6th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Campaign Meetings: Preservation of Order - BasisofLevy - Circular from Recruiting Committee.
– Is the Leader of the Senate aware that an anticonscription meeting held in Perth a. day or two ago was broken up, and speakers advocating anti-conscription views, were subjected to personal violence? Secondly, will the Government see that those advocating anti-conscription views from platforms in Australia shall be given the same freedom of speech, and the same right to protection, . as is given to those supporting conscription?
– In answer to the honorable senator’s first question, I have to say that Iwas not aware of what he has stated. The. answer to the second question iscertainly “ Yes “ ; but I point out to the honorable senator that the maintenance of civil law and order is the duty of the State Government, through their polios authorities, and not the duty of the Commonwealth Government, through the military authorities.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether he is aware that when I attempted to address a meeting at the Guild Hall, Melbourne, last Sunday night, Iwas threatened with personal violence by most of the audience ; one man threatened to shoot me, and another said that if the first failed he would, finish the job? Secondly, I wish to know whether the Government will see that the right of freedom of speech and protection is extended to me? I was supposed to have been given freedom of speech for thirty minutes, and for twentyfive minutes of that time the audience was groaning and-
– Order! The honorable senator, instead of asking a question, is making a statement. That is contrary to the Standing Orders, and cannot be permitted.
-What I wish to ask is whether the Minister for Defence will seriously take into consideration the protection of men like myself and others who have been threatened that they will be shot?
– Again I would say that the protection of Senator Lynch and every other person in the community is the duty of the civil authorities. It is only when the community is under martial law that the onus of maintaining law and order is placed upon the military authorities. We are not under martial law, and the maintenance of law and order at all meetings is, therefore, the duty of the civil authorities.
– Have the Government yet determined the basis on which they intend to call up men for military service in the several military districts? Is the basis to be the total population, or the number in each district of those of military age?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is. fully set out in the statements made to Parliament by the Prime Minister and myself. If the honorable senator will consult those statements he will find that they cover the questions he has asked.
– I ask the Minister for Defence what authority exists under the War Census Act entitling any person or local authority to issue such a circular as the following, in order to intimidate men into enlisting: -
War Census Act 1915.
South Melbourne Recruiting Committee,
Town Hall, South Melbourne, 9th September, 1916.
Dear Sir, -
In support of the Federal Government’s Final Recruiting Appeal under the Voluntary System for Victoria’s enlistment of 9,800 men during the month of September, we desire you to attend at the Town Hall, South Melbourne, on either Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday evening next between the hours of 7.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m., for the purpose of interviewing the Committee with regard to your enlistment.
What authority exists under the War Census Act entitling the South Melbourne Recruiting Committee, or any other Committee, to send such a circular of intimidation to any citizen’ of the State?
– I am not prepared to give a legal opinion on the question whether the issue of such a circular is provided for within the War Census Act, but I point out to the honorable senator that the circular is practically an invitation to men to attend for thepurpose of enlistment. It says, “We desire you to attend.” It is not mandatory.
– Has the honorable senator noticed the heading of the circular, “War Census Act 1915”?
– I have noticed that heading. I am not prepared to say whether it is within the power of any private or public body to use such a form in the issue of a circular. I shall have that question investigated. But I remind the honorable senator again that, according to the wording of the circular, it is only an invitation, and not a command.
– Will the Minister for Defence say whether under the system that has hitherto prevailed for the enlistment of recruits any special consideration or exemption has been granted to bank clerks? If so, to what extent, and were exemptions granted to any other class of labour in the Commonwealth?
– Consideration was given to the question of exempting the clerical employees of banking institutions. It was represented that it would not be easy to fill the places of some of the clerical employees in private banking institutions, and also in the Commonwealth Bank. They were therefore exempted from enlistment. A similar course was adopted in respect of the employees in a number of other institutions.
– What were they?
– I am goingto tell honorable senators. They were industries supplying equipment for the Defence Department. In the case of some industries, such as the woollen mills, where the whole of the output was taken by the Government, the whole of the employees were exempted from enlistment; In other cases, where mining companies or smelting companies were supplying Great Britain and the Allied nations with material for munitions, the whole of their employees were exempted from enlistment. All these questions of exemption will, when the new regulations for compulsory military service are issued, beremitted to the Courts that will have to deal with exemptions.
– Men employed in the industries referred to, upon volunteering, were not accepted?
– That is so. If they volunteered they would not be accepted.
Recruits Rejected and Declared Medically Unfit - Officers’ Training School at Duntroon - War News for Troopships.
– Has the Minister for Defence any information to give with regard to the question I asked him on 15th September ?
– The honorable senator, on the 15th September, asked -
The answers are -
– Can the Minister for Defence give the Senate any information regarding the question I asked him the other day with reference to the Officers’ Training School at Duntroon?
– Yes. I have the returns, and I now lay them on the table of the Senate.
– Are the returns available of the number of unfit men who were passed in Australia and sent to the bases, but were then rejected and returned, without being. sent to the front at all?
– The returns are not here, but I can get them for the honorable senator..
– Are they in Australia ?
– We have some returns relating to that subject.
– Yesterday I asked the Minister for Defence a question concerning the transmission of war news to the troopships bringing our returned invalided soldiers to Australia. I suppose that, in the excitement of the moment, when replying to Senator McKissock, he overlooked my question. I would like to know now if he can furnish an answer?
– I must apologize to the honorable senator for having overlooked the matter mentioned by him, but if he will let me have a proof of his remarks, I will bring the subject under the notice of the Minister for the Navy.
– Can the Minister for Defence supply an answer to the question I asked last Friday regarding the action of the military authorities at Brisbane in overhauling possessions belonging to officers of the Northern Territory.
– No. We have sent to Brisbane for the information, but have not received it yet.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1911 -
Awards of Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, together with Statements re Laws and Regulations, Reasons for Judgment of Deputy President, Memorandum by Public Service Commissioner, and Attorney-General’s Opinions, on plaints filed by :
Australian Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Officers’ Association.
Australian Letter Carriers’ Association.
Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
Defence : Return of Officers and noncommissioned Officers who have attended an Officers’ Training School at Duntroon, showing previous military training, results of examinations, &c.
Northern Territory Timber Regulations - Crown Lands Ordinance 1912-14:
– I would like to know from the Minister representing the Prime Minister what is the intention of the Government with reference to the proposed Industrial Commission to the United States of America in the matter of making special inquiries into industries in subtropical portions of that country, and particularly in regard to tha employment of white labour in such industries?
– Matters in connexion with the proposed Commission have been in abeyance pending the return of the Prime Minister from England. As the honorable senator knows, the Prime Minister has been fairly busy since his return, and hasnot had an opportunity of dealing with that question. As soon as circumstances permit, he will give attention to the matter mentioned by the honorable senator.
– At whose instigation was this Royal Commission appointed; what is the prospective cost; and does the Minister really think that anybody will read its recommendations?
– The matter was the subject of Cabinet consideration, and obtained the approval of ‘the Government. I am not in a position to give an estimate of its cost, but the Government certainly believe that its investigations will prove useful, otherwise they would not have approved, of its appointment.
– The Minister has not answered the first part of my question. At whose instigation was this roving Commission appointed ?
– I happened to be the Minister who brought the question before the Government.
– Is the Assistant Minister in a position to say if meat has been declared a necessary commodity, and, if so, is it the intention of the Government to see that the price is regulated ?
– Meat has already been declared a necessary commodity within the meaning of the War Precautions
Act. I must ask the honorable senator to give notice concerning the latter portion of his question.
Authority for Proclamation,
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Parliament will be sitting.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information, is being prepared, and will be made, available as soon as possible.
asked the Ministerrepresenting the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are-
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are-
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and. Sessional Orders suspended, and Bill read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The object of the measure is to allow the Attorney-General to delegate certain powers to a Solicitor-General, who has already been appointed. Certain powers that could be conferred upon him under regulation have already been so conferred, but certain other statutory powers belonging to the Attorney-General cannot’ be conferred upon the Solicitor-General except by the passage of an Act. In conferring powers on the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General will not divest himself of any power. He will merely delegate to the Solicitor-General authority to do certain things, and resume that authority at his discretion.
– I enter a strong protest against making a civil servant virtually a member of Parliament and a member of the Cabinet. There are three Ministers in the Senate already, and if three were not enough, it is open for the Government to appoint a fourth to do the necessary work. Por the benefit of carrying out the business of the Senate we ought to have a Solicitor-General here.
– Where is the legal man to take the place ?
– If an appointment had to be made, it ought to have been a member of the Senate, whether he was a lawyer or not. It might as well be urged that Mr. Knibbs, or the head of any other Department, should be made a member of the Cabinet. I make a strong protest against a Solicitor-General, above all things, being appointed who is not responsible to Parliament.
– I join with Senator Guthrie in protesting against the appointment. The ability of the appointee is beyond question, but the proposal is an altogether new departure, and is not upon proper lines. The position of Solicitor-General is usually regarded as political. The man filling the office is a member of Parliament. He is placed in charge of an important Department and is responsible to Parliament, and can be brought to account in Parliament if anything is done of which Parliament disapproves. Our Solicitor-General will not have a seat in Parliament, and cannot be brought to book by Parliament for anything he does.
– Will not the AttorneyGeneral take all responsibility ?
– I suppose the Attorney-General will be indirectly responsible, but we do not want that vicarious responsibility here. We want to deal directly with the man in charge. The Senate ought to throw the Bill out. If the Government find it desirable to appoint a Solicitor-General in addition to the Attorney-General, let them do so in the ordinary Way,and appoint a member of Parliament to the position, so that he may be responsible to Parliament.
Honorable senators will be well advised to vote against the second reading.
– The Government have given us no information that would justify us in permitting the second reading of the Bill to go through. I am prepared, at the present moment, to vote against it.
– I agree to a great extent with the arguments adduced by Senator Guthrie and Senator Stewart. Probably we are establishing a dangerous precedent, but, on reading the Bill carefully, I find that Parliament is not giving away any of its privileges or authority. Sub-clause (2) of clause 2, provides that the “ Solicitor-General shall have such duties and functions as are prescribed by or under any Act or as are delegated to him by the Attorney-General in pursuance of this Act.” Therefore, in supporting the second reading of this Bill, as I intend to do, we shall not be approving of the appointment to this position of a man who is not responsible to Parliament. The Attorney-General is responsible to Parliament, and no powers can be delegated to the Solicitor-General without his consent, and all such powers may be the subject of review by this Parliament. Parliament, therefore, is not being asked to divest itself of any of its powers. Whilst it is extremely unfortunate that . we have not amongst the members of our party in this Chamber a legal luminary who could act as Solicitor-General and be appointed a member of the Cabinet, I consider that the Senate will be quite safe in agreeing to the Bill, inasmuch as the AttorneyGeneral will still be the responsible head of his Department.
– In reply to the remarks of Senator ‘ Guthrie, I would point out that the proposal embodied in this Bill is by no means a novel one. Similar powers have already been vested in the Minister for Trade and Customs and the Postmaster-General.
– Who possesses similar power in the Postmaster-General’s Department ?
– The PostmasterGeneral has authority to delegate certain powers to the permanent head of his Department. The same remark is applicable to the Minister for Trade and Customs. I would further point out that in Canada, New South . Wales, Tasmania, and New Zealand, the SolicitorGeneral is not a member of Parliament. Under this Bill it is merely proposed to authorize the Attorney-General to delegate power to the Solicitor-General to undertake certain work for which the AttorneyGeneral will assume responsibility. The Attorney-General will thus be relieved of much of the drudgery of official life.
– The alteration is occasioned by the stress of war conditions, I presume?
– It is the result of the growing volume of the legal business of the Commonwealth. The SolicitorGeneral will not have a seat in the Cabinet.
– Any more than will the Auditor-General.
– Precisely. Prom the political stand-point, the existing position will not be disturbed. Under this Bill, the Attorney-General will be able to resume, at any moment, the powers which he may delegate to the Solicitor- General. A similar procedure has worked satisfactorily in’ several of the States, and has served to expedite the transaction of public business.
Question - That the Bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages.
– In view of the state of business in this Chamber and in another place, after consultation with Ministers, and for the convenience of honorable senators, I propose now to vacate the chair, and I intimate to honorable senators that the sitting will be suspended until 8 o’clock this evening.
Sitting suspended from 3.43 to8 p.m.
Compulsory Military Service: Circular from Recruiting Committee: Issue of, and Authority for, Proclamation : Censorship.
– I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Another place has not yet succeeded in passing the Works Supply Bill which we expected to receive, and another small Bill for the appointment of an Assistant Commissioner of Taxation has not yet been finally dealt with. We hope, however, that these matters will be completed and ready for the Senate to-morrow, and so I am asking the Senate to meet at the usual time. This afternoon Senator Long brought under my notice a recruiting circular, issued by the South Melbourne Recruiting Committee, and bearing the heading” War Census Act 1915.” I have had an opportunity of consulting the Crown Law authorities, and have been informed that the action of the South Melbourne Recruiting Committee in printing the words “ War Census Act 1915 “ at the head of a recruiting circular is not regarded as a false representation of authority, or other offence against the Commonwealth law.
– Do you expect to finish to-morrow?
– In response to a question which I asked the Minister for Defence this afternoon concerning the proposed proclamation to call up men under the Defence Act, the Leader. of the Senate informed me that Parliament would be sitting when the proclamation was issued. I am in doubt as to what the Minister means by the word “ sitting.” I understand that the proclamation will be issued on the 2nd October, calling up all men between twenty-one and thirty-five years of age.
– Under the Defence Act, the ages are eighteen and sixty.
– Yes ; but I believe the Government are quite right in discriminating. The proclamation will be issued on that day, so I understand, and I was anxious to know if the provisions of the Defence Act were to be complied with, namely, thatParliament itself should hear the reasons for the issue of the proclamation. Now, in reply to my question, the Minister informed me that Parliament would be “ sitting.” I have been told that if this Parliament were to adjourn to-night, and its members returned to. their different States, Parliament would still be “ sitting.” I do not know whether that is the true interpretation of the Act, but for the information of the Senate I will read section 46 of the Defence Act 1903-1915. It is as follows
That section is mandatory, and says quite clearly that if Parliament is not sitting when the proclamation is issued it “ shall “ be summoned to meet within ten days. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say on this point. This afternoon he said that Parliament would be “ sitting.” If by that he meant that this Parliament would be assembled in this building some time next week, then Parliament could hear the reasons why the proclamation was issued; but if Parliament is not sitting within this building after the 2nd October, will the GovernorGeneral, in accordance with the provisions of the Defence Act, summon Parliament to assemble to hear the reasons for the issue of the proclamation? I want an interpretation of that word “sitting.” I have been’ told that even if we adjourn for six months, so long as Parliament is not prorogued, it will still be “ sitting.” It would be as well to have an understanding in this matter, because other senators, like myself, are in doubt. To my mind, there can be only one interpretation, namely, that if Parliament is not sitting, it should be summoned within ten days after the issue of the proclamation to hear the reasons. The Minister did not reply to the second portion of my question, which was to the following effect: - “If not, under what authority is it intended to validate such proclamation?” I want to know if the Government have any power other than those under the Defence Act, which I have quoted, to validate the proclamation. If they have no other power, then, in my opinion, Parliament should be here assembled to hear the reasons.
– It is with some reluctance that, on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, I refer again to the censorship, but it is of supreme importance just now, when we are about to begin this great campaign on conscription, that we should have some definite understanding as to where we stand. We have been assured over and over again by the Government that we are going to get a fair deal in the campaign, but notwithstanding all these promises, I fear that the men who are going to fight against conscription will be hopelessly handicapped. If it is going to be a fair fight, the same latitude should be extended to both sides; but from what I have already learned it appears to be very unlikely that this will be the experience. The following communication, which I have received from the Acting Secretary to the Minister for Defence, makes it abundantly clear to me that we will not get fair treatment : -
I forward, by direction, for your information the subjoined copy of the instructions issued to all censors in regard to the censorship of matter relating to conscription and the referendum.
Acting Secretary. instructionsforcensorshipofmatterrelating to Conscription and the Referendum.
The publication of arguments, resolutions, and motions, &c., for and against conscription and the referendum, and adverse criticism or support of the Government’s policy, is to be freely allowed, providing that the publication of such matter -
Generally allow greatest freedom and latitude of expression and publication to the press, especially with regard to statements that are capable of easy contradiction, explanation, or disproof.
Cartoons should he dealt with in accordance with the spirit of the above instructions.
– I propose to show the honorable senator what is wrong with it if he will only listen. The first paragraph states that the publication of arguments against conscription will be allowed provided such matter -
Surely there can be no freedom of speech with that restriction. Suppose I were to say that the Gallipoli campaign was a blunder. Would that be a reflection upon our Allies? And yet, who will deny me the right to say that in justice to the cause 1 am advocating?
– It is said every day in Great Britain.
– Yes ; but I would be denied the right to say it here, or to say that the Mesopotamia campaign was a blunder.
– You are putting up a man of straw and knocking him over again.
– But would such a statement as that be a reflection on our Allies ?
– I am afraid that the censor would think it was. If this censorship had been in vogue in Great Britain during the Prime Minister’s visit, most of his speeches would have been suppressed, because they were the strongest indictment it was possible to have regarding the policy of the Allies in this war. Right from the start he condemned their vacillation, hesitation, and indecision. Why should any man in the Common- ‘ wealth be denied that freedom of speech which is permitted in Great Britain? If we are going to have a fair fight, some of these restrictions should be removed. At present it is not permissible to say that conscription has operated unjustly in Russia, or to speak of the disadvantages of conscription in France or in any other country fighting on the side of the Allies. Take next paragraph (c) -
Would not be a contravention of any of the provisions of the War Precautions Act and the regulations made thereunder.
What chance have we under that instruction ? Under the War Precautions Act the Government can make any regulations they think fit. That point was decisively settled by the High Court, which laid it down that the Government are to be the sole judges in that matter. Therefore, -during this campaign, in addition to the restrictive regulations that already exist under the Act, they can bring in regulations that will absolutely prohibit a man from having a fair say. The very fact that every man who is against conscription in this fight is subject to the War Precautions Act, and the regulations made thereunder, puts us in a tight corner throughout the piece. Therefore, according to the latest instructions, bearing date 22nd September, I submit that we are not going to have a fair deal. This paragraph follows -
Generally allow greater freedom and latitude of expression and publication to the press, especially with regard to statements that are capable of easy contradiction, explanation, or disproof.
What is the inference? That the censorship is to be rigorously restrictive if ‘ the statements are not capable of easy contradiction, explanation, or disproof. If the intention is to the contrary, why should the censor discriminate between statements which are easy of contradiction, explanation, or disproof, and those which are not? The very fact that that instruction is there shows that these gentlemen are out to handicap in every possible way the men who are going to fight this great issue. Even since that notification was sent to me the censor himself has violated the instructions contained in it, in his treatment of a pamphlet headed, “ War Precautions Act and a Proposed Amendment,” and issued under the signature of F. J. Riley, secretary of the Australian Peace Alliance. Whatever the opinions of those people may be, the spirit of the instructions laid down by the censor should be observed, but it has not been observed in this case. I received this morning the following communication from Mr. Riley -
Will you permit me to bring under your notice the attached leaflet, and at the same time to remark that this leaflet was submitted as an article for the Socialist, of Melbourne, on Monday of this week?
Subsequent, therefore, to those instructions -
It was censored in the way indicated by the red markings. This seems to me to be striking disproof of the statements made anent the censorship by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence ‘ in Parliament last week. Further proof is forthcoming in the censored letter attached, which, not appearing in the Age or Argus, was then tried for the Socialist by Mr. Ross. I have, therefore, to express the hope that before Parliament rises some steps will be taken to have the question of the censorship thoroughly inquired into.
I will take every word of the leaflet issued last Monday, as censored, and appeal to the Senate to say whether there is anything in it which any man, no matter what his views may be, could regard as opposed to the censorship rules. The writer says -
The suspicion may be baseless, the seizure unwarrantable. You cannot appeal, you cannot get compensation, no civil tribunal can be approached. There are no means of calling in question the officer’sbona fides. His mere opinion is final and fatal.
The words struck out by the censor in that paragraph are -
The seizure unwarrantable.
That is purely a matter of opinion. Mr. Riley says the seizure of their documents under the War Precautions Act was unwarrantable. The Government apparently think it was warrantable. Surely there is nothing treasonable or involving thenation in danger in that statement. It contains nothing infringing the statement made by Mr. Hughes that everything be permitted publication except statements reflecting upon the Allies or inciting to a breach of the law. There can be no possible justification for the strik-‘ ing out of those few apparently harmless words. Then the following complete paragraph was struck out -
Under this regulation the premises of the Australian Peace Alliance were raided and searched by two officers, and thousands of copies of two leaflets were seized and taken. They are detained now, and the military authorities refuse to return them, or to give any information concerning them. One leaflet is by the well-known writer,John A. Hobson, and was published in England in The Nation, and in Victoria, presumably with the censor’s permission. It is a striking article - it deals with the question of peace - but the military gay the people shall not see it. The other deals also withpeace, and was published in the Labour Leader. It is called “ Women and children first.” But our military authorities will not allow it to be distributed here, and the public are at their mercy.
The Socialist party’s premises have been raided and searched; so, too, have those of the No-Conscription Fellowship. Printed matter was seized, and its fate is unknown. Ross, of the Socialist party, was accosted in the street, and threatened with a personal search there and. then; and they have the power to do this to any man (see regulation 50b) on the merest suspicion. Lastly, but by no means leastly, the Trades Hall, Melbourne, was raided at midnight, and a carefully-prepared and moderate report of the Trades Union Congress on conscription seized, and later the premises of the Labour Call were visited, and copies seized there, as well as the set-up type. The entire number of The Socialist of August 4 was seized and confiscated.
I appeal to the sense of justice of honorable senators, no matter what their opinions on this great issue may be, whether that paragraph should have been censored. It is not because I consider it very important, but, if the censor deletes such matter, how will he behave during the campaign, when Parliament is not sitting, and there is no appeal beyond his decision, because, when Parliament is not meeting, it is an absolute fact that, in the matter of censorship,there is no appeal beyond the censor, and we can get no redress? I am not going to guarantee the facts as set out in the above paragraph. I do not know whether they are right or wrong, but that is a statement of the case by a gentlemanwho signs his name, and no censor has a right, according to the instructions I have read, to censor it. Itmay be an indictment of the Government, but that is for the Government to defend. If we are to have a free press, no Government should object to anv statement, however obnoxious to themselves. So long as it does not involvethe safety of the nation in this time of war, it should not be suppressed, and I cannot understand how any censor, if he is acting on his own initiative, can say that there is anything in that paragraph to which exception can be taken. He may differ from the statement of the facts, but even if the facts are wrong, that is no justification for his censoring it.
– That is the. main point. So long as it is not seditious or disloyal, and does not involve the safety of the nation, no one has the right to interfere with it, for it does not come within the scope of the instructions issued this week. Here is another instance. Again I am not responsible for the facts stated. I merely read them to show that they are suppressed, and to claim that they should not be suppressed, whether they are right or wrong, so long as they do not involve the safety of the realm, and are not disloyal or seditious. This is a letter signed by R. S. Ross, secretary of the Socialist party, criticising the censor. It is censored because he dares to criticise the action of the censor.’ If the Minister is prepared to justify what was done in this case, then, when I go on the platform and criticise the censor, as I may be called upon to do, in quite an impersonal manner, my utterances also will be suppressed. I tell the Minister now that if my matter is censored, I shall claim the right to criticise the censor who does it.
– TheBrisbane Courier criticised the censor severely for weeks.
– Some newspapers have done so mercilessly. If they have the right to do so, every one else should have that right. Let us have a fairdeal in this fight. . The letter, which was sent to the Age and Argus, and refused publication, and then sent to the Socialist, is as follows. When they have heard it, honorable senators will be better a.ble to judge the absurdity of the excision: -
To the Editor of the Age.
Sir, - Accordingto your columns of this morning, the Minister for Defence, speaking of the position at Broken Hill, said, “Nor had the news about trouble there been censored.” I have to deny the Minister’s statement.
Here is the censored matter -
Such news has been censored from the columns of the Socialist. I have also to complain of the wording of a wire from myself to the Amalgamated Miners Association of
Broken Hill being altered by the censor. Wishing to help set at rest the rumours current in Melbourne, I asked, per wire, for definite information. The wire was not sent as written, and, consequently, the reply received was of little use in allaying alarm. Further I cannot now get Barrier Daily Truth through the post. I say that a censorship imposed to prevent us giving tidings to Germany is being utilized to prevent us giving tidings to each other.
Is there anything in that quotation to which the Minister can take exception? It is certainly a criticism of the Government and the Minister. But the censor has invaded the rights of the men who are engaged in this anti-conscription contest, and has thus destroyed the whole value of this letter. The writer proceeds) -
Again, the Prime Minister (also according to your columns), insists on but two restrictions as being operative in the censorship.
Then follow these two lines, which have been censored -
My experience in two papers as recent as this week proves otherwise.
There the writer merely contradicts the statement of the Prime Minister. He may be right, or he may be wrong, but. the mere fact of his contradicting the Prime Minister does not bring him within the scope of the prohibition that has been imposed. He continues -
The censorship is a political censorship- applied to purely domestic politics. It is a censorship also which prohibits any discussion of itself as an institution. It is in operation exasperatingly, vexatious, and insolent to any man taught, as I was taught, as an Australian, that it was a good and great national characteristic to think and to dare to speak what one thought.
That quotation was allowed to pass, with the singular exception that the words “ and insolent “ were cut out. Why is the writer of that letter treated in such a fashion?
– It is the right of an editor to print what he thinks fit, but it is not within the competence , of the censor to determine whether or not I shall charge a man with being insolent. If he can deny me that right, obviously he can deny me the right to say anything else. If he can prevent me from saying that the censorship is insolent, I suppose I should be guilty of a worse crime if I declared that Mr. Hughes’ proposals were absurd. At the end of his letter Mr. Boss - referring to the censorship - says -
It ought to be abolished forthwith. As a remedy it is worse than the disease.
The last sentence has been excised by the. censor. I agree with Mr. Ross that the remedy is worse than the disease. But notwithstanding that that opinion may be shared by hundreds of thousands of persons within the Commonwealth, this military dictator, re’gardless of the welfare of the country, can suppress all that we say. These matters may be more or less unimportant, but” a straw shows how the wind blows.” The samples of the censorship to which I have directed attention are a clear indication of how anti-conscriptionists will be treated during the coming fight. Beforethe ink was dry upon the promise made by the Prime Minister that we should be given a fair opportunity of stating our case, it was practically repudiated by the censor. Upon a previous occasion I said that the anti-conscriptionists would not receive a fair deal during the forthcoming campaign, and that they would enter it in much the same way as a man armed with a bayonet would enter upon a fight with a man who was armed with a modern rifle. The conscriptionists will not allow our arguments to reach the public. I consider it a damned shame for Mr. Hughes to tell us that we shall have a fair field and then for the censor to tie our hands in the way that theyare being tied. Personally, I do not careeither for Mr. Hughes, the censor, or anybody else. I intend to express my views, and the stricter the censorship becomes the bolder will be my expression of them.
– In reply to Senator Needham, I wish to say in regard to the proclamation, that the Government will act in accordance with the Constitution and the law. They are advised as to the action which they should take, and they will follow that advice. I have nothing more to add.
– It is only due to the Senate that we should be told what the Minister means.
– I have nothing more to add.
– The Minister is treating the Senate with very scant courtesy.
– In regard to the statements of Senator Mullan concerning the censorship, I do not know whether it is worth while repeating that the instructions issued to the censors will be* adhered to, and that, in my opinion, they are being adhered to. The honorable senator quoted a number of cases with a view to showing that they are not being adhered to.
– I deny the fairness of those instructions,-to begin with.
– When the cases which the honorable senator quoted are investigated, it will be found that they are all a criticism of the censor for some act which he has committed in the past, under instructions^ Each of those paragraphs is a. criticism of the censor for. something which he has done previously. This question arose very early in the history of the censorship. In the early stages of the war certain things were prohibited under the censorship regulations. The ingenious pressman at once endeavoured to get round that prohibition by starting to criticise the stupidity of the censorship, and in order to prove that the censor was stupid he quoted* the article which the censor had previously struck out, and appealed to the public . to say whether it ought to have been struck out. Obviously something had to be done to stop that sort of thing, otherwise the position would have been farcical. Consequently, ‘ a regulation was framed under the War Precautions Act under which attacks upon the censor for anything done in the. performance of his duty were forbidden. I would direct the attention of the Senate to the last statement read by Senator Mullan. It was a criticism and condemnation of the Government. But the criticism of the censor was excised from those paragraphs. Why? Because the censor, as a Government servant, was carrying out his instructions. If we are to allow such criticism, obviously in order that it may be of an intelligent character, we must allow the publication of the facts upon which that criticism is based. When once we do that, of what use will the prohibition be?.
– Does’ the Minister affirm that nobody should say anything about the censor?
– Not as to the acts of the censor. If we allow that, we shall have to allow the publication, as criticism of the censor, of practically the allegations which that officer has previously excised. Suppose, for example, that somebody were to write a slashing and bitter article reflecting on the Allies, and that the censor cut it out. If the writer of that article were subsequently allowed in the press to attack the censor for his action, under the guise of that attack, he would be able to publish the very thing which he had been forbidden to publish. The statements quoted to-night by Senator Mullan in the portion which he said was not censored contain a criticism of the Government for its administration of the censorship of a far more sweeping character than is the criticism of the censor himself.
– Do those statements come within the prohibition outlined by Mr. Hughes?
– Yes; because under the War Precautions Act regulations such criticism is forbidden. Senator Mullan has stated that under the instructions issued to the censors it will be possible to . stop a criticism of the Gallipoli campaign, because such criticism might be construed as a reflection on the British Government. Of course, it has often been said that one can drive a coach and four through any Act o’f Parliament or through any regulations, and, conceivably, a censor might strain his instructions in the way that has been suggested by the honorable senator. But any such action would not be in accord with the spirit of those instructions, nor with thewishes of the’ Government.
– Perhaps the censor will not interpret the wishes of the Government correctly.
– Every civil servant does not carry out his duties as he should. If such an interpretation as that suggested by Senator Mullan were placed upon his instructions by the censor, he certainly would not receive any shelter from me.
– But what redress would any one have during the forthcoming campaign?
– He would have the redress I have indicated.
– The campaign will be over before the Minister can intervene.
– If any censor read’s the instructions so narrowly as the- honorable senator suggests, I promise him that he will be dealt with.
-Yes, when the campaign is over.
– No, at the time. It is my wish, and the wish of every other member of the Government, that the instructions to the censors should be interpreted in the way I have stated. I give Senator Mullan that assurance, though I do not know whether he is prepared to accept my assurance or not. I do not think that it is any reflection on Great Britain to say that the Gallipoli campaign was a mistake. That has been said in the press of all sections many times. It was said when the restrictions of the censorship were very much more severe than they are to-day.
– There is an article in the Melbourne Herald to-night by Mr. Keith Murdoch, criticising the failure of the campaign in Mesopotamia.
– It has been criticized over and over again, and it is not likely that such a criticism would be censored when the instructions to the censors are more liberal than they were previously.
– They are “ liberal “ all right, in that they suit the Liberals.
– I say that they are. more liberal than previous instructions issued to the censors. I noticed in one of the quotations made by Senator Mullan that there appeared, under the guise of a criticism of the War Precautions Act, an absolute misstatement of fact.
– I did not say whether the statement was right or wrong; but I deny the right to censor it.
– The statement was made that under the War Precautions Act people cannot approach a civil Court. It is sought to’ publish that statement throughout the length and breadth of the land, in order to incite resentment against the Government and the military authorities. But the statement is absolutely false. Any person can approach a civil Court against the censorship referred to, or against any action taken under the War . Precautions Act. It is not a military Court that deals with these things, but a civil Court. That is one of the statements which Senator Mullan read as an example of the statements that were struck out by the censor. Does the honorable senator wish freedom in this mat ter to mean the right to publish falsehoods about Acts of Parliament that are being questioned at the present juncture? Senator Mullan. - I say that it does not come within the rights of the censor to intervene.
– Then the honorable senator interprets freedom of the press to mean that in regard to these war measures - and the War Precautions Act is the foundation war measure - the publication knowingly of an absolutely false statement should be permitted?
– Who is to determine whether the statement is false? It is a matter of opinion.
– I say that the gentleman who penned the article from which the honorable senator quoted the statement knew it to be false.
– He might say that the Minister is false. Who is to decide ?
– He knew the statement he made to be false. Why did he seek to publish it at a time of war ? In order that the foundation war measure shouldbe held up before the people of the Commonwealth in a false light, and be made to appear a tyrannical military measure, administered by military Courts. Surely there can be only one conclusion as to the purpose sought to be served by the publication of such a statement. The purpose must be to create a false impression in the minds of the people, and to weaken the power of the Government in carrying on the war. Every one knows that the War Precautions Act is the foundation war measure, by which we are’ carrying on the war, and without which we could not carry it on. If such a measure is to be held up in a fake light before the people, I say that is not fair criticism. It is hampering the Government in the conduct of the war, and creating dissensions on false premises.
– I am satisfied as to. the kind of fair deal we are going to get when the Minister argues that way in defence of the censor.
– I adhere to what I said before, that the Government will, so far as they can, see that the instructions are interpreted throughout the Commonwealth as the preliminary paragraph setting out the instructions indicates.
– Why is the publication of statements easy of disproof or explanation invited?
– As the preceding paragraphs show, the object is to give the fullest liberty of discussion on both sides of this question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 8.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 September 1916, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1916/19160928_senate_6_80/>.