2nd Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Senator MACFARLANE presented a petition from the chairman of the Hobart Chamber pf Commerce, praying the Senate to refer the Navigation and Shipping Bill to a Select Committee.
Petition received and read.
– I wish to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council, without notice, whether in view of the proceedings in another place the Government intend to ask the Senate to go on with any business to-day orto adjourn as is frequently done on such occasions?
– When a direct motion of no-confidence is pending, it is the practice of the Upper Houses in the States to adjourn. We have no information that a motion of no-confidence has been moved in another place. Notice of an amendment on which a decision will be arrived at has been given, but it has not yet been moved, and the proceedings are in Committee. Technically I do not see why the Senate should adjourn. We do know that a certain amendment will be moved, and that the Government will take it as a motion of no-confidence, and if it is carried the usual course will be adopted, but at the present moment the amendment, on which, if carried,, the Government will resign, has not been moved by Mr. Watson. So far only an amendment to include civil servants in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill has been moved.
– Then the Government do not treat Mr. Fisher’s amendment as a motion of want of confidence.
– No, because we do not believe that it will be carried. We look upon the other amendment as the more important one, because it proceeds from the leader of a party. Mr. Fisher’s amendment does not proceed from the leader of a party, and it is not accepted as a motion of no - confidence. We do not regard even Mr. Watson’s amendment as a motion of no-confidence, because we do not think that lie will move it for the purpose of ousting the Ministry. We understand that he is rather friendly to us, and wishes that we would accept his amendment. Under the circumstances I propose to ask the Senate to proceed with the consideration of the Navigation Bill, but. of course, if honorable senators should wish to adjourn the Government are in their hands.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with amendments.
Senator PLAYFORD laid upon the table the following paper : -
Transfers of amounts approved by the GovernorGeneral in Council, under the Audit Act.
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council, upon notice -
Will the Government, as soon as possible, cause steps to be taken to simplify the form of Interstate Certificates?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
The Government is desirous of removing every restriction from Inter-State trade, and would gladly abolish Inter-State certificates altogether. As the result of negotiations between the Federal Government and the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, an arrangement has recently been made by which Victoria credits New South Wales with a fixed annual amount, determined by the average volume of trade during the past three years. Inter-State certificates are, therefore, no longer required for goods transferred between those States, but for statistical purposes a simple form of free entry is used. An endeavour was made to include Queensland and Tasmania in the arrangements referred to, but without success. So long as the necessity continues of crediting the consuming State with the duty paid on each consignment of goods transferred, the States, excepting New South Wales and Victoria, require the Inter-State certificates to remain. The certificates have already been simplified as much as possible, and, in order to enable the necessary debits and credits to be made under the Constitution, it is absolutely necessary that the required particulars be furnished. It is impossible for the Customs to obtain these unless they are supplied by the consignor. ^ If the honorable senator can induce the Tasmanian Government to come to the same arrangement as New South Wales and Victoria, the difficulty would be at once adjusted.
– We are not going to sacrifice nearly 30 per cent, of our Customs revenue.
Is it intended to pay the presiding officer and poll clerks in the Brewarrina Division, New South Wales, for their services in connexion with the late election, 16th December, 1903?
– The following is the answer to the honorable senator’s question : -
Yes. The delay in paying these Assistant Returning Officers has been on account of their refusing to accept the amount recommended by the Divisional Returning Officer, who was the person who made the arrangements with and engaged these officials. An endeavour is being made to. settle the matter.
Freedom of Speech in Senate.
– Under the authority of standing order 112., I desire to bring forward a question of privilege affecting the rights of the members of this Chamber, and inferentially of another place. It is a matter which, in terms of the standing order, has arisen since the last meeting of the Senate, “namely, a matter which I had every reason to suspect, ‘but in respect of which 1 was not in a position to give an absolute affirmation, I have obtained definite and positive knowledge since the last meeting of the Senate, that, in consequence of a speech delivered here by an ‘honorable senator, the General Officer Commanding 1)33 taken steps to secure .the cancellation of that honorable senator’s commission in the Military ‘Forces.
– I think that the honorable senator ought to read the motion with which he intends to conclude before he proceeds with his speech.
.- I move- *
That a Select Committee, to consist of seven members (to be chosen by ballot) be appointed to inquire and report to this Senate : -
Whether the said Major-General Hutton, or Brigadier-General Hi Finn, has, in consequence or because of any speech or speeches delivered in this Senate by Senator Lt.-Col. Neild, taken any action which has had the effect of preventing the said Senator from exercising and enjoying his office as Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding St. George’s English Rifle Regiment.
Whether the said Major-General Hutton has at any time, in consequence or because of any speech or speeches delivered in this Senate by Senator Lt.-Col. Neild, attempted to interfere with or intimidate him in any way, either as a member of .this Senate, or as LieutenantColonel Commanding the said regiment, in the discharge of his duties as a Senator, or has censured or attempted to censure him, or has called or attempted to call him to task for his actions or speeches as a member of this Senate.
In the correspondence. I have here, I have clear proof of everything .that the Select Committee is asked to inquire into, with but one exception. I have not in my hands a written recommendation - which I have seen - on the part of the General Officer Commanding to secure my retirement from the Defence Force specifically because of statements made by me in a speech in the Senate on the Address in Reply.
– Would the honorable senator propose to call Major-General Huston?
-The Select Committee could call him.
– Suppose that he would not come?
– We would not have the power to call him.
-Col. NEILD. - On that point I would draw attention to section 44 of the Constitution, which specifically empowers members of the Defence Force to sit in this Parliament, and to section 49, which clothes this Chamber, as well as the other, with all the powers, privileges, and immunities of the House of Commons. The President will correct me if I am wrong in stating that every power and privilege which the House of Commons has claimed from time to time and exercised in defence of its rights, and those of its members and Committees, is claimed by, and is exercisable by, the Senate under the authority of the Constitution. I wish it to be clearly understood that no word will be uttered by me; and no question raised, in any way, regarding military discipline or authority. That is paramount in its proper sphere, and the Senate will not attempt to interfere with the exercise of military authority properly applied. The only question that is laid before. the Senate is whether it will appoint a Select Committee to ascertain if the General Officer Commanding has exercised or sought to exercise his authority in a manner which amounts to intimidation under the resolution of the Commons House of Parliament; if he has sought to use his power to close the mouth of an elected representative of the people. That is the sole point which I ask my fellow members to inquire into. It’ has often been said in the transaction of our business that we are working under an entirely new Constitution. We are building up precedents time after time. We are making history, if we like to use so large a term. The doings of the Senate and of the other Chamber in their early clays will lead to the laying down of important precedents for the guidance of those who come after us ; and it is our duty, I take it. if it can be clearly shown that there is a case for inquiry, not to confer any privileges upon me as a member of the Chamber, but to protect the interests of this branch of the Legislature - j indeed, of both branches of the Legislature. Because I submit with a great deal of confidence, and at the same time with a great deal of respect, Mr. President, that 1 if this’ Senate once admits the right of the General Officer Commanding the Military Forces to tamper with the commission of an officer who sits here by right of the votes of the people, it will be equally competent for the Chief Justice of the High Court to tamper with the legal status of any member of the legal profession who sits here or in another place and advocates legal reform.
– The Major-General might as well march his regiments into the Chamber and pitch us all out.
– Exactly. I have cited the Chief Justice. I go further, and say that if this position were allowed the Collector of Customs would be able to terrorise a Customs agent, or an importer, or a ship-owner, who had any business to do with the Customs, if he, as a member of Parliament, did something which did not appear to be pleasant to the Customs Department. I will, before I sit down, conclusively prove so much of what I want inquired into by the reading . of a few extracts, which will show that I have a good case for inquiry. I do not propose to make a long speech, because I think that the Committee will be appointed. Before reading these extracts, however, I ask to be permitted to draw attention to one very important feature. It has often been said in my presence- I believe it has been said in the Senate - certainly it has been said in the neighbourhood of this Chamber - that officers of the Defence Forces ought not to sit in Parliament. I am not responsible for their sitting in Parliament, because to the last I voted against the adoption of the present Constitution. Therefore it was with no good will of mine that the Constitution became law.
– The honorable senator is here against his will.
.- To an extent, I am.
– But at the wish’ of the people.
– By the votes of the people.
– Is there any rule or regulation affecting discipline which would prevent the honorable senator, if he ‘were not a member of Parliament, from making the criticisms which, being a senator, he has made in Parliament ?
– Certainly I do not think it would be proper; I do not think that a member of the Defence Force has a right to talk loosely or at large.
– I am asking whether an officer, not being a member of Parliament, has similar rights?
– An officer not being a member of Parliament is not entitled to talk at large.
– By continuing to be an officer, has not the honorable senator disposed of his right to raise that point ?
– Does not a seat in this House involve more power, and is it not a more onerous position, than holding a commission outside? The fact that a man holds a commission does not take from him his right to speak as a member of Parliament. My honorable and learned friend was one of the framers of the Constitution. Let him look at the two sections to which I have referred. But I go further. I would call the attention of honorable senators to the state of the law in the United Kingdom. What I am about to cite is rather a transcript or paraphrase than an actual quotation, because the Imperial regulations are rather difficult to quote.’ In the King’s Regulations, referring to officers of the Imperial Army sitting in the House of Commons, it is authorized that officers up to and inclusive of ma jors may sit in the House of Commons, and draw full pay while sitting therein. Colonels and Generals are authorized to sit in the House of Commons, but receive only half pay. And, sir, there are no more fearless critics of military and naval affairs in the House of Commons than the officers of both branches of those distinguished services. They criticise, not as I have done, merely the emanations from Government Departments - that is to say, the regulations passed by the Executive Council - for that was all that I drew attention to - but they criticise military and naval matters down to the smallest detail. They bring lief ore the House of Commons and. discuss at length the findings and proceedings of courts-martial. If necessary, I will, when replying, quote a very remarkable case by way of proving my statement, but I will not take up time by doing so now. As to the militia in England, I will quote from the Militia Act of 1882, section 38 : -
The acceptance, of a commission as a Militia officer shall not vacate the seat of any member returned to serve in Parliament.
The Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871, section 6, lays it down that -
The acceptance of a commission in the Volunteer Force by a member of the Commons House of Parliament shall not render his seat vacant.
I am sure. Mr. President, that you will entirely indorse this proposition - that a House of Parliament cannot consist of members possessing different qualifications. They must of necessity possess equal rights, equal powers, and equal privileges; and a man, whether he holds a commission, or is a non-commissioned officer, Or a private in the forces, if he is returned to Parliament, occupies an equal position with all other members, and a higher position, and a post of greater authority and power, than he holds by right of any parchment or any enrolled position in the Army, Navy, or Volunteers. He is here as an elected representative of the people to do their will, and to protect their interests. His rights as a member of Parliament cannot be affected by his holding a commission - which I may say, by the way, in my case, involves a position that is absolutely without the slightest remuneration, or the slightest personal advantage, but, on the contrary, entails a great deal of work and expenditure. To suggest even that by reason of occupying a minor position outside, an elected representative of the people within a legislative chamber is to have his mouth closed, and be the subject practically of threats and of censure, and finally, after other efforts have failed, is to be the subject of a direct application in writing for the, cancellation of his commission as an officer, by reason of his having spoken in this Chamber, or in the other House, is to assent to an intolerable proposition.
– Especially after being elected by 200,000 citizens.
– As my honorable friend makes reference to that fact, I need “only say that I do not think it bears on the question, because we have all had a sufficient number of votes to elect us to Parliament, whether we were elected by 200,000 or by 2,000. In either case we are just as much representatives of those who sent us here. I think I am justified in reading a few words which I received from the first Minister for Defence we ever had in this Commonwealth, Sir John Forrest. I gave that right honorable gentleman notice that I was going to deal with a very serious question in connexion with the Military Forces - ‘that I was going to direct the attention of the Senate to the suspension of recruiting. That was in 1902. In reply to my note, Sir John. Forrest wrote : -
I may say that I have not the slightest objection to your bringing anything before the Senate you consider advisable, as it is “ all in the day’s work.”
I think that is a hearty recognition by one who is a strong - and who is sometimes described as a head-strong - man, and a strong Minister, who recognises the abso- lute right of a representative of the people to address the Chamber of which he is a member. I said that I would give a few extracts to prove precisely what I complain of. In the first instance, I will prove that there has been no haste or hurry on my part, and no desire to intrude upon the notice of the Chamber any matter that has the smallest personal application. I trust that no honorable senator will think that I am taking this action from any personal feeling, or that I have any personal object in view. No word shall fall from my lips to indicate’ a tinge of feeling beyond that of desiring to protect the rights of those whom the people have elected. It is not possible for me to read all the correspondence that has taken place, nor would it be useful to do so. The first incident to which I will allude occurred in June, 1902’.
– Cannot the honorable senator give us a precis of the correspondence ?
– It amounts to this-
– -Are not all these matters to be inquired into?
– No Military Board of Inquiry can discuss a constitutional question. My honorable friend would not wish to subordinate the authority of Parliament to a board that cannot compel the attendance of witnesses and cannot take evidence on oath.
– We ought to have everything bearing upon the question.
– I want everything inquired into so that the matter can be settled. I made a speech in the Senate in 1902. It had reference to a sum of ,£30 odd, which was nominally to be voted for a regiment in New South Wales, but which was actually to be spent as part of the pay of an officer on the Head-Quarters Staff, who was being sent all over the Commonwealth doing certain clerical work. I objected to that payment, and moved that a request be made to the other Chamber to omit the sum. Possibly the Attorney-General, if I recall it to his recollection, may remember that when I was asked for an explanation, in the course of the debate, I found that it was impossible to give a proper explanation without disclosing facts that came to my knowledge as an officer. Therefore, I explained that matter to the Chamber, and asked leave to withdraw the motion. I have studiously avoided uttering a word that was disrespectful to my superior officers in my capacity as a soldier, and I have studiously avoided discussing at any time any question of military discipline. But this matter has nothing to do with military discipline. It is simply a question of the protection of the rights, powers, and privileges of the Senate. Without going into the whole matter at this stage, I will put it in this way. I was sent for-
– When was this?
– In 1902. I was sent for next morning to the Victoria Barracks. Here -is the letter. It does not say what Major-General Hutton wanted to see me about. The letter was written from his private house. When I went to see him he wanted me to resign my commission because I had made a speech in Parliament. I pointed out the conditions of the law, that I was not responsible for the law, and that I was merely discharging the powers that the votes of the people had conferred on me. There was further correspondence on the matter. I wished to be clear from any suspicion of wrong-doing, and so I sent all the correspondence to the then Acting Minister for Defence, Sir William Lyne, together with a letter, which included this request -
The question is one which I consider I should be justified in bringing before the President of the Senate, but, prior to taking any other action, I have decided to refer the matter for your consideration and the advice which, I trust, you will, in the public interest and for my own well-being, be so kind as to afford me.
I did not receive any reply from the Minister, so I sent copies of the entire correspondence to the President of the Senate. I did not go near the President. I uttered no word of any kind to him, beyond sending the letter, a copy of which is here, and which the Committee will have before it. I received this reply from the President -
As a senator you have an undoubted right to take part in discussions upon all public matters, including Defence. No body, authority, or person, except the Senate, has any right to call you to task. It is part of our Constitution - that “ the freedom of speech and debate, or proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or place out of Parliament.”
That opinion of the President I forwarded to the Minister. What he did with it I do not know. I conclude that MajorGeneral Hutton had it communicated to him. At any rate, I heard no more of the matter, and everything passed along comfortably for about a year. On the 23rd December, 1903, the matter arose again under these circumstances. I did no more than draw the attention of the then Minister for Defence - the present Attorney-General - in a few words, which occupied less than a column of Hansard-
– I do not think I held that office then.
.- I fancy that the honorable and learned senator did. I said on that occasion that there was dissatisfaction and discontent in the partiallypaid regiments of New South Wales - a branch of the service with which I have no connexion; and I urged that attention should be given to the matter. I am rather inclined to think that I was so extravagant in my phraseology as to suggest that unless something was done it would be quite conceivable that my honorable and learned friend would find himself at the head of a phantom army. I was at once in receipt of a letter from a staff officer. I do not know in what capacity he wrote. He said he was writing on behalf of the General Officer Commanding ; but some of the letters were signed without any designation of military rank. But it is quite sufficient that one of the letters, the one to which I took the strongest exception, contained not only this Lt.-Col.’s signature, but MajorGeneral Hutton’s initials, proving that the document was one that he issued. In that letter there is this statement -
The G.O.C. desires me to remark that he is unable to dissociate you as a commanding officer from the responsibilities attaching to that position, whether in your capacity as a senator or otherwise.
Those words, I submit, have no other meaning but that the General Officer Commanding claims the right, because I hold a commission in the Defence Force, to rule me in this Chamber, as well as on the parade ground.
– The honorable senator is one of his employers.
.- That is a matter which I hope the Select Committee will consider, but which I am not going to discuss here.
– It appears that the honorable senator must always be a soldier.
.- I am not a soldier when I come into this Chamber. The President will bear me out in the contention that, in this Chamber, I can be under no control of any superior military authority, because I am here in a higher capacity. I obey in the proper place. I am respectful here, but I am under no mili- tary obligation here, because military duty does not enter within the walls of this Chamber. The letter goes on to say -
The G.O.C. is not concerned with your duties as a Senator,-
Possibly not, but if. I were to move the elimination from the Estimates of , £1,700 a year travelling expenses, some concern might arise, I ask attention to the following statement of my duty as a soldier, and imagination of my duty as a senator : - but suggests that if your duty as a commanding officer conflicts with what you conceive to be your duty as a senator, it would be advisable for you to apply to be placed on the unattached list.
– Unattached senator or soldier?
– Unattached soldier. This is a matter which requires to be dealt with seriously, because it is not a question either of Major-General Hutton or “Senator Neild. The question involved is the protection of the interests of every member of the Federal Parliament, and I wish to deal with the subject from that standpoint alone.
– What is to become of the citizen soldiery unless that is conceded ?
– That is a matter in which I am interested, but which I cannot discuss at this stage, because I do not think it comes within the question of privilege. I may say that I at once sent the whole of the correspondence, to which I have referred, to the present Minister for Defence, but recognising that this, as a constitutional question, was one which far transcended the importance of the Defence Department, I also sent copies of the whole of the correspondence to the Prime Minister. I did so out of no disrespect whatever to the Minister in charge of the Defence Department, but for the reason, as I have said, that I consider it was less a military than a constitutional question. I feel sure that honorable senators will bear me out that it is not a question of military discipline, but a question of the protection of our rights of free speech in this Chamber. I received letters in reply from both Ministers. It is not necessary that I should say anything concerning the letter which I received from the Prime Minister, except that it certainly was in accord with the official reply I received from the Minister in” charge of the Department, and which I will read to the Senate. The Minister writes -
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of10th inst., forwarding copies of certain communications which have passed between yourself and Lt.-Col. Bridges, writing on behalf of the G.O.C., on the subject of certain statements made by you in your place in the Senate, and to inform you that, after consideration of same, the communications referred to appear to me to be capable of a construction with which I am unable to concur, and that I propose to so inform the G.O.C.
Nothing could be more clear than that. There is a candid admission that there was justification for the statement I had submitted, namely, that I felt the communications addressed to me amounted to intimidation of me in the discharge of my duty here; through the medium of my honorary commission. I do not use the word “ honorary” in the sense in which it is used in the Military Department as temporary, or as an off-side appointment, but in the sense that it is honorary in the matter of emolument.
– They woke up the wrong man.
– I take it that the reply I have read is an emphatic declaration of opinion by the Minister very courteously and very prudently worded. I was struck by the admirable way in which, in this reply, an awkward question was dealt with, because I recognise that it is not pleasant for an officer of the State, whether civil or military, to be rapped over the knuckles by a Minister, as the reply I have read clearly shows was done in this case. That terminated the correspondence, and I heard no more of the matter. I presume I am not wrong in imagining that the matter, as a serious one, should receive some general consideration. It was certainly known to the Prime Minister, and I felt that to a certain extent the communication from the Minister for Defence, which I have read, represented not only the decision of the Minister in charge of the Department, but at least that of the Prime Minister in agreement with him. I thought that the General Officer Commanding would surely see the propriety ofobeying the orders of the civil authority superior to himself, and I never dreamt that the question would arise again. I may say that in connexion with the present incident, I have not received a single communication, either as a senator or as a commanding officer - I have received no intimation in any shape or way, not one letter, one line, or one verbal communication, to indicate what has been done behind my back. I have received no communication from the military authorities charging me with whatI have found since the Senate last met has been charged against me in writing, that I should be dismissed from the Defence Force because I made a speech here.
– Is that the sole ground ?
.- That is the sole ground I bring before the Senate. Anything else there may be I cannot discuss, and I have no desire to discuss. I take it that the Senate has nothing whatever to do with any question that has relation to military discipline or military usage. As Senator Dobson has raised the question, I think I am justified in saying that I hold in my hand a general order, dated last Friday, and issued for the appointment of a Court of Inquiry in connexion with the regiment I have the honour to command. I think I am justified in bringing this forward, and asking the consideration of the Senate upon it. This general order is framed in an unmilita’ry and unprecedented manner, and contains a mis-statement of facts of so gross a character that I can hardly restrain myself from using very strong words about it. This has clearly been done most designedly to injure me before the people, who trust me and whose servant I am. I have been a Lieutenant-Colonel commanding a regiment for over eight- years, and there are only three regimental commanders in New South Wales who are my seniors, and yet I am able to say that in my knowledge such a document has never been issued before. When the appointment of a board is ordered to make an inquiry into any matter, it is invariably put forward in general orders, in the statement of the constitution of the court, that the court will inquire into such matters as will be brought before it. I may say that at the present lime such an order has been promulgated in connexion with another matter in New South Wales, but in the case of the general order to which I refer my name blazons forth in it three times, and it contains what I characterize as a wilful mis-statement of fact, inasmuch as I am described as “ late commanding officer “ of the regiment. 17 have my parchment here, and produce it. This is my commission, and it has never been touched, and so far from there being any warrant for the statement in the order that I am not the commanding officer of the regiment, the Minister in his communication to the General Officer Commanding, in reply to his recommendation that I should be discharged, or put on the retired list, which is very much the same thing, distinctly and positively refuses to interfere with my commission. I have no personal grievance against anybody. The General Officer Commanding cannot touch me, except as an officer, for my acts here or elsewhere, and only through the civil power. Therefore, as the civil power has protected me, I have no complaint of a personal character to make. I am making none, but I am making this complaint, that a high officer of the State, and a servant of this Parliament, has attempted to outrage the privileges of Parliament by intimidating and seeking to assail one of its members for his speeches here, and for his action simply and solely as a member of the Senate.
– But the senator is heard and the other officer is not, that is the trouble.
– And the honorable senator asks for a Select Committee that the other officer may be heard.
– Senator Fraser has not heard my motion, which is simply for a Select Committee to inquire whether what I complain of occurred. I do not know that I shall take any action on the report of the Select Committee, however favorable it may be, and must be, to myself. I merely ask that the matter may be looked into, in order that members of the Senate may not be subject to assault by the head of any Department to whom they are to a certain extent under obligations. I may be permitted to reiterate what I said in the earlier part of my speech. If an officer commanding the Defence Force can attack a member of the Senate because of a speech made in this Chamber-
– If he has broken some of his regulations.
– Senator Fraser will pardon me. This is not a question affecting military regulations at all. It is a question involving the protection of individual members of the Senate, and of the Senate itself, against outside influence. The Chief Justice of the High Court could interfere just as effectively against any member of the legal profession sitting in Parliament if he advocated law reform.
– That is not possible.
– Senator Guthrie says that that is not possible ; but a legal member, in such circumstances, might very soon find out that it was possible.
– It is not possible for a lawyer to advocate law reform.
.- If that is what the honorable senator meant, I shall not offer an opinion on the subject but I may say that I was reading only to-day, and, I think, in a Melbourne paper, an article on law reform, in which reference was made to some very strong speeches delivered in the Legislature of New South Wales by two K.C.’s, Mr. Want and Mr. Reid, though I admit they may not have been K.C.’s at the time. They made strong speeches against the manner in which business wasconducted in the law courts. Leaving that on one side, I am justified in saying that no one has ever heard of a FieldMarshall commanding the Imperial Military Forces, or an Admiral commanding the Royal Navy, ever having attempted to tamper with the commission of any man who sat in the House of Commons because of the manner in which he discharged his duties in that place. Such a thing was never dreamt of, and there is no officer in England sufficiently high placed to hold his authority for twenty-four hours who would attempt such a thing.
– Beresford left the Navy in order that he might be free to criticise.
.- The honorable senator is making a mistake. Lord Beresford’s great speech on naval matters was delivered, not in the House of Commons, but in the London Chamber of Commerce, and while he held rank as an Admiral in the Naval service of Great Britain. I am not submitting that as an instance in point, because with the greatest deference for so eminent an authority as Lord Beresford, I am of opinion that that very distinguished man gave to the public secret information which nothing but the very highest sense of duty could have warranted him in disclosing. His action must have been so regarded, or he would undoubtedly have been cashiered, because he disclosed secrets of naval equipment. In order that honorable senators may see exactly what is the question at issue, I quote the following resolution of the House of Commons of the 12th of April, 1733, which, under the Constitution, is the law which governs us here: -
That menacing-any member of this House upon the account of his behaviour in Parliament is an high infringement of the privileges of this House, a most outrageous and dangerous violation of the rights of Parliament, and an high crime and misdemeanor.
The President will bear me out when I say that that is as much a law governing and protecting this Chamber, its Committees, and members, as it is a law governing the House of Commons. I do not desire to say anything further, because I think the committee I ask for will be appointed. I draw attention to the fact that I have refrained from bringing this matter before the Senate, though it has twice arisen before the present time. The difficulty arose in 1902, and again in 1903. It has now arisen again, and in a form which shows me that neither the careful decision of the President and the Senate, nor yet the decision of the Minister for Defence, or the Cabinet, suffice to restrain the high State official concerned from pursuing the same course of attack on a member of the Senate. I may be at the present time the only officer in active work sitting in this Chamber, but the next election may bring in half-a-dozen military officers on the active list. There are officers on the active list in another place, and they are all liable to the same sort of attack if, as representatives of the people, they draw attention to shortcomings in connexion with the Defence Department. To show the desire there is to trample on the rights of Parliament, I draw attention to the existence in the regulations circulated only last week of a provision to enable officers in the Defence Force to be seconded, which means to be put on the shelf if they enter the Federal Parliament. I feel that I have said enough, and have submitted a sufficiently strong case to warrant me in asking for a Select Committee to inquire into the matters to which I have referred. If I am wrong I have to take all the serious responsibilities of asking the Senate to inquire into that which I affirm is absolutely true. If it is not true, then I shall have placed myself in a position of such ignominy that I .do not see how I could sit here an hour. I may say that if the committee obtain positive proof that such a recommendation as I have alleged was made and vetoed by the Minister, there will be no occasion for any further proceeding as to my presence at the meeting of the Senate. It seemed to me that it would be useful for one who has a complete knowledge of the facts to assist the committee in elucidating them with greater celerity than could otherwise be done. If it were not so I should be quite willing to stay away and say - “ There are the papers.” A few words as to my being prevented from exercising and enjoying my office of Lieutenant-Colonel commanding a regiment. I would point out that there is a difference between a Lieutenant-Colonel in the ordinary sense and a Lieutenant-Colonel commanding. The former holds a commission, and mav be allotted any duties within the sphere of his rank, while the latter has a commission to command a regiment. I am not only a Lieutenant-Colonel by rank, but I hold a specific office - at least, that is my view - and for some weeks past I have been prevented from fulfilling the duties of that office in a manner so absolutely singular that, whilst I should like to offer an explanation, I prefer not to mention here a matter of military procedure. I suppose that the committee would necessarily have to inquire whether I have been prevented from the enjoyment of my office, and that I should have to give evidence on the point. I have the papers here to prove my statement most conclusively. All I will say is that the transaction has been of so peculiar a character that it has never been placed in print, or orders, military or otherwise. While I have been prevented from enjoying my office, no one knows by what process that has come about; and, as a public man, I have been subjected to insult in a certain section of the press because I have not done certain military duties which I have been secretly prevented from doing. I shall stand by that statement here or elsewhere. Some dastardly creatures have even carried military malice so far as to insult my wife through, the press, because I did not attend to military duties which I had been singularly prevented from discharging. I think that when that stage has been, reached it is about time - and this is the only warm word I shall use - that there was. an inquiry to see whether this sort of thing is going to be tolerated in a country that professes a desire to defend itself from foreign aggression by the hands of its citizen soldiers.
– I have very much pleasure indeed in seconding the motion of Senator Neild, who, I think, has made a full, clear, and very convincing statement. Apparently the treatment which he has received from the General. Officer Commanding is of so serious and grave a character that the least the Senate can do is to agree to the request for an inquiry into all the circumstances of the case. It is to be sincerely hoped that the proposed committee will be appointed without a dissentient voice. It is about time that a clear line of demarcation was drawn between the rights of the General Officer Commanding and a civilian’s rights. If we do not take a decided stand on this matter we are liable to land ourselves in a somewhat peculiar position. I could imagine a situation of this descripton to occur : that Senator Neild is, as a LieutenantColonel, under Major-General Hutton in the’ Military Force, and is ordered by that officer to hold his tongue as a senator, and told that if he refuses to obey he will be fired out.
– That would be an improper order to give.
– According to Senator Neild that is precisely the order which the General Officer Commanding has given.
– Hear, hear; that is the order.
– Suppose that Senator Neild were the Minister for Defence, and ordered the General Officer Commanding to leave the country, what kind of a complication should we be in? Should Senator Neild, as Minister for Defence, and also as the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding a regiment, obey Major-General Hutton, or should Major-General Hutton, as General Officer Commanding, obey Senator Neild, because he was the Minister for Defence? I think that the members of the Select Committee ought to be asked to report on the point, whether an officer should not resign his commission as a member of the Defence Force when he becomes a senator. In view of the present complication I am inclined to think that it would be very much better for an officer who wishes to be attached to the Defence ‘Force to keep out of the Senate.
– I have no special knowledge of the subject which Senator Neild has brought before the Senate. So far as I can see, no matter what the General Officer Commanding may have said or thought regarding his action in making the remarks to which apparently objection is taken, it has had no weight with the Minister for Defence.
– But Senator Neild tells us that he has been deprived of his command.
– Oh, no ! I am informed that the Minister has refused to entertain any complaint with regard to the remarks of Senator Neild in the
Senate. I believe that Major-General Hutton has been informed that it is a matter which he has no right to take into his consideration.
– But he does it, despite the Government.
– At all events, the honorable senator has not been injured in his status. The statements made by Major-General Hutton in that respect have, so far as the Ministry are concerned, gone in at one ear and come out at the other. We know the position which ought to be occupied by honorable senators who are in the Military Forces. If they, choose to rise in their places and to criticise anything which the military, authorities have done, they have a perfect’ right to do so without fear of any consequences accruing to themselves.
– Why do not the Government protect me?
– I understand that the Minister for Defence has protected the honorable senator.
– Up to a point.
– The Minister has refused to take the slightest notice of any statements regarding the honorable senator’s speech in Parliament ; but other charges have been made, which are to be the subject of a court of inquiry. The Minister has fully recognised that a member of Parliament has a free right to criticise military affairs as much as he likes without fear of suffering any injurious consequences. ‘We have protected the honorable senator from any ill consequences arising from the position taken up by MajorGeneral Hutton as commanding the Military Forces. I am not in a position tosay anything more on this subject at the present time. We are approaching a crisis, as honorable senators know, and before I say whether I shall oppose the motion or not I should like to become more fully acquainted with the facts than I am. Perhaps a new Minister may be in a position to get information and to acquaint the Senate with the facts. I have no doubt that the statement of Senator Neild is absolutely accurate, but he will admit that it is ex parte. An opportunity should be given the Senate to hear the statement of the other side before it agrees to this motion. We admit the principle laid down by the honorable senator to the fullest degree.
We have protected him from any injurious effects on the part of the General Officer Commanding.
-Col. Neild. - The honorable gentleman is wrong.
– If I had an opportunity of ascertaining all the facts of the case I should be in a better position to speak with authority on the subject. May I suggest that no harm could arise if an honorable senator would move the adjournment of the debate?
– I object to that.
– In view of the special circumstances of this case, and of the position in which we are placed, I think that the debate might be adjourned. I never heard a word about the honorable senator’s intention to move this motion this afternoon until a minute or two before we met. I had no opportunity of consulting the Minister on the subject, and therefore I think that the Senate, before deciding to appoint a Select Committee, which would only cause expense and trouble, should hear what can be said on the other side of the question.
– In the meantime they can. blacken Senator Neild’s character.
– Although I agree entirely with Senator Neild and his motion, still I think that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has made out a very fair case for delay. The position of Senator Neild has been put clearly and ably, and Senator Playford has confessed that he has no information on the other side. It would be a wise thing before we took the extreme step of appointing a Select Committee to hear a more definite statement from the Minister for Defence or the Defence Department. Senator Neild has been a little premature in submitting this- motion at this stage. It would have been far better, in his own and in the public interest, if he had waited until he had been injured. He has shown us his commission ; he has not been put out of the force yet-
– I think that the honorable senator did not hear the whole of mv speech.
– I heard almost every word of the speech. I sincerely sympathize with the honorable senator, but I cannot see that he has suffered to any appreciable extent.
– He says that he has been secretly prevented from discharging his duty.
– That is according to the information which Senator Neild laid before us to-day. But we wish to hear the opinion of those who are accused of secretly doing these things before we agree to the motion. We understand that a Board has been appointed to inquire into other charges, and I think that Senator Neild would be consulting his own interests if he were to wait until it had made a report. Then he would have a just case. That Court is not a Parliamentary Commission. It is an independent Court of some kind, having nothing to do with us. . If that Court is conducted unfairly, or anything is done that is prejudicial to the privileges of Senator Neild, we should have power, not only to deal with those who have acted unfairly towards the honorable senator up to the present time, but with the report of the Court. There is another point in connexion with the motion which leads me to think that it would not be wise to adopt it. The latter .paragraph states that Senator Neild is to be allowed to attend the meetings of the Committee and to examine witnesses. Is that in accordance with general usage ? Though my experience may not .be so great as that of Senator Neild, I always understood that the members of such a Committee had to put the questions and do all the work in connexion with an inquiry. Of course, the honorable senator could be there. Major-General Hutton could also be there. But to allow either Major-General Hutton or Senator Neild to ask the witnesses questions would be tantamount to making them members of the Committee. For Senator Neild to ask, practically, to be made a member of the Committee, and not to allow some officer of the Defence Department to have the same privilege, would be unfair. Therefore, I dissent from that part of the motion.
– I am not particular about it.
– I honestly believe that Senator Neild wishes to have a fair and impartial inquiry. He wants fair play, and nothing more. I believe that the Senate is prepared to give it to him. But we should not be too hasty. We should first hear a more definite statement from the Government. Then, if we thought it necessary, we could appoint a Committee. I have not the least doubt that, in that case, Senator Neild’s position would be vindicated. I trust that the Senate will agree to an adjournment of the debate, but that the Committee will ultimately be appointed. I do not think it shows good taste on the part of Senator Neild to try to hurry the matter, though I do not believe that he would willingly do anything that flavoured of bad taste. Therefore, I hope that some honorable senator will move the adjournment of the debate, and that when we meet again the representative of the Government will be prepared with a more definite statement.
– As this is a question which involves the privileges of the Senate, I think I ought to exercise my right to speak. The allegation made by Senator Neild is not that he has been injured - or, at all events, injured to a very great extent - but that he has been intimidated by some outside authority in consequence of speeches made in the Senate. That is- a very grave accusation, and if it be correct the Senate ought to take action in the matter. We none of us know what a course of procedure such as this, if left unchallenged, or undealt with by the Senate, may. lead to. What is Senator Neild’s position to-day may be the position of any one of us in times hereafter - not necessarily as an officer of the Defence Forces, but in connexion with some other Department, when .we may come under the control of a Minister or Government officer. I wish to call the attention of the Senate to the very grave jealousy which the House of Commons has always shown in reference to any intimidation towards any of its members in consequence of anything said in the House. I will go back a long way, and will show how early this privilege was asserted - a privilege which has grown and been strengthened as time has gone on. In Hatsell’s Precedents and Proceedings in Hie House of Commons, a very old book, written a long time before May was published, there is a report of a Committee concerning freedom of speech. It is dated as early as June, 1604. In consequence of that report a petition was presented to the King, or to the Queen; at the moment I am not quite sure which. The report does not stand by itself, because in an appendix are given forty-five cases in which the House of Commons resented any interference with its privileges. But I give this as an example of the position that the House of Commons took up. The report is very long, and I do not propose to read it entirely ; but I will read some extracts from it. The Committee first of all assert - .
That our Privileges and Liberties are our Right and due Inheritance, no less than our very Lands and Goods.
They go on to say -
The Freedom of our Speech (has been) prejudiced by often reproofs.
They do not allege that any injury has happened to them, but they object to reproofs, even when given by the King, to members of the House of Commons for speeches made in the House of Commons. And if the King is not allowed to give reproofs, surely an inferior officer under the King ought not to be permitted to do it. The Committee go on to say -
That in Parliament they may speak freely their Consciences without check and controlment, doing the same with due Reverence to the Sovereign Court of Parliament; that is to Your Majesty and both the Houses, who all in this case make but one Politick Body, whereof Your Highness is the Head.
Thus as far back as 1604 the House of Commons laid down their privileges in respect of freedom of speech. Hundreds of times that freedom has been enunciated in the House of Commons, and now it is accepted as beyond dispute that no outside power or authority has the right even to reprove a member for a speech which he has delivered in Parliament. I do not think it necessary for us to wait until any injury has been done. The very fact that the speech of Senator Neild has been called in question justifies our interference; and in this case the motion of Senator Neild is simply for an inquiry. How are we to hear the other side? There are two methods. Sometimes one and sometimes the other is adopted in the House of Commons. Sometimes the person accused is brought before the bar to answer the allegations against him, and sometimes a Committee is appointed to inquire into them. I think it is better to have a Committee. It is far preferable that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the special matter alleged by Senator Neild than to call Major-General Hutton to the bar of the Senate. That is all that is asked for, and I think that course ought to be adopted. I feel that this is a question about which we cannot be too careful. This is the first occasion which has arisen in this Senate, and under our new Constitution, in which freedom of speech has been challenged, and we ought to take action to safeguard our privileges and to see that they are not frittered away. Because undoubtedly if in any particular case - especially in a case which is brought prominently before the notice of the Senate - no action is taken to vindicate the privileges of the Senate, there will be a tendency for them to be frittered away and to disappear. I express no opinion as to whether it is wise or not to adjourn the debate. That is a subsidiary matter. But I do think that we ought to take notice of the matter that has been brought before us by Senator Neild, and to vindicate our privileges and our position.
– I feel with Senator McGregor, that the latter portion of the motion submitted by Senator Neild is to be regretted. I allude to the paragraph with reference to his being allowed to call witnesses. I intend to move that it be struck out.
– Perhaps the honorable senator will allow me to ask for leave to withdraw that paragraph.
Motion, by leave, amended accordingly.
– I believe that an injustice will be done to Senator Neild unless action is taken. Senator Playford now recognises - as he did not recognise an hour ago - that a crisis is impending. If that crisis results in the resignation of the Government, I suppose that the gentleman sent for by the Governor-General will require some time in which to form a Ministry and to prepare his policy. Possibly the Senate may not meet again for a fortnight, and in the meantime a Military Board appointed by Major-General Hutton is to consider certain charges concerning alleged irregularities against Senator Neild.
– I will withdraw my opposition ; they might sentence him to be shot.
– They might at any rate prejudice Senator Neild in some way. I do not say that what they do will have that effect, but the case put before the Senate is too clear for us to ignore it in any way. Major-General Hutton has already cast a reflection on the Senate. He writes in a disparaging fashion in the letter which has been quoted, “ I have no concern whatever with your duties as a senator.” In effect he says : “ But you had no right to make a speech in the Senate concerning this regiment without coming to me. I am now ready to receive you ; I shall be at home at any time when you chose to call.” Senator Neild is here as a representative of the people of the Commonwealth.
– Should he not be carefulnot to overstep the bounds of prudence ? I imagine that he should.
– I am not aware that he has done so.
– Let us wait until we hear the other side.
- Senator Neild is asking for a Select Committee. That will enable us to hear the other side. I see no reason why we should hang up the matter for a fortnight. The very terms of our standing order regarding a question of privilege indicate that such questions should be decided immediately. I do not think it will be contended thatany reason has been given why the matter should be adjourned. Senator Playford could not know any more about this question than he has learned from the speech of Senator Neild, if there were an adjournment.
– Unfortunately for Senator Neild, there is what is called a crisis pending. I regret that I have not heard what the circumstances of the case are. But if the Minister for Defence had been a member of the Senate, and after hearing Senator Neild’s complaint, had asked for an adjournment, in order to make inquiries, in courtesy to him, that request would have been granted. I do not think we have any right to take into consideration what is impending in another place. Senator Neild has brought forward something in connexion with the Military Forces.
– I have not said a word about military matters.
– I know without having heard the speech that the complaint has reference to matters associated with ‘ the Defence Force. I do not think we shall deny the honorable senator the inquiry which he has asked for. But there may be another side. After we hear the other side we may agree that there is no necessity to appoint a Committee. The request of’ the Vice-President of the Executive Council is a perfectly fair one, and should be granted. Senator Neild’s privileges are the privileges of every member of the Senate, and must be defended by every member. But it is for him to put before the Senate a prima facie case.
– That has been done. Why was not the honorable senator in his place?
– For a much better reason than Senator Neild can give when he is so frequently absent. I was out of the Chamber for a public reason. I was being interviewed by a number of gentlemen connected with the mercantile marine, in reference to the Navigation Bill. With all deference to the opinion which you, Mr. President, have expressed - although you said that you did not express any opinion - I desire to say that from my experience as a Minister I know how difficult it is to answer a charge which is suddenly made. Although a Minister is supposed to be officially acquainted with all that takes place, he may personally have no knowledge of matters which are brought forward. Therefore the request made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council should receive consideration.
– I feel sure that every honorable senator who heard Senator Neild can come to no other conclusion than that he has made out a prima facie case. After hearing the learned remarks of the President, showing the value that should be attached to freedom of speech, it appears to me that, particularly at the initiation of this Commonwealth, the rights of the representatives of the people should becarefully safeguarded in order to prevent the forming of a precedent of a very serious nature. The Committee which Senator Neild asks for is not only due to him, but is equally due to Major-General Hutton.
– And to the Senate.
-I have already said that it is due to the Senate as representing the people. The matter has gone beyond the limits of the Senate. It has been taken up by the public press, and as Senator Neild has stated, he has been to some extent prejudiced by statements which have not the authority of facts.
– We should have the press before the bar.
– Perhaps in the past Senator McGregor may sometimes have felt the. sting of the press when injustice has been done to him, and has thought that his character might require, I will not say whitewashing, but clearing.
– The press has sometimes said that I had no character.
– Senator Neild does not ask for this Committee for himself, or to clear Major-General Hutton. He asks for it in the general public interests, and it is on that ground that I shall vote for the motion.
– Having listened carefully to the statements made by the honorable senator, and also to the request of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, I must candidly confess that I am more strongly than ever of opinion that this matter should be brought to an issue at the earliest possible moment. It is quite evident from the correspondence from which quotations have been read, that the honorable senator has no complaint to make against the Government. He has clearly shown that hisonly complaint is against, the attitude adopted by Major-General Hutton. He is satisfied with the action of the Prime Minister and of the Minister for Defence, and it is therefore clear that nothing that the Vice-President of the Executive Council can add will further elucidate the matter. That being the case, as the President has pointed out, there are two methods by which all the information we require can be obtained. We can bring the Military Commandant before the bar of the Senate - and he would probably come with a Maxim gun - or we can adopt the motion for the appointment of a Select Committee, and have the facts placed clearly before that committee. The matter is one in which every honorable senator is interested, and with which we are all conversant, inasmuch as it has occupied the columns of the public press for some time past. It should be dealt with in such a manner as to give the fullest satisfaction to all the parties implicated, and I favour the motion being carried into effect as speedily as possible.
- Senator Mulcahy, in supporting the request of the Vice-President of the Executive Council for delay, gave as his reason that we are not supposed to know anything officially of the crisis impending in another place: That is so, but as a matter of fact we do know of it, and we have every reason to believe that if the crisis arises within the next twentyfour hours the Senate is not likely to meet again for some weeks. In the meantime a cloud would be hanging over Senator Neild. I am not one of those who would arrive at a hasty conclusion, but, in common with other members of the Senate, and members in another place, I have read with great interest the statements upon this matter which have appeared in the press, expecting that the subject would be brought before the attention of the Senate. In view of the case submitted by Senator Neild, we shall be doing only bare justice to the honorable senator if we grant the Select Committee asked for, and we shall be doing no injustice whatever to the General Officer Commanding the Military Forces of Australia. As a matter of fact, by agreeing to” the appointment of a Select Committee we shall place that officer in a far more satisfactory position, because we shall give him an opportunity to clear himself from the charges made against him by Senator Neild. We have nothing whatever to do with anything outside the aspect of the question raised by Senator Neild, namely, that his privileges as a member of the Senate have been, interfered with by intimidation on the part of the General Officer Commanding. All other matters between Senator Neild and the General Officer Commanding are not the concern of ihe Senate. In order that there may be a thorough and impartial inquiry, which will do justice to both parties, we are called upon to agree to the motion moved by Senator Neild, and in view of the peculiar circumstances of the present political position, we cannot consent to the VicePresident’s request for delay in the appointment of the committee.
– I have not heard any honorable senator object to the appointment of a Select Committee ; and even the Vice-President of the ‘Executive Council does not object to it. In my opinion Senator Neild has made out a very good case; Even those who are in favour of an adjournment of the debate admit that a Select Committee should be appointed. If that be so, why not appoint the committee at once ? During the adjournment involved in the change of Government the Select Committee can deal with the matter to be referred to them, and can bring up their report. I shall support the motion, and’ I hope the committee will be appointed at once. What is the use of putting it off?
Senator FRASER (Victoria). have listened very patiently to the speeches which have been delivered, but I have not changed my mind upon the matter. I think that the request of the Vice-President of the Executive Council should be acceded to. “We have heard a statement, which may be true; but we ought also to hear the other side. Why this undue haste ?
– Because there is a special reason for it.
—There is no special reason. Senator Neild has escaped with his life. He looks very hearty, and he will not suffer by a little delay.
– He says he will.
– We know that is not the case.
– They may lay a bait for him.
– We should not hurriedly do something which we may -regret. There can be no harm in a few days’ delay. We have not heard the statement of the Minister for Defence. I am as anxious as any one can be that the privileges of members of Parliament shall be preserved, and they can be preserved all the more carefully if we do not hastily come to a conclusion. There is no necessity to appoint this Select Committee right off the reel. The Board of Inquiry to which reference has been made may bring in a report adverse to Senator Neild, and there will then be good reason why the Select Committee, if appointed, should inquire into that matter also. When the representatives of the Ministry have asked for an adjournment of the debate, surely honorable senators are not prepared to give the Government a slap in the face by refusing it.
– The Government have nothing to do with the case.
– They have asked for an adjournment, and we should hear the Ministry.
– There is no charge against the Ministry.
– The representatives of the Ministry can defend the Government on the floor of this Chamber, but the absent man cannot defend himself. He has not our privileges, and honorable senators should treat an absent man as they would treat each other. He is entitled to fair play.
– He will get it before the Select Committee.
– Then I ask honorable senators not to unduly rush the matter, as if they were in a hurry to take an advantage. The action they propose has that appearance. Far be it from me to charge honorable senators with anything of the kind, but I am arguing that there may be two sides to the question.
– The Select Committee will listen to the other side.
– I hope that honorable senators will agree to the request of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and let the Minister for Defence be heard before the Select Committee is appointed.
– Senator Fraser completely misconceives the whole position. An honorable senator says that he has been intimidated in connexion with something that has been said by him in the discharge of his duty as a senator. He certainly does make out a prima facie case for the appointment of a Select Committee, and that is all that the Senate can ask for or desire. There appears to be a unanimous feeling in the Senate that the statements made by Senator Neild justify the appointment of a Select Committee. There is not one honorable senator who has dissented from that view. It is now suggested that there should be an adjournment. What is the object of the adjournment ? It is . a most unreasonable thing to say that any injustice will be done to a person who is not present. It has been said that only one side has been heard, but that has nothing to do with the question, because the verv object in appointing the Select Committee is to hear the other side. What is sought is the constitution of a judicial tribunal of the Senate to inquire into certain charges that have been made.
– If the case appears to be one which should be referred to a Select Committee?
– If I thought for a moment that any injustice could possibly be done to any one by the adoption of the course proposed; I should support the view taken by Senator Fraser; but I submit that that honorable senator has misconceived the position. Certain charges having been made, the sooner they are investigated the better.
– The Minister has not replied to them.
– My honorable friend must see that what the Minister has to say is totally immaterial, because the Minister is not charged with doing any wrong.
– His principal officer is.
– That is so, and the very object of the appointment of a Select Committee is to hear what that principal officer has to say. If Senator Mulcahy suggested that the General Officer Commanding should be brought to the bar of the Senate I could understand that it would be reasonable to ask that the matter should be adjourned until he made his statement, but that is not suggested. The other alternative is adopted, and I submit that it is the most reasonable, as well as the usual course, in the circumstances. We should not have advanced the matter any further by any state- merit which the Minister could submit to the Senate. The Select Committee can hear everything that is to be said, and all the evidence there may be in support of the charges made by Senator Neild. It will be for the- officer implicated to make his statement, and if he were to submit that he should be at liberty to appear, or to be represented by counsel, I am sure that the Select Committee would accede to such a request. The utmost facility would be afforded by the committee for the production of evidence, that they might be in a position to do justice to both parties, and make such a recommendation to the Senate as they might think advisable. The Senate will then, if any attempt has been made to infringe its rights and privileges, be able to take such measures as may be necessary at the inception of the Commonwealth to establish those rights and privileges beyond all question.
Senator Lt.-Col. NEILD (New South Wales). - I rise merely to repeat what some honorable senators have evidently not heard, namely, my emphatic declaration that so far as the action taken by the Ministry in this matter is concerned it has been absolutely accurate, so far as my knowledge goes, and in my view of the case it has been entirely in accordance with proper consideration for the dignity of this Chamber and the rights of its members. For the benefit of Senator Fraser, who I am sure could not have heard the statement I made, I may say that the first attempt to intimidate me was made two years ago. I submitted the matter then to’ the Ministry. What action they took I do not know, but it was at least efficacious. Last year the same thing occurred again, and I again referred the matter to the Ministry. It was dealt with by the Cabinet, and I have read to the Senate the Minister’s official letter setting; forth his disapproval of the letters written to me by Major-General Hutton.
– But has the senator ever really been intimidated?
– Certainly I have.
– No, it was only attempted ; they could not do it.
– It is recognised that an attempt to commit a crime is nearly as great an offence as is the actual commission of the crime. I am not saying that what has occurred in this instance amounts to a crime, but. in the language of the resolution of the House of Commons which I have cited, it is a crime, if what
I have said be correct. To attempt lo commit a crime is considered almost as grievous as the actual commission of the crime, and it is punishable by the same methods - with the exception of execution. I am of course speaking of ordinary crimes. I have no complaint against the Ministry. I say that the documents to which i have referred, if asked for by the Select Committee, will show that the Ministry have refused, for the third time, to authorize, encourage, or permit the intimidation sought. When it is suggested that there should be some postponement in order that the Ministry may not be injured in any way, I say that the Ministry have no part in the matter, except that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, they have acted in a perfectly constitutional way. With reference to the proposition that I have not received much injury, 1 submit that it is admitted by every honorable senator that I have received some injury.
– Only a little.
– According to. the honorable senator’s own statement he has received serious injury, and it has been carried on beyond himself to the members of bis family.
– I do not allege that as against the Military Department. I have mentioned it merely as an incident connected with the affair. If it is alleged that any member of the Senate has received an injury, I am prepared, so long as I am a senator, not to wait until the case is proved on the floor of this Chamber before I consent to the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the matter. On the well-known rule of Parliament that an honorable member’s word must be accepted, if a member of the Senate makes statements of a character similar to those which I have made, I submit that he is entitled to fin inquiry. I further submit that the course which I have taken is that which is least open to objection, i Clearly, I might have submitted a motion I asking that Major-General Hutton should I be brought to the bar of the Chamber. Such I a motion could have been considered, and, I if honorable senators pleased, carried ; but I took the quietest and most gentle course ‘ of asking for a committee of inquiry. A , Select Committee, I am quite certain, will be appointed, not in the interests of any individual in or outside these walls, but in the interests pf the dignity and the rights of the Chamber, and of each honorable ‘ senator returned by the people to do the work of the Commonwealth. I have rib doubt that the motion will be carried, and I hope it will be carried without dissent.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
A ballot /laving been taken,
– I have to announce that the Select Committee will consist of Senators Dawson, Gray, Macfarlane, McGregor, Pearce, Playford, and Styles.
Senator Lt.-Col. NEILD (New South Wales). - There is nothing .to prevent the Committee from reporting to the Senate as soon as the inquiry is completed, but in view of possible contingencies it might be convenient for the Senate to fix this day month for the bringing up of the report. Of course the matter might be investigated in a couple of sittings, and the report might be brought up next week, if the Senate should be sitting. , But, for the reason I have given, I move -
That the Select .Committee be ordered to report its proceedings to the Senate by this day month.
– Of course the’ Committee can report earlier if it likes. The only object in fixing a date is that if the Committee do not report on that date they must ask leave to report on another date.
Question resolved in the affirmative.’
Senate adjourned at 4.53 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 April 1904, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1904/19040420_senate_2_18/>.