3rd Parliament · 4th Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Senator Colonel NEILD (New South Wales) [3. 1]. - I rise to a question of privilege. There is on the notice-paper for to-day the following motion in the name of Senator Pearce -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the representatives of the press making public a report of the evidence given before the Select Committee on Press Cable Service.
That motion has not, of course, been moved, but I find that without waiting to see whether the Senate would grant a suspension of the Standing Orders to enable the publication of evidence to be made, evidence has been published in the press of to-day, and presumably at the instance of the Committee in question.
– Order !
– I draw attention to standing order 296.
The evidence taken by any Select Committee of the Senate, and documents presented to such Committee which have not yet been reported to the Senate, shall not be disclosed or published by any member of such Committee, or by any other person.
– Had the honorable senator read that prior to his interview with the press?
– That, sir, is merely a small portion of that which I propose to submit for your consideration. I ask your attention to section 49 of the Constitution -
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, and of its members and Committees, at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
I shall make certain references to the records of the House of Commons before I sit down, but meanwhile I ask attention to the last three lines of that section. The previous line shows that the declaration must come from the Parliament, and, therefore, no standing orders can derogate from the powers, privileges, and immunities of the House of Commons, as conferred upon this Chamber by the Constitution. I submit, sir, that the term “ such as are declared by the Parliament” must of necessity mean a declaration of both Chambers in the form of an Act.
– I rise to a point of order, sir. I beg to draw your attention to standing order 413 -
Any senator complaining to the Senate of a statement in a newspaper as a breach of privilege, shall produce a copy of the paper containing the statement in question, and be prepared to give the name of the printer or publisher, and also submit a substantive motion, declaring the person in question to have been guilty of contempt.
The honorable senator is alleging that the breach of privilege is based on the publication of evidence by certain newspapers. Obviously, he cannot be complaining of a breach of privilege by members of the Select Committee, because standing order 294 says -
Senators may be present when a Committee is examining witnesses, but shall withdraw if requested by the Chairman or any member of the Committee, and shall always withdraw when the Committee is deliberating.
Then, standing order 293 reads -
When a Committee is examining witnesses, strangers may be admitted, but shall be excluded at the request of any senator, or at the discretion of the Chairman of the Committee, and shall always be excluded when the Committee is deliberating.
All that the Committee has done has been to allow strangers to be present, and the only breach of privilege to which the honorable senator can be referring is the publication of certain evidence by the newspapers.
– By the authority of whom ?
– Of no one.
– With the sanction of whom?
– With the sanction of no one. No request was made to me as Chairman, nor was a request made to the Select Committee that representatives of the newspapers should be allowed to take a report. If Senator Neild is complaining of a breach of privilege, it must be in regard to some newspaper for publishing what is alleged to be a report of the evidence, and, if so, sir, I hold that you have a right to call upon him under standing order 413 to produce a copy ofthe newspaper in which he alleges such a breach occurred.
– I have not yet indicated in respect of whom I raise the question of privilege at the present stage, as my view is not to raise a question of privilege against a newspaper, but rather against the Select Committee. I shall have a copy of the newspaper in question here in a moment.
– It is there now.
– A copy of the newspaper is behind me, so that I shall be perfectly able to meet the point of order if necessary.
– At present I do not know whether Senator Neild intends to produce a copy of the newspaper or not. Of course, a question might be raised as to whether the standing order applies simply to the publication of matter in a newspaper, or to a statement containing comments which would be a breach of privilege by the newspaper at a particular time. In any case, as the honorable senator has alluded to a report which appeared in a newspaper, it is desirable that he should produce a copy of the newspaper, whether his complaint is against it or the Committee.
– Will you ascertain, sir, whether the representatives of the press were present withthe sanction of the Committee ?
– I think Senator Pearce mentioned that they were present with the sanction of theCommittee.
– I shall deal with this very important matter of the responsibility of those who publish and the responsibility of the Committee that permits the publication of evidence by references to the records of the House of Commons. When the point of order was taken, I was endeavouring to make clear that section 49 of the Constitution is not in any way interfered with by the adoption of our Standing Orders, which are to be found on pageIIIofourhandbook,becausethese Standing Orders cannot destroy the powers, privileges, and immunities conveyed to us by the Constitution.
– Is not the standing order a declaration by the House?
– I point out that section 49 of the Constitution requires a declaration by the Parliament, and whatever the Senate may declare under its Standing Orders cannot affect the larger question of the powers, privileges, and immunities of members of this Chamber or of another place under the Constitution.
– Does the honorable senator hold that we have really no valid Standing Orders?
– No. Senator Mulcahy misapprehends my argument. Our Standing Orders are useful up to a certain point; and up to a certain point I have cited them as applying to this breach of privilege. But until both Houses of this Parliament have declared what are the powers, privileges, and immunities of members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, we have under the Constitution larger and more enduring powers than any which we have under our Standing Orders, which, after all, relate to matters of detail rather than to the largerquestions involving the powers and privileges of members of this Parliament. I direct your attention, sir, to page 74 of the nth edition of May, where you will find this entry -
On the 13th April, 1875, complaint was made of the publication in two newspapers of the proceedings, and evidence taken before the Select Committee on Foreign Loans. The publication was declared a breach of privilege, and the printers were ordered to attend. But as it appeared in debate that the publication had not been unauthorized by the Committee they were directed to report the circumstances under which the document had been communicated to the newspapers.
That is precisely the position which I bring under your notice to-day. I believe that there can be no doubt whatever that this publication has not been unauthorized. About a dozen representatives of the press were present at the sittings of the Select Committee.
– They were there yesterday.
– Of course, they were. It is impossible to suppose that the Committee did not tacitly permit of the taking down of statements made and their subsequent publication.
– Nobody suggests anything of the sort.
– Nobody suggests what?
– What the honorable senator is saying.
– Perhaps Senator Pulsford may be able to make himself plain to you, sir, but his interjection is absolutely unintelligible to me. I do not know whether he intends it to be regarded as an affirmative or a negative. The Select Committee has been sitting time after time with representatives of the press present. While I am not disposed, even here, to refer to anything that took place at the meetings of the Committee, I will say that I haveit-
– Is the honorable senator not rather late in displaying this punctiliousness ?
– Now that Senator Pearce challenges me I will say that as a member of the Committee I drew attention to this breach of the Standing Orders and of the privileges of Parliament.
– At a meeting of the Committee.
– Absolutely wrong.
– The honorable member need not tell me that.
– Who gave away the contents of the letters which he had not read?
– We have a past Chairman of Committees of the Senate committing this breach of the privileges of Parliament, aided and abetted by the present Chairman of Committees of the Senate.
– And by a Temporary Chairman of Committees of the Senate.
– As a member of the Senate who always endeavours to observe the rules of Parliament and of the Standing Orders, I deem it my duly to bring this matter forward, not so much as affecting the present instance as to point to a shocking example in a way which may be the means of preventing similar breaches of Parliamentary etiquette and privilege in the future. I have quoted the entry from page 74 of the nth edition of May to show that my complaint is not really against the press for publishing these matters, but against the Committee for winking at their publication. It is impossible to suggest that the members of the Committee were not aware that representatives of the press were present at their meeting from time to time, took down evidence in shorthand, and published it from day to day, and the responsibility for the breach of privilege therefore rests with the Committee. The breach of standing order 296, and of the privileges of the Senate, is confirmed by this resolution of the House of Commons, which will be found at page 466 of the 9th edition of May. The entry is as follows -
On the 21st April, 1837, it was resolved by the Commons “ That according to the undoubted privilege of this House, and for the due protection of the public interest, the evidence taken by any Select Committee of this House, and documents presented to such Committee and which have not been reported to the House, should not be published by any member of such Committee nor by any other person.”
– Hear, hear. Then there is one honorable senator who will have to appear at the bar.
– There is a reference in this connexion to 92 Commons Journals, page 282. At page 93 of the same edition of May, I find this entry -
It is declared to be a breach of privilege for a member, or any other person, to publish the evidence taken before a Select Committee until it has been reported to the House, and the publisher of a newspaper has been committed for this offence by the House of Commons. 87 Commons Journals, page 360.
I do not wish to do more than call attention to what has occurred in this instance. I do not purpose - unless you, sir, consider it necessary under the Standing Orders to conclude with a motion - to press the matter to any decision as against the Committee.
– Some little thing such as boiling oil, or something of that kind, would satisfy the honorable senator.
– That may be very clever, but it is not funny. I have here a copy of the Argus of to-day, and I again desire to make it perfectly plain that I am not bringing this matter forward as a breach of privilege by any newspaper, simply because, in accordance with the extract which I have quoted from May, I do not consider that the newspapers were to blame, but that the blame rests with some one else. In order that I might comply with a suggestion which you, sir, made a little while ago, I have brought a copy of the Argus here, not with any view of making any complaint against the press, because I consider that the press have been led astray by the Committee, and not because of any deliberate intention on their part. I produce the Argus of to-day containing something over a column of evidence taken by the Select Committee yesterday. I submit it as a proof of my bona fides, and not as indicating a desire to challenge the action of the newspaper in publishing that which it was induced to publish by what I deem to be the improper action of the Committee in permitting or inducing, if honorable senators please, the publication of evidence in defiance of our own Standing Orders and of the powers, privileges, and immunities of members of the Senate as conferred upon us by the Constitution. If you think, sir, that I should conclude with a motion I shall do so; but I should prefer, if possible, that the matter should be considered by yourself, and that upon further consideration - because as the thing has been done the matter is not one of urgency - the discussion might be adjourned.
– The honorable senator does not wish to hear a reply. That is very clever.
– As I understand the matter, the honorable senator is taking a point of order, and does not desire to submit a motion; but I shall, of course, hear the Chairman of the Select Committee on the point raised by the honorable senator.
– I rise to a point of order. Senator Neild has brought this matter forward distinctly as a matter of privilege, and as such it is open to discussion by every member of the Senate as well as by the Chairman of the Select Committee. I object to it being treated in any other way now than as a matter of privilege.
– I think that Senator Neild had better conclude with a motion.
– When the point of order was raised, I was about to proceed to the table with a view to drafting a short motion, with which I shall conclude. I move -
That the action of the Select Committee on Press Cable Service in permitting the publication of the evidence taken day by day is a breach of the Standing Orders and of the powers, privileges, and immunities of the Senate as expressed in section 49 of the Constitution.
– I do not propose to occupy the time of the Senate at any length, because I recognise that upon a motion of this kind I should not be justified in doing so at this stage of the session. Any honorable senator who chooses to read our Standing Orders bearing on the question which has been raised will, I am sure, recognise that there is a reasonable doubt as to how they should, be interpreted. Standing order 293 reads -
When a Committee is examining witnesses, strangers may be admitted -
I take it that means that the Committee may admit them. but shall be excluded at the request of any senator, or at the discretion of the Chairman of the Committee, and shall always be excluded when the Committee is deliberating.
The members of the Committee have obeyed that standing order absolutely. We have admitted strangers at our discretion, and we have excluded them .when we have been deliberating. The other standing order which has been quoted by Senator Neild, namely, standing order 296, requires to be very carefully read. It says -
The evidence taken by any Select Committee of the Senate -
I ask honorable senators to mark those words -
The evidence taken by any Select Committee -
Not the evidence taken by any stranger - and documents presented to such Committee which have not been reported to the Senate, shall not bc disclosed or published by any member of such Committee, or by any other ‘person. The only portion of that standing order which affects the Committee relates to the question of whether any member of that body has disclosed either any of the evidence taken by it or any of the information contained in documents which have been presented to it. I have to acknowledge that there is one erstwhile member of it who has disclosed to the press in a public fashion, both evidence taken before the.
Committee and certain information which was contained in documents presented to it. That, honorable senator is Senator Colonel J. C. Neild, who, having handed in his resignation as a member of the Committee, at once rushed to the press, and in an interview, at which he set out his reasons for retiring from it, proceeded to show what had been stated in evidence before that body and to comment upon that evidence. He disclosed information which the press had not published, and which had come to his knowledge only by reason of his presence at the meetings of the Committee.
– I rise to a point of order. I wish to take exactly the same point of order as was taken by my honorable friend opposite. I submit that as he is referring to an alleged statement made by me to the press, he must produce copies of the newspapers in which that statement is published.
– I shall do so before I. conclude.
– I would point out that Senator Pearce has expressed his intention of producing copies of the newspapers in question. But his position is somewhat different from that of Senator Colonel Neild, inasmuch as he is speaking to the question of whether a breach of privilege has been committed, and is replying to the speech of the honorable senator.
– I most willingly produce a copy of one of the newspapers which published the honorable senator’s statement. So far as the two standing orders are concerned, the Committee have done nothing under either of them to call for remark here. If any breach of those standing orders has been committed it has been done by Senator Neild, and by no one else. But I also wish to point out that the Committee have followed a precedent.
– Why did the honorable senator put a notice of motion on the business-paper if the Committee have done nothing against the Standing Orders ?
– That notice of motion has been given in order to protect the friends of the honorable senator - the press.
– They were the strangers ?
– Yes, they were the strangers whom we admitted. I desire to point out, however, that last year a Select
Committee of the Senate and of the House of Representatives was appointed to consider the question of Parliamentary powers, privileges, and immunities. A distinguished member of that Committee, representing the Senate, was the honorablesenator, J. C. Neild. I find that the following resolution was passed by the Committee on oth April, 1908 ; I do not know whether the honorable senator moved it,, but probably he did -
Resolved, that the press should be admitted when evidence was being taken, and so far as the House of Representatives Committee was concerned, the necessary power should be asked’ for from the House.
Senator Neild and the other honorable senators with him on that Committee admitted the press without asking the sanction of the Senate.
– The honorable senator is absolutely wrong. The press was not present at any meeting of that Committee.
– I am not saying that the press was present. I am saying that the Committee decided to admit the press, just as the Committee on the Press CableService did, without the sanction of the Senate.
– I rise to a point of order. What possible influence can the report of a Committee that has never been discussed in either House of the Parliament, and consequently has not been adopted, have upon this discussion?
– I cannot say that Senator Pearce is out of order in alluding to the Joint Committee appointed last year. He has quoted from the record to show that a certain step was taken, and I understand that he is thereby attempting to justify the action of the Committee of whi.ch.he is the Chairman.
– Both may havebeen wrong.
– Both may have been wrong.
– I merely wish to show that what the Committee of which I am Chairman has done, was done before by a Committee of which Senator Neild was a member, and no exception was taken to it by him or by the Senate. I do not know that the House of Commons casewhich the honorable senator quoted hasany bearing, because we have declared ourpowers, privileges, and immunities.
– We have done nothing of the kind.
– We have declared our powers, privileges, and immunities, so far as relates to the Standing Orders governing our procedure. Moreover, we have declared we will lay down our own’ practice, and have proceeded to do so, as is shown by the document which you, sir, present to the Senate each session, embodying your rulings. But even supposing that we were . governed by House of Commons precedents, the case cited by Senator Neild is an excellent one to show that the Select Committee in question has not offended in .this regard; because the passage which he has read makes it clear that not only was the press authorized to be present, but was authorized to publish a particular document. “That was not done in the present case. In order to make the instance which Senator Neild has quoted appropriate he should have shown that the Select Committee had by resolution permitted documents to be published. That we have not done. I frankly confess, however, that I had not given this subject that consideration which, perhaps, I should have given to it. There have been other Select Committees of the Senate the Chairmen of which have submitted motions giving power to admit the press. As soon as I was aware that that course had been followed, I took steps to adopt such a procedure in regard to the Press Cable Service Committee. I gave notice of the motion which now stands on the business-paper.
– Was that when the honorable senator’s attention was first directed to the matter ?
– As soon as I knew that other Committees had obtained power to give the press permission to publish evidence, I gave notice of motion to that effect. I take it that the power of the Committee to admit the press is’ beyond question. The Committee has that power without the sanction of the Senate. The Senate gave the power to the Committee when it was appointed. Singular to say, however, I was deprived of the opportunity of submitting my motion by Senator Neild himself.
– I wished to discuss it.
- Senator Neild objected to the motion being agreed to. Is it not slightly hypocritical, if the honorable senator is anxious that the Committee should have this power, not to permit the motion to be moved? Why did he call not formal “ when the motion was read from the Chair? “ If an offence has been committed, I submit that it is of a technical character, and that there was no intention whatever to flout the Senate or to assume powers which the Committee had no right to assume. The Committee was not aware that it was doing anything more than was authorized by the Standing Orders. Indeed, if any one has committed a breach of the Standing Orders in divulging documents to the press, it is Senator Neild himself.
– - I trust that the Senate will not allow itself to be influenced by any misunderstanding which has arisen between an ex-member of the Select Committee in ques- ‘ tion and the Committee itself. Any such misunderstanding should, I venture to say, be put entirely outside the discussion at the present juncture. The point to which I wish to direct attention is that which is raised specifically ,by the motion of Senator Neild, as to whether or not the Select Committee has taken some action in contravention of the Standing Orders. I rather regret that Senator Pearce in the early part of his speech sought to show that the Committee has not in any way contravened the Standing Orders. Towards the conclusion, however, he practically admitted, or expressed a fear, that ‘ the Committee had done so, and said that he had endeavoured to put matters right by giving notice of the motion which now stands on the businesspaper. It appears to me that that was the right action to take, when, through want of knowledge or of thought, or by one of those little oversights which are pardonable, a procedure which is in accordance with the practice of Parliament has been overlooked. But the fact remains that the Committee not merely permitted representatives of the press to be present, and tolerated their presence, but by the adoption of a motion, virtually authorized the publication of reports. ‘ Therefore, the responsibility for the publication may fairly be charged against the Committee.
– Senator Neild was present when the motion was carried, and did not protest.
– I was not present.
– The honorable senator was.
– Senator Neild has, no doubt, done very many wrong things in his lengthy and distinguished career, but we are not now dealing with .them. I ask honorable senators to keep extraneous matter out of the discussion. Whether Senator Neild was a member of the Committee does not affect the question of whether its action was wrong or right. In his last remark Senator Pearce did appear to me to touch the keynote of the whole matter. He suggested that possibly the Committee had overlooked the Standing Orders, and, therefore, in order to put matters right, he had tabled a motion. That seemed to me to sum up the whole position. The Committee proceeded innocently, I am prepared to believe, to allow reporters to be present. Discovering its mistake, it did the right thing, and sought an opportunity to get a sanction for the publication of evidence in the future, and to that extent a condonation of a little lapse of which, I think, it had been guilty. It does not seem to me that this is at all a serious matter. The Committee could not have had any sinister motive in doing what it did. I have no doubt that it acted in the best of good faith. In view of the fact that recently we have heard a great deal about secret caucuses and other things, it is, perhaps, not desirable that in a matter in which, to some extent, press interests are concerned, reporters should have been given an opportunity of publishing information. 1 trust that the excellent example set by Senator Pearce will be followed, and that too much time will not be occupied in the discussion of this question.
– I would not have remained on the Committee for five minutes if it had not been decided to admit the representatives of the press. I do not care a straw for all the. Standing Orders* so long as I have the common-sense feeling of the members of the Senate with me.
– This is absolute lawlessness.
– Quite apart from any standing orders, I felt that the Senate would, support the motion to admit the press. There may be a little variation between the Standing Orders and common sense, but in this matter I stand by common sense, and I think that the Senate will do the same. I feel quite certain that the Committee has done what was quite right, and seeing that it was appointed to inquire into the doings of the press, mainly at the instigation of the Opposition, it was en tirely to their credit that their representatives on the Committee agreed to the admission of reporters to the meetings.
– - It appears to me that Senator Neild is much more concerned about the rights, privileges, and immunities of the press than he is about the rights, privileges, and immunities of the Senate, because from the very first moment he has tried to create trouble in one way or other with the Select Committee.
– That is not a fact.
– It is a well-known rule of equity that a man cannot get a verdict unless he goes into Court with clean hands. Senator Neild has charged us with having violated standing orders, and posed as the Simon Pure who, in no circumstances, has violated so much as a line or comma of them. I have here a copy of the Evening News, published in Sydney on the 20th November. That was soon after Senator Neild resigned.
– I never had any communication with the Evening News. 1 do not know what it has printed. T have not seen it.
– It printed a copy of an interview.
– It had no interview with me.
– I did not say that it had, but the Melbourne Herald had an interview with the honorable senator.
– Well, produce that, and I will stand by it.
– The interview appeared in the final edition of the Melbourne Herald of the 19th November. As only the first edition of that newspaper is filed in the Library, I have to turn to the Evening News, to which the same item was given. I can vouch for the fact that the one is pretty nearly an exact reproduction of the other.
– Mr. President, I object.
– I am going to read it, anyhow.
– I have not the least objection to stand by anything which I have said; but I object to an admittedly garbled statement, to a report which I have not seen, being read as fixing any responsibility upon myself.
– It is irregular for “ the honorable senator to read a statement as to an interview from another newspaper, which he says is substantially, but not absolutely the same. If he considers that it is of sufficient importance to be read, it would be better for him to read it from the original newspaper.
– What I am going to read is not published as something from the Herald, but it is published between quotation marks, showing absolutely that it is a COPY
– If the honorable senator is in a position to assure me that the statement which he proposes to read is a copy of something which appeared in the Melbourne Herald, I shall not take any exception, to him reading it.
– I object; because it is not.
– The report reads as follows : -
Senator Chataway (Q.) was in the Senate yesterday, appointed to the vacancy on the Press Cable Service Select Committee caused by the retirement of Senator Neild (N.S.W.).
Senator Neild says there has been no disagreement or conflict between himself and any members of the Committee, except as regards a breach of standing order 296, which prohibits the publication of evidence until reported to the Senate. “ I am dissatisfied,” he added, “ with the composition of the Committee, which, judging from the speeches delivered in the Senate, is composed of five members for the prosecution and two on the other side. Sufficient evidence has been taken to show that there is no monopoly as alleged. According to the evidence (as published in the press) it is absolutely clear that the country press does not - as was stated - take any material interest in the. question of -cable news. Something like 1,000 circular letters have been addressed to the country press on the subject, asking for replies to six or eight questions, with the result that about 100 letters have been received, the writers of the majority of which either profess do interest in the questions involved, or are satisfied with the existing arrangement.
– Where did he get that from?
– I am in a position to say that Senator Neild had not read the letters when he gave the information away.
– Is that information correct ?
– It is not correct.
– He did not give the information away if it is not correct.
– He could give the information ; but whether . it is true is another question. Although Senator Neild had not read these letters, yet he purported to give a summary of their contents to the press. The report continues -
The parties to the cable agreement have supplied the Committee without hesitation with a copy of the existing agreement, and according to the published evidence, the cost of cable news to a country newspaper, is fixed at so low a figure as a year and upwards.
The published evidence also - shows that the cost to the country press is not a question of the cable- cost, but of the land-line cost. It costs less for a skeleton message over the cables than for a padded message of the land lines.
In my view, the inquiry has been sufficiently exhausted regarding the questions into which the Committee was authorized to inquire, and I take grave exception to the course now adopted of investigating matters outside the scope laid down. There is no justification for the expenditure of public money in such a direction.
If we are to accept that statement, as I do, as indicating the reason why Senator Neild resigned, it appears that he resigned because he thought that the Select Committee had outlived its usefulness, and was going outside the scope of the inquiry. If he really held that belief, it was his duty to remain and insist that it should not take that course. I venture to say that he will have very great difficulty in showing that it has in any way gone outside the reference from the Senate. With reference to the question of privilege, the Committee was authorized by the Stand* ing Orders to admit strangers if it thought fit. The Senate allows strangers to be present ; but you cannot find any authority in the Standing Orders, or the Constitution for the admission of the press to the Senate. We admit any strangers. They are not labelled pressmen. The representative of the Argus is not labelled Argus across his chest, nor is any one of the other pressmen labelled. They come in as strangers and exercise their right to take notes, and we cannot prevent them from publishing these notes on their own responsibility.
– I think that the honorable senator should say that On the minutes of the Committee there is a specific resolution to admit the press.
– If a motion to that effect was passed whilst I was present, the fact has escaped my recollection. There was a resolution to admit strangers.
– No, to admit the press.
– That is all the knowledge we have. A large portion of the evidence consisted of statements read out by representatives of the press, or by persons, like Reuter’s representative, who are connected with the press. How could we prevent such persons from keeping a copy of a statement and publishing it?
The evidence pf Mr. Mackinnon, who is the manager of the Press Association for Australasia, and one of the proprietors of the Argus, consisted of long documents. I make bold to say that he had duplicate copies. Could” we have prevented him from publishing them?
– Oh, yes.
– We might have punished Mr. Mackinnon after he had published the information, but we could not have prevented him from doing so.
– Quite right.
– If Senator Neild is so hide-bound with regard to the observance of the Standing Orders and the powers of the Senate, let him move now that his dear friends on the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Daily Telegraph be gaoled because of their breach of privilege.
– They did not do the wrong. The Committee did that.
– We admitted strangers, who took reports and published them. 1, as a member of the Committee, disclaim all responsibility in the matter. If the strangers who were admitted chose to take notes and publish them, that was their look out. Certainly they had no authority from me to publish them, and when Senator Neild says that we induced them to publish notes, 1 make bold to say that not one of us did.
– The honorable senator proposes that all the rules which guide the Senate should be thrown into the wastepaper basket.
– No. Senator Neild has failed to show where we have broken any rules. That being so, I am quite careless as to what action the Senate may take. I think, with Senator Pulsford, that this Committee adopted the right course in taking no notice of the publication of information which was available to the press. I. point out that most of the evidence was given by representatives of the press, and so w as available to the press. We could not prevent its publication, and if the press have done wrong in publishing it, it is open to Senator Neild to move that his press friends be gaoled for their wrongdoing. I hope that the honorable senator will take some effective action of that kind in order to prove that he is in earnest in this matter.
– I think that it is clear, that the Select Committee has unwittingly com mitted a breach of the Standing Orders That there is a distinction between standing order 293, which refers to the admission of strangers to meetings of Select. Committees, and standing order 296, which refers to the publication of evidence before it is reported to the Senate, is clearfrom the notice of motion which appears on the notice-paper in the name of Senator Pearce. -If there were no distinction, themotion would be unnecessary.
– The standing orderhas nothing to do with the publication of evidence.
– The motion of” which the honorable senator has gwen notice reads -
That so much of the Standing Orders besuspended as would prevent the representatives, of the press making public a report of the evidence given before the Select Committee on. Press Cable Service.
Where would be the need of such a motion if, under the Standing Orders, the Select. Committee had power to do what Senator Pearce says has been done?
– The Standing Ordersgive the Committee power to do what ithas done.
– It is not a. question whether this Select Committee or any other Select Committee has done right or wrong. It is the duty of the Senateto see that Select Committees appointed, by it shall comply with the letter, and. especially with the spirit, of the Standing Orders. If Senator Neild will press hismotion to a division, I shall be inclined to vote with him, because I believe that: there has been a breach of the privilegesof this Senate, and because Senator Pulsford has said that, in this matter, he would; not have regard for the Standing Orders. - that if his common sense should prevail the Standing Orders might “be thrownto the winds - and that he would, so tospeak, go on bis own. If every member of the Senate were to take the same view,, and follow Senator Pulsford’s example,. Select Committees might defy the Senate. May seems to be clear and emphatic on thepoint that the evidence given before a Select Committee must not be published, except by the express permission of theSenate, until it has been reported to theSenate. For the reasons I have given, I shall be prepared to vote for the motionif Senator Neild thinks it well to press it to a division.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. When I made the emphatic statement I did make, honorable senators are well aware that I had no thought or intention of recommending generally that the Standing Orders should be thrown into the waste paper basket. At the same time, I do say-
– The honorable senator, may explain his conduct, or any matter in connexion with which he has been misrepresented. But he cannot make a second speech on the motion.
– I am trying to explain that what I said meant simply that when a course of conduct was absolutely clear, as, in this instance, it was to myself and all other member’s of the Select Committee, it was our bounden duty to the Senate to follow that course of conduct, even though it seemed to be somewhat against the letter of the Standing Orders.
– This is not by any means a simple question. It does involve the authority of Parliament, and I cannot help feeling that Senator Pulsford has intensified the difficulty by his statement that he prefers to follow common sense rather than to follow any standing orders. Common sense differs in the opinion of different individuals. If each member of Parliament could set up his own idea of common sense as an authority against the carefully and deliberately considered rules of Parliament, we should have nothing but confusion.
– The honorable senator will admit that every member of the Senate desired that the press should be admitted.
– That is scarcely the question. If every member of the Senate wished that the press should be admitted, and the Standing Orders provide that the press should not be admitted, some overt act on the part of the Senate was necessary before the press could be admitted. It is admitted that inadvertently
– No, deliberately.
– I do not think it was deliberate. The Chairman of the Select Committee has told us that when he was a party to the motion for the admission of the press by the Committee, he was not aware that it was necessary that any other steps should be taken. We should believe that. In the circumstances,
I hope that Senator Neild will see that his proper course now is to withdraw the motion. The matter has been ventilated, and nothing more than a mistake, at its very worst, has occurred.
– We should have a ruling.
– There does not seem to be any necessity for a ruling. There is a consensus of opinion that the permission of the Senate should have been sought for the admission of the press in the way indicated, because it was in fact an authority to publish the evidence. I strongly urge upon Senator Neild that, having made the matter clear, he should now withdraw his motion.
.- I am of opinion that Senator Neild has brought this matter forward as a question of privilege, not so much with a view of upholding the Standing Orders as in order to take advantage of an opportunity to make an attack upon the Select Committee.
– Is that in order ?
– The honorable senator is not in order in imputing improper motives to another senator for his action.
– When the honorable senator has in the public press and by interjections in this chamber made reflections upon the Committee, surely I am in order in making a passing reference to his remarks.
– The honorable senator is entitled to reply to any remarks made by Senator Neild, but he is not at liberty to impute unworthy motives to any honorable senator for the course of action he has pursued.
– Iwish to point out that not only has Senator Neild attacked the Committee here, but he has made personal reflections in the public press upon every member of the Senate. The honorable senator has said that this Select Committee is one-sided and biased.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– The honorable senator has said that it is a one-sided Committee, that there were only two senators on it representing one view, and that there were five for the prosecution. In making that statement the honorable senator assumed that the five to whom he referred had made up their minds as to what they would do, and that no matter what evidence might be brought before the Committee those members would give a biased judgment because they represented a certain party in the Senate. Every one should know that this Select Committee was appointed by the whole Senate by ballot. In the circumstances, it is manifestly unfair, and it is also unmanly, to speak of a Select Committee so appointed as being one-sided or biased. Under the Standing Orders the Committee had power to admit strangers. The representatives of the press were neither more nor less than strangers, and there is nothing in the Standing Orders to say that strangers present at a meeting of a Select Committee shall not be permitted to take a report of the proceedings.
– The minutes of the Select Committee make no reference to strangers, but to a motion for the admission of the press - for what purpose?
– It seems to me that that was a superfluous motion, because under the Standing Orders strangers might be admitted, and there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent them taking a note of the evidence tendered to the Committee. Senator Neild complains of the publicationof certain evidence tenderedto the Committee, and though he makes that complaint he rushes to an evening newspaper here-
– I wish the honorable senator would make a struggle for the truth.
– Order !
– I wish Senator Neild would do likewise. I am endeavouring to put this matter fairly and honestly before the Senate. I say that in my opinion the honorable senator made post haste to get the limelight cast upon him—
– Order ! I have pointed out that the honorable senator is not in order in imputing wrong motives, and he is doing so in saying that an honorable senator took certain action in order to get the limelight thrown on him.
– I believe he did.
– The honorable senator may believe so, but he is not in order in saying so.
– May I draw your attention, sir, to the insinuation made by Senator Neild a few moments ago that Senator Findley was not speaking the truth ?
- Senator Neild, I am aware, made some remark of the kind, and, of course, such a remark was out of order. Further exception was then taken to the remarks of Senator Findley, and my desire was to prevent any altercation between honorable senators. Of course, it is not right for any honorable senator to impute untruths to any other honorable senator.
- Senator Neild permitted himself to be interviewed by the representative of the Melbourne Herald, and, on the 19th November, that journal published the interview in question. A copy of that interview appeared in almost every New South Wales newspaper which Iread during my recent visit to Sydney. It does not speak well for the representative of a big State like New South Wales to admit that he does not read the leading newspapers of his own State. As everybody is aware, the Evening News, Sydney, is a paper which possesses an immense circulation, and yet Senator Neild allows it to pass unnoticed so far as events in different parts of the world are concerned. He told us to-day that he does not read that journal.
– I said nothing of the kind, and the honorable senator knows it.
– I would ask Senator Neild not tointerject. I would remind him that if he considers that he has been misrepresented, he will be at liberty to make a personal explanation at a later stage.
– Whilst Senator Givens was speaking, Senator Neild declared that he objected to the honorable senator reading from the EveningNews, which he never saw. He added that he had no knowledge of the interview which was published in the Melbourne Herald being reprinted in that newspaper.
– By way of personal explanation, I wish to say that it is almost impossible for me to correct the perfect torrent of misstatement which has beer made in this Chamber. The statement that I did not see the Evening News was made in reference to a single issue of that journal. Of course, I see the Evening News.
– Where is the point of order?
– I did not say anything about a point of order. Will the honorable senator hold his tongue, if he cannot tell the truth?
– I do not mind interjections, but I ask you, sir, if you heard that remark? Senator Neild asked me to keep quiet if I could not speak the truth. Is he permitted to make a statement of that character without any comment upon it by yourself?
– I have already pointed out that it is quite wrong for any honorable senator to make interjections which are personally offensive to another honorable senator, and it is equally wrong to provoke such interjections. I would ask Senator Neild not to make interjections of the character complained of.
– I said, that in reply to Senator Givens, Senator Neild said-
– Order. The honorable senator is now endeavouring to aggravate the position. I pointed out a few moments ago that Senator Neild was entitled to make an explanation, and to correct what he regarded as a misrepresentation. That being so, Senator Findley should accept his explanation, and proceed with the debate.
– Accept his explanation that he did not make a certain statement?
– It is a well-known rule of Parliament that when an honorable senator gives his assurance as to any matter, that assurance must be accepted.
– Then let me hark back to the interview with the honorable senator which appeared in the Melbourne Herald of the 19th November. In that interview, Senator Neild made certain statements reflecting on the Senate, and on the personnel of this Committee. He said that a certain number of circulars had been sent out by the Committee, and a certain number of replies to them had been received. He then went on to express his opinion of those replies.
– He made a statement as to the nature of those replies.
– That information was known only to the Committee. It was not known to the press, because no representatives of the press were present when the Committee decided to send out the circulars, nor when the replies were received. How inconsistent it was for Senator Neild, without intimating what he intended to do, and without protesting against the publication of the evidence, to rush to a newspaper and grant it an interview.
– Thus deliberately breaking the standing order.
– He anticipated in a measure the finding of the Commitee, and deliberately violated the Standing Orders. Under these circumstances, his motion merits very scant consideration at our hands. I am convinced that he has not brought this matter forward in the public interest, but merely with a view to belittling the Committee and its report when that report is submitted at a later stage.
– Before calling upon Senator Neild to reply, I should like to make one or two observations. This debate was initiated upon a question as to the position of the Senate in regard to the publication of the evidence taken before a Select Committee appointed by it, without its authority. There can be no doubt as to the meaning of our Standing Orders, and in passing I would remind Senator Pulsford that, whilst those Standing Order? direct a certain course to be followed, ii is not open to any honorable senator to disregard them without bringing himself into contempt. The Standing Orders, if they do not in so many words, provide a means by which effect may te given to the wish of any Select Committee in respect of the publication of evidence. They, at any rate, do not interfere with the inherent powers of the Senate in this respect. Senator Pearce has already pointed out how the fullest publicity could have been given to the evidence. Standing order 293 reads -
When a Committee is examining witnesses, strangers may be admitted, but shall be excluded at the request of any senator, or at the discretion of the Chairman of the Committee, and shall always be excluded when the Committee’ is deliberating.
So that these persons may either be admitted or excluded, as the Committee nun think fit. The next standing order provides that senators may be present when a. Committee is examining witnesses, and standing order 296 reads -
The evidence taken by any Select Committee of the Senate, and documents presented to such Committee which have not been reported to the Senate, shall not be disclosed or published by any member of such Committee, or by anl other person.
It has been argued that if strangers are admitted to the proceedings before a Select Committee, that Committee has no power to prevent the publication of notes of evidence which those strangers mav take. In reply to that contention I would point out that any person publishing evidence taken before such a body without authority would, by reason of the prohibition imposed under the standing order which I have just quoted, bring himself into a position of contempt. It would be perfectly open to any honorable senator to submit the matter to the Senate, which could then take steps to prevent a repetition of the offence.
– A Select Committee could not do that ?
– The Committee could report the matter to the Senate, if it thought fit to do so. It is not empowered to give permission to publish the evidence, but a motion could have been submitted in the Senate asking that the press be permitted to publish the evidence. The decision of the Committee to admit the press might very well be regarded by the press as permission to publish a report of the evidence taken before it. But the correct course would have been to submit a motion in the first instance, such as that of which Senator Pearce has since given notice. It has been argued by Senator Neild that under section 49 of our Constitution this is a power, privilege, or immunity of the Senate which we cannot waive. He also pointed out that we could not define our privileges by standing order. In this latter contention, I quite agree with him. But we may define our practice by standing order. ‘ If we are to follow the practice of the House of Commons we know that in that House permission is grantedto publish evidence taken before Select Committees appointed by it. It is laid down very clearly in May, page 74 -
To be a breach of privilege for a member or any other person, to publish the evidence taken before a Select Committee, until it has been reported to the House ; and the proprietor of a newspaper has been committed by the House of Commons for the publication of a Committee’s draft report.
So that there is no question that what has been done is a breach of privilege. Where publication takes place without authority it is still for the House to determine whether it will take action or not. It is laid down in Bourinot, under the heading of “ Proceedings before Select Committee” -
It is an old order of Parliament that “ the evidence taken by any Select Committee of this House, and the documents presented to such Committee, and which have not been reported to the House ought not to be published by any member of such Committee or by any other person.”
As Committees are generally open to the press and the public the House is not rarely disposed to press the foregoing rule. It is always within the power of a Committee to con duct its proceedings with closed doors, and in that way prevent the hasty publication of its proceedings until they are formally reported to the House.
One authority quoted for the statement that the House is rarely disposed to press the foregoing rule, is the case of the Times and Daily News, 1875, for publishing proceedings before a Select Committee on foreign loans. The reference reads -
Mr. Disraeli and others took the ground that, though a breach of privilege had been committed, yet it was inadvisable to act rigidly in the matter, since the printers appeared to have acted only in the discharge of their duties as printing the proceeding of a Committee which were open to the public. The order for the attendance of printers was subsequently discharged.
It is laid down in Redlich -
The rules of the House as to the presence of strangers at meetings of Committees are very liberal ; until the Committee withdraws for deliberation, while witnesses or experts are being examined, the proceedings are public. Members of the House who are not upon the Committee would, if they stood upon their rights, be entitled to stay for the discussion, but it is a strict rule of parliamentary etiquette that they also should withdraw before it begins. Now and then a Secret Committee is appointed ; when this is done everybody who is not a member of the Committee, evena member of the House, is kept out.
Of course, where secret Committees are appointed, steps are taken to prevent any person from learning what transpires at their meetings. Had this matter been left to my ruling upon a point of order, the position would have been very much simplified. Before, however, permitting the publication of the evidence taken at this inquiry, the Committee should have first obtained the approval of the Senate. I hope that if in the future, any Select Committee may consider it advisable to have the evidence taken before it is published in the press, it will first take the precaution of obtaining the permission of the Senate. I may suggest that it would be a convenient way of disposing of the subject to permit Senator Neild’s motion to be withdrawn. I am perfectly sure that no one desires to pass a motion involving a censure of the Committee, nor. on the other hand, is it desirable to have it placed on record that a breach of the Standing Orders was not committed in permitting the publication of evidence. The subject having been ventilated, the simplest course would now be for Senator Neild to withdraw his motion instead of pressing it to a division.
– May I ask you, sir, whether it would be competent for me to move that the editors of the newspapers which have published the evidence in question be brought to the bar of the Senate for that offence ?
– That cannot be done by way of amendment on Senator Neild’s motion.
– CouldI move to that effect by special motion?
– If the honorable senator feels called upon to submit such a motion later, he may do so.
– Would it be competent to move for the exclusion of the representatives of the press who report the proceedings of the Senate?
– There is a standing order providing that attention may be called to the presence of strangers, but that action has to be supported by a majority of honorable senators present.
– Is a person liable to be put in gaol for publishing the proceedings of the Senate or of a Select Committee without permission?
– I do not consider that it is the function of the Chair to answer such questions. Sufficient difficulty is often experienced in ruling upon points of order as they arise, without dealing with points of a hypothetical character.
Senator Colonel NEILD (New South Wales) [4.29]. - The views which you, sir, have expressed, relieve me from the obligation of replying, except on one or two small points. It has been alleged that I communicated to the press evidence that had been taken by the Select Committee in question. I desire to say that I did not communicate in any shape or way with the Evening News, though I am prepared to admit that the statements made in it are sufficiently accurate. But Senator Givens seemed to overlook another and more ample statement from me published in the form of an interview by the Melbourne Argus. But both in the Argus interview and the Herald interview, I was careful, as those newspapers show, to allude only to such items of evidence as had been already printed.
– That is absolutely incorrect.
– I remember saying to the representatives of those newspapers who interviewed me that I must be particular not to make reference to anything that had not already appeared in the press.
– Had the statement about the circulars previously appeared in the press?
– Every one in the country side knew all about the circulars.
– Senator Pearce and Senator Givens deny the truth of what the honorable senator said.
– Senator Pearce denies the accuracy of my statement concerning the circular in that interview. Clearly, therefore, I could not have communicated anything to the press that I learnt as a member of the Committee, but was merely drawing on my own imagination. But I decline to be led away from what I clearly laid down in the extract from the 9th edition of May which I have handed to you, sir, for perusal. The statement there made is to this effect: It had been sought to bring some publishers of newspapers before the House of Commons for publishing evidence taken before a Select Committee; but it appearing that the publication was not unauthorizedby the Committee, the Commons took no action. I never dreamt that any one would be unwise enough to suppose that newspapers would refrain from publishing what to all intents and purposes they were invited to publish by resolution of the Committee. Gentlemen of the press do not sit at a table and take notes of evidence merely for their amusement. When they are invited to attend a meeting it is a plain intimation to them that they may publish what takes place. As to my “rushing” to newspapers, the statement to that effect is very unworthy of the honorable senators who made the allegation. They must have read - they may have intentionally or unintentionally forgotten - in both the morning and evening journals, that I at first declined to be interviewed. I said that the matter would probably come before the Senate. It was not until it appeared that there would be no proper opportunity of putting my views forward in the Senate that I gave the interviews to which reference has been made.
– “ And whispering, ‘ I will ne’er consent ‘ - consented.”
– If my honorable friend had a true sense of proportion he would be a little less violent in his interruptions.
– I only made a quotation from Byron which fits the case.
– To allege that the Committee admitted the press inadvertently is to say that which is the reverse of fact. The very paragraph of the interview with me which has been quoted shows that one of. my reasons for resigning my seat on the Committee was that the Committee insisted on breaking a standing order of the Senate.
– Absolutely incorrect ; the honorable senator was present when the motion admitting the press was carried.
– The honorable senator is mistaken. He will find that the records show that I was not present at the first meeting when the resolution was adopted.
– The minutes will be produced next week, and then the honorable senator will see.
– I was not at the first meeting of the Committee.
– The honorable senator was present when the motion was carried.
– At the last meeting of the Committee which I attended, I obtained from Mr. Monahan, the Clerk in attendance, a copy of the Standing Orders. I turned up the standing order to which I have drawn attention, and directed the notice of the Committee to the fact that a breach was being committed. Unless I am very much mistaken, Senator Dobson was inclined to indorse my view.
– I must ask the honorable senator not to enter into those details.
– Perhaps I am in error in doing so. _ Statements were published in the Melbourne Herald and in the Argus next morning showing that I objected that a breach of the Standing Orders had been committed in publishing evidence. and that -that was one of my reasons for resigning my seat on the Committee. It is admitted that the reports of those interviews were read by members of the Committee. Yet after that they went to Sydney, took evidence there, and permitted the publication of the evidence. Then, in a fit of belated repentance, Senator Pearce puts a notice of motion on the business paper asking - for what? Not for the admission of the press, but for the suspension of the Standing Orders. How did he get the notion that it was necessary to suspend the Standing Orders? This motion was put on the paper days and days after I had, as admitted, challenged the action of the Committee in the daily press. However, the object which I had in view has been amply achieved. I desire nothing more than the proper observance of the rules of the Senate. I consider that it is the duty of every member of the Senate to assist you, sir, in the discharge of your onerous duties as our presiding officer. Having brought this matter forward, I do not desire to press the motion. The subject having been discussed, you have given a ruling which in itself is an ample indorsement for my action. I am now willing to withdraw the motion, which I was not anxious to move. ‘ I am sure that what has happened will prevent any similar misapprehension in future.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
– I now desire to raise a question of privilege. I draw attention to the action of Senator Neild in disclosing the proceedings of the Select Committee on Press Cable Service by the publication in the press of an interview. I submit that the honorable senator has committed a breach of the standing order which we have been discussing this afternoon, namely -
The evidence taken by any Select Committee of the Senate, and documents presented- to such Committee which have not been reported “to the Senate, shall not be disclosed or published by any member of such Committee or by any other person.
The breach of privilege to which I refer is this : The Committee adopted a resolution that a circular be drawn up embodying certain questions.
– I do not think that the honorable senator can disclose what took place at the Committee. To do so would in itself be a breach of the standing order.
– A decision was arrived at as the result of which a circular was issued. Senator Neild has acknowledged this afternoon that he supplied certain information to the Melbourne Herald and the Melbourne Argus. I draw your attention to this particular statement -
– I rise to order. We have a standing order which provides that when an honorable senator intends to found a motion of privilege on some statement in the press, he must produce a copy of the newspaper, and it must be read by the Clerk.
– I do not know what Senator Pearce may do before he concludes his speech.
– The paragraph to which I referred appeared in the Argus of the 20th November, and reads as follows : -
The Committee sent out between goo and 1,000 circulars to the press throughout Australia, asking for their opinions under some seven headings. The country press is so little interested that only about 100 replies have been received, the majority of which indicate either satisfaction with the .existing arrangements or an absolute indifference to the whole affair.
– That was not a true statement.
– That statement was not, of course, correct ; but I hold that it was a distinct breach of privilege, because that information had not been previously published by any newspaper.
– It was not a true record, the honorable senator says?
– The expression of opinion was not correct; but the statement of what had been done was correct. Senator Neild has distinctly violated the Standing Orders, and I, therefore, intend to move that, in disclosing the proceedings of the Select Committee to the Melbourne Argus, of Saturday, 20th November, 1909, a copy of which I produce, and which, in conformity with the rule, I ask the Clerk to read, has been guilty of a breach of the Standing Orders.
– Will the honorable senator quote the standing order on which he proposes to found his motion. The previous motion was with regard to the publication of evidence.
– I am relying upon standing order 296, which reads -
The evidence taken by any Select Committee of the Senate, and documents presented to such Committee which have not been reported to the Senate -
The documents to which I refer are the replies from the country press, which the honorable senator has disclosed to the Mel bourne Argus.
– They were not disclosed.
– He purported to disclose the nature of the replies.
– As I had never seen them, how could I do that?
– I am relying upon the honorable senator’s statement to the Argus, in which he refers to the replies. I move -
That Senator Neild, in disclosing the contents of documents presented to the Select Committee on Press Cable Service to the Melbourne Argus, 20th November, rcog, has been guilty of a breach of the privileges of the Senate.
– I rise to order, sir. This is an unknown offence with which I am charged, and I submit that the motion is not in accordance with standing order 296 -
The evidence taken by any Select Committee of the Senate, -
It is not evidence which is referred to in the motion ; and, therefore, that part of the standing order does not apply - and documents presented to such Committee which have not been reported to the Senate, shall not be disclosed or published -
The ‘ motion refers to disclosing the contents of documents; but the standing order deals with the disclosing or publishing of documents. I submit that I could not disclose a document which I had not seen.
– And the statement is made that the honorable senator’s version was incorrect.
– Exactly, but that is another point.
– Not in regard to the number of circulars or the number of replies.
– How did the honorable senator know what was in them?
– It was a matter of public notoriety that about a thousand copies of the document - I have a copy - were posted all over the Commonwealth. I submit that any general statement of the character of the replies to the questions cannot come within standing order 296, inasmuch as that is not a publication of the document. I did not know the name of a single person or newspaper from which the documents were received, and how then could I have published them? The statement in the motion is of the most general character, so genera] that I am sure no lawyer would dream of any person being called upon to plead to such a proposition. It refers to the contents of documents. But what documents are meant? We have not a single one of the documents before us, but only an allegation that there are documents. Until they are produced, sir, I submit that the motion cannot be entertained, as it is altogether teo vague. Who knows that there are any documents in existence? As a matter of fact, I do not know that one single reply has been received.
– Why did the honorable senator make the statement to the press ?
– We often make statements of a general character, just as it is clear, if I am correctly reported, that I made a statement of a general character. The motion is vague and ‘ without meaning, since it does not specify what the documents were, or what the disclosure or publication was. I submit that no man in his senses could make a reply to anything so vague as’ this is. You, sir, know that no member of the legal profession would dare to summon a person in a quasi-criminal or criminal matter on anything so absurdly vague as this is. Nor in. any civil court could an action be maintained for a moment on a wild, general accusation. I repeat, sir, that the motion is altogether too vague to admit of either a reply from myself or a reasonable consideration at the hands of the Senate.
– I have nothing to do with the vagueness of the motion. The question I have to consider is whether the matter it deals with comes within standing order 296, which definitely provides that nothing shall be disclosed or published. Now, a matter may be disclosed only, or it may be disclosed and published. The motion states that Senator Neild disclosed the contents of documents before the Select Committee, and, therefore, I take it, comes within the standing order.
.- While regretting very much that a rather trivial matter should take up so much of our valuable time, I feel bound to support the motion submitted by Senator Pearce. When I first read the report which the honorable senator has brought under notice, I was intensely surprised at the attitude which Senator Nield had taken up. After calling our attention to this standing order-
– I did call the Committee’s attention to it, then.
– And having afterwards rather dramatically resigned from the Committee on account of our alleged breach of the standing order, it seemed strange that the honorable senator should have been guilty of a far greater breach of the standing order than that of which he has complained. I read the report in the train, an my way to Sydney, and was struck by that aspect of the matter at once.
– If the honorable senator regards it as a serious breach, why did he wait for ten days before bringing it under the notice of the Senate?
– Senator Neild has brought under the notice of the Senate the matter to which he has referred on two-or three occasions, and the breach complained of by Senator Pearce is, in my opinion, of far more importance than that which Senator Neild has brought against the Select Committee. The honorable senator has presumed, not merely to disclose the proceedings of the Committee, but to practically guess at the contents of the letters which have been referred to,, and he secured the rest of his facts from conversations around the table in the Committeeroom, which were of a private nature. The honorable senator rushed away to the pressto publish them. He has published what is incorrect, and has done it in such a way as to show that his desire was to throw ridicule upon the Committee, and prevent the members of it from doing their work.
– Why should he not?
– The honorablesenator has a perfect right to do so if he pleases. I am pointing out that he did lo so. But it is not a matter to boast of, and I do not think the Leader of the Senate is justified in any way in supporting the honorable senator. I should like to say that the Select Committee carried’ out one portion of the standing order very strictly. They did riot deliberate upon any matter until every stranger had left the room. The whole of their deliberations were carried on in private, and it is thesecret and private deliberations of the Committee that Senator Neild has thought himself justified in publishing. The honorablesenator gathered from our private conferences that the Clerk had sent out 900 or 1,000 circulars-
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that this motionis not one which can be moved without notice. I draw your attention, sir, to standing order 112, which reads -
Whenever a matter or question directly concerning the privileges of the Senate or of any Committee or member thereof, has arisen sincethe last sitting of the Senate, -
The last sitting of the Senate fixes the timewithin which a motion of this kind may be moved without notice - a motion calling upon the Senate to take action thereon may be moved, without notice, anr! shall,, until decided, unless the debate be adjourned, suspend the consideration of other motions as well as Orders of the Day.
There is no other standing order that provides for the moving of motions except upon notice. This deals with motions that have suddenly arisen. It is admitted that the matter dealt with in the motion now before the Senate arose ten days or a fortnight ago. It, therefore, does not deal with a matter which has suddenly arisen. The matter in connexion with which 1 brought forward my motion this afternoon had arisen since the last sitting of the Senate. I produced a newspaper to show that it was the action of the Select Committee taken, yesterday that I referred to, and I was, therefore, strictly in order under standing order 112.
– Order ! It is my duty now to call upon the Acting Clerk of the Senate to read the first Order of the Day. Standing order 120 provides that -
If all motions, except motions for adjournment, under standing order No. 60, shall not have been disposed of two hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the Senate, the debate thereon shall be interrupted, unless the Senate otherwise order, and the Orders of the Day shall be taken in rotation; but if there should be no Order of the Day, the discussion on motions may be continued. The consideration of motions may be resumed after the Orders of the Day are disposed of.
– Are we to understand that the Senate now proceeds with the consideration of the Orders of the Day without dealing with the questions on the business-paper ? ‘
– Yes, that is so. The standing order which I haye just quoted is specific on the point. Of course, it is perfectly competent for the Senate, if it thinks fit, and if the Government submit a motion, to order the postponement of Orders of the Day, Nos. 1 to 8, Government business, until after questions and notices of motion have been considered.
– Will you, sir, let me draw your attention to standing order 112, which provides that-
Whenever a matter or question directly concerning the privileges of the Senate or of any Committee or member thereof, has arisen since the last sitting of the Senate, a motion calling upon the Senate to take action thereon may be moved, without notice, and shall, until decided, unless the debate be adjourned, suspend the consideration of other motions as well as Orders of the Day.
– There are two standing orders bearing on the question. Standing order 41.2 provides that -
All questions of order and matters of privilege which have arisen since the last sitting of the Senate, until decided, suspend the consideration and decision of every other question.
There is also standing order 112 which the honorable senator has just quoted. I point out that the matter referred to in the motion, the discussion of which has been interrupted under standing order 120, is not one which has arisen since the last sitting of the Senate. That is clear from the terms of the motion. It complains of action taken on or before the 20th November last. As it is not a matter which has arisen since the last sitting of the Senate, it cannot be held to override the effect of standing order 120.
[5.4]. - I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The object of the Bill is to eliminate from section 105 of the Constitution the words, ‘ as existing at the establishment of the Commonwealth.” The section will then read -
The Parliament may take over from the States their public debts, or a proportion thereof, according to the respective numbers of their people as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth, and may convert renew or consolidate such debts, or any part thereof ; and the States shall indemnify the Commonwealth in respect of the debts taken over, and thereafter the interest payable in respect of the debts shall be deducted - and so on. Honorable senators will see that under the section the Commonwealth has the right to exercise one of two options. One option is to take over the State debts as they existed at the time of the establishment of Federation, and the other to take over a proportion thereof according to the respective numbers of their people as shown bv the latest statistics of the Commonwealth. At the time of the establishment of Federation the debts due by the States represented in round numbers the sum of ,£200,000,000. Since then they have increased to nearly ^250,000,000. The object of the Bill is to permit the Commonwealth to take over, not only the debts owing by the States at the time of the establishment of the Commonwealth, but any debts which may be owing by the. States at the time -that the Commonwealth Parliament determines to. take over the State debts. It is clearly within the discretion of this Parliament to say how it -will exercise the option. If this Parliament decided to take over the State debts as existing at the time of the Federation, amounting to ^200,000,000, then, assuming that the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill goes through, as no doubt it will, after crediting the States with their 25s. per head, they would have to refund a sum amounting to £1,500,000 to meet the interest on those transferred debts. But if this Parliament determines to take oyer State debts the interest on which would roughly absorb the 25s. per capita payable to the States under the financial agreement, they would probably make provision for the transfer of debts amounting to £170,000,000, and a small refund from the States to the extent of ,£378,000 would then be necessary to meet the balance of interest. But assuming what is more likely, that should this Bill be passed, Parliament will determine to take over the whole of the State debts then existing, and that they would amount, as they do at present, to about £250,000,000, that would involve in addition to the amount represented by the 25s. per capita payable to the States under the financial agreement a refund by the States under the terms of section 105 to the Commonwealth of a sum of £3,170,000 to meet the interest on the debts so taken over. I wish honorable senators to recognise that this is an enabling and a permissive Bill. It does not propose any compulsion or any limitation upon the discretion of this Parliament in the matter. It simply means that if Parliament thinks proper, then, instead of exercising the option to take oyer State debts amounting to £200,000,000 as existing at the time of the establishment of Federation, it may take- over State debts to the amount of £250,000,000, or to such an amount as may be covered by the debts of the States at the time it determines to take them over. We are all agreed that it was everywhere urged as one of the great advantages of the Federation that it would enable the State debts to be transferred to the Commonwealth, and their conversion into one great Commonwealth stock. It was held that the Commonwealth would be able to borrow money very much more cheaply than could any of the States, and that thereby a large saving in interest would be effected. The idea of the Commonwealth taking over this” vast volume of debt has been reviewed and well thought over by eminent financial authorities who have been consulted on the sub e”t. They all ag-ee that if one great Commonwealth stock were established the Commonwealth would be in a position to borrow at a vew much cheaper rate than would any of the States.
– There is a doubt about that in t>e case of one State.
– I do not think that there is any room for doubt. But I am merely telling honorable senators the nature of the advice which has been given to us by the highest financial authorities in the Empire.
– It is based upon the assumpt on that the administration of the Commonwealth will be such as to warrant that confidence.
– The States and the taxpayers would benefit very, greatly as the result of the Commonwealth being able to borrow at the lower rates. In addition I would point out that the conversion of slock of such vast dimensions would necessarily mean the establishment of the Commonwealth on the financial markets, and that would give a high position of credit to any operations by it. Moreover, the whole of this stock could be more economically managed, particularly if it were managed - as I venture t3 hope it will be - by some non-political body. This Bill, too, will relieve us of a practical difficulty which at p.e.:ent stands in our way. According to the terms of section 105 of the Constitution, it is competent for the Commonwea’th totake over the State debts which existed at the time of the establishment of tha Commonwealth. But the practical difficulty which has arisen is that since ‘the Federation was established, the States have altered their debts - that considerable loans which were then owing have since been redeemed, and new stocks and new bondholders have been substituted. So that if we attempt to give effect to the Constitution as it stands, we shall experience a serious difficulty in indemnifying bondholders. As an illustration J. would point honorable senators to what has frequently taken place in the several States. Let us suppose that a sum of £5,000,000- which was owing by a State prior to the advent of Federation fell due five years after its establishment. Hitherto the practice has been for the State in question to borrow, not £5,000,000, but perhaps- £6,000,000, £7,000,000, or, even £8,000,000, with which to redeem the original loan,, and to enable the State tocarry out fresh undertakings. New stock is thus created and new bondholders brought into being. Contingent troubler of that kind will be overcome by the alteration which honorable senators are now invited to sanction.
– This Bill will give us the opportunity of taking over any portion, or the whole of, the State debts?
– This Bill does not seek to alter that portion of the Constitution which gives us the option of taking over the State debts as they existed at the establishment of the Commonwealth, or a proportion thereof, according to the respective numbers of the people of the States as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth. That option still remains. But the measure will relieve us of the limitation which now exists to takeover only those debts which were owing at the establishment of the Commonwealth, and it will empower us to take over the whole of the debts at any time that we may propose to enter into an arrangement of the kind. There is just one other feature that I may mention in this connexion. It may be said that hitherto there has been an indisposition on the part of the States to transfer their debts to the Commonwealth. But whilst that may have been so in the past I think that the settlement which has been arrived at under the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill will at once remove that difficulty. In other words the reason why the States objected to transfer their debts to the Commonwealth, largely, if not mainly, arose from the fact that they did not know exactly what their financial position after 1910 would be.
– Do they know anything in that connexion now ?
– When the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill becomes law they will know a great deal, and with absolute certainty.
– Then the return of 25s. per capita is to be perpetual ?
– I am not to be drawn into dealing with that question. There is just one other point which I know will be raised in reference to this Bill - I refer to the question of future borrowing. Of course, we have no power to limit the future borrowing of the States, but when once the Commonwealth takes over the whole of the State debts it may be assumed, according; to the advice which we havereceived from the highest financiers in the Mother Country, that we shall be in a position to borrow on so much more advantageous terms than will the States that the latter will necessarily be compelled to borrow through us. That will be the natural result. But this is a matter with which Parliament will have to deal when the proper time arrives. It is one which cannot be consummated without the consent of Parliament. Consequently, when the necessary legislation is introduced for taking over the whole or any part of the State debts - I have no doubt that the whole of them will be taken over - Parliament will have to consider this question in its full, broad, and general aspect. Of course, it is well known to honorable senators that in another place the Bill received practically the unanimous assent of honorable members. I believe that there was only one dissentient, and I have not the slightest doubt that this Chamber will see its way to agree to the measure as it is now introduced.
– At this late stage of the session and in the hope that the labours of the present. Parliament will soon terminate, it is not my intention to occupy any considerable time in debating this Bill. That will be the sole reason for the brevity of my remarks. I agree with the view which has been expressed by the Minister of Trade and Customs in respect to the possibility of the Commonwealth being able to borrow with much more advantage to Australia than can any of the States, and consequently it is right that this Parliament should put itself in a position to deal with the loan transactions of the States in the near future. But I very much regret that when the Prime Minister and the other Commonwealth representatives were conferring with the State Premiers, they did not deal with this question as well as with the other financial problem, so that, instead of a mere permissive Bill being submitted to the people - a Bill to which effect may be given 50 or 100 years hence - something definite might have been put before them with a view to ascertaining whether they really desire the Commonwealth to take over the State debts and to control borrowing operations in the future.
– The States will not give the Commonwealth that authority.
– How does the honorable senator know that, seeing that the people have not yet been consulted? Seeing that the Prime Minister was able to enter into an agreement with the State Premiers in respect to the amount per capita to be returned to the States annually, why was he not able to enter into an arrangement with them in respect of the loan transactions of the Commonwealth?
– The honorable senator wants too much at a time. We cannot do everything in a day.
– I am getting some light on the subject from Senator Fraser. Apparently we must pass this permissive Bill, and in the distant future enter into negotiations with the States in respect to the transfer of their debts. Seeing that the Commonwealth has power to take over those debts, am I to understand that in the future an agreement similar to the financial agreement will be entered into with the States - an agreement under which this Parliament will again have to surrender some of its constitutional powers?
– The Commonwealth has not power to take over the State debts now.
– It has power to take over the debts which existed at the establishment of the Commonwealth. I wish to warn Senator Graythat if we pass this Bill, andthe people of the Commonwealth sanction the proposed alteration of the Constitution, it will then be within the power of this Parliament to take over the debts of the States without the consent of the States. Does Senator Gray understand that?
– I do not.
– Where did Senator McGregor get that idea?
– If Senator Mulcahy will study the Constitution, he will find out. I have already said that Ido not intend to occupy much time in discussing this Bill, and consequently I do not propose to enter into an explanation of this phase of the subject. My only regret is that when the Prime Minister was conferring with the State Premiers in respect to the financial agreement, he did not come to some arrangement with them as to loans - an arrangement under which the two questions might be submitted to the people simultaneously, with a view to ascertaining whether the electors do not desire the Commonwealth to take over the public loan obligations of Australia. We are not asking the people whether they desire the Commonwealth to take over the debts.
– Surely the honorable senator would not rob Parliament of that power?
– Certainly not. I desire to help Ministers to get on with business ; but at thesame time, I regret that this matter has not been submitted to us in a more definite manner. I hope that the Bill will be carried without delay, and that to-morrow it will be disposed of on a call of the Senate.
– I do not think there is any reason to object to the carrying of this measure. But at the same time, I assume that there is no intention to carry out any scheme for taking over the debts of the States, and of curtailing their borrowing powers in future, apart from an express agreement of the States themselves? I have always admitted that the credit of the whole Commonwealth is greater than the credit of a single portion of it. Yet, it is possible to inflict great injury upon a growing State by the curtailment of its power of financing. The States will not readily surrender the power of obtaining further loans. I wish to make it clear that one State, at all events - New South Wales - will very jealously guard her right to borrow for the development of her railways and for other public works.
– It is a great pity that a question of such importance was not brought forward at an earlier period of the session. It requires more consideration than it is likely to receive now. There is an idea in the minds of some people that when the Commonwealth takes over the debts of the States, it will relieve the States of responsibility with regard to them. It ought, however, to be known that the Commonwealth does not take over the liability at all. It simply takes over the management of the debts. The idea in so doing is that the Commonwealth will be able to manage those debts more cheaply, and to borrow at a lower rate of interest than any single State can. do. The Minister who introduced the Bill, said that the financial authorities are agreed that the Commonwealth can borrow more cheaply than the States. I have seen that statement contradicted. I should like to ask whether, looking at the financial situation as a whole, the credit of Victoria at the present moment is not better than that of all the other States put together. Victoria, with her low debt, her great resources, her comparatively large population, and her relatively small area, stands in a much stronger financial position than does the Commonwealth as a whole. The principal question affecting the taking over of the debts appears to me to be that of the future borrowing of the States. The States are exceedingly unwilling to give up their power of borrowing. I do not blame them. It would be very unwise to place the development of the various portions of Australia, at the present stage of its history, in the hands of a central Government. Centralization is no new thing in this country. At first we had it throughout the entire continent. Then we had it, more or less, in every one of the States. We have it now in Queensland, where as much as possible of public money, public business, public interest - everything! connected with the State’s affairs - is centred in Brisbane. We have it in New South Wales where Sydney is made the one centre for the whole State. It is just the same in Victoria. I do not know so much about South Australia; it appears that there is only one possible outlet to the trade and commerce of that State, and that is Adelaide. In Western Australia centralization has done a good deal of evil work, just as in the other States.
– Western Australia has provided a good sinking fund.
– I do not lay much stress on sinking funds. While a State is borrowing a sinking fund is more or less ot a farce. If a State has given up borrowing and proceeds to establish a sinking fund to pay off its debt, the policy so pursued is reasonable. Otherwise a sinking fund is of very little consequence. The power of borrowing would undoubtedly not be given up by the States unless under very severe pressure. There are two points .of view regarding this question. There is the Commonwealth point of view, and the State point of view. What is the Commonwealth point of view? The Commonwealth takes over the State debts., and in the ultimate is bound to pay the interest. and redemption. Having taken over the debts, it is also bound to see that the liability of the various States is not unduly increased. Apply this principle to the ordinary transactions of business. Say that a man has liabilities to the extent of £1,000. He calls upon someone to guarantee the interest on that amount. Would it not be a reasonable thing’ that the guarantor should require that the debtor should agree not to increase his liabilities without his consent? In this case if the Commonwealth takes over the State debts it mav take up the position of saying: “We become responsible for your debts, but you must give us a guarantee that you will not increase your indebtedness without consulting us.”
When Australia becomes responsible for the debt of each individual State, Australia as a whole must have some control over the increase of the liabilities of the States.
– It would bea matter for consideration when the necessary legislation for taking over the debtswas introduced.
– I am pointing, out that this is a matter for future arrangement, and may create a difficulty in the way of settlement. Take the case of Victoria. The people of this State are responsible only for their own debts and the interest” upon them. But if this arrangement is carried out Victoria will be liable not only for her own debts, but also f or the debts of every other State of theUnion.
– The honorable senator says that this is a “ joint and several ,r guarantee ?
– That is what it means.
– No, every individual State has to indemnify the Commonwealth.
– But in the ultimate, if an individual State fails, the Commonwealth, as a whole is liable, and each portion of the Commonwealth is liable-
– Technically, yes.
– That must be theposition. Look at it from the States’ point of’ view. The States say, ‘ ‘ Our development, so far as concerns railways and works, is very immature. We still need a large number of railways. We need roads, bridges, and a hundred other public works.” Probably they would construct these works by means of loan money. A State might legitimately ask, “ If we place our borrowing powers in the hands of the Commonwealth, how is that policy of development’ to be carried on?” TakeQueensland. That is a large State with acomparatively small population, which, however, is rapidly increasing, and I am glad to say it is likely to increase in still greater volume in the near future.
– It will be the biggest State in Australia by-and-bv.
– And the richest also, I believe. The debt of Queensland is £44.000,000. If her population is doubled, the probability is that her debt may be increased to £100,000,000. If the money were well invested I, for one. should never object. We cannot develop this country without railways, and we cannot build railways - unless we completely change our system of financing - without borrowing. When money is needed for the purpose of carrying out reproductive works I, for one, am not opposed to the raising of a loan. I am taking Queensland as an instance of how public opinion there would be affected if an attempt were made to restrict its borrowing power. The people of that State might very well say, “ If we place the power of borrowing in the hands of the Commonwealth that will simply mean that. New South Wales and Victoria, being more populous States, and sending a larger number to the House of Representatives, might be able to block any loan proposals of ours.” That might be done through jealousy. We know that sometimes one State becomes Jealous of another. If New South Wales, for instance, saw that Queensland was drawing population over the border by her policy of throwing lands open, and all that sort of thing, she might become envious, and say, “We will stop this exodus.”
– She has taken a motherly interest in Queensland at all times.
– We know what that means. That sort of interest becomes step-motherly in time, and we have often heard of the step-mother’s breath. I am merely trying to put before the Senate the point of view of the people of Queensland with regard to future borrowing. They may say, and say rightly, that the development of their State ought to be left wholly in their hands.
– The honorable senator is appearing in a new role - that of a State Righter.
– I have always been a State Righter where I thought that it was to the advantage of the States that their rights should be conserved. A man may be in favour of the Commonwealth extending its powers in one direction, and opposed to that being done in another direction. That is what I wish to impress upon the honorable senator. There are many difficulties in the way of settling this question on an amicable basis as between the States and the Commonwealth. The first thing we have to understand is, that if the Commonwealth takes over the debts, the States will benefit more largely than will the Commonwealthby the transaction, because, if the experts are right, there will be a saving in the interest. I do not know that there will be any saving, so far as paying back the principal is concerned, because, on examining a return which was furnished some time ago, at the instance of Senator St. Ledger, I find that whereas the interest payable on the debts renewed by Victoria is less, the capital sum of the debts is more.
– That happens with nearly every conversion.
– That will undoubtedly happen with any conversion which theCommonwealth may undertake in the interest of the States.
– It might not.
– I think it is more than likely it will. In any case, that is a matter which only the future can settle. It will depend very largely on the state of the money market when the conversion is attempted. But there is another aspect of the question which appeals to me very forcibly, and it is that if the Commonwealth takes over the debts, and, as a natural consequence, becomes responsible for the interest, then the payment of 25s. per head per annum will become an additional subject of dispute between the States and the Commonwealth within a very short period. As I pointed out the other evening, the Commonwealth will have to cast about in one direction or another for added revenue. That must be clear to every one who has given the slightest consideration to the financial position. No matter what happens within the next few years, the States will insist upon keeping the Commonwealth to the agreement to pay 25s. per head per annum. They will have acquired a vested interest in that payment, and the struggle to continue it in perpetuity will, I have no doubt, be a very keen and very bitter one. If any attempt is made by the Commonwealth to impose direct taxation, no matter what form it may take, the Commonwealth will at once be met with the objection that that field of taxation is a State preserve, and ought not to be invaded. So that if the State Governments canbring it about, the Commonwealth will be compelled to look to Customs and Excise for any additional revenue which it may require. And that being the case, the question is indissolubly involved with the industrial life of Australia, because upon the kind of Tariff we have will, so far as I can see, hinge very largely the development of this country. I look upon the Bill, therefore, as being important from that point of view, and a very great deal, I think, will depend upon the kind of representatives we may have in future Parliaments. The great national struggle within the next few years will be on the subject of direct as against indirect taxation - between those who wish to raise money from Customs and Excise, and those who desire to lift some portion of the heavy burden which now lies upon the shoulders of the people, and to tax wealth rather than poverty. I make these few remarks to show that, so far as I am concerned, this is not the simple question which it appears to be upon the surface ; that other questions of very much greater consequence to the people of Australia than even this is are involved, and that, to my mind, the industrial and social development of this continent will depend very much upon the method adopted in the ultimate settlement of it.
– Senator McGregor evidently misinterpreted an interjection which I made. I understood that he was referring to the fact that in some way or other this Bill would have an effect upon the borrowing of the States. I wish him to distinctly understand that so far as I can interpret the views of New South Wales, it would not consent at present to any Bill which would empower the Commonwealth to limit its borrowing power. I only wish to make that correction as Senator Stewart has thoroughly explained the importance of that aspect of the question to the States.
– I think that Senator Stewart is endeavouring to jump a fence before it is reached, because this is not a Bill to take over specific debts. The Constitution enabled the Commonwealth to take over the State debts as existing in 1900, but since then the position has changed. This is simply a permissive Bill, under which the Commonwealth will have power to take over, not only the pre-Federation debts, but also debts which have been incurred since then or which may be incurred hereafter. But before any step in that direction can be taken, there must be a Bill passed to define particularly what the Commonwealth proposes to do, and then, of course, the question which Senator Stewart has raised to-day will naturally come up for discussion. As we have not arrived at that stage, I do not propose to discuss the matter.
– I have some doubt as to whether the extra power which the Commonwealth is seeking to acquire is stated in sufficient detail. Since Federation the Commonwealth has had power to take over the State debts as existing in 1900, or a proportion of them ; but the question is whether it has the right to take over State debts individually and in a piecemeal way. I hold that if a particular State debt is about to fall due, the Commonwealth should have full power to intervene and exchange Commonwealth bonds for the State bonds and see whether such a business transaction would be advantageous.
– When that proposal was made in 1906, the Senate would not look at it.
– That seems to me to be very bad business. From time to time State debentures have fallen due, amounting in one case, I think, to between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000. In that case,if we had possessed sufficient power, we could have taken over that debt and ascertained whether an advantage would result from the conversion ; in other words, whether the Commonwealth credit would insure cheaper borrowing of money. If we take up any financial newspaper which quotes the prices of State debentures, we can gauge the average value of the various stocks on their term and rate of interest. If a particular debt which was falling due were transferred to the Commonwealth and an advantage was securedby the transaction, in comparison with the average price of all other debentures, we would get something like a test as to whether the Commonwealth credit was better than that of the individual States. Undoubtedly a joint and several bond ought to be better than the individual bond of a State, but we find a great diversity in the prices of stock. What the reason of that may be, I do not know.
– There is a difference in the rates of interest, no doubt.
– I am referring to stocks at the same rate of interest, and with the same currency. Whether there may be a fashionable stock in finance or not, I do not know. But we find frequently that the stocks of some States are more valuable than those of others. There is a false idea in the public mind as to the amount of the State indebtedness. I think that the plan of reckoning the public debts of the States on a per capita basis is altogether wrong. If Queensland had only a few thousand inhabitants to-morrow, it would have far more resources to pay its indebtedness than would Tasmania with a population of 180,000 persons.
– We cannot do much without the people.
– No; but when a State has such great natural resources as, say, Queensland, it has a right to borrow, not merely on the credit of the number of individuals who happen to be there at a particular time, but to a certain extent on that credit plus the possession of enormous resources. I could have wished, when this alteration of the Constitution was proposed, that power would have been sought for this Parliament to take over the State debts piecemeal, as we might in that way have ascertained what I think we ought to know - that is, the financial credit of the Commonwealth as a whole as compared with that of the separate States.
– I should like to say a word or two on this important measure, which may affect the borrowing of £200,000,000 or of from £240,000,000 to £250,000,000. I quite understand that this is a permissive Bill; that the people of Australia are to be asked, if they think fit, to enable this Parliament to take over, not a portion only, but the whole of the debts of the States. I regard the measure, at this stage, in the light of an abstract resolution, and I shall not oppose it. But, while I shall not oppose the submission of this matter to the people by referendum, I wish it to be distinctly understood that the advice which I shall give the people of Queensland, and the votes which I may hereafter cast in the Senate, will depend entirely upon the nature of the scheme’ proposed for the transfer of the State debts. A disturbing factor in the consideration of this question has been the fact that the various schemes which have been proposed from time to time for the taking over of the State debts have, in my opinion, been ridiculously unsound. They would be prejudicial to the States, and probably also to the Commonwealth. If I thought that the present or any future Parliament were to be bound in any way to give effect to any of those schemes, I should not assent to the second reading of this Bill. The Minister of Trade and Customs, speaking on behalf of the Government, has explained thatby the referendum proposed, the opinion of the people is to be sought as to the desirable ness of this Parliament taking over a portion or the whole of the State debts, and that it is to be left to the people, and to this Parliament afterwards, to say whether they will approve of the machinery proposed for the purpose. It must be understood, therefore, that the position I take up in connexion with this measure is to be regarded as without prejudice to anything I may think if desirable to do hereafter when a concrete scheme for the transfer of the State debts is proposed. If the people agree to amend the Constitution in the way proposed in this Bill, I hope that the Government will proceed at once to have a thorough investigation made into the whole question. Any scheme that may be submitted to Parliament as a result of that investigation must be dealt with upon its merits. But so far as the proposal to take over the debts of the States may be said to indicate a desire to interfere in any way with the borrowing powers of the States, I shall be prepared to resist it, and’ to advise the people to resist it I shall advise the people to be very careful not to diminish in any way the powers at present possessed by the State Parliaments to carry out a borrowing policy. I shall ask the people of Queensland to be on their guard against any proposal which would interfere with the borrowing powers of the State Parliaments. I recognise that there is not the slightest attempt being made in this Bill to interfere with the borrowing powers of the State Parliaments.
– This Bill does not in any way interfere with their borrowing powers.
– I accept that assurance from the honorable senator on behalf of the Government.
– We need that assurance before we go any further.
– We have it now, and it will go to the people. I am satisfied that the present Government, and any Government that may succeed them, will honorably observe that assurance. It is because I recognise that the submission of this matter by referendum to the people will not in any way commit any member of the Senate, or any honorable member in another place, to the adoption of a scheme which might in the slightest way interfere with the borrowing power of the States, that I am prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill.
Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) of Trade and Customs what would happen if the Commission proposed to be appointed reported that it would not be to the advantage of the Commonwealth or of the States that the State debts should be taken over by the Commonwealth, and that it would be better if the State Parliaments continued to control them.
– That has nothing whatever to do with this Bill.
– I think We may assume that the State Premiers and the Federal Government, in agreeing to the appointment of the Commission, expected that it would bring about some practical result, and T am endeavouring to find out what would happen if the Commission reported that it would not be advisable for the Commonwealth to take over the debts of the States. We must remember that various opinions, are held on this subject, and some weighty financial authorities contend that the credit of at least some of the States is as good, if not superior, to that of the Commonwealth. My own opinion is that once the Commonwealth became established as a borrower on the London market, Commonwealth stock would be regarded as having a broader security than the stock of any individual State. The late Premier of New South Wales, Sir J. H. Carruthers, was strongly of opinion that no advantage would be gained by the taking over of the State debts by the Commonwealth. He even questioned our power under the Constitution to take over the debts of the States. If the Commission to which I have referred reports that no advantage is to be gained by the taking over of the State debts by the Commonwealth, then we are indulging now in a little legislative pastime which can lead to no practical result. In any case, I intend to help in the passing of this Bill, because I think, it is worth our while to see whether we cannot economize in connexion with our loans. If we can accept the authority of Sir John Forrest, we have been quite indifferent to our own interests in not having taken action in this matter long ago. The right honorable gentleman has estimated that by the consolidation of the £202,000,000 of State debts outstanding when the, Federation was established, we could effect a saving in interest of no less than £26,000,000 in the course of fifty years by securing a reduction of J per cent, in the interest charged upon the loans. If we could effect such a saving in fifty years, when the last of these State loans would fall due, that should of itself be sufficient to induce us to pass this measure, and secure for the Commonwealth Parliament the authority to take over the State debts. On the question of interfering with the borrowing powers of the State, I think that we should have to institute some form of supervision over their borrowing powers.
– T.s it worth while discussing that? It has nothing to do with the Bill.
– I think it is worth while discussing it. It may not have very much to do with this Bill, but it has been referred to already by previous speakers, and I shall not be greatly out- of order in making a passing reference to it. Honorable senators will agree_that in the past some of the State Parliaments have adopted most extravagent borrowing policies. This has led to great misery, hardship, and distress.
– Can the honorable senator mention an instance?
– I need only refer Senator Gray to standard works on the subject. Coghlan, for4 instance, makes pointed reference to a phrase frequently, used by State politicians - “A bold, progressive public works policy.” That was always a popular cry. Men have gained seats in the State Parliaments by inducing the electors to believe that they were the only persons in favour of the adoption of “ a bold, progressive public works policy.” I agree with Senator Stewart that we cannot expect to develop this continent without the assistance of borrowed money. I believe that not to borrow money would be the acme of national folly on our part. But in view of the bitter experience of the past, and the disturbance of the industrial life of the country, following upon the borrowing of money by State Governments, which could not be legitimately absorbed in the construction of public works-
– The honorable senator is making general statements. He cannot mention a specific instance.
– I may quote Sir John Forrest as an authority that should be acceptable to the honorable senator.
– Sir John Forrest made Western Australia by the adoption of that very policy.
– That may be true,, but a line should be drawn somewhere. I quite recognise that in Western Australia no railways have been constructed which have not been continuously used. But I understand that in Victoria railways have been built which are not being used.
– How many of them, and how long are they ? Only a few miles.
– Speaking as one who has had a lengthy experience of State finance, Sir John Forrest has shown that in the past an extravagant policy of borrowing has actually caused British investors to close their pockets to us. On page199 of the report of the proceedings of the Premiers’ Conference in Brisbane, he says -
I remember that in1897, when I was in London,I wanted loan money on almost any terms, butI was told by our London advisers, “ We cannot raise you any.” I said, “ You must. We must have money. I have got this great Coolgardie Water Scheme on, and although I have not commenced it, it will ruin the country and ruin the Government not to go on with it.” They said, “ It is impossible to place a loan for you on the market ; we can give you an overdraft of£500,000, but no more.” I said, “Can I go anywhere else?” They said, “ You can go where you like to try if you can get the money.” At that time Victoria could not touch the market at all, and the market was practically closed to all Australia.
As the result of an extravagant policy of borrowing, which can readily be distinguished from a legitimate policy, the money market had practically been closed to some of the States.
– The honorable senator has not cited a single illustration in support of his contention.
– In some of the States money has been borrowed for which there was absolutely no warrant. I believe that, as a necessary complement to taking over the indebtedness of the States, some body should be created upon which the States and the Commonwealth should be represented, to control future borrowing. Then, if the States exceeded proper bounds, that body would be able to say to them, “ We believe that you are indulging in a wild-cat policy of borrowing - a policy which will inevitably make its effect felt when the Commonwealth approaches the London money market for loans with which to carry out necessary works.” We cannot logically take over the indebtedness of Australia for the purpose of securing an increased advantage to the taxpayers of this country unless we devise some means of preventing a reversion to that foolish policy which has been so much in evidence in the past. Senator Pulsford is one who is well skilled in the art of finance. He has stated that he has even written articles upon the subject. I am sure he will admit that in years past State Governments have embarked upon a wild career of loan finance. Recognising the ill effects which flow from such a policy, it should be incumbent upon the Commonwealth to interfere whenever any State or States attempted to borrow money to the detriment of Australia.
– The honorable senator has not cited a single illustration in support of his argument.
– I intend to support this Bill. If, as the result of taking over the State debts, we effect a saving in fifty years of£26,000,000, in accordance with the estimate of Sir John Forrest, we shall be doing something in the best interests of Australia. At the same time, some action must be taken by the Commonwealth to prevent a repetition of the foolish wild-cat policy adopted by some of the States, and which led to the dislocation of industry in the early nineties.
– That is all “clap-trap.”
– The honorable senator did not suffer as I did when, in the early nineties, about150,000 men were thrown out of work as the result of the State Governments having the London market closed to them except by the payment of ruinous rates, consequent upon the extravagant borrowing policy which they had previously adopted. I wish to prevent a recurrence of that. Of course, I recognise that it is, a difficult thing to get Senator Gray to profit by past bitter experience. If I should occupy a seat in this Chamber when it is seriously proposed to take over the State debts, I shall not sanction, either by my voice or my vote, taking over any portion of that indebtedness unless some check be imposed upon the future borrowing capacity of the States. In their own interests some such check is necessary. If a Council of Finance were created, as has been suggested, no State or combination of States would ever dream of standing in the way of another State which was using borrowed money wisely in the development of its own territory. But it is an old saying that a burnt child dreads the fire, and I venture to say that if in the future the State Governments were permitted to embark upon a foolish public works policy, thousands of persons would be compelled to leave Australia. I shall support the Bill, but I hope we shall see that in the future the States do not launch upon a wild-cat loan policy such as that ot which we were witnesses in the early nineties.
– I should like to say a word or two on this very important Bill, because I think the Senate is agreed that it proposes an important amendment of the Constitution, and, that it is proper that the Commonwealth should be able to take over all the State debts. But the point which we have now to consider is how that may best be done. It is not proposed that-we should take over all the debts at once. We must take them over on such dates as they mature.
– That has nothing to do with this Bill.
– 1 am quite aware of that. Nevertheless, that is the difficulty which will require to be explained to the people when this Bill is put before them. I hope that the Senate will recognise that there is no intention on the part of the Commonwealth to follow the advice of Senator Lynch and to place a bridle upon the States in reference to their future borrowings.
– In this Bill it is not proposed to do anything at all. It merely asks that the Commonwealth shall be empowered by the people to do something. It is within the knowledge of everybody that the Constitu- tion Act contains a provision that the Commonwealth, of its own volition, may assume responsibility for the whole of the State debts as they existed at the establishment of the Federation. But it makes no provision for future borrowings by the States or for taking over further debts which may have been contracted bv them. I agree that this Bill is necessary. If we are to take over any of the debts of. the States, we ought to be vested with power to take over the whole nf those debts. I do not think it is wise to take’ over a portion of them and to allow another portion to be retained by the States. In discussing a Bill of this kind, it is necessary that we should clearly understand what is to be the future policy of the Commonwealth. I have no desire to “ee the Commonwealth take over a single shilling of the debts of the States unless some restriction can be imposed upon their power of future borrowing. I wish to give an illustration of what might be a good course for us to pursue. In Queensland the State- Govern ment is the sole borrowing authority. It borrows not only sufficient for its own requirements, but also sufficient for the requirements of the various local authorities, such as Waterworks Boards, Harbor Boards, Municipal Councils, Shires, and other local concerns. It seems to me that the Commonwealth might very well follow the example of Queensland in this connexion. In that State, too, the local authorities can borrow only in proportion to their revenue, and the purposes for which any money is borrowed must be approved by the central Government. After it has been borrowed, the authority for whom it is borrowed must not only pay the interest upon it, but a sufficient sum to wipe out the total indebtedness within a specified period - a period which varies from twenty - eight to forty years. I think that that is a very good principle. If the Commonwealth is going to take over the State debts, a similar principle should be applied to the future borrowings of the States. If by taking over those debts we are merely going to assume a burden of £250,000,060 and allow the States to go in for another saturnalia of borrowing, no good whatever will result. On the other hand, if we are going to consolidate the State debts, and thus effect a saving which will effectually extinguish them, I am entirely at one with that policy. But [ wish to point out that the proposal to take over the whole of the State debts does not find much favour with the Premiers. Apparently all of them wish to hug those debts to their bosoms as if they were something which invested them with importance in the eyes of the world. But I desire to view this matter from the point of view of the people of Australia. The people occupy a very precarious position in regard to these debts, because, as a matter of fact, the works upon which this £250,000,000 has been expended do not return sufficient to pav the total interest bill. Queensland has to contribute £750,000 annually out of general taxation to meet the shortage of interest upon money which has been borrowed by that State. Most of the other States have also to make up a deficiency in interest. The result is that a portion of the people are unduly taxed to make good a benefit derived by another section of the community. I do not think that is wise. With the exception of Western Australia, I doubt if any State in the Commonwealth has made provision for wiping out the debts.
– There are several sinking funds in New South Wales. Large sums are paid into them annually.
– How can there be several sinking funds if there is only one borrowing authority?
– Some of the loans of New South Wales have been raised on the condition that there should be a sinking fund.
– I will venture to say that there is not a sinking fund worthy of the name in any State but Western Australia.
– That is all that the honorable senator knows.
– Will the honorable senator tell me how many thousands of pounds New South Wales now has in her general sinking fund to meet her many millions of debt?
– If I told the honorable senator he would contradict me.
– I would not contradict the honorable senator, but probably I should not believe him. It has been calculated that if the Commonwealth took over and consolidated the debts of the States, and saved J per cent, in the total interest payable, it would be able, by devoting that saving to a sinking fund, to wipe out the whole of the present indebtedness of Australia in sixty years. Every one must admit that that would be a. most desirable thing to accomplish. A further calculation has been made, and is .authentically correct, that if we could save i per cent, per annum on the amount qf interest now payable on the ,£250-000-000 of debt, and devoted the saving to a sinking fund, we should wipe out the existing debt in eighty-seven years.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– If as the result of consolidating the debts of the Stales, we simply permitted them to indulge in another saturnalia of borrowing, the benefit to the taxpayers would not be very great. Therefore I believe that when the debts are taken over some restriction should be imposed upon the borrowing of the Commonwealth. That restriction need not take a harsh form. We might adopt the principle which has been pursued by the States in connexion with their local authorities. In Queensland a local authority is allowed to borrow through the central Government, provided they make provision for interest and a certain payment to a sinking fund to wipe out the debt in forty years. If that principle were adopted by the Commonwealth in relation to the States, I do not think any one would have any objection to their borrowing on an unlimited scale, because” they could not afford to spend the borrowed money on other than absolutely reproductive works. A very great advantage would thus accrue. In the first place, we should not be taxing the people one iota; secondly, we should be saving the taxpayers a considerable amount of money ; and, thirdly, we should enhance the credit of the Commonwealth very considerably, and that would result in greater savings in the near future. But these benefits can only be secured if borrowing be accompanied by an adequate sinking fund. Senator Neild during the earlier part of my speech took occasion to contradict a statement of mine to the effect that the only State in the Commonwealth which had anything in the nature of a sinking fund worth talking about was Western Australia. He said that New South Wales had several sinking funds.
– All its funds are sinking !
– I do not wish to be unfair to New South Wales or to Senator Neild. I deplore the fact that the contraction of the debts of the States has not been accompanied by the establishment of sinking funds. New South Wales, according to the last edition of the official Year-Book of the Commonwealth, has a total indebtedness of £87,635,826.
– More now.
– Probably: The total sinking fund amounts to £223,001. Honorable senators must not overlook that £1 ! It is very important ! South Australia has a much ‘better sinking fund; but Western Australia is the only State which has anything like an adequate one. With a total indebtedness of £20,500,000, she has a sinking fund of nearly £2,000,000. In face of those figures, Senator Neild will admit that he was not justified in contradicting my statement. I shall vote for the second reading of this Bill. I believe that it is much better for us to take- over the total indebtedness of the States rather than those which existed at the time of Federation. But I shall do my level best, whether inside or outside the Commonwealth Parliament, to provide that in connexion with all future borrowings there shall be a sinking fund that is adequate and effective.
I shall not give my consent to the borrowing of a single farthing except on that condition. There has been too much borrowing in the past, which has led to wasteful extravagance, and in some cases to corruption. Works have been constructed which could not by any stretch of imagination be regarded as reproductive. All sorts of wild-cat schemes have been entered upon, and there have been inevitable times of depression together with foolish booms, owing to undue borrowing. All these evils can be avoided without retarding the development of Australia in the slightest degree. Therefore, while I am in favour of the Bill, i wish it to be distinctly understood that I only vote for it because I believe that if the power for which we are now asking is properly and wisely administered we can wipe out the present indebtedness of Australia and restrict the total indebtedness which will be placed upon the people in future.
-53]- - There is but one point to which I desire to address myself, and I mention it because several honorable senators have referred to- a subject which, it seems to me, does not properly arise in connexion with the Bill. The point is that a limitation should be placed upon State borrowing if the Commonwealth exercises the power for which this Bill asks. I merely desire to say, lest it should be assumed that all the members of the party to which I belong hold that view, that I do not. I should be prepared to leave the States absolutely free as to their future borrowing. If we cannot secure an advantage by the taking over of the debts of the Commonwealth, there is no reason why we should take them over. The only reason I have ever entertained for wishing to take them over is that it is assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the Commonwealth will be able to borrow cheaper. If we can borrow cheaper, would the taxpayers of any State allow their Government to go into the money market independently and pay more for their money? I do not think that there is the slightest need for any restriction. If what we assume is going to be realized there will be no need to place a restriction upon the States. Therefore, my view is that the States should be left absolutely free.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment ; report adopted. “
Senator Sir ROBERT BEST (Victoria - Minister of Trade and Customs) [7.57]- - I rise for the purpose of submitting two motions. In the first place, I move -
That so much of standing order 271 as refers to a period of twenty-one days and standing order 273 be suspended for trie remainder of the session for the purpose of expediting the message of the Constitution Alteration (State Debts) Bill through its remaining stages.
The other motion which I desire leave to propose is to make a call of the Senate for to-morrow. A call of the Senate has already been made for to-morrow in connexion with the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill, and as honorable senators will be here to-morrow they might as well put the two Bills through on the same occasion, and thus save themselves the inconvenience of being called for another day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– (Minister of Trade and Customs) [7-58]. - By leave, I move -
That there be a call of the Senate on Wednesday, the first day of December, 1909, for the purpose of considering the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (State Debts) Bill.
– The Senate has already ordered that such a call be made. It did so on Friday.
– Never mind ; I prefer to proceed in this way .
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the third reading be an Order of the Day for to-morrow.
[8.0]. - I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The principal Act requires that the income of the claimant for an old-age pension shall be ascertained, and the pension fixed at such an amount as will enable the pensioner to receive not more than £52 per annum, including both income and pension. According to the definition in section 4 of that Act- “Income” means any moneys, valuable consideration, or profits earned derived or received by any person for his own use or benefit by any means from any source whatever, whether in or out of the Commonwealth, and shall be deemed to include personal earnings, but not any payment -
To that definition it is proposed to add these words -
For some years I understand there has been in existence in New South Wales a Miners Accident Relief Fund, which is maintained by contributions from the miners and a contribution from the State Government. The Attorney-General has given an opinion that payments from that fund to injured miners are “ income “ within the meaning of the principal Act, and in three cases the Department has been compelled to grant pensions of less than £26 a year.
– Has the honorable senator inquired whether any other State has similar legislation? I think that Western Australia has an Act similar to that of New South Wales.
Senatcr Sir ROBERT BEST.- The New South Wales Act is the only one whirh has been brought under the notice of the Treasurer by the Department. If similar legislation had existed in other States the fact would have been elicited in connexion with the thousands of applications which have been made therein. It is only in connexion with three cases in New South Wales that the question has been rared, and after having gone closely into the matter the Attorney-General found that they did not come within the comprehensive exemptions in section 4 of the principal Act.
– Was that because the Miners Accident Relief Fund of New South Wales is a State-aided institution?
– I believe so. It is recognised as a fund established by legislation. If a solitary case had arisen in the other States, it. would have been brought under the notice of the Department. I think that honorable senators may take it for granted that the Miners Accident Relief Fund of New South Wales is the only fund of the kind that exists in the Commonwealth.
– Can we not make a comprehensive provision to meet similar cases ?
– No ; we must have some limitation. Practically the sole object of the Bill is to deal with three solitary cases - very small cases, indeed, but, of course, of great importance to the persons concerned. I hope that honorable senators will see their way to assent to the measure without much discussion.
– I have no intention to oppose the passing of the Bill. I believe that the absence of such legislation has prevented the Department from granting many pensions in New South Wales which otherwise would have been granted. 1 am under the impression that Western Australia has an Act which was copied from the New South Wales Act creating the Miners Accident Relief Fund. If similar disabilities prevail in Western Australia, it would be a pity to amend our law except in a comprehensive way.
– Would not Sir John Forrest know whether such an Act exists in Western Australia?
– I do not know. The Act to which I refer may have been passed since he entered Federal politics, and in that case he might not be aware of its existence. I hope that the Minister will take means to find out the exact facts before the Bill is finally dealt with, especially as they could be ascertained in the course of a day or two.
.- As the Minister does not seem to be very clear as to the exact reason for bringing in this Bill, I suggest that we ought to have a definite understanding before it is passed. In Bendigo we have a Miners Accident Fund called the Watson Miners Sustentation Fund, which was started by a gentleman with an annual subscription of £150 for ten years. It is maintained by contributions from the miners and outside subscriptions. I want it to be made very clear that the principle which it is desired to apply to the Miners Accident Relief Fund of New South Wales shall also apply not only to the fund I mentioned, but to all funds throughout Australia for the benefit of miners. It is quite possible that in Western Australia and other States there may not be cases parallel with the three cases which have arisen in New South Wales, but there is no doubt that as time goes on such cases will arise. It would be a great pity if any cases of that kind were to arise in recess, because they could not be dealt with for at least six months. I ask the Minister to cause an inquiry to be made so that before the third reading of the Bill is moved, he may be in a position to assure the Senate that there will be no cases arising in any part of Australia which cannot be dealt with under its provisions.
Senator Colonel NEILD (New South Wales) [8.10]. - I have been rather taken aback by the uncertainty of the Minister’s statement. If some one is sent to “ devil” amongst the Statutes in the Library, it should not take more than half-an-hour to discover whether there are any other funds of this kind in existence in any of the States. If there are, they should be included in this Bill. We do not want to make a perfect patchwork quilt of our oldage pension legislation, nor do we want to pass a measure which will not cover payments from all funds of this kind, as that might mean that certain applications for old-age pensions could not be properly dealt with until next session. It would be a great pity to pass this Bill without feeling absolutely assured that it will meet the conditions existing in all of the States. Senator Best seems to think that because no claims in connexion with a similar difficulty have arisen in Western Australia that is a proof that there is no legislation in that State which would affect the matter in the same way. We know that great delay has occurred in the issue of pension certificates in Western Australia, and it is only recently that any large number have been issued in that State. In the circumstances, I cannot agree that, because no claims raising this difficulty have come under review bv the Registrar of Pensions in Western Australia, that is a proof that no legislation similar tr> that of the Miners Accident Relief Act of New South Wales has been passed in Western Australia. I shall be glad to support the Bill, though I would have preferred that it should have dealt with a matter to which I called attention before, when I proposed to give a. wider scope to individual thrift than is given by the existing Act. Under the New South Wales Old-age Pensions Act allowance was made for property up to the value °f £w°> but under the Commonwealth Act allowance is made only for property of the value of £100. T think that this matter might have been dealt with in this Bill. and if it were not so late in the sess:on I should be prepared to move for an instruction to the Committee on the Bill to amend it in the direction I have indicated. At this late stage of the session I am afraid it would be useless to move in that way.
– If I had known that the Bill was to come on at this stage I should have been prepared with some facts in connexion with it. I’ see that the New South Wales Miners Accident Relief Fund is specially singled’ out for exemption under the Bill. But 1 am aware of my own knowledge that in Western Australia there is an accident fund connected with the coal-mining industry, and provided for under the Coal Mines Regulation Act. The fund is not precisely the same as the “ Miners Accident Relief Fund of New South Wale,. The Government of Western Australia dees n;t contribute any portion of the fund. It is made up of a contribution by the coal-mine proprietors of one halfpenny per ton on all marketable coal raised, and by a contribution of 6d. per week from all miners employed in the industry. Under the law provision is made for an allowance from the fund in case of accident of £1 per week during total incapacity.
– The honorable senator will ses that under the existing Act payment? during illness or infirmity or old age’ from any trade union, provident fund, or other society or association, are covered.
– I wish to know whether, in the event of a man who has been maimed for life by an accident in a Western Australian coal mine, and who is receiving £1 per week from the fund to which I have referred, that would be considered as income which might prevent the payment of an old-age pension in full. If the Minister is not clear on that point. I suggest that it would be well to delay the passing of this measure.
Senator Sir ROBERT BEST (Victoria - Minister of Trade and Customs) [8.18]. - I am relying upon the inquiries of the Department and the assurance given by the Treasurer in another place. When an honorable member in another place said -
The honorable gentleman does not confine the provision to. the New South Wales fund.
My right honorable colleague replied -
Yes, I do. I am informed that there is no other fund of the kind in existence in the Commonwealth.
That reply was evidently based on the result of inquiries by the Department. I cannot speak definitely ; but it would seem to me that the case mentioned by Senator Henderson would be covered by the provisions of the existing Act. I admit that it is not a complete answer; but it is some proof that no fund similar to the Miners Accident Relief Fund of New South Wales exists in New South Wales, that this question has not been raised in connexion with any application for an old-age pension in that State. Under the existing Act, the income of a claimant for an old-age pension from any source must be accounted for. A pensioner is not with that income to receive more than £52 per annum, and under the Act “ income “ is definedinthis way - “ Income “ means any moneys valuable consideration or profits earned derived or received by any person for his own use or benefit by any means from any source whatever, whether in or out of the Commonwealth, and shall be deemed to include personal earnings, but not any payment -
Senator Henderson will see that in all probability the funds referred to by himself and Senator McColl are covered by those words.
-The Minister is forgetting that we thought when we passed the existing Act that those words covered everything.
– As a matter of interpretation, it has been discovered that of the thousands of applications for old-age pensions which have been received, only three cases in which payments are made from the Miners Accident Relief Fund of New South Wales are not covered by the existing Act.
– The fund to which I have referred is not that of a registered friendly society. It is contributed to, as I have described, and is controlled by three trustees, one representing the miners, one the coal mine owners, and the third the Government.
– Under the existing Act, “ Income “ does not include any payment during illness, infirmity, or old age, from any trade union, provident society, or other society or association. There is no reference to the registration of a society or association, and those words seem to me to cover the fund referred to by the honorable senator.
– They seem to cover the New South Wales Miners Accident Relief Fund also.
– One would have thought so; but, on a technical interpretation of the Act, it is evident that, in consequence, perhaps, of something in the terms of the New South Wales Miners Accident Relief Act-
– Because the fund is contributed to by the State.
– That may be the reason. There is evidently, something in the terms of the New South Wales Act which excludes that fund from the operation of the existing Commonwealth Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. If honorable senators will be good enough to proceed with the consideration of this Bill to-night, I shall move that the third reading be made an Order of the Day for Friday next, to permit of inquiries being made in the meantime ; and I shall be only too glad then to listen to any representations that may be made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from the Committee without amendment; report adopted.
That the third reading be made an Order of the Day for Friday.
In Committee (Consideration of House of Representatives’ amendments).
House of Representatives’ Amendment. -
After clause 3 insert the following heading and new clause : -
Part III. - Electoral Divisions. 3A. Part III. of the Principal Act is amended -
Commissioner shall have a casting vote in addition to his original vote.”
– You, Mr. Chairman, have read the first of the amendments. I am a little doubtful as to the correct procedure to be followed. My own view is - and I speak with considerable diffidence on the matter - that the whole of the message from the other Chamber ought to be read before the Committee proceed to consider it.
– It was read.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [8.30].- The message was read by the President, but not the schedule, which sets out the amendments made by the House of Representatives. The message simply recites that the Bill has been returned with certain amendments to which the concurrence of the Senate is desired. I think that the more correct course would be for the message to be read in its entirety, so that the Committee may be absolutely seized of what is to be considered. But, of course, it is perfectly competent to read separately that portion of the message which relates to each amendment.
– After listening to the remarks of Senator Gould I think it would be consulting the wish of the Committee if that portion of the message relating to each of these amendments were read separately. If there be no objection Ishould like to say a word or two upon the amendment which has just been read. It proposes to substitute three Electoral Commissioners for one for the purpose of distributing the States into divisions. Honorable senators will recollect that when the Electoral Bill was before the Senate this matter was very fully debated, and I think I am correct in saying that opinions were very much divided as to the advisableness of appointing one or three Commissioners for this very important work. I do not wish to say anything which can be construed into a reflection upon any gentleman who has been appointed to discharge this duty. But in these great Australian States, which possess such enormous areas and in which so many matters have to be considered, it has been thought by the other Chamber that the element of safety would be secured: if, instead of intrusting this work to one individual, it were intrusted to three.
– Can the VicePresident of the Executive Council give us any assurance that Parliament will accept the recommendation of the Commissioners?
– There is no obligation upon Parliament to accept any recommendation which does not commend itself to it. I ask honorable senators to agree to the amendment, believing that there will be safety in intrusting this important work to three Commissioners rather than to one. I therefore move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Clause 17 -
An elector who -
House of Representatives’ Amendment. -
Leave out “ seven “ and insert “ five.”
– The substitution of “five” for “seven” in the amendment made by another place, refers to the distance from a polling-place which it is necessary an elector shall be to establish his right to vote by post. There is no particular virtue in a number, and five miles has simply been submitted as a compromise. In the principal Act of 1902 the limit was fixed at five miles, but under the amending. Act of 1905 an endeavour was made to increase the distance to ten miles. The Senate agreed to the ten-miles limit, but the House of Representatives reduced it to seven miles. In the Bill which is now under consideration the limit of seven miles was continued by the Senate, but in the other Chamber an effort was made to reduce it to three miles. The Minister therefore agreed to a compromise of five miles, which seems to me to represent the mean as between conflicting opinions.I therefore ask the Committee to accept it, and accordingly move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Clause 17- “ 109A. The following persons are authorized witnesses within the meaning of this Act : - all Railway Station Masters and Night Officers-in-charge who are permanently employed in the Railway Department in any of the States…….
House of Representatives’ Amendment. -
After “States” line 6, insert “all superintendents of mercantile marine and their deputies, while permanently employed in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State.”
– This amendment was inserted in the other Chamber in consequence of a promise which I made to Senator Guthrie, who desired to add to the list of persons who are authorized witnesses under the Bill. It is a special provision which he desired to be inserted, and which commends itself to the Government - a provision which extends the right of attesting postal voting papers to the superintendents of mercantile marine and their deputies. I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
House of Representatives’ Amendment. -
Insert after clause 19 the following new clause - 19A. Section one hundred and thirty-nine of the Principal Act is amended by adding thereto the following sub-section : - “ (3.) Where the polling at an election for the Senate and the polling at an election for the House of Representatives takes place on the same day, it shall not be necessary for an elector to make two declarations in Form Q in the Schedule to enable him to vote at the elections, but one declaration shall suffice for that purpose.”
– This is merely a machinery clause which is designed to make the position abundantly clear, some little doubt having existed as to the wording of the Act in the absence of this addition. I move -
Thatthe amendment be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Clause 23 -
Section one hundred and forty-eight of the Principal Act is amended by inserting therein before the word “ illiterate “ the words “ physically incapacitated or.”
House of Representatives’ Amendment -
Add to end of clause - and by inserting after the word “present” the words “or if there be none, of the poll clerk or, should the voter so desire, a person appointed by such voter.”
– This amendment is almost selfexplanatory. As it left this Chamber the clause provided that where a physically incapacitated or illiterate voter desired it, he could obtain the assistance of the presiding officer to fill in his voting paper in the presence of a scrutineer. But of course cases arise in which there are no scrutineers, and in such circumstances the amendment would enable the voter to call in some other elector in whose presence the presiding officer would be able to fill in the form for the illiterate voter. I therefore move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
House of Representatives’ Amendment. -
After clause 31 insert the following new clause - 31A. After section one hundred and eighty- two dd of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 182E. - (1.) Any person who at any public meeting to which this section applies acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting is held shall be guilty of an offence against this Act.
Penalty : Five pounds or one month’s imprisonment in some house of detention more than seven miles from the polling place for the division for which he is enrolled. (2.) This section applies to any lawful public political meeting held in relation to any election of members of the Parliament between the date of the issue of the writ for the election and the date of the. return of the writ.”
– I see no reason to find fault with this new clause. It was inserted at the instance of a member of the Labour party, and it seems to me to commend itself to common sense. In the first place, it provides that any person who wilfully disturbs a public meeting shall be liable to punishment. Now that the matter has beenput in that way I can see no objection to the proposition. In a Democratic country public meetings are essential to enable candidates to explain their views, seeing that the object of their candidature is to obtain votes, not for themselves, but in support of the views which they advocate. It is not possible for them to do that unless they are allowed freedom to continue their addresses without interruption. The only persons to whom the clause will apply will be persons who attend a public meeting for the express purpose of preventing a mari from enunciating his views. It seems te me that unless there are any open advocates for disturbing public meetings, this clause ought to find a ready acceptance at the hands of the Committee. I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Senator MCGREGOR (South Australia) £8.40]. - I hope that this amendment will be rejected, but not because I object to punish persons who wilfully disturb public meetings. I think that that is a very wrong thing to do. But in the administration of our Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act the greatest difficulty experienced is in interpreting the duties of certain individuals such as police officers and magistrates. If a person at an election meeting interjected, or asked questions, or did some other perfectly legitimate thing, he might, nevertheless, in the opinion of a policeman or of the chairman, or of a magistrate, be guilty of an offence. A magistrate might so determine in consequence of what he had had for breakfast. We have been able to get on very well in the past at political meetings without a stringent provision of this ‘kind. Were I addressing a political meeting and could not carry the audience with me, I should consider that I ought to “ shut up.” That is good advice to any candidate. Those who address political meetings ought to be able, by their common sense, to command attention. An individual may, however, mount a platform and insult the intelligence of the audi,ence to such an extent that they would be provoked to interrupt, and nearly every one of them might render themselves liable to the penalties imposed by this clause.
.- Senator McGregor says that he is able to get along very well under the existing law. Some people are not so well qualified to contend with a rowdy meeting. I see no objection to the clause. Usually the chairman of a public meeting and the police exercise a good deal of forbearance.
– So does the candidate.
– He has to do so. There is no interference with interjectors unless there is positive rowdyism. It is more essential now to have such a provision in the law than it was at any previous time. Women are now enfranchised, and it is desirable that they should be politically educated. On that account we should, as far as possible, insure that election meetings shall be orderly.
– I trust that the new clause will not be agreed to. It is entirely out of place in an Electoral Bill. If we are to have such a provision at all, it should form part of a Police Act. Election meetings nowadays are much more orderly than they used to be. Any one who casts his mind back to what took place in. the Old Country twenty or thirty years ago will be surprised that such rowdyism at public meetings as then occurred was tolerated. In Australia twenty years ano meetings were much more disorderly than they are to-day.
– That is not my experience.
– At any rate, I remember that public meetings in Sydney twenty-five years ago were very much more disorderly than they are nowadays.
– I once attempted to speak in a hall where a big drum was being beaten.
– It may be annoying to be prevented from addressing a meeting, but, nevertheless, this is a dangerous clause to insert. We do not know how it will operate. It would be a pity to introduce such an innovation. The honorable member of another place who originated the clause is such an extraordinary character that we always expect something out of the common from him. But the provision comes to us with a bad recommendation, and is entirely unnecessary. It would amount to a declaration that Australian public meetings are the most disorderly in the world, because 1 do not know of any country in which there is a similar law.
– Does the honorable senator know who suggested this clause?
– Yes, and we know that he is a very erratic person in regard to many matters. This provision was surely suggested in one of his most erratic moments. I have yet to learn that political gatherings in Australia require to be so. regulated.
– I consider that it is unnecessary to insert such a provision in our Electoral Act. Any disorderliness that is likely to occur at a public meeting may well be left to the crowd itself. It is surely superfluous to make. an elector liable to a £5 penalty or a month’s imprisonment for endeavouring to elicit information.
– Eliciting information would not be obstructing the transaction of the business of a meeting.
– The clause places too much power in the hands of magistrates, who are usually partisans. An unruly interjector may safely be left to the crowd itself. The effect of a crowd upon an interjector who really has nothing to interject about is wonderful. We can, however, easily imagine a public man to be so unpopular by reason of his political career as to be deserving of severe treatment at the hands of the electors. I remember a Minister of the Crown who was not allowed to speak for two hours at a public meeting in Western Australia.
– Why should he not have been allowed to speak?
– Why should not the audience have a right to speak too?
– A man who calls a meeting and pays the rent of the hall has a right to be heard.
– If the candidate has the right of free speech, so has the audience whom he addresses; and if they do not think he is worthy of a hearing, they have a right to tell him so. In the case to which I have alluded, about 1,000 people would not allow the Minister to open his mouth. Ultimately, the meeting had to be given up in disgust.
– Is the honorable senator referring to Sir John Forrest?
– No; I am referring to a successor of his. How would a provision of this kind affect such a meeting? It would not be possible to fine or imprison 1,000 men. Up to the present, we have had no great difficulty in conducting public meetings. I do not see why we should go out of our way to place such a strong power in the hands of any partisan justice ofthe peace.
.- If this clause is allowed to pass, such old time-honored British institutions as stale eggs, bags of flour, feathers and tar, will be at a discount, and a purchaser will not be able to be found for them in Australia. It has always been recognised as a privilege of British people that they shall be allowed to express their opinions at public meetings. I for one have no sympathy with any organized attempts to break up public meetings or prevent candidates from speaking,
Our party has suffered as much from those attempts as has any other party in the Commonwealth.
– I doubt it.
– I remember the time when the daily newspapers of Queensland used to have big headings pointing out where audiences had risen and prevented Labour men from speaking. I recognise that if the people in a constituency cannot vote down a man it is of no use to try to howl him down.The clause as it stands is an unwarrantable interference with the rights of the people. There is nobody who will deny that any person at a public meeting has the right to say “ Hear, hear,” or to cheer. Undoubtedly he also has the right to express disapproval by; hooting.
– But the applauder does not stop the speaker.
– Nor does the man who hoots. If all the membersof the audience cheered at one time that would prevent the speaker from continuing his speech.
– The audience could cheer continuously for two hours and’ thus prevent the delivery of the speech. It has often been reported that a celebrated orator was unable for several minutes to address the meeting because of the cheers being renewed again and again. If cheers are renewed often enough that will as effectually prevent a man from speaking as would hooting. The right of a person to express approval at a public meeting carries with it the right to express disapproval.
– Yes, within reason.
– We have an historic precedent for my statement. Any one who has read English history will remember the celebrated O. P. riots in a theatre in London which evoked one of the best-known decisions in English law. The audience prohibited the performance until the proprietors reverted to the old prices, and the Courts held that inherently the audience had the right to express disapproval just as well as the right to express approval.
– Nobody denies that.
– But the honorable senator did.
– Under this clause a man would be liable to be fined or imprisoned if he only said “Boo” to a candidate.
– It means nothing of the kind.
– The British Constitution recognises above all things that the liberty of the subject must be sacred.
– The liberty of the subject?
-Ifthehonorable senator were delivering an address in the Sydney Town Hall and waving his arms like the sails of a windmill, and I clapped, cheered, and encouraged him, as I would do, would he say that I was not justified? Would he say that he did not deserve what I did? He would be perfectly willing to accept my admiration ; but if a man who was equally sincere in condemnation dared to utter a word he would have that man haled before a “ beak “ and fined a fiver or given a month in gaol.
– Not a bit of it.
– The honorable senator cannot have the right to accept admiration on the one hand, and the right to fine the man who disapproves of him on the other. I hold that in fairness the clause should not be allowed to stand. It is only once in three years that the electors have an opportunity to express their opinions about their representatives, and the clause is a distinct blow at the exercise of that right. We are asked to say, “ We are superior to the people. We have the right to blackguard the people; to sail into Parliament under false pretences and then sell them,” as many honorable senators have done, but the electors have not the right to say a word, not even to “ Boo,” when their suffrages are sought. Apparently the Parliament wants to have the people not only handcuffed, but even tongue-tied. At one time my honorable friends want to put a financial strait-jacket on the people, and at. another time to put a gag on them at political meetings. It is a ridiculous clause.
– I have been in Australia for many years and have attended a fairly large number of political meetings, but I have never observed the necessity for enacting a provision of this character. We have managed to get along very well so far without it. Whether it is meant as an auxiliary to other legislation which Senator Gray has assisted to pass, I do not know. It appears to me to be offering a direct insult to the people. It practically tells them that they are not capable of judging what is proper conduct at a public gathering.
– No ; it says that a little knot of people shall not be allowed to break up a meeting.
– It says nothing of the kind.
– That is the intention.
– If the Minister would bring down a clause providing what he has just said it might receive dif ferent consideration.
– It does say that.
– No. The clause will place in the hands of one man the right to say whether a person has exceeded the limits of proper conduct at a public meeting. The chairman of a meeting composed of 2,000 or 3,000 persons will be asked to say whether the penalty shall be enforced against 500 or 600, who, in the opinion of some individual, have been misconducting themselves, although probably they might have had just cause for making ten times as much disturbance as they did. Not long ago in the Old Country, particularly in Ireland, if two men happened to be disorderly, they were “ run in “ at once. Are my honorable friends getting afraid of their own legislation and their own conduct, now that they are on the eve of a general election, when they will be called upon to justify themselves to the people? Are they endeavouring, by means of the gag, to prevent the people from expressing what theythink of their legislators, or are they merely trying to gratuitously insult the people?
– No orderly person would object to be orderly.
– So far as I know, the people are quite as capable of properly conducting themselves as are any members of the Senate. I venture to say that there have been no political meetings held throughout Australia which warrant the enactment of this clause. If it is enacted, and some man does not agree with Senator Gray when he is addressing a public meeting, all he will have to do will be to appeal to the chairman in order that the man may not only be thrust out, but also fined or gaoled.
– Where does the clause say that?
– What else does it mean? What is disorderly conduct?
– Preventing the transaction of business.
– Who is to discriminate ?
– Ask the author of the clause - the treasurer of the Labour party.
– The Bill is now in charge of the Minister, and it is from him I want to know who is to judge as to what is proper conduct at a public meeting. If a man is saying something which I think is “tommy-rot,” I have a perfect right to tell him that it is. Or if he is trying to deceive me, I have a perfect right to tell him that I think he is a deceiver. No law ought to prevent me from addressing such a remark to a representative in a public place.
– And no law would.
– This clause would if enacted.
– Not a bit of it.
– If I entered a public meeting and told the speaker that he was talking “ tommy-rot,” all he would have to do would be to appeal to his chairman, who, under the clause, would be practically empowered to say that I was an unruly member of the meeting - that I was misconducting myself.
– So the honorable senator would be.
– Certainly not.
– What would the honorable senator say if a man accused him of talking “ tommy -rot “ when he was addressing a meeting?
– If I am talking “ tommy-rot “ those in the hall have a perfect right to interrupt me.
– Who is to be the judge ? The man in the hall or the candidate?
– My experience here is that sometimes the man who is listening is the best judge of what is “tommy-rot.” In my opinion the persons present at a public meeting have a right to express themselves as they desire. I believe that whenever there has been a disturbance at a public meeting in Australia there has always been a just cause for it. I hope that the Committee will not pass the clause.
– Some reference has been made to the genesis of this clause. I have an idea that, although it may have been moved in another place by a particular honorable member, its genesis is to be found some where else. I would not have been surprised if the present Government had brought forward such a clause, because I can imagine no persons who will need it more than will the members of that Government.
– The honorable senator anticipates disturbances?
– I do. I frankly say that when the present Government go before the enraged electors of Australia the power to impose a £5 fine will not prevent some of their meetings from being disorderly. Does any one believe that it would be possible to prevent Senator Gray from interjecting at a meeting addressed by a Labour candidate ? The honorable senator would not be present at such a meeting for ten minutes before he would be liable to a month’s imprisonment under this clause. Treating the matter seriously, any member of this Senate might be present at a meeting held by a candidate to whose past political career he might think it right to refer. He might feel perfectly justified in putting a legitimate question to the candidate on the subject. We have to remember that a candidate who knows anything at all of electioneering will take very good care that the chairman of his meeting, if biased at all, shall be biased in his favour.
– Is that a part of the organization of honorable senators opposite ?
– I should be teaching my grandmother how to suck eggs if I tried to tell Senator Millen anything about the conduct of an election. The honorable senator was at the game long before I was. I can imagine Senator Gray asking a candidate to explain an incident in his past political career. It might be most objectionable to the candidate to have to do so. He would prefer that the incident should be buried. Senator Gray would’ persist, would rise again and again with his question, the chairman might call him to order, and then his name might be taken by a policeman, and an information lodged against him. The case would go before a justice of the peace, and we know that in most instances justices of the peace owe appointments to their fealty to a certain political party. Who would be the witnesses called? The chairman of the meeting would come forward and give evidence, and the man in the dock would be the man who defied him. How could the chairman of the meeting be considered an impartial witness ?
– He would not be the only witness. The man charged could give evidence.
– Every man who came forward to give evidence on behalf of the interjector would be assumed by the bench to be a partisan, and the evidence of fifty such witnesses would not be considered against the evidence of the chairman, who might be the mayor of a country town or the president of a shire. We have had three Federal elections, and I ask honorable senators to say whether there has been any gross disturbance of political meetings during those elections. I have not heard of any meetings being broken up.
– The honorable senator has said that he anticipates there will be in the future.
– I frankly say that I believe that at the next general elections there will be some very stormy meetings. I have heard of disturbances at public meetings. Only a little while ago a public meeting was called at the Melbourne Town Hall, which was addressed by the Minister of Trade and Customs. That was a meeting attended by leading citizens, persons who would expect to be called rightthinking citizens, and who were eminently respectable. _ A certain proposition was put to the meeting, and a perfectly respectable young man got up and in an orderly fashion walked towards the platform and asked leave to put an amendment to the meeting. We have all heard of British fair play, and the right of free speech, but what happened to this young man who was conforming with the usual practice of public meetings? He was thrown neck and crop from the platform by men who in this city are supposed to be the guardians of law and order. He was booted from one end of the hall to the other, and eventually pushed out of the hall and on to the footpath, and the nian who got up to second hi.s amendment was treated in the same fashion. I suppose if the chairman of that meeting had subsequently been brought before a bench of justices of the peace for disturbing the peace, every member of the bench would have had an apoplectic fit. Yet it was the chairman of the meeting who disturbed the peace, and not the man who tried in an orderly way to submit an amendment. We have to remember that this clause would be brought into operation at a time when party feeling was running high. No justification has been given for the insertion of such a provision, and its existence in- our law would be more likely to generate disorder than to prevent it. I believe that the imposition of a fine or the committal of a person to prison under it would be nothing less than an outrage. Honorable senators opposite have, by their interjections, suggested that it is the Labour party that is going to suffer under this clause.
– No one said anything of the kind.
– I have heard the interjections, “ You are all solid on the other side against it.” “You want to create disorder,” and all that kind of thing. I should like to put this view before the Committee. The only opportunity which the average elector has of eliciting information directly from a man seeking election is at election times. His only opportunity of bringing the past political history of the candidate before his fellow electors is at election times.
– No. He has plenty of opportunities. He can hold meetings of his own for the purpose.
– Honorable senators talk of men being stifled and not being allowed to speak. But at election times the daily press stifle men every day of the week. What did the daily press of Victoria do at the last Federal election? Is it not a fact that, so far as they could, they prevented the electors of Victoria from knowing that there were any Labour candidates in the field? They did not publish the names of Labour candidates as amongst those seeking election. Is it not a fact that they did not publish a line of the speeches of Labour candidates, and that, so far as they could, they gagged every candidate who dared to come forward in the interests of Labour? Will honorable senators opposite support a similar clause for the punishment of the press who stifle and gag candidates for election ?
– What the honorable senator wants is a provision to compel a newspaper to publish something which the proprietors do not wish to publish.
– I say that a newspaper which deliberately omits from its list of candidates the names of those belonging to a certain political party is gagging those candidates more effectually than any man who interjects at one of their political meetings. I shall vote against the clause without any compunction whatever. I say that it is a reflection upon the electors of Australia, and is not warranted by anything that has taken place in the past.
– I have had some little experience of rough meetings, and I wish to say what I think of this clause.
– It was proposed by one of the honorable senator’s colleagues.
– I do not care who proposed it. It is very extreme and very foolish: My experience is that there is always some cause for disturbances that take place at political meetings. I remind the Committee that a visitor to a recent Congress held in Australia stated, as the result of his experience of the Melbourne Cup crowd of over 100,000 people, that in his opinion the Australian people are amongst the most orderly to be met with in any part of the world. Every one must agree that our Australian citizens are well-behaved. But, at some meetings men become almost frantic, who, on ordinary occasions, are amongst the most mildmannered of our citizens. This is often due to the fact that they must give expression to their resentment at some of the utterances of a candidate. On one occasion, a few years ago, the then Premier of Victoria was not permitted to utter a word at a public meeting in the suburbs of Melbourne. Next day the newspapers referred to the bad behaviour of those present at the meeting, but they did not report the opening remarks of the candidate, who deliberately set the meeting on its hind legs by addressing those present as “ insects.” One honorable senator has said that he believes this clause is necessary, because he has been howled down. I remember that a candidate at the last Senate election in this State quoted the report of another candidate’s speech. It was incorrect, and he was. howled down by the audience. He asked why the audience howled at him, and a young man explained that the report be quoted was not a correct report of the statement of the rival candidate on the previous night. The candidate in question then apologized to the audience and to the rival candidate for having misquoted him. He publicly apologized, and said that he thanked them for the correction. But he made the same statement at eighty more meetings held in Victoria. Who is going to interpret the meaning of “disorderly conduct “? Is it not “ disorderly conduct “ at a public meeting for a body of100 or 200 men to unanimously hoot a candidate? Again, indignation is frequently aroused at public meetings by the political twister - the man who will not givea direct answer to a question. I have heard honorable senators in this chamber boast of how they have misled the electors. I say that the electors, at least, have a right to expect candidates to be truthful. If it were possible for me to control individuals, no political supporter of mine would ever make a noise at a public meeting of my opponent, because I recognise that the best way to create sympathy for a candidate is to raise a clamour against him. Some gentlemen are in this Parliament to-day merely because they were never permitted to give expression to their political opinions. Who usually presides at public meetings?” A few moments ago the Vice-Presidentof the Executive Council stated that he knew of no instance in which partisans occupied the chair. Personally, I think I should be cute enough not to permit a political opponent to preside at any meeting of mine. Yesterday’s Melbourne papers contained an accusation by the chairman of the bench at Footscray, that a couple of political appointments had recently, been made to the magistracy. To-night the Attorney-General of this State practically contradicts that statement. But those who live in the district, and know the circumstances, are quite satisfied that the appointments in question are of a political character. Do we not all know that justices are generally appointed on the nomination of the local member of Parliament? Yet under this clause these gentlemen would be called upon to determine what was “ disorderly conduct.” I do not object to the chairman of a public meeting being called upon to decide this question simply because he is a partisan. I hold that a man who has no political opinions is not a man at all.
– What is he?
– He is not an intelligent citizen of the Commonwealth. Further, the penalty provided By the clause seems to be an extreme one.
– It may be only one shilling.
– I have seen large audiences righteously indignant-
– Should not a public meeting of citizens have the right to tell the Minister of Trade and Customs what they think of him for having joined the Fusion party?
– I have seen large bodies of men who have attended a political meeting with no idea of disturbing it, but who, owing to some statement by the candidate, have created a disturbance.
– Has not the honorable senator known persons to attend a meeting with the avowed object of breaking it up?
– I have not. But I have experienced organized obstruction at some of my meetings. At the same time, I hold that there is no candidate who cannot get a successful public meeting in Australia to-day. Because a man happens tobecome a little excited on one night in three years, he ought not to be branded as an offender, and obliged to pay a penalty of£5, or in default to go to gaol for one month. Men ought not to be subject to such a penalty merely because they express their opinions of the shortcomings of candidates.
– It seems to me that four or five honorable senators have attempted to argue in favour of disorderly conduct at public meetings. They have tilted at several windmills which they have knocked down, but not one of those gentlemen has discussed the clause which provides -
Any person who at any public meeting to which this section applies acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting is held shall be guilty of an offence against this Act.
– Who is to say that a man is acting in a disorderly manner?
– The chairman, the leader of the meeting, the man who is responsible for maintaining order at the meeting. When I first came forward as a candidate for Parliamentary honours my opinions were not known, and at my second meeting a band of music was stationed outside the door of the hall which I had engaged to prevent me from being heard. I waited for half-an-hour, and ultimately my opponent was persuaded to ask the band which he had engaged to move a few doors further on. But notwithstanding that experience, I obtained a good many votes in that portion of the constituency. That was my first experience of the necessity which exists for empowering the chairman of a public meeting to punish persons who create disorder at such meetings. I hope that the Government will adhere to the clause.
– I should not have risen but for the remarks of Senator Pearce, who said that this clause was probably introduced by the Government because in its absence they, feared to meet the enraged electors of Australia. In the first place it has not been introduced by the Government, and,’ in the second, the Government do not fear to meet the electors. No orderly man in Australia need fear the adoption of this provision. The only persons who have reason to fear it are those who are deliberately disorderly at public meetings. Senator Pearce has declared that a candidate is sometimes to blame for the disorder which occurs at the meeting which he is addressing. I admit that. Candidates do make statements in regard to parties which they ought not to make. But sometimes it happens that a candidate, by uttering the bitterest of truths in regard to a party, impels those who do not like his statements to create a disturbance in order to prevent them from going forth to the people. Who is to be the judge of what is “ disorderly conduct “ in a case of that sort? Obviously the chairman of the gathering. Senator Pearce has stated that his reason for resisting this clause is that he does not think there is a bench in Australia which would do justice to the accused in such circumstances.
– The honorable senator is not accurately representing me.
– The honorable senator always says that I am making an incorrect statement when I attempt to spike his utterances. He distinctly stated that one of the considerations which induced him to oppose this clause was that in case of conflict between the chairman, the audience, and the accused, no bench in Australia could be trusted to do the last-named justice.
– At election time.
– Then am I to understand that at election time the whole bench goes mad?
– I do not say that.
– The honorable senator admitted that meetings ought not to be disturbed. He said that if at election time a conflict of opinion occurred between the chairman, the audience, and the accused, not a bench in Australia would do justice to the accused.
.- I regret that the Government have seen fit to support the amendment now under discussion. It is altogether unnecessary, and also too elastic in its terms. During the life of the Commonwealth, there has never been a demand from the people for legislation of this kind. I am not aware that there is such a provision in the legislation of any country. It is true that election meetings are at times more or less sultry ; but no bones have been broken, and I have not heard of any serious damage being done to any one.
– I once had a six guinea suit spoilt by flour and eggs !
– The people at that meeting probably wanted to make a cake of the honorable senator. Evidently he supports the amendment because he has been a sufferer. But flour and eggs might have been thrown at him at any other place than a public meeting.
– They have been thrown at Sir George Reid, too.
– I ‘da not remember that Sir George Reid has ever complained, or tried to pass legislation of so harsh a character for his own protection. Senator Macfarlane supports the clause on the ground that on one occasion when he was addressing an election meeting, there was a band of music outside the hall. Probably that band was more useful in attracting a larger audience than would otherwise have been in attendance. But if .the musical folk of Tasmania are inclined to serenade the honorable senator, how will this amendment protect him ? The band can play outside his meeting “till the cows come home,” and the new clause will not penalize them. If it were strictly interpreted, political meetings in this country would either become too funereal for endurance, or - the gaols would not be large enough to hold those who would be punished for giving vent to their feelings. Too much power is proposed to be given to the chairmen of meetings, and benches of magistrates. At meetings called by the party to which I belong, we have never objected to any interjection, nor have we ever had to resort to the expedient of holding meetings to which admission was by- ticket. Those who do that confess themselves afraid to meet the people who are opposed to them.
– Afraid of a riot.
– That is another insult to the people at whom this amendment is aimed. Not long ago, a meeting in Melbourne was addressed by the Prime Minister and his followers. Admission was by ticket. Afterwards, a meeting was held by the Labour party in the very same building. It was crowded to the doors, and there was good order from beginning Lo end. When the present Government was formed, we invited Ministerial supporters to hold meetings throughout the country in opposition to those which we were holding. They declined the challenge, because they know that the pulse of the people was against them. It is because they fear that at the next election the people will give public expression to their views regarding the Fusion Government and its supporters, that this amendment is being supported.
– The amendment originated with a member of the Labour party, Mr. O’Malley.
– I “hope that the fair sense of the Committee will lead to a rejection of the proposal, which is not only unnecessary, but indirectly offers an insult to every intelligent citizen of the Commonwealth.
– If this amendment be agreed to, I shall not hesitate for a moment to tell the people at the next election that it emanated from the Fusion Government, and was supported by the Walkers, the St. Ledgers, and the Grays.
– And the 0’ Malleys.
– If need be, I am quite prepared to tell the electors that King O’Malley proposed it. But it is really the production of the Fusion Government; and I shall hold them responsible for it.
– The honorable senator must, in fairness, teH the people that the proposal originated with a member of his party.
– I shall not hesitate to explain the influences at work to introduce this innovation to our electoral law.
– It is not the proposal itself, but the reasons given for it by Senator Pearce, which induce me to support it.
- Senator St. Ledger will not have to face his constituents at the next election. He may thank his lucky stars for that. The amendment puts into the hands of magistrates a power to be exercised at a time when the minds of the people will be inflamed by political feeling - the very worst time for such a power to be exercised. It will be a blemish on our electoral law, and is quite out of place. Those who vote for it must be held responsible for it, and for casting a reflection on the intelligence of the people.
– Is the honorable senator a judge of the intelligence of the people?
– I am sent here to judge when such propositions as this are submitted for acceptance. I know that if Senator Gray were to conduct himself at a public meeting, as he does here by continually interjecting, that would, in the opinion of many respectable persons, be quite sufficient to justify a charge of disorderly conduct being laid against him.
– I will run the risk.
– No matter how I might wish to see the honorable senator punished for his disorderly behaviour, I do not desire a man who has no opportunity except at a public meeting to show his approval or disapproval of the actions of public men to be made liable to a prosecution for disorderly conduct merely because he has interrupted a speaker. That is a right which ought to be conserved to every elector.
– The right to disturb a. public meeting ?
– I do not admit that it is a disturbance. I have yet to learn that at any election anything was ever done which would justify the enactment of this provision.
– I suppose that Mr. O’Malley saw some justification.
– Whether he did or not, no Labour men in the Senate have seen any justification for its enactment. But the Minister and his colleagues seem to think that a provision of the kind is necessary.
– Senator Pearce warned us that at the coming elections we were going to have rowdier meetings than usual.
– It is not Senator Pearce’s warning so much as his own conscience which is troubling the Minister at this moment. No doubt it is pricking him, and knowing what he deserves from the electors he expects to get it at the next election. It is too dangerous a provision to be inserted in our electoral law.
– I rise to suggest a little amendment which, if it does not meet with the wishes of my honorable friends opposite, will tone down their opposition very much, and that is to substitute “ any” for “ the “ in the paragraph dealing with the penalty. It will be seen that it refers to the polling place of the division in which the elector is enrolled. As under the electoral law an elector is entitled to vote at more than one polling place, I want to make that provision apply to any polling places at which he is entitled to vote.
– So that he may be sent to any gaol?
– No. I move-
That the proposed new clause be amended by leaving out the word “the” first occurring, line 12, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ any.”
.- In the event of any persons being found guilty of disorderly conduct, and placed in a house of detention, have the Government made any provision whereby such persons are to vote?
– Postal votes.
– We understand they are to be gaoled.
– That is why they are to be seven miles away.
– They cannot vote if they are in gaol.
– I wish that the Minister would agree to strike out the clause.
– Surely the Minister has no intention of pressing the clause to a division.
– We are not dealing now with the clause, but with a little amendment.
– My honorable friend’s little amendments are no better than any of his big amendments.I want a complete withdrawal of the clause.
– Then vote against it.
– What is the use of our attempting to negative the clause with a crowd like this in favour of it?
– It will be all right if honorable senators have the numbers.
– My honorable friends on the other side have made up their minds to directly insult the people of Australia.
– I ask the honorable senator to discuss the amendment to substitute “any” for “the,” and not the clause.
– It would be much better if the Minister could see his way to strike out the words preceding and following the word “the,” in order that the whole clause may be open for discussion again. I shall move a further amendment if the present one is carried.
– The whole of the clause will be open for discussion.
– What will it mean if we strike out the word “the”? The electors will have to be detained seven miles from any polling place.
– I shall not press the amendment if it is not wanted.
– I do not want anything connected with the clause. Does the honorable senator desire to practically make criminals of men who express intelligently their utter discontent with politicians who have deceived them - who, having promised to do certain things, have done otherwise?
– I ask the honorable senator to address his remarks to the amendment, not to the clause.
– I feelinclined to discuss the clause until doomsday. I do not think I would be worthy of the name of a representative of the people were I to allow such a provision to pass the Senate without making an emphatic protest.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the House of Representatives’ amendment, as amended, be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 33 -
Section two hundred and nine of the Principal Act is amended by adding thereto the following sub-sections : -
House of Representatives’ Amendment. -
Omit “ alteration,” insert “ attestation.”
– This amendment is necessitated by an error in drafting. It is obvious that the correct word should be “ attestation.” I therefore move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Resolutions reported ; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Some considerable time ago I brought under the notice of the VicePresident of the Executive Council the application of a man named Williams for an oldage pension. I understand that the honorable senator now has the papers giving the reply to the statements made by Williams.
– I have received a memorandum dealing with the case to which Senator Pearce has referred, and as it is not very long I shall read it. It is as follows : -
On the 22nd October, 1909, Senator Pearce in the Senate read a letter received from a pension-claimant named T. C. Williams, in which the claimant complained that the Deputy Commissioner in Western Australia had made use of the following expression - “ You ought to be ashamed of yourself to live on your wife.” The matter was referred to Mr. Green, and he reports that the claimant’s statement is untrue, and says that Mr. Fairbairn, the magistrate before whom the claimant appeared, has no knowledge of any such remark.
An examination of the papers discloses the fact that the claimant is not entitled to a pension, because the property of himself and his wife is as follows : -
The above does not include land at Essendon in Victoria.
That is the information I have received in reference to the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.12 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 November 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1909/19091130_senate_3_54/>.