If ever I saw an intimidated man I saw one here to-day when the right honorable gentleman faced the Prime Minister. He was intimidated mentally rather than physically - intimidated by the weakness of his case and the knowledge that he had taken the wrong line, on the matter. People outside the Parliament have made comments on this matter, and I quote what has been done here as against what was done in another case. Some reference has been made to the occasion on which another secret document was revealed, and to the conduct of the late Mr. John Curtin, towards the then Prime Minister. In this connexion I quote from the Sydney Sunday Sun. I understand the article is a reproduction of a Hansard transcript, with the necessary headings and other alterations. It reads -
Seven years ago, the late John Curtin, then Labour Opposition leader, came into possession of a confidential document. On September 17, 1941, he asked a carefully worded question in Parliament about public administration. He did not refer to the document, first hint of which was given by the then Prime Minister. Said Curtin, in the debate that followed : “ I am not in the habit of having secrets given to me by employees of the Crown. The first thing that I did was to take the matter straight to the head of the Australian Government. When then Attorney-General Hughes interjected, Curtin said, “Does the right honorable member think that I ought to read all the documents in this place?”
If ever there was a straight indication of what course should be followed, it was given on that occasion to the right honorable gentleman for Darling Downs, and there is no excuse for his action, because he has held the high position in this country of Prime Minister. The newspaper article continued - “ I do not at the moment consider that it is a matter for this House to decide “.
The then Prime Minister : “ Hear, hear !
Curtin : “ I now say to the country that the head of the Australian Government had the text of both documents (one was a report, the other a copy of a cable), and that they were made available to him for hie perusal as early as was practicable for me to hand them to him.”
– After the party executive had them.
– What I have quoted is the newspaper viewpoint. I shall now read portions of a long editorial which appeared in the Melbourne Age. In referring to the question of security it said -
What caused the alleged state of mind of responsible people in Washington and London (assuming it existed) Mr. Fadden did not explain. Even after the bitter debate, the question of whether the suspicions have any justification, or are groundless, must still be cleared up. A most unsatisfactory phase is that a party leader bearing an exceptional responsibility saw fit to quote in Parliament from documents which, the Prime Minister said, and has since reaffirmed, were either stolen or forged. That is a very serious statement, gravely disturbing in its implications. By deciding to take the course he did, Mr. Fadden took risks of finding himself in an awkward position.
– Then put me in an awkward position.
– The editorial continues -
Mr. Fadden’s attempts to justify the usage of the documents do not remove the impression that a public man with a just sense of propriety would have adopted a different course to deal with communications made to him which he regarded as disquieting from the security standpoint, whether the material be genuine or fabricated.
Those are interesting statements and are quite above party politics, as this matter should be. Yet the honorable member for Richmond, who joined in this debate, speaks about party politics. He revels in party politics and in anything else that might discredit this Government. His concern about what happened to Pym and John Hampden is in due ratio to his knowledge of that period of history. He reads a little here and a little there and then spits it out. I do not mind the honorable member being vicious, but when he becomes pious I am afraid I become a bit sick. It is rather tiring to hear Opposition members continually saying, “We have a document “. The Government also has documents. The Prime Minister’s attitude in this matter was governed by considerations of security, and of how mis statements may affect Australia’s reputation. Concerning the Prime Minister’s approach to the matter, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, on the 8th October, had this to say -
Whatever you may think of the squabble Mr. Fadden started-
– It is much more than a squabble.
– I see my old friend, the honorable member for Barker, is joining in. I can always picture this old Caledonian coming over the hill, with his kilts swinging, his sporan swirling, a dirk in his stocking and his bagpipes under his arm. When I was a new member this display used to intimidate me. To-day I know that it is the same old windbag on the warpath. However, returning to the proposition concerning secret papers, which brought me to my feet, the Daily Telegraph article continues - by quoting from documents which suggest that the Government had not told the truth about America’s faith in our security arrangements, you cannot seriously deny Mr. Chifley the right to inquire how these documents came into Mr. Fadden’s hands.
That is the basis of our argument. I suggest that if the two people who called on the right honorable gentleman had been two constituents from his new electorate of Macpherson it would have been all right, but the people who did see him were concerned with security. The right honorable gentleman immediately called in the press. It is a wonder he did not also call in the fire brigade. However, I shall read a little more of the article. It goes on -
If they were stolen the Government’s duty is to find out who stole them - and to prosecute.
– Do I understand that the honorable member is praising the Daily Telegraph ?
– I am quoting it, not praising it. I hope the honorable gentleman will realize, also, that when I am quoting him I am not praising him. The remainder of the article reads -
The fact that they happened to be stamped “ secret “ - if they were- does not necessarily mean that they would arouse a Mata Hari’s passing interest. Civil servants like to make their papers sound important, as we said yesterday. But stealing is stealing, and we can’t expect the Government to condone a raid on its files, even if the loot is only a bale of Ted tape. The Opposition is absurd and insincere when it represents as an invasion of rights and a step towards the police state the Government’s efforts to find out what happened and who was guilty. The investigation is merely routine, which Mr. Fadden himself would follow if he was in power and suspected that an unauthorised person had taken some’ of his administration’s papers. The Opposition would put its formidable case a lot more clearly if it cut out the barn-storming hysterics.
On tie matter of the barn-storming hysterics mentioned in the newspaper article, the right honorable gentleman has been striking his breast since last Thursday week; it has really developed into a long-range endurance test. When the real test is put on him he quits easily. There has been nothing said on the Opposition side of the House which makes any stronger the contention that there has been a breach of privilege. Most of these things which began the scare were done well away from the Parliament, and the photostats are probably held in Sydney to-day. The originals, of course, could be held by the right honorable gentleman. This is one of the things that come up every now and again ; in principle it is as old as the three-card trick and it is regrettable that a former Prime Minister, who in private life is a charming man, should have been caught in this way. I do not want to strengthen my case by offering any criticism of the personal virtues of the right honorable gentleman, but I venture to say that he is a very crass man in this case. The point that is slipping away from view is that there are three very simple questions to be answered, namely, whether a public servant was suborned, whether a document was stolen, and whether a document was forged. This debate has gone back a long way. Et has gone back to the days of King Charles, to William and Mary. We should bring it back to the realities of to-day.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– It is in no sense of levity that I discuss this matter, even if, unfortunately, some provocation from honorable members opposite may have given the impression that I was not taking it seriously. The fact is otherwise. After looking at the matter in the most sober manner, one must come to the conclusion that everything that needed to be said was said most trenchantly and adequately by the Prime Minister, who has the capacity for putting in the briefest and most forceful manner facts which tell against the arguments of the Opposition. After he had spoken, all the fight seemed to go out of Opposition members.
No question of privilege appears to be involved. I listened to the honorable member for Warringah, who, in regard to the Sandys case, made a fair pronouncement on the subject. The Leader of the Australian Country party left out the salient facts of the Sandys case, which set it quite apart from the one we are now considering. Actually, there is no relation between them at all. The introduction of ‘the Sandys case gave the Opposition a great opportunity to go romancing about the House of Commons, and to talk of the imperishable traditions of that institution. There are traditions of decency and patriotism of the House of Commons which have descended to us, which I commend to honorable members opposite. In conclusion, let me point out to the Leader of the Australian Country party that a precedent was set by- the late John Curtin, who, when faced with a similar situation, acted with great dignity and propriety. He saw that the incident did not get out of hand, as this one has done. Unfortunately, the Leader of the Australian Country party was carried away by the excitement of the moment. He made the matter one for publicity rather than patriotism. If the security of the country were endangered, surely the right honorable gentleman did not act in the best interests of this country in bringing the matter before the House in the way he did. A classic example was set by the late leader of the Labour party, Mr. Curtin, as to how a matter of this kind should be handled, and the record of how he handled it will be preserved in the archives of the Parliament as a guide to those who follow him. Ancient history does not help us, except that it may indicate the dignified way in which things ought to be done. The attempt to associate the principle of privilege, as it has been gloriously exemplified in the practice of the House of Commons, with an incident which does not even touch the fringe of privilege, has failed most miserably.
The two officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service, who have been criticized by honorable members opposite, behaved most courteously. They attempted to do their job, and when the position was made untenable for them, when their attempts to investigate a security matter were turned into a kind of public inquiry, all they could do was to withdraw, which they did gracefully. I cannot see that anything which happened impinged upon the privileges of the Leader of the Australian Country party as a member of this Parliament.
The newspapers, which are rarely on the side of the Labour movement, have referred to the incident in a representative way. If one may judge from the consensus of their opinions, they consider that the Leader of the Australian Country party has mulled the thing rather badly. This procedure started with great dramatic intensity, but it is finishing up practically without a curtain. As for the public, it will be concerned, not so much with the privileges of members of the Parliament, as with the security of the country, and with the statement that one of our war-time allies no longer trusts us in security matters. A charge of that kind is difficult to prove, but there is one matter which has to be proved. These documents did not blow up and down the corridor waiting for any one to pick them up. Here we have a plot which ultimately came to fruition. Certain documents were handed to the Leader of the Australian Country party. In order to conclude the drama, we want to know who was the man who peddled the documents? He. is the real traitor. The other party to the incident was merely the cat’s paw, but the real criminal lurks within the precincts of the House, or somewhere outside of it, where he is capable of continuing his mischievous work against the security of the country. The Government must find out who he is. Even if he is a highly placed person, he should not be protected. The charges should be pressed home. There was much dour, sound common sense in the remarks of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman). When the issue is clarified and the culprit is discovered, we may depend upon it that the Government will act.
– Then they were genuine documents?
– Every member of the Opposition has been trained to ask the same question, “ Were the documents genuine ? “ The real issue before us is, who was responsible for injuring the prestige of Australia? Is it a fact, as .alleged, that one of our allies, with whom we played a not inconsiderable part in the war, no longer trusts us? The position in regard to these documents must be cleared up, and we can get no assistance from the Opposition. Would it not have been better for the Leader of the Australian Country party to assist the Government, instead of trying to make a publicity holiday out of the incident? Anyway, he has failed miserably, and I think he is very sorry about it. The nation has been let down when a man of high distinction, holding a high position, allows his flair for publicity to overcome his patriotic judgment. The important point to remember is that a man, who did a dishonorable thing affecting the security of this country, is at large. Honorable members opposite have mouthed cliches and talked much on the subject of parliamentary privilege, but the important thing is to find the traitor, and , bring him to book. Opposition members are unhappy about this matter. They do not present a united front. There is something unclean about tho whole incident. They have defiled their hands with pitch, and they are now trying to wash them in the cold waters of privilege.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) 1.3.10].- The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) have already taken part in this debate, and I understand that I am to be followed by my friend and enemy, the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell). The reason for projecting the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) into this debate ought to be noticed by the House. One would have expected that, on an issue of this magnitude, the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) would have some definite opinions to express. He is generally willing to oblige the House with a display of his opinions.
– The honorable mem ber must return to the subject before the Chair.
-We are discussing a matter of privilege, andI was pointing out that the Minister for Transport, while I have been a member of the Parliament, has appeared before a royal commission on a matter of privilege.
-The Chair has an idea that the honorable member proposes to pursue aline of argument which it will not allow. He must confine his remarks to the question before theChair, which is the matterif privilege.
-The Minister for Defencehas referred to this point twice in the short time that has elapsed since the matterof the documents firstcame before the House.
-Order ! The speech of the honorable member will be short unless he follows tne lines which I have indicated.
-That would bea very great pity; because I have a lot to say. The Prime Minister was far from his best this afternoon, and he left the chamber as soon as he had spoken. The Minister for Defence made no great impression on his colleagues. As for my friend, the honorable member for Parkes, whose intrusion info the debate was something unusual, the most remarkable part of his speech was that relating to barn-storming. The honorable member is himself something of a poet and dramatist, but I am sure that if he had to earn his livingby barn-storming he wouldnot fare too well. One would expect that the editor of a public journal - understand that if was a woman’s journal - would be able to say something that had some bearing onthe subject under discussion.
-I expect the same of the honorable member.
– I am going to propound to the House certain questions which require answering. The first is, was the Leader of the Australian
Country party (Mr.Fadden) entitledto read the documents in question? The secondis, was the Prime Minister entitled to send police to interview the Leader of the Australian Country party in Parliament House? The third is, if the Prime Ministersays he did notsend the police, howdidthey presume toenter this Parliamentbuilding on a missionofthat kind? Did they come on their own initiative? Ifnot, whoorderedthemto come, and did theyobtain your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker,toenter this building ontheir mission? The final question is, should the Leaderof the Australian Country party beprosecuted? We shalldiscussallthose question before I finish.
It is just aswellforustoconsider whatismeantbyprivilege. This whole issue depends upon an appreciation of the meaning andsignificance of privilege. I had hoped that a debate of this kind wouldbe conducted, as aresuch debate’s in the Houseof Commons, onstrictly non-party line’s: The House of Commons, indeed, does not debate questionsof privilege exceptto determine whethera case of privilegehas been made out; and whether it ought tobe referred toa com- mitteeof privilege forconsideration.
– The last time a matter of privilege was considered in this House, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was involved, and he did not come out of it very well.
– I propose to discfuss that matter. If I am not permitted to do sohere,I shall take it up outside. Parliamentary privilege is something which does not exist for the member personally. It exists in order that a member in a democratically governed community may be entitled to put the case and represent the interests of his constituents in the Houseof Parliament to which he has been elected and in all the proceedings connected with the Parliament without any let or hindrance. He must have freedom Of speech and freedom of action as far as they are necessary to the fulfillment to his parliamentary duties and functions. He must have freedom from molestation, freedom from interrogation and arrest, and freedom in respect of any act or statement which, but for parliamentary privilege, would be a crime or a cause of civil action. That is the essence of parliamentary privilege. He must have freedom from surveillance by the police, and freedom to refuse to obey a summons of a court if the high court of Parliament so determines. I could deal with certain cases which have arisen within the last few weeks and which affect the privileges of this House, if the House is inclined to assert its privileges, but if the House is always to approach such matters from a purely party standpoint, parliamentary privilege becomes a question of party politics and, in fact and in essence, practically ceases to have any useful functions. I refer to the House of Commons procedure, because everything that we do in this chamber originated in the practices of that House”. I have no desire to go deeply into the history of parliamentary privileges, although I could do so.
I propose to refer to the case of certain Jacobite members of the House of Commons who, in1715, were representing, Scottish constituencies. A special law was passed which provided that, since His Majesty King George I., who was a very recent arrival in England, considered that an invasion was imminent, six privy councillors might sign a warrant committing to protective and preventive custody any person in the realm of England’, Scotland and Ireland, whom those six privy councillors suspected of untoward activities. However, a proviso was included that if the suspect happened to be a member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords; he could be committed only on the vote of that House. Actually six members, whose names are on record, were so committed. Nothing which the Chifley Government may allege at the present time is more immical to the interests of the realm than that situation which confronted the House of Commons in 1715.
During World War II., one member of the House of Commons was interned. He appeared before the Committee of Privileges, which heardhis case and decided that he should remain in internment. Incidentally, the House of Commons did not declare his seat vacant, but, so far asIcan recall,heremainedin internment until the endof thewar. I can citeanother comparatively recent case. A fewmonths ago, a distinguished visitorwas given aseaton thefloor of this House, and asheenteredthe chamber, honorablemembers stood in their places asamarkofrespect to him. He was Mr.E. deValer a. His name appears on therecordsof the House of Commons. He was interned withother Irish members of the’ House of Commons. It hasbeen a commonoccurrence during the last 70years to place Irishmembers indurance vile, not somuch because of Irish informers as becauseof their rebelliousactivities,inwhich, perhaps, they hadmore affinity withsome people ontheothersideof the IrishChannel than theyhad with theFar Eastern Mediterranean.
Mr.BEAZLEY.- Are the Cameron’s still Jacobites?
-That interjectionisnotrelevant tothe subject underdiscussionany more thanit would beformetoaskwhetherthehonorable memberfor Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) is one of the new order.
I now propose to refer to arecent committee of privilegesappointed by the House of Commons. When the late Neville Chamberlain was Prime Miniter, the Committee of Privileges was presided overby theRight Honorable Clement Attlee, who was then Leader of the Oppositionand leaderof the Labour party. If mention that fact for the purpose of showing to the House how the spirit which exists in theMother of Parliaments differs from the spirit which exists in this Parliament when matters of privilege are under consideration. The Government although supported by an absolute majority, had so much faith in Mr. Attlee’s goodwill and spirit of fair play that it appointed him to the Committee of Privileges, and he presidedover the hearings in the famous Sandys case. Under the present Labour Government in the United Kingdom, the president of the Committee of Privileges is theRight Honorable Arthur Greenwood, a distinguished member of the Labour party. On the Committee of Privileges, the Right Honorable Winston Churchill has taken his seat. About two years ago, a committee of privileges, which was dominated by the Labour party, submitted a report which resulted in the expulsion from the House of a Labour member for having committed a breach of parliamentary privilege. Another member of the House of Commons lost his position as secretary of the Public Service Association .as the result of the finding of another committee of privileges. I raise those matters now in order to show the difference between the manner in which the Commonwealth Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament approach questions of privileges.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) referred in an interjection to a parliamentary inquiry into a matter in which I was involved. I was also a member of another committee which came to a sudden end. Certain disclosures were published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Herald about the proceedings of that committee. The Standing Orders clearly provide that no member of a select committee, and no person associated with it, shall disclose any of its proceedings. Although that standing order was flagrantly violated on two occasions, the government of the day did not prosecute the Sydney Morning Herald or the Melbourne Herald. The Sydney Morning Herald published in full a secret document dealing with certain customs matters. The information must have been supplied by some person who was serving on that select committee. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who referred to the Sandys case, mentioned the position in which former Ministers of State in the United Kingdom find themselves after they cease to hold office. Every man who has held ministerial office must become, by the very nature of his duties, the repository of many important secrets, particularly when war is threatening or is in progress. I have had some experience. Earlier, I stated that a member should not be subject to any molestation, threat or intimidation. I propose to refer to an incident in which I was involved. Certain honorable members in this House were involved in similar cases, but I shall deal with my own because I have a thorough knowledge of the circumstances. After I had raised a question of privilege relating to censorship on Friday, the 25th February, 1944, the head of the Commonwealth Investigation Service sent for me on the following. Monday. I saw him, but he said that he did not want to see me until the next day. When I saw him again on the 2’9tb February at 5 p.m., he told me that, under his personal authority, a complete search had been made of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department which I had administered, and that it had been discovered that I had done certain things. They did not discover many of the things that I had done, and they have not yet discovered them, but one matter on which they thought would “ rock “ me was raised. I was told that I sould not proceed ‘with my complaints about censorship because I had left a record that,, on my personal instructions, a letter which’ was registered and addressed to the head-quarters of the Nazi party in Germany, under cover address, had been opened and photographed. Was not that an example of intimidation? What the Leader of the Australian Country party has been subjected to in the last few days is not new. It has happened before. The important question is whether it should happen at all. I should like to know on what authority any Minister, no matter how senior he may be, authorizes a security check of the administration of a Minister in an earlier government. That has taken place. I could say a good deal more about that aspect if it were necessary, but I have said sufficient to show that those things do happen.
Before Mr. Churchill became Prime Minister, he spoke on the Sandys case, which arose in the House of Commons in 1938. He showed that had it not been for disclosure by civil servants and army and naval officers in World War I., certain operations would have gone badly for Great Britain. He stated that the shortage of shells was brought to a head in 1915 only because somebody gave vital information not to a member of Parliament, but to the press. He also stated that the shortage of steel helmets was overcome only when a visitor to the House of Commons, in order to impress upon members the seriousness of the position in France, jumped from the strangers” gallery on to the floor of the House and was badly injured. That incident led to the manufacture of steel helmets. .Certain junior naval officers, who distrusted the Lords of the Admiralty, went behind the backs of their superiors to Ministers and members of Parliament, and their proposals resulted in the intro.duction of the convoy system. Mr. Churchill said that he could not defend a government which would make misleading statements to comfort the country and deceive the House. In the same speech, he said that a few days earlier, he, and eleven other members of the House, of Commons, each one of whom was a Privy Councillor, had waited on the Prime Minister to discuss defence matters. The conversation had lasted for two days. Mr. Churchill recalled that, had the Official Secrets Act been invoked, he and the «leven Privy Councillors could have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment aggregating almost 800 years. In 1940, Mr. Churchill became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and during World War II. was the saviour of civilization. I defy contradiction when I say that he is the greatest parliamentarian that the British Parliament has ever produced.
In the same debate to which I have referred, Mr. Churchill said that he sympathized with those public officials who had had placed upon them the strain of knowing that the facts disagreed with misleading ministerial statements. I should dislike to be the unwilling recipient of confidential information that I could not use. That is my attitude. I suppose that in the parliamentary life of every honorable member of this House, and mine extends over 21 years now-
– It is too long.
– That may be so, but it will be prolonged. 1 suppose that at one time or another every one of us has become the unwilling recipient of information of that kind.
I wish to deal one by one with the questions that I propounded to the House a few moments ago. The first is whether the right honorable member for Darling Downs was entitled to read the documents that he produced in this chamber. The answer to that question is to be found in the report of the Committee of Privi leges of the House of Commons on the Sandys case. Incidentally, I correct the Prime Minister and point out that there were three separate reports made on that case. The report of the Committee of Privileges was lodged within a few hours. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) said it was lodged within 48 hours, but I am not sure that it was not done sooner than that. Two separate reports were made by a select committee that was appointed by the House of Commons and instructed to consider the Official Secrets Act as it affected members of that House. That committee was presided over by Sir John Gilmore, whose name will be known to one or two honorable members of this House who are familiar with the activities of the Imperial Parliament. The report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts, having referred to the Official Secrets Act of 1911, as amended by the act of 1920, states - . . a person who communicates information to a person other than a person to whom he is authorized to communicate it commits no offence provided the person to whom he does communicate it is one to whom it is in the interest of the State his duty to communicate it.
That is a provision with which the Minister for Transport will agree. He has availed himself of it more than once, and twice in my hearing recently he has said that he would do it again. The report continues -
The executive would not have the final word on this question. A measure of protection is thus afforded to any person who communicates information to a member of parliament. . . It is an offence to receive the information from any person if the recipient has a reasonable ground for believing that the disclosure was originally made in contravention of the Act. . . . Section 6 of the Act of 1920 imposes a duty on every person to give on demand to a chief officer of police or other specified person any information in his power relating to an offence or suspected offence under the acts. . . . While the term “ proceedings in Parliament “ has never been construed by the courts, it covers both the asking of the question and the giving of written notice of such a question, and includes everything said or done by a member in the exercise of his functions as a member in a committee of either House, as well as everything said or done in either House in the transaction of parliamentary business.
The .privilege of freedom of speech being confined to words spoken or things done in the course of parliamentary proceedings, words spoken or things done by a Member beyond the walls of Parliament will generally not be protected. Cases may, however, easily be imagined of communications between one Member and another, or between a Member and a Minister, so closely related to some matter pending in, or expected to be brought before, the House, that though they do not take place in the chamber or a committee room they form part of the business of the House, as, for example, where a Member sends to a Minister the draft of a question he is thinking of putting down or shows it to another Member with a view to obtaining advice as to the propriety of putting it down or as to the manner in which it should be framed. The Attorney-General said that, should such a case come before the courts, he could not but think that they would give a broad construction to the term “ proceedings in Parliament” having regard to the great fundamental purpose which the privilege of freedom of speech served, and that he could “ see a possible construction of ‘ proceedings ‘ which would extend to matters outside the precincts if they were related to what is to happen in the House “.
There is authority for saying that an act not done in the immediate presence of the. House may yet be held to be done constructively in Parliament and therefore protected. Sir Robert Atkyns, some time Lord Chief Baron- of the Exchequer, in his Argument upon the Case of Sir William Williams, says that the Commons’ “right and privilege so far extends, that not only what is done in the very House sitting the Parliament, but whatever is done relating to them . . . during the Parliament and sitting the Parliament, is nowhere else to bc punished but by themselves or a succeeding Parliament “. . . .
I want honorable members to understand that these proceedings will not necessarily end to-night. Just as one parliament can repeal the acts that were passed by a previous Parliament, so a Parliament that succeeds this one may have different views upon privileges or breaches of privileges and may decide to make those who were not brought up to the barrier by its predecessor suffer the penalty for breach of privilege. It is just as well to remember that, because I assure honorable members that I shall not forget.
Some very interesting statements were made with regard to secret documents in the debate that took place in the House of Commons on the Sandys case. Mr. Churchill said -
You may blame a member who commits the indiscretion of making our weaknesses public, but how much more must you blame a Minister or an administration which has prepared the conditions of that weakness beforehand.
Another passage from his speech reads -
There is scarcely one Member who has taken part in these debates who might not be invited to give tile answer to what I think the Attorney-General called a request to cooperate with him - that is to say, to betray the confidence of his informant.
Mr. Churchill also said ;
He has not only the right, but the duty, to force an unpalatable truth upon the consideration of a Minister, and the vehicle and the instrument which he can use for that purpose - the only instrument which he can use - is the possibility that, in the ultimateissue, he may, subject to his discretion, at the last moment utilize the procedure and opportunities if Debate and Question Time in this House.
Those three quotations are pertinent to the question of whether the Leader of the Australian Country party was entitled to read that document in the Parliament. I contend that everything in the usages and history of the House of Commons shows that the right honorable gentleman was entitled to do so.
The next question is whether the Prime Minister was entitled to send police to the Leader of the Australian Country party in Parliament House. I turn again to the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act. On pages v and vi, the following passage appears concerning Sir Gilbert Campion, the Clerk of the House of Commons : -
Sir Gilbert Campion expressed the opinion that “ the immunity of Members from the criminal law in respect of acts done by them in the exercise of the functions of their office “ could “ not be confined to acts done within the four walls of the House “. This conclusion was, he considered, involved in Mr. JusticeO’Connor’s dictum in Rex v. Bunting that a Member of Parliament ‘* is privileged and protected by “- then there are some Latin words which mean the laws and customs of- Parliament - in respect of “ anything he may say or dowithin the scope of his duties in the course of parliamentary business “.
That is fairly comprehensive. Thereport continues -
Lord Denman, in his classic judgment In Stockdale v. Hansard said that “ all theprivileges that can be required for the energetic discharge “ by the members of the Houseof their duties, must be “conceded without a murmur or a doubt “.
If the Prime Minister sent the police to this House to interrogate, interview, intimidate - honorable members can use whatever verb they like - the Leader of the Australian Country party, he was committing a breach of the privileges of this Parliament. The Prime Minister should be the second in charge in the matter of conserving those rights and privileges. Mr. Speaker is, or, in the present case, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are, the person upon whom the first duty devolves.
– Order 1 I heard an interjection by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). I ask him to withdraw it and to apologize to the Chair.
– I withdraw it and apologize.
– The next question is how police presumed to enter this building. In this connexion, I say that in the Australian Parliament a state of affairs exists which, so far as my knowledge goes, is without parallel in the history of any British parliament. Ministers of State have their offices in this building. Upon a strict interpretation of the law, a Minister of State has no right to an office in this building. I say that as a person who has himself occupied a ministerial office here several times. The offices of the Ministers should be outside this building, and in their departments. The only people who have a right to offices in this building are the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. All others are here on sufferance. I say that the sooner the Parliament tells Ministers to obtain accommodation elsewhere, the better it will be for the working of the Parliament. As I observed when my own party was in power, there is a tendency for some Prime Ministers to think Charles I. died in vain. He died 300 years ago next January, but nevertheless there is a. tendency here to think of the divine right of Prime Ministers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) is now entering the chamber. Speak of the angels - even though they may be black ones - and you are sure to hear the flapping of their wings I
The next question is this: If the police did not come here on the initiative of the Prime Minister, will that right honorable gentleman tell us on whose initiative they did come?
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I understand that the time allotted to each speaker in this debate is 45 minutes.
-The time allowed is 35 minutes.
Motion (by Mr. Hutchinson) put -
That the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) be granted an extention of time.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I listened to every word the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) uttered; I watched the manner of his delivery; and I could not but be impressed with the perturbation of mind that seems to be his and that of all honorable members of the Opposition in regard to this most unfortunate situation which they have deliberately created for themselves. The Leader of the Australian Country party wandered down through the corridors of history. He paused for a brief moment at the vault of James I. of England. He passed on and again paused before the bier of the none too illustrious James II., the grandson of the first of that name and the last of the hapless, hopeless and helpless Stuart Kings of England and Scotland. He had a word with the departed spirits of William and Mary, and then proceeded to base his case upon the hoary precedents of those periods. Few honorable members opposite who have spoken in this debate have reached any period of history later than that of George I. I believe that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) got nearest to modern times. The real principle of privilege does not go back to the periods mentioned by honorable gentlemen who like to take pride in their Jacobite ancestors or like to think of those spacious days long since past. The privilege of Parliament goes back only about 100 years to the time when those people who wanted to serve writs and court orders upon members of the British Parliament who were in debt, were restrained from entering the parliamentary buildings. The privilege extending to what honorable members may say inside the Parliament, which goes back a long time, is not in question in this case. Nothing that has been said in this Parliament is in question in any way whatever. The real issue of privilege iB not involved. The motion of privilege submitted by the Leader of the Australian Country Party appears to be an endeavour to cover up, first, whether the right honorable gentleman is guilty of receiving and using secret, stolen documents, and, secondly, whether he is using documents, not knowing whether they are authenic or not. He cannot have it both ways. I noted what the right honorable gentleman said in the course of his remarks. In an unguarded moment he said -
It is the Government’s responsibility toguard its secrets.
That is the truth. The Government is anxious to guard its secrets, and that is why it is essential for it to have the cooperation of honorable members opposite in guarding the secrets that belong not only to the Government but also to the Parliament and to the people. It was the only true statement uttered on this subject by the Leader of the Australian Country party. We have heard a good deal about what honorable members opposite call the Sandys case. They cannot even pronounce correctly the name of the former member of the House of Commons. The correct pronunciation is as though the name were spelt without the “ y “. Much of what has been said about the Sandys case has consisted of misrepresentation. In spite of what the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) said in his attempt to mislead the House into believing that it was the action of the British Attorney-General in interviewing Sandys that caused him to raise the question of privilege in the House of Commons, the truth is as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 9th October last. Either the honorable member for Richmond is right or the editor or the writer of the special article in the Sydney Morning Herald is right. The article reads -
On June 29, 1938, Mr. Duncan Sandys, 30- year-old son-in-law of Mr. Winston Churchill and Conservative member for Norwood, rose’ in the House of Commons to make a dramatic claim of privilege. He astonished and electrified the House by announcing that he had received orders as a Territorial officer to appear in uniform before a military court of inquiry.
Sandys’s motion of privilege was based on the fact that while the case was before the British House of Commons he had been ordered by the military authorities to appear before them for disciplinary action. The honorable member for Warringah is also out of court with the leader writer of the Sydney Morning Herald-
– Why did not the Minister read the case?
– I have done so, and I do not need the legal assistance of the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) either to read it or to understand it. The honorable member is known among his colleagues as “ necessity “, because of the fact that, like necessity, lie knows no law. The honorable member for Richmond quoted extensively from the paragraph proposed to be included in the report of the Privileges Committee by Mr. Maxton :a former independent Labour member of the British House of Commons. He waxed eloquent .in his eulogy of Mr. Maxton’s sentiments as though Mr. Maxton’s views were the views of the committee; but in a manner alike dishonest and contemptuous of the intelligence of this House, he failed to turn over the page and read the decision of the committee on Mr. Maxton’s paragraph. The committee rejected Mr. Maxton’s paragraph :by nine votes to three. All his eulogy of Mr. Maxton was entirely dishonest. We have heard a lot of the Sandys case: but we were not told of the epilogue of the Sandys drama. The House of Commons spoke; the committee of the House of Commons spoke; and ultimately the people of England spoke at a general election, and Sandys was relegated to the political scrap heap and never came back into political life in England. Honorable members opposite have told us what the committee of the House of Commons did. I have pleasure in telling them that the people of England relegated Sandys to political obscurity as the people of Australia will relegate to obscurity most honorable members opposite who have used the Sandys case in this debate to bolster up an impossible position of their own creation. . Mr.
Maxton has been in heaven for some years now.
– How does the Minister know that?
– Because Labour members always have a better chance of going to heaven than have members of the Liberal party. By some strange quixotic turn of fate, the honorable member for Richmond sought to praise the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward)-
– He could npt have dene so.
– He said that the Minister for Transport pleaded privilege in “ the Brisbane Line “ case some years ago and added, “ He was quite right “. Fancy the honorable member for Richmond saying that the Minister for Transport was right in anything he did. It has taken him, and those who cheer him, five years to discover that the Minister for Transport was right. At the time the Minister for Transport was being attacked, members of the Opposition called him all sorts of names and demanded all sorts of action against him. According to Hansard of the 24th June, 1943, to be precise, at page 319 - the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) said -
We want a royal commission to And out who gave the information to the Minister.
Then the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who is now in parts unknown, said that he wanted the Minister to divulge the name of his informant. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) demanded an inquiry into the identity of the Minister’s informant, and used these significant words, “ He must, be discovered and dealt with “. The scene has changed. Honorable members opposite are protecting a contemptible individual who took either genuine documents or forgeries from a public office and gave them to a person not entitled to have them. Honorable gentlemen opposite will not co-operate with the Government by supplying information about the matter. The honorable member for Barker had an afterthought. He generally makes two speeches, and they are usually mutually contradictory. On this occasion he was consistent. He said that there ought to be immediately appointed by the Parliament, a royal commission to discover who the informant was. All that we ask for is information about who supplied the documents. We have not demanded a royal commission, or anything of that kind. We have asked that honorable members opposite, particularly those who have been members of the Executive Council and took a triple oath of office when they became Ministers that they should co-operate with the Government in the effort that is being made to discover who obtained these documents, and from where.
The right honorable gentleman who has moved this motion to-day gave notice on the 24th June, 1943, according to Hansard, at page 326, that he would move as follows: -
That a royal commission, under the presidency Of a judge of the Supreme Court of a State, be forthwith appointed to inquire into and report upon the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service that “ he was most reliably informed that an important document is missing from the official files “ in respect of the following questions: -
Who was the informant of the Minister.
Under what circumstances and upon what grounds and what information was given by such informant to the said Minister.
Whether the Minister was informed by any one in the terms in which he claims he was informed. id) That the report of the Commissioner be returnable within a fortnight.
That motion, I repeat, was moved by the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr.Fadden), and, in the light of to-day’s performance, it sounds like so much humbug and hypocrisy.
The Opposition’s case is based upon the immoral doctrine that the end justifies the means. Honorable members opposite are prepared to achieve, by whatever means come to their hands any end which seems to them to be a good one. They are prepared to do anything in order to secure some passing advantage. Whatever advantage they got out of this move was so ephemeral that it disappeared within 24 hours, and they are now on the defensive not merely in this Parliament but also before the bar of Australian public opinion. They have documents in their possession which are either stolen or forged, and all the things they have said in criticism of other people in by-gone times react against them to-day. They have used something that they now wish they had never seen. They have talked long and loudly in this House about the matter, and they now regret every word that they have uttered. There is nobody who longs more for a good sleep and a quiet weekend than does the Leader of the Australian Country party, and all that his followers have done to try and extricate him from his situation has only put him further into difficulty and trouble. When he raised this question he had the advantage of a legal adviser in the person of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who sat alongside of him, whispered things to him, and even wrote his speech for him. Then, in order to show his devotion to the highest degree of perfection, he handed up the pages from which the right honorable gentleman read.
– Who said that was an advantage to the right honorable gentleman?
– That advice would have cost a thousand guineas outside of Parliament.
– Public opinion is not impressed with the performance of the Opposition in this case. When a newspaper like the Daily Telegraph of Sydney finds that the protestations of the Opposition are too much even for it to swallow, and when other newspapers criticize honorable gentlemen opposite and they cannot get a unanimous press support for their campaign, obviously they are in an untenable position. They stand condemned before all of those who value parliamentary privilege, but also value the security and protection of this nation..
Let us have a look at the position adopted by the honorable member for Warringah, who said, “ If the Prime Minister will say whether the documents are genuine or not, we will consider our position “. I read in the press this morning that a legal advocate of another nation, pleading before the United Nations, said that if the allied powers would do certain things, then a little later he would place his cards upon the tabic His opinion of the western world’ was that its situation was one that could not be tolerated.
-Order! The Minister should confine his remarks to the motion being debated.
– I am drawing an analogy between the attitude adopted by a legal gentleman before the United Nations and that adopted by the honorable member for Warringah in this House. If his premises are admitted the Queensland Government and the Australian Government must concede similar privileges to Mr. Frederick Paterson, the Communist member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland. If that gentleman obtains confidential information and uses it in the Queensland Parliament, honorable gentlemen opposite will say that the Commonwealth investigation authorities and the Queensland authorities have no right to question him, because what he did would have been approved by William and Mary.
If the. contention of the honorable member for Warringah is right, then the Canadian Government was wrong in interrogating. Mr. Fred Rose. the Communist member of the Canadian House of. Commons, in regard to his action in handling the. stolen or forged documents which he used not as the basis for a speech in the Parliament but for communication to a foreign power. The action of the Canadian Government, on the. basis, of the honorable member’s submissions, was wrong. Mr. Rose, according to the honorable gentleman, was entitled to do what he liked, to meet whom he liked, and to handle any documents as he liked. He would have been no more indifferent to the principle of the matter than axe. honorable members opposite.
There are two Communist members of the British House of Commons, Mr. Gallacher and Mr. Piratin. According to honorable members opposite, they may use documents in the House of Commons.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable member for Warringah has a united front with the Communist party on this issue. Public opinion will not support that position. At least Sandys went along to the responsible British authorities and spoke to the British Prime Minister and the War Minister.
When the late Mr. John Curtin had certain secret information put into his hands early in the war he took it to the right honorable member for Darling Downs, who was then the Prime Minister, before he did anything further. If the Leader of the Australian Country party,, who has raised this issue had gone to the present Prime Minister and talked the matter over with him and told him where the information was leaking from, he would have been rendering a public service. Even then he would have been doing no more than his duty obliges him to do. When he failed to do that, he failed in his duty.
There have been several episodes involving stolen documents before in the history of this Parliament. There was an occasion, when Mr. Joseph Alexander, of the Melbourne- Herald, happened to be passing a certain room in this building one. night and accidently, of course, and purely coincidentally, too, walked into a. room and in a copy of Hansard, discovered secret cables which had been passing between the Australian Prime Minister of the time, Mr. Scullin, and members of the Ministry in Australia. The Melbourne Herald published the documents, and this House of the Parliament expressed its displeasure at the action of the journalist in violating the privileges of the Parliament, by suspending, him for the- rest of the life-time of the Parliament. Mr. Speaker (Mr.. Makin) took action in that regard. A paradoxical position arose because the anti-Labour parties controlled the Senate, which, took no action against Alexander. He could go- there and be entertained by senators, but the representatives of. the people- in this House expressed their displeasure in a very real way. Honorable members opposite have forgotten that cas«. People of their own political kind in the Senate condoned the stealing, of documents in that case in the same way as the Opposition in this Parliament is doing, to-night..
– Where is Alexander now?
– He is back with the Melbourne Herald where he belongs. There was another case even more important than that. In 1929, the BrucePage Government was badly shaken when a Cabinet document was stolen and published. At least I am talking of current history. The events to which I am referring have occurred in the lifetime of this federation and some hundred of years later than the time of Charles I. and William and Mary.
– Yes, the Minister is talking of Chifley I.
– The Benjamin I. of biblical times.
– Well, Benjamin was the best of his tribe. When the Cabinet agreed to vital changes being effected in the arbitration system, the then AttorneyGeneral, Mr. J. G. Latham, addressed a memorandum to Cabinet, in which he set out in detail, and with the logic for which he was always very famous, his reasons for objecting to the proposals to change the arbitration system. Honorable members will remember that it was about that time that the crisis occurred in connexion with the alterations in our arbitration system that the Bruce-Page Government was bringing down, and which the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) seized upon as a fitting occasion to pay off a series of old scores. The Government fell and there was an election. History was made. The five-paged reasoned document prepared by the then Attorney-General, Mr. Latham, which was stolen by some person still unknown, was published by the Canberra Times. That happening not only created a sensation, but it also caused a serious split in the Cabinet on a most important item of government policy. It will be conceded by every honorable member that a Cabinet document is a most privileged document - one of the highest secrecy. The Government armed the Commonwealth police with search warrants, and various premises and private homes were searched in order to find the missing document. We have not yet gone so far’ as that in our attempt to find the culprit, the miscreant, the person who has been so false to his trust as to steal the document involved on this occa sion - if it was a genuine document - although it is just as vital as was the Cabinet document. The document quoted from by the right honorable member for Darling Downs was concerned with the defence of the country.
– Then it .was a genuine document?
– Whether it was genuine or not, the right honorable gentleman himself alone can say. He at least ought to prove that he wants to be regarded by this and succeeding generations as a true Australia, but he is not prepared to do anything about it. The other document of which I spoke was merely concerned with proposals for the alteration of the arbitration system. Among the private homes searched was that of a man named MacFarlane, an officer of the Prime Minister’s Department, whose duties included the making of roneoed copies of documents for Cabinet meetings. The missing document was not found, but the police did find in MacFarlane’s house a roneoed Cabinet document setting out cost of living figures for Canberra. Technically, the officer concerned had no right to be i:n possession of such a document, but he was personally interested in the subject, and had taken a copy home for his own information. He was studying it by the radiator when the police called. The document had little political importance. and it was published a few days later. The real culprit was not discovered, but .MacFarlane had a Cabinet paper in his possession. A victim must be found; a head must fall; so MacFarlane was dismissed. Added to this crime was the additional one of having in his home a radiator which properly belonged to the Prime Minister’s Department. That aggravated the offence! Unlike the Leader of the Australian Country party, MacFarlane could not claim privilege, although he had not used the document to his advantage, or published it. The fact that he was a maimed returned soldier gave him no special privilege. The fact that his face was so grotesque from war wounds that he was known as “Cyclops” throughout the Public Service earned him neither privilege nor pity. He had suffered mentally and physically in helping to defeat his country’s enemies, but that gave him no privilege. The fact that he had been the close personal attendant of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), when he was Prime Minister, and had given him loyal service, earned him no privilege. Indeed, it probably counted against him, because of the internecine warfare between the right honorable member for North Sydney and Mr. Bruce and his associate, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). MacFarlane had no parliamentary walls behind which to shelter, no parliamentary altar to which he could cling. He was kicked out of the Public Service with ignominy and died soon afterwards in poverty and destitution. That was how a government, representing the present Opposition parties, treated a man who had given long and faithful services, and who at most was guilty of a minor misdemeanour. In the past, they have been willing enough to sacrifice scapegoats, but when they themselves are found in possession of a secret document, they refuse their co-operation. On several occasions, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has urged the amendment of the Standing Orders to provide that «ny member of the Parliament who attacks a private citizen may be called upon to prove that his charges are based on fact. Now, when we ask members of the Opposition to state whether a certain document was stolen or forged, they run away from the issue. They abandon their protestations of other days, and reveal themselves as the close confederates and willing associates of those who, in their malevolence and their viciousness, abuse their trust, and expose their country to additional perils and unnecessary dangers. Honorable members opposite demand that the Government clear out the Communists from the Public Service because, few though they be, they may give information, secret or otherwise, valuable or of no value, to a foreign power; but they would not have us interfere with any traitor or fifth columnist who supplies the Liberal party or the Australian Country party with information of a highly secret nature, whether or not the disclosure of that information in the Parliament, and over the broadcasting sys tem of the nation, might endanger the security of the country.
– I desire to make a personal explanation, because I have been misrepresented by the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell). He said that I had misled the House, and misrepresented certain aspects of the Sandys case. In my reference to the Sandys case I was replying to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), who had said-
– The honorable member must keep close to the point.
– The Prime Minister said that the Sandys case involved Sandys being called before a military tribunal, so that the incident was not analogous to the one now under consideration. That, however, was only one aspect. The principal point was the interview which the Attorney-General had with Sandys.
– I do not think that the honorable member has reason for claiming to be misrepresented. He is merely arguing a point. He stated his opinion, and the Minister was entitled to state his own.
– I am claiming that I did not mislead the House. The Minister quoted a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, and said that, it contradicted me. I now quote from the official report of the committee of the House of Commons which considered the Sandys case. It stated -
We have been appointed to inquire into theconduct of the Minister, and not into the conduct of Mr. Sandys.
I could quote further to prove my point, but that is sufficient. The concluding part of the report is as follows : -
The conduct of the Attorney-General is to be condemned as a gross violation of the proper and traditional relationship between members of Parliament and Ministers.
I have shown that I did not mislead the House. I come now to another matter regarding which I have been misrepresented.
– Order 1 The honorable member must resume his seat. He is now going beyond the limits to which he was entitled to go.
– I rise to a point of order.
– Is it in regard to the same matter ?
– No, not the same matter. I claim that if I have been misrepresented by the Minister in respect of more than one matter, I am entitled to explain each of them.
– The honorable member is not entitled to make another speech. The pretext which he has offered for making a personal explanation is a very poor one.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That the ruling of the Deputy Speaker - that no claim of breach of privilege could be sustained and that a prima facie case had not been made out in respect of the proposed motion of privilege submitted by the right honorable the Leader of the Country party which would justify the matter taking precedence over other business - be disagreed with.
This motion, which stands on the notice-paper in my name, must be discharged. I have been given to understand that the terms of the motion will preclude me from making any reference to the document which has been the subject of the debate just concluded, but I propose to explain the incidents which led up to this motion of dissent. On Thursday last, at 3.13 p.m., the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) rose in this House on a question of privilege. He stated that, just before the meeting of the House, two detectives, presumably at the direction of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), waited upon him in the precincts of the House, in fact in his own official office, and sought to interrogate him. The interrogation arose out of matters mentioned by him in the course of a debate in this House. Obviously, the detectives had not acted on their own initiative in approaching him. Earlier, the Prime Minister, in answering the charges of the Leader of the Australian Country party, made an open threat in this House that he proposed to have officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service maintain surveillance over members of the Opposition. He also mentioned the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang), who has not been given an opportunity to defend himself. It was in those circumstances that the officers waited on the Leader of the Australian Country party. We have heard how they obtained admittance to his office. We have heard that they were obviously acting under instructions from the Prime Minister and that, without disclosing their identity, they sought, as ordinary citizens, to obtain an interview with the Leader of the Australian Country party. They did not come forward and say that they were Commonwealth investigation officers and were seeking, as such, to interview him. They sent in their names as ordinary individuals, but having obtained access to his office,’ they disclosed their identity. The Leader of the Australian Country party contended that that action was a grave abuse of parliamentary privilege, particularly as it was taken as the result of a direction by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Australian Country party also regarded the Prime Minister’s direction to the Commonwealth Investigation Service as a distinct act of intimidation. Freedom of speech is a priceless privilege. In the earlier debate to-day, ‘Government speakers declared that parliamentary privilege was not in question. The fact cannot he disputed that the investigation officers visited the office of the Leader of the Australian -Country party, following a statement which the right honorable gentleman made in this -chamber in the best traditions of British parliamentary procedure, and in the exercise of his undoubted right of freedom of speech. That visit was a premeditated act of intimidation by the Prime Minister, who sought thereby to intimidate other members of the Opposition so that they would not exercise their right of free speech in this chamber. The Leader of the Australian Country party also claimed that the Prime Minister’s action was an invasion of the rights of private members. When he had completed his submission, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ruled as follows : -
A com plaint of breach of privilegehas been raised. It is for the Chair to decide whether a prima facie casehas been made out which would justify the matter taking precedence over the other business of the House. In this instance it is claimed that an honorable member’s right to privilege and freedom of action has been prejudiced by the announcement of an inquiry set in motion by the Government to ascertain how certain secret and confidential documents came into unauthorized hands, followed bya visit to a member of the House by officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service. It is not claimed that the honorable member’s right to free speech in the House or to attend his place in the Househas been prejudiced.
How can an honorable member exercise his right of free speech in this chamber if he is likely to be subjected to intimidation? The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that he was threatening members of the Opposition that investigation officers would be directed to inquire into their affairs and find out certain matters which he desired to know about them. A similar technique is em ployed by the Communists who control a number of big unions. When a vote is about to be taken on a motion, they say, “ Let us see the ‘ scabs ‘ who are going to vote against us “. By that action, they prevent democratically minded unionists from exercising their right of free speech. They practise intimidation. The Prime Minister has adopted the same tactics. He said, in effect, “By threatening to use the investigation service, we shall ensure that members of the Opposition will not exercise their right of free speech “. Mr. Deputy Speaker’s ruling continued -
I, therefore, rule that in the circumstances no claim of breach of privilege can be sus- tained, and that a prima facie casehas not been made out which would justify the matter taking precedence over other business. The motion that the right honorable member proposes to submit will be placed on the noticepaper.
I thereupon moved that the ruling be disagreed with. This matter clearly affects not only all honorable members, hut also the electors whom they represent. If honorable members are to be brow-beaten, denied freedom of speech, and subjected to intimidation and threats by the Executive, they will not be able to place before the House the desires of their constituents. The threat is levelled, not only at honorable members, but also at every elector, and, if it is effective, it will deprive electors of their right to have their views expressed in this chamber. A blow is being struck at the basis of freedom of speech and parliamentary privilege generally. I emphasize that fact, because some nations are being engulfed by new ideologies, and we must not allow the instruments of democracy to be destroyed by reactionary forces. The privileges which honorable members now enjoy wore won from the tyrants of the past, and represent some of the finest achievements of democracy. The representatives of the people in this Parliament should be able, without fear of molestation, to speak their minds freely on all subjects, particularly those in which the national interest is involved. It is really the people who enjoy those privileges because, through their elected representatives, they can have their desires made known in this House. The Parliament is the supreme instrument of democracy.
What are parliamentary privileges, and whence were they derived? I have in my hand Sir T. Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, the 13th edition. It is placed on the table to guide honorable members in parliamentary procedure. It may be described as the bible of the parliaments of the democracies. At page 105, under the heading of “ Privilege of Freedom of Speech “ the following words appear: -
Freedom of speech is a privilege essential to every free council or legislature. Its principle was well stated by the Commons, at a conference on the11th December, 1667.
Those words should impress honorable members, because they are the basis of freedom of speech. I regret that some honorable members have treated this subject with a spirit of levity, and have made derogatory observations. The parliamentary privileges which we enjoy, have their origin in constitutional developmentswhich occurred more than 350 years ago. It ill becomes honorable members opposite to treat this subject in a light-hearted manner.I continue the quotation from May’s Parliamentary Practice as follows : -
No man tan doubt they said, “ but whatever is once enacted is lawful : but nothing can come into an Act of Parliament, but it must be first affirmed or propounded by somebody: so that if the Act can wrong nobody, no more can the first propounding. The members must be as free as the houses; an Act of Parliament cannot disturb the state; therefore the debate that tends to it cannot; for it must be propounded and debated before it can be enacted.”
That cherished privilege must not be destroyed. I shall now read another paragraph from May, which deals with freedom of speech -
In 1021, the Commons, in their protestation, defined their privilege more consistently with ite present limits. They affirmed “ that every member hath freedom from all impeachment, imprisonment, or molestation, other than by censure of the House itself-
No tribunal or person outside of the House has the right to molest, question or challenge any statement which an honorable member has made in the chamber. However, the House itself may deal with him. In the present case, the House has not made any attempt to take action against the Leader of the Australian Country party. Evidently, the House is not prepared to consider the question of privilege, because it knows that any decision which it makes would be completely binding in future. The quotation continues - for or concerning any bill, speaking, reasoning, or declaring of any matter or matters touching the Parliament or Parliament business.”
That was resolved in the Bill of Rights, the ninth article of which reads -
Freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside of Parliament.
Clearly, the Bill of Rights has established than an honorable member may not be molested or impeached by any outside tribunal for any occurrence in the House. Honorable members know full well that the Leader of the Australian Country party was subjected to molestation when he was approached by members of the Commonwealth Investigation Service and that, consequently, his privileges as a member of the Parliament were gravely interfered with.
The general public may regard those privileges as being purely the established privileges of the House of Commons. It maj be asked what they have to do with Australia. Section 49 of the Constitution reads as follows: -
The powers, privileges, and immunities of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, and of the members and the committees of each House, shall be such as are declared by Parliament, and until declared shall be those of the Commons House of Parliament of> the United Kingdom and of its members and committees, at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
By that section of the Constitution we have taken to ourselves the privileges of the House of Commons. The following passage from May’s Parliamentary Practice ‘ indicates the nature of those privileges: - ,.
At the commencement of every Parliament since the 0th Henry VIII., it has been the custom for the Speaker, “ In the name, and on behalf of the Commons, to lay claim by humble petition to their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges; particularly that their persons and servants might be free from arrests and all molestations; that they may enjoy liberty of speech in all their debates; may have access to her Majesty’s royal person whenever occasion shall require; and that all their proceedings may receive from her Majesty the most favorable construction.”
To which the lord chancellor replies that “ Her Majesty most readily confirms all the rights and privileges which have ever been granted to or conferred upon the Commons, by her Majesty or any of her royal predecessors.”
By section 49 of the Constitution, we have claimed all the rights and privileges for which the Mother of Parliaments fought and which are claimed at the commencement of every parliament.
The Chair ruled that a prima facie case had not been made out in respect of the proposed motion of privilege submitted by the Leader of the Australian Country party which would justify the matter taking precedence over other business. I have drawn attention to the fact that if an honorable member is molested because of an utterance he has made in this chamber, that is a distinct breach of privilege. I do not think it can be denied that, following the threat that was made by the Prime Minister, such molestation did take place and that it arose out of an incident that occurred in this chamber. Standing Order 111 provides -
An urgent Motion, directly concerning the privileges of the House, shall take precedence of other Motions, as well as of Orders of the Day.
Standing Order 2S3 reads -
Any Member may rise to speak “ to order “, or uPOn a matter of Privilege suddenly arising.
I have established that the interrogation of the Leader of the Australian Country party was a breach of privilege. It took place only ten minutes before the House assembled and was, therefore, a matter of privilege suddenly arising. The Chair ruled that no claim of breach of privilege could be sustained and that a prima facie case had not been made out. It ruled that the proposed motion of the Leader of the Australian Country party could not be treated as a matter of privilege suddenly arising.
Parliamentary privilege is something that should be the right of all honorable members of this House. By the rotation of the wheel, within the next twelve months, honorable gentlemen opposite may he occupying seats on this side of the chamber. It may well be that in those circumstances, when they have no benevolent government to look after their interests, they may desire to take advantage of a parliamentary right or privilege. That being so, it behoves every honorable member, if he wishes to maintain the strength of parliamentary institutions, to ensure that the Executive does not deprive private members of the cherished privileges that they now enjoy. We know that from time to time the Executive exercises undue authority and exerts pressure upon honorable members of this House. It seeks to take to itself powers that do not rightly belong to it. If we have not the backbone to protect the rights of individual members of this House, the Executive may become supreme and exercise tyrannical authority. If it does, our democratic institutions may well perish.
If members of the Parliament are not free to speak their minds in this chamber, the representation of the people will be limited. How can we expect the people that we represent to approach us upon matters of national importance if they are afraid that the political police will be turned loose upon them and that they will be interrogated with regard to their conversations with us? The interrogation of the Leader of the Australian Country party may well be the first step in a course of action that will lead to the destruction of our parliamentary institutions. We have seen how the supreme instrument of democracy has been destroyed in other countries. I appeal to honorable members opposite to protect their individual interests. If they do not, it may be that very shortly they will be subjected to some form of interrogation or intimidation if they express the opinions of some of their constituents. We must be jealous of our privileges and protect them at all costs. By so doing, we shall not only be protecting the interests of the people but also safeguarding our parliamentary institutions.
.- The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) concluded his speech by saying, in effect, that this may be one of the last occasions when we can defend the rights and privileges of this assembly. In the course of his speech he was at pains to point out that the rights and privileges of members of the Parliament were being undermined and destroyed. Notwithstanding that, almost the first words of the honorable gentleman were -
This motion which stands on the noticepaper in my name, must be discharged.
Judging from the hesitation with which the honorable gentleman approached his task and the words in which he expressed his thoughts, he regarded it as a distasteful duty that had been forced upon him because at one stage he had placed this motion on the notice-paper.
– The honorable gentleman is misrepresenting me.
– I repeat that almost at the beginning of his speech, the honorable gentleman used these words -
This motion which stands on the noticepaper in my name, must be discharged.
– The procedure of the House calls for the motion to be discharged.
– It was competent for the honorable gentleman to ask for leave to discharge the motion from the noticepaper or to request that consideration of it be postponed. I point out that the hesitant manner he’ adopted suggests that he sought to perform a rather distasteful task that he had imposed upon himself by his earlier approach to this matter.
Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled that the motion that was submitted by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) did not relate to a matter of privilege suddenly arising and was not entitled to take precedence over other motions or orders of the day. In so doing, be exercised the prerogative of the occupant of the Speaker’s chair. This point is referred to in May’s Parliamentary Practice in these terms -
Claim of Privilege Over-ruled from the (‘hai r - As precedence is naturally desired by members, care has been taken, by rulings from the chair, not to extend that claim to any motion which does not strictly relate to an urgent matter of privilege, properly so called; and many motions, more or less affecting privilege, have been brought on in their turn, with other notices of motions.
Mr. Deputy Speaker was only acting in the same way as other occupants of the Speaker’s chair have acted throughout the years, and following a line of procedure that is laid down in a book to which the Acting Leader of the Opposition referred as the bible for the guidance of members of this assembly.
Is this a matter of privilege suddenly arising? We know that it arose following statements made in this House that some documents were held by the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden). Officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service subsequently visited the right honorable gentleman and presumably sought to question him about the documents and how they came into his possession. There is nothing in May’s Parliamentary Practice which says that a member is immune from interrogation, from the asking of questions or from the necessity to provide information upon some matter. Even if honorable members are protected in respect of statements that are made in the Parliament, the right honorable member for Darling Downs lias delivered himself into the hands of those who sought to question him and divested himself of the privileges of this chamber. In its issue of the 6th October, under the heading “Need for Defence Information “, the West Australian slates -
The Leader of the Country party (Mr. Fadden) to-night issued a statement on the document* produced by him in the House of Representatives during last week’s debate on the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. . . .
Mr. Fadden said that he was not so foolish as to underrate Australia’s potential enemies. If a document could come half-way round the world to bis hands unasked, it was obvious that many other people besides himself must have been aware of the contents. “ Only one very small portion of the document was disclosed by me, in the form of a question to the Prime Minister, provoked by the thrice-repeated mis-statements of the Minister for Defence,” Mr. Fadden went on. “ If I had wished to use this material solely for party political purposes, it could have been kept for disclosure on the eve of the next election.”
There we see clearly stated in the press an admission by the right honorable member for Darling Downs that he had the document in his possession. We have, clearly established two reasons why officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service should question the right honorable gentleman, not because of something he had said in the Parliament, or because he had contravened his right to speak freely in the Parliament, but because he frankly admitted that he had in his possession a secret document that purported to contain secret information from the highest body in Great Britain, the British Cabinet. He may well have been questioned by the investigation officers in order to ensure that steps might be taken to prevent future leakages. He may have been questioned by them in order to ascertain the source from which the document was obtained. The right honorable gentleman said that if the document could come half way round the world to his hands unasked, it was obvious that many other people besides himself must have been aware of the contents. Was it not his bounden duty to disclose the source of his information to the investigation officers in order that such leakages might be stopped? Furthermore, is not his position made more grave by reason of the fact that this document purported to record the discussions of a meeting of the British Inner-Cabinet where secrets of the utmost importance relating to the disposition of troops, military strategy, and the like are discussed ? If a document of that kind can fall into the hands of the right honorable gentleman, who can say that it will not also fall into the hands of the potential enemies of this country and of the British Commonwealth of Nations? It is the duty of all honorable members to disclose not only the details of secret information which may be passed on to them but also the source from which the information came so that the necessary security measures may be taken to prevent future leakages. The right honorable gentleman has stated that this document from which he quoted was indeed a genuine document.
– So it is a genuine document ?
– We do not know whether it is genuine or not. If it is a forgery, the right honorable gentleman is equally culpable. The possibility of the disclosure of portion of this document, particularly in those countries situated just off the rim of Europe must have caused some perturbation in the minds of those who are charged with responsibility for guarding the defence secrets of this country and of the British Empire generally. They do not know whether the document is genuine or whether it is a forgery. I certainly do not know whether it is genuine and as far as I am aware, the members of this Government do not know whether it is genuine or a forgery. We must assume that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and members of the British Cabinet do not know whether ot not the document is genuine, and that they are not aware whether it contains only information relating to Australian security measures and the preservation of the defence secrets in this country. For all they know it may contain other matters of far-reaching importance, the disclosure of which might imperil the defences of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth of Nations. The right honorable member indicated in his statement to the press that only one very small portion of the document was disclosed by him in the form of a question to the Prime Minister, and we do not know what other information it contains. In seeking to uncover the channels through which this document reached the right honorable gentleman there has been no infringement of the rights of members of this Parliament. The Leader of the Austraiian Country party has held the very highest ministerial office in the Australian Parliament and at present occupies a highly responsible position as the leader of a political party. Surely he cannot claim that he was not in duty bound to indicate the source from which the document was obtained so that prompt action could be taken to deal with people responsible for passing it on to him before they have an opportunity to cover up their tracks. As he failed to do so the investigation officers sought to ascertain from the right honorable gentleman precisely what the document was and whence it came. It is possible that their action was based on a discussion in this Parliament. It is also feasible, however, that they acted on the statement made by the right honorable gentleman to the press. The right honorable gentleman made his statement to the press on the 5th October and he was visited by the investigation officers on the 7th October. Having regard to the unsettled state of the world to-day, I would look with great disfavour on any investigation service which, having learned that a secret document was in the possession of some unauthorized person, failed to endeavour to ascertain the source from which it came. Investigation officers would be recreant to the trust reposed in them if they failed to seek information about the document from the Leader of the Australian Country party, by personal interview, by letter, or by some other means. They might well have said to the right honorable gentleman, “ This document may be of great security value, lt may indicate that there are traitors in our midst. The highest plans and the most secret discussions of the British Cabinet may be made available to our potential enemies through the disclosure of the contents of this document and others from the
Fame source.” The investigation officers were bound to investigate the statements made to the press by the right honorable gentleman. It has been said that they did not visit the right honorable gentleman by voluntary arrangement. When visitors from any part of Australia wish to interview a member of the Parliament it is customary for the member to ask their names and the business which they wish to discuss. If the right honorable gentleman wanted to know what the investigation officers wanted, lie could have instructed his secretary to ascertain their names and the nature of their business. One would have thought that, having regard to the high and important office held by the right honorable member, he would have said lo his secretary, “Ask these men what their business is or at the very least, “ Where do these men come from? “ lt is evident that he was not concerned enough about them to inquire into the nature of their business. Having admitted them to his room, he did not hil ve to give information. He could have said to them, “I am sorry; I have no information to give you. The interview is ended.” Instead, as soon as he had ascertained the nature of their business, he summoned the press to be present at the interview. That action appears to lie just another publicity stunt on the part of the right honorable gentleman. rf. as the result of the disclosures of the right honorable gentleman, our investigation service is brought to a higher pitch of efficiency, some good may flow from this incident, but that will be possible only if the right honorable gentleman discloses the source of his information. If honorable members are permitted to refuse to be interrogated in relation to the nature and source of information which may come into their possession, claiming parliamentary privilege, the investigation service will he greatly handicapped. There is nothing in May’s Parliamentary Practice to indicate that members of the Parliament may claim privilege against interrogation. If such privilege did exist, it could not be sustained on matters of vital security. If honorable members are permitted to claim privilege in respect of such information, and successfully do so, they may well jeopardize the lives of the people, not only of this country, but also of the Empire as a whole. In any clash between, their rights and the safety r.nd security of Australia, only one course is open to them. May also says that while the Speaker has a right to refuse the right of privilege if it is specified that it is not desired -
Neither House of Parliament have power, by any vote or declaration, to create for themselves new privileges, not warranted by the known laws and customs of Parliament.
That is the view expressed by May. The matter boils down to a very simple issue. The right honorable gentleman said that he had in his possession a communication which indicated a most serious leakage of the United Kingdom records of the Cabinet, the members of which are charged with as great a responsibility as any previous Cabinet members in the history of the United Kingdom. The statement he alleges he possesses could be handed to the security service in Australia for transmission to the British Cabinet, and thus provide them with a lead as to how the leak may be discovered. They could then take more effective steps than otherwise might be taken to prevent further information becoming available to people throughout the world who are potential enemies of the British Empire. That is. if the document is genuine. If it is only a forgery, and the fact is not revealed, the United Kingdom Cabinet Ministers who ure carrying overwhelming responsibility are left in the position of believing that it might be genuine, because a highly responsible member of the Australian Parliament has used it. Unless the matter is revealed there must remain a suspicion on the most highly placed officers of the British Parliament, and probably confined to the inner circle of Cabinet Ministers and a few trusted servants. It is of the utmost importance that the Commonwealth Investigation Service should receive from the right honorable gentleman information’ about this document, not that he may be persecuted further, for all of us have kindly feelings towards him but that we may be assured that he has not, as he said himself, been led into a trap on this matter. “Neither the security service nor the Government seek this document or information about it to persecute him. We do not intend to harm him in any way, either personally or politically. However, it is our bounden duty, as. members of the Parliament, and as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, to give all help that lies within our power to clear up this mischief, and to give the British Government such information as will enable its officers to trace leakages from the most secret circles of the British Government. Nothing more is expected of the Opposition and nothing le3s constitutes the public duty of the right honorable gentleman.
.- Whatever may be the merits of the speech just delivered by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke), it did not have anything to do with the motion before the House, of dissent to the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Clark), that no claim of breach of privilege could be sustained, and that a prima facie case had not been made out in respect of the proposed motion of privilege claimed by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), which would justify the matter taking precedence over other business. I am surprised that the honorable member should have ignored so completely an issue which touches the responsibilities of every member of this Parliament. We are acting in this matter not because we happen to be the Opposition, but because we are, on an issue of this kind, custodians of privilege for the members of future parliaments. The issue is whether Mr. Deputy Speaker was right, or whether the Parliament should express dissent from his ruling. I submit that Mr. Deputy Speaker was grievously wrong in ruling that no prima facie case had been made out. What privilege consists of, has been canvassed so fully during the debate this evening that I do not propose to read tome after tome to establish what it amounts to, but I do express extreme concern and perturbation that a senior Minister of the Crown should tonight have expressed contempt of all the issues attaching or relating to the traditions of privilege. This heritage, of which we to-day are the custodians, has been handed down to us by men, who many years ago, took their responsibilities seriously, and endured great discomfort in endeavouring to carve out for posterity the true place of democratic parliament. What is it which distinguishes democracy from dictatorship? T think that could be summed up in a sentence. In a democracy we have a bicameral system where there is a majority government and a responsible Opposition whose almost exclusive function is to criticize.
– Under that definition, Queensland is not a democracy, for it has only one house in its parliament.
– I shall not argue the bicameral issue, but I certainly do argue the government and free Opposition issue. Of course the attitude of my own party is well known. We believe that the bicameral system should continue. I think all honorable members know that.
The thing which distinguishes a democracy from a dictatorship is the opportunity to criticize, the freedom to criticize, and the knowledge that we can criticize free from threat, duress, or intimidation. That is the thing which distinguishes us, and it was the establishment of that system and those rights which earned for the United Kingdom Parliament our regard as “the Mother of Parliaments”. That Parliament has become the pattern for democracy throughout the world and it is only in democracy that there is a free Opposition. There can be no free Opposition unless the Opposition has quite clear-cut and understandable rights, which cannot be disturbed. These rights of criticism are inherent in parliamentary privilege. It is no light decision for any custodian of the rights of a British parliament, whichever of its members may be occupying the Chair, to deny opportunity for an honorable member to rise, and have resolved by his peers and colleagues in the House, what he claims to be an issue of privilege. Any occupant of the Chair in a British parliament, who arbitrarily denies the opportunity of a member to state his case on an issue of privilege, is disregarding all the suffering that was endured to achieve this privilege. In years gone by, men have not only taken the risk of speaking, when freedom was less well defined than it is to-day, but have resisted all-powerful kings and suffered persecution. They have suffered imprisonment. The history of our race is the story of men who have carved for posterity this thing that we describe as privilege. It is the freedom of the representatives of the people. Kings have been displaced, a king was beheaded, revolutions have occurred, and bloody wars have been fought for this right. It would be a poor recognition of the suffering of our ancestors, and of their service not only to us but to all mankind, if we were not to acknowledge readily our responsibility to protect this right that we have inherited, which we hold temporarily, and which we have the responsibility of passing on to future generations. If we lose that right, democracy will be lost. If an opposition in a parliament can be intimidated - I do not think it is apropos of this resolution to argue even the issue of intimidation - democracy has gone. Surely, those who occupy the treasury bench now recognize that. This freedom to criticize on behalf of the minority is, I repeat, the one thing that distinguishes us from a dictatorship. The rights of honorable members are set down clearly. I do not propose to quote at length, but I direct attention to the following words from the Bill of Rights:-
The freedom of speech and debate or proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be im- peached or questioned in any court or place outside the Parliament.
That single sentence is the very essence of our democracy. Now, it is for the Parliament itself, from time to time, to decide whether there has been a breach of privilege. The Standing Orders provide, in most explicit terms, that there shall lie opportunities for honorable members to raise the question of privilege. Standing Order 111 provides -
An urgent motion, directly concerning the privileges of the House, shall take precedence nf other Motions, as well as Orders of the Day.
That is a clear recognition of the importance of the issue of privilege, and indicates that motions of privilege shall take precedence over other motions, including motions appearing on the notice-paper at the instigation of the Government. Questions of privilege shall also take precedence over orders of the day. Surely that emphasizes the utmost importance of this matter. The next standing order to which F shall refer is Standing Order 2S0. which specifies the circumstances in which an honorable member may interrupt another honorable member’s speech. There are only three such circumstances and one is “ to call attention to a point of order or privilege suddenly arising “. Then, according to Standing Order 283 -
Any member may rise to speak “ to order “, or upon a matter of Privilege suddenly arising.
Again, emphasis is laid on the importance and urgency of this issue. The fourth standing order touching upon the subject is Standing Order 2S4, which provides that-
All questions of order and matters of Privilege at any time arising shall, until decided, suspend the consideration and decision of every other Question.
No words in the English language could be more calculated to emphasize the importance of this issue. It is true thai an honorable member may rise and claim that there is an issue of privilege when, to all reasonable men, it is apparent that no such issue is involved. In such circumstances, by common consent, as well as by precedent, Mr. Speaker is accepted as the judge, not of whether there is a question of privilege, but of whether there is a prima facie case for a question of privilege. Let us reduce the matter to utter simplicity. If a member came into this chamber and said, “ I rise to a question of privilege. My overcoat has been stolen from my room “, obviously, Mr. Speaker would not permit the proceedings of the Parliament to be interrupted for a debate .L, . a matter of that kind, and he would rule, quite properly, that no question of privilege had arisen, and that would dispose of the matter. On the other hand, if an honorable member came into the House and said, “ I rise to a question of privilege. In the King’s Hall I was intercepted by a gentleman who threatened me if I took a certain course of action in respect of certain legislation “, I should say immediately that there was a prima facie case that a question of privilege suddenly had arisen. Tt would then remain for the honorable member to establish the facts on which the House would be the judge. There is no provision in the Standing Orders for Mr. Speaker to say, “ I have decided that there is no urgent matter of privilege. Put a motion on the noticepaper and we shall debate it -at a later date “. I challenge any honorable member to point to anything in the Standing
Orders that would enable Mr. Speaker to make such, a decision.
– That is different from saying that there is no precedent.
– I am talking about our Standing Orders, which guide the conduct of this chamber. I submit that Air. Deputy Speaker was not entitled to rule that there was no question of privilege warranting an immediate discussion, but that there was an issue of privilege warranting discussion at a later date. In most explicit terms the Standing Orders deny the right to give such a ruling. In my opinion, Mr. Deputy Speaker should only have said, “ There is uo prima facie case for a question of privilege” and that would have been the end of it. He should have ruled that, a prima facie case having been established, the. issue should be resolved forthwith, in the terms of the Standing Orders. Therefore, I claim that the ruling was bad in that it cannot be substantiated by any standing order. Having made that point, 1 turn now to the essence of the motion that we are discussing. The motion invites dissent from the ruling that no prima facie case was established. The words of the Leader of the Australian Country party must be considered in the light of the fact that he is an experienced and responsible parliamentarian. He is not m newcomer to this Parliament. He is a former Prime Minister, the leader of a party, and a member of His Majesty’s Privy Council. He is not the kind of person who would be likely to get up and make an unwarranted statement incapable of substantiation. Therefore, I submit that what was declared to be a fact by a gentleman of such antecedents and status ought to be accepted by Mr. Deputy Speaker as having been established, prima facie. His statement should warrant examination forthwith by the House in order fo discover whether it could he substantiated. It is within the knowledge of Mr. Deputy Speaker, as of every other honorable member, that a few days before, the Prime Minister, speaking as Prime Minister in this House, had said - T have not. his exact words, but this is the effect of them - that it would be necessary to keep under observation or surveillance some members of the Opposition parties, particularly members of the Australian Country party. That, I think, may fairly be described as a threat. It was certainly an intimation that he intended to act in a certain way.
– Call it a suggestion.
– I do not want to quibble over words, but that statement was certainly made. The Leader of the Australian Country party spoke with a knowledge of the ancient declaration of privilege which, I trust, all honorable members will not hold in contempt merely’ because it is ancient. It is as follows: -
That the freedom of speech and debates of proceedings in Parliament should not he impeached in any court, or place, out of Parliament.
This is what the Leader of the Australian Country party said -
Just before the House mct this afternoon, I was seen in my official room by two detective inspectors of the Commonwealth Investigation Service, whose names are, respectively. Wilks and McDermott, about matters which had been mentioned b)’ me in the course of public debate in this Parliament. That I should have been interviewed by them in the precincts of the Parliament was itself a gross abuse of privilege. That I should have been interviewed by them at the direction of the Prime Minister of this country (Mr. Chifley) - because it is quite clear from the speeches of the right honorable gentleman in this House that they were acting under his instructions, or under the instructions of his Government - makes the offence a graver one. But the supreme gravity of the incident lies in the fact that by this method it is sought to intimidate, not only myself, but also all other members of the Opposition, and to stifle criticism by honorable members in the discharge of their public duties.
That is a straight-forward declaration in simple, unequivocal language that a member of this Parliament had been interviewed by two detectives about something which he had said in this House, and that certainly brings the matter within the scope of the declaration in the Bill of Rights upon which the privileges of the members of this Parliament still rest. It is not an issue at the moment whether the right honorable gentleman could substantiate what he said. Since he declared that he had been accosted by two detectives, who questioned him about something he had said in the House, I submit that it was utterly improper and indefensible for Mr. Deputy Speaker to rule that no prima facie case had been made out. If we are to fritter away the freedom won for us by so much suffering and bloodshed we shall deserve the contempt and hatred of those who come after us and find that there no longer exists freedom in the country. I am not now attacking the Labour party ‘as such. I am directing my attention to what I conceive to be, perhaps, the prime responsibility of all members of the Parliament, which is to sustain our democracy. We may differ about matters of policy, or the conduct of administration. Such differences may be important, but they recede into insignificance if the rights and privileges of members of Parliament are successfully attacked, and such action as is here complained of becomes a regular practice, because the very opportunity to differ in such a way would cease to exist. Our democracy is nOt static ; it is evolving and its form from time to time is determined by precedent. If to-night the House, dividing on party lines, decides that ‘ Mr. Deputy Speaker was justified in saying that no prima facie case of privilege had been made out, although the Leader of the Australian Country party, a Privy Councillor and former Prime Minister, had just declared from his place in the House that he had been accosted outside the chamber, and questioned about something which he had said in the House, then the very foundations of our democracy are threatened. We shall have sold the birthright handed down to us. Members of the Government and their supporters bear a grave responsibility in this matter. It is human for human beings to differ, and for responsible men in public life to differ vigorously. History is packed with incidents which have shown that wherever the opportunity to express differences of opinion is suppressed, violence supervenes. If by suppressing the opportunity to criticize, violence is provoked, there is only one known way of keeping that violence within control, and that is by the establishment of a police state or the use of armed forces, and I predict that if by decisions of this nature the Government establishes a practice and a precedent of the kind we fear, it will have done a dangerous thing. Such a practice could start at this point where the Opposition has been gagged and a debate has been curtailed. A responsible former Prime Minister has claimed that he was accosted, hut the Government has stated that the matter does not even warrant a debate. It is a terrible responsibility to risk establishing a precedent by taking such a stand. I claim, and it is no exaggeration on my part, that the Government’s action is identical with- the initial stages of the elimination of the democratic form of government in other countries and the ultimate and certain replacement of that form of government by not merely one-party government but by oneparty government achieved by the aid of force, sustained by the aid of the police and accompanied by concentration camps. I ask the Government not to put on record a decision in this House which will enable the claim to be made on future occasions that this House has resolved that all these issues of privilege for which our forefathers fought and which our Standing Orders declare should be immediately resolved shall not be so resolved. Let it not become an historical fact that a claim by a right honorable member that he was intimidated has been brushed to one side. I say that liberty to criticize, constantly exercised, is the badge of democracy. That liberty can be suppressed by an Executive using intimidation. Our claim is that Mr. Deputy Speaker had no right either by precedent or by law, or under the Standing Orders, to deny the right of the Parliament to deliberate immediately on this issue. I trust that the Government will not resolve, by force of numbers, that that ruling is correct, and so establish a precedent and a pattern for the future.
– The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) began by. deploring the fact that the previous speaker had not discussed the motion before the House. He himself departed from the subject under discussion by giving the House entirely erroneous historical evidence on why Charles I. was beheaded. He said it was because that king had breached the privileges of Parliament. The gentleman who ordered his execution abolished Parliament after invading it with armed force, so I think it rather unlikely that Charles I. was beheaded for the reason given by the honorable member.
– Does the honorable member for Fremantle attribute those remarks to me?
– No, he attributes them to me. I claim the error.
– I am sorry that the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) is so egocentric that he imagines that all remarks are directed to him.It is the duty of Mr. Speaker to determine whether a prima facie case has been made out for a breach of privilege. Here is what May has to say on this subject -
Under usage when a complaint of breach of privilege is raised he has to decide whether a prima facie case has been made out which would justify such proceedings taking precedence over the other business of the House.
It is not contested that it is the duty of Mr. Speaker to determine whether a breach of privilege has occurred. The Acting Leader of the Opposition, who is the only begetter of this motion, had one complaint to make. He did not base his claim that a breach of privilege had occurred on the ground that the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) had been haled before a court, but, to use his own words, on the ground that he had been molested, and that that molestation was a breach of privilege. It was therefore the duty of Mr. Deputy Speaker to determine whether the Leader of the Australian Country party had been molested or not. But the motion of the Acting Leader of the Opposition does not only raise the question whether Mr. Deputy Speaker was correct in saying that no prima facie case had been made out for a breach of privilege, but it also raises the question whether the business raised by the Leader of the Australian Country party should immediately have been proceeded with. His motion reads - That the ruling of the Deputy Speaker - that no claim of breach of privilege could be sustained and that a prima facie case had not been made out in respect of the proposed motion of privilege submitted by the right honorable the Leader of the Country party which would justify the matter taking precedence over other business - be disagreed with.
The question now is whether a prima facie case was made out and whether the business should have immediately been proceeded with. I have quoted May on the question of the establishment of a prima facie case. May states quite clearly that that determination is to be made by Mr. Speaker. On the question’ of whether it is ever justifiable to proceed with other business when a claim for precedence has been made, May states -
As precedence is naturally desired by Members, care has been taken, by rulings from the chair, not to extend that claim to any motion which does not strictly relate to an urgent matter of privilege properly so called (a) ; and many motions, more or less affecting privilege, have been brought on in their turn, with other notices of motion.
The honorable member for Indi said that there was no precedent for proceeding with other business in such circumstances. I shall quote some interesting precedents. On the 27th October, 1933, the present Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), who was then in opposition, raised a question of privilege which was not proceeded with until the 16th November. On the 12th December, 1927, an honorable member named McGrath raised a motion with which he was not permitted to proceed. On the 28th November, 1934, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who has had many adventures in this matter, was prevented by Mr. Speaker from proceeding with a motion which, he claimed, was a motion of privilege. Quite clearly, we are not debating whether Mr. Deputy Speaker has, or has not, the power to determine a motion of privilege. He has that power. What we are debating is this particular exercise of his power and whether a good prima facie case had been made out by the Leader of the Australian Country party. In order to sustain that a good prima facie case had been made out, the honorable member for Indi stated that the Leader of the Australian Country party, as a Privy Councillor, a former Prime Minister and a member of this Parliament for many years should have his words accepted prima facie because of his experience and dignity. That argument presumes that there are grades of members of Parliament. It is the very argument which the honorable member for Barker attacked when he said that, in this House, Ministers are merely members of the Parliament. There are no grades of members of the Parliament, and Mr. Speaker is not bound to say, “ This is a prima facie question of privilege because an old and dignified member of the House has raised it “. That argument cannot be sustained.
So I come back to the only “ begetter of the motion “, the Acting Leader of the
Opposition, who has claimed that the Leader of the Australian Country party has been molested. The Oxford English Dictionary dennes “ molest “ as follows : - to interfere or meddle with a person injuriously or with hostile intent; to harass, to trouble, to cause trouble, grief, or vexation.
If the Leader of the Australian Country party has been molested, he has been handled injuriously and with hostile intent. I do not consider that, because a detective asked the right honorable gentleman where he had obtained a document, it can be said that the right honorable gentleman was handled injuriously, or with hostile intent, or was harassed, troubled or caused grief or vexation. It is true that the Leader of the Australian Country party gave a fair performance of a person suffering from grief or. vexation subsequently, but when he raised the matter in the House, he stated that he had been questioned hy detectives and that that constituted a breach of privilege.
The honorable member for Indi said that the right honorable gentleman had been accosted by detectives about a statement which he had made in the House. If the honorable member will read the speech by the Leader of the Australian Country party, he will see that the detectives questioned the right honorable gentleman, not about- what he had said in the House, but about the possession of documents. The right honorable gentleman had made a statement in the House about the possession of documents. Before the detectives questioned him, he made several statements to the press outside the House about the possession of documents. Is it contended that if a citizen informs newspapermen that he possesses confidential documents which originally belonged to the British Cabinet, the detectives have not the right to question him ? “Will any member of the Opposition say that the only time that the Leader of the Australian Country party referred to the documents was the occasion when he spoke in the chamber? Will the Leader of the Australian Country party inform us that the detectives said to him, “ We want to raise the question of documents to which you referred in the chamber”? Following his speech in the chamber, the Leader of the Australian Country party claimed the possession of those documents in several interviews with the press. Consequently, nothing in his statement constituted a claim that he had been intimidated, accosted or molested in respect of any statement which he had made in the Parliament. He was questioned about the possession of documents, which, he had claimed publicly, were in his possession. Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker correctly ruled that the right honorable gentleman had not made out a prima facie case of a breach of privilege. Subsequently, the Leader of the Australian Country party used the Standing Orders to move -
That it is a breach of privilege that the right honorable the Leader of the Country party should be interrogated or sought to be interrogated by security police at the instigation of the Prime Minister and the Government in the precincts of Parliament and in his official room in respect of matters occurring in and arising out of the discharge of his public duties in this National Parliament.
I direct attention to the words “ matters occurring in and arising out of the discharge of his public duties in the National Parliament “. If the right honorable gentleman makes a speech in this House and then rushes around the country giving press interviews and defying people to interview him at his home, in Canberra, or in Sydney, does he claim that every statement which he makes outside the House is privileged because he made the original statement in the House? He does express that view in the motion, but no argument that he or any other honorable member opposite has advanced establishes the claim. The detectives asked the right honorable gentleman to give them certain information. The right honorable gentleman then put on an interesting performance. First, he summoned the press. He gave to the press, and not to the House, an account of his conversation with the investigation officers. He said to them, “ The public are interested in this “. 1 do not know on what basis the right honorable gentleman made that claim. I do not suppose that he had had time to conduct a gallup poll in order to gauge public opinion, or that there has since been much interest in the subject. According to the interview, his secretary, Mr. McCaffrey, then came into the room and also declared, as a faithful echo of his master’s voice, “ The public will be interested in this”. Throughout the interview, there was a concentration upon the idea that the public would be interested in the matter. Then a legion of pressmen was invited in the hope that they would also be interested. The Leader of the Australian Country party was asked whether he would say where he had obtained the document. He declined to give the information to the detectives, and they withdrew. That action cannot be, by any wrenching of words, brought under the definition “molesting”.
– The honorable member should bear in mind what the Prime Minister had stated previously about keeping members of the Australian Country party under supervision. That is apropos the interview.
– In the opinion of the honorable member for Indi, that matter may bc apropos the interview, but I do not accept his words as a fair interpretation of the Prime Minister’s statement. I meant to refer to that matter, and I am glad that the honorable member has reminded me of it. The withdrawal of the detectives after the Leader of the Australian Country party had refused to disclose the source of his information clearly established that there was not a breach of privilege. He was not subsequently threatened, and his freedom in this House has not been subjected to interference. Consequently, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in my opinion, correctly ruled that no prima facie case for a breach of privilege had been made.
The Leader of the Australian Country I -arty made certain statements outside the House which from a security standpoint were more interesting than the statements which he made inside the chamber. In the House, he claimed that he had not intended to quote from the document, but that he had been pro- oked into doing so by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman). In other words, he was aware that it was reprehensible to quote from the document, but that provocation had overcome his inhibitions about the matter. He did not claim that his action in reading from the document was a moral one, but said that the act had been committed under provocation.
Outside the House, he informed the press, not how the document had come into his hands, but how it must have travelled halfway round the world before he received it. There are many interesting security implications in that statement which was not made under cover of parliamentary privilege. He claimed, in an interview outside the House, that a serious leakage had taken place from the British Cabinet, and that the document had wandered half-way round the world. It was about that document, and that statement, that the detectives desired to interview him-
– Two days later.
– The whole specious claim that he was intimidated because of what he said in the House neither establishes that he was interviewed because of what he had said in the House, nor that what took place was anything more than an interview. Certain pressmen certainly had an interesting time racing between the press gallery and the right honorable gentleman’s office at the excited request of Mr. McCaffrey, but nothing that took place was anything more than an interview. Indeed, the right honorable gentleman does not claim that the detectives threatened or intimidated him. Those allegations were made by his supporters. The right honorable gentleman made a statement to the press which was simply a political dramatization of what had occurred in his room. All that took place in his office was a conversation, in the course of which the detectives asked him to co-operate with them. Nothing other than that is alleged by the Leader of the Australian Country party to have taken place.
Members of the Opposition did not call for a vote on the earlier motion which the Leader of the Australian Country party had submitted. Although they claimed that a gross breach of privilege had been committed, only the Leader of the Australian Country party, the honorable member for Barker, who is a ci-devant member of the Australian Country party, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) spoke on this matter, and they did not ask for a vote.
– The honorable member did not want a vote to be taken.
– I wish the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) would not attempt to interpret my mind. I did want a vote to he taken. I am asserting now that the Leader of the Australian Country party did not establish that a breach of privilege had been committed, but I certainly wanted a vote to be taken. Although honorable members opposite contended that this matter goes to the roots of our liberty, they did not call for a division on it. I suggest, therefore, that they did not regard the matter very seriously–
– Order ! I think that the honorable member is reflecting on a vote of the House.
– In conclusion, I propose to review very briefly the main arguments which have been advanced. It is the function of Mr. Speaker to declare whether a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been made. I submit that the interpretation which Mr. Deputy Speaker placed upon the word “ privilege “ was correct, when he held that the Leader of the Australian Country party had not made out a prima facie case. It is within the province of the Chair to determine whether an urgent matter should be permitted to take precedence of the normal business of the House. I have quoted May’s Parliamentary Practice on that point. Mr. Deputy Speaker, having held that no prima facie case had been made, was correct in refusing to allow the normal business of the House to be suspended. Therefore, the matter was placed on the notice-paper. The motion of disagreement with the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker, which the Acting Leader of the Opposition moved, was based on the allegation that the Leader of the Australian Country party had been molested. However, the right honorable gentleman made no such allegation. The only complaint which he made was about the interview which had taken place with the investigation officers. Certain honorable members opposite stated that he was interviewed because of what he had said in the House, but the right honorable gentleman himself did not support that claim. He asserted that he had been interviewed concerning the possession of documents about which he had made statements not only in the House but also to representatives of the press outside the House.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
Thatthe question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr.. J. . J. Clark.)
Majority . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the motion (vide page 1704) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mb. Deputy Speaker - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
The following papers were pre sented:- -
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals - No. 1 - Report on period 1st July, 1947, to28th February, 1948.
No. 2 - Report for year 1947-48.
Black Marketing Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1048, No. 125.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules. 1948, Nos. 128, 128, 129.
Papua-New Guinea Provisional Administration Act- Ordinance - 1948 - No. 8 - Supply (No. 2) 1948-49.
Services Trust Funds Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, No. 110 (substitute copy).
House adjourned at 11.21 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Distillate and Power Kerosene.
n. - On the 13th October, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) asked a question concerning the quotas allotted to oil companies for the sale of petroleum products. The.
Minister for Shipping and Fuel has supplied the following information : -
The extent of the quotas mentioned by the honorable member for Kew England is largely correct, except in the case of lighting kerosene, where the quota is 13,1011 tons less than the sales in the year. ended the 31st March, 1948. . This is a reduction of 13.5’ per cent, and not 25.8 per cent, as- mentioned by the honorable member. It is ‘ not true that there are no restrictions On the sale of diesel oil and fuel oil. Quotas have also been established, for these products for sale within the Commonwealth, and’ for bunker purposes imports are only permitted to the extent of the sales made by the companies engaged in this particular type of trade. There are also limitation*, under the Nat inn nl Security (Liquid Fuel) Regulations, mi. the sale nf white spirit, with a view to ensuring that this commodity is used only for essential purposes. The quota system has been imposed on oil companies only by reason of the restrictions considered necessary on account of dollar exchange difficulties and in an .endeavour to limit the aggressive selling tactics which have been adopted by certain members of the industry since Pool Petroleum Proprietary Limited was abandoned. The Commonwealth Government appreciates that the quotas are somewhat lower than sales by the oil companies during the, year ended the 31st March, 1948. but in view of the dollar exchange position has asked the companies to meet the consumer demand within these quotas. The question of the adequacy nf the quotas is under constant examination by my department, and every endeavour will bc made to meet the demand within the limits of our dollar resources and flic supply position of these commodities.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 October 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19481014_reps_18_199/>.