19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Attorney-General say whether the High Court is expected to give a decision soon in the case in which the constitutional power of the Commonwealth Government to ban the sale of cream has been challenged? Because of the possible effect of the judgment on butter rationing, will the Attorney-General ascertain from the High Court the probable date of its decision ?
– I do not know when the court will give its decision - that is a matter for the court itself. The hearing of the case concluded some little while ago, but the court is always busily engaged in the preparation of judgments, many of which present considerable difficulty. I have no doubt that the court will give its decision as soon as it is able.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware that, because of the shortage of labour and consequent congestion at the Port of Hobart, fruitgrowers in Tasmania may not be able to fill the contract for 2,500,000 cases of apples for the British Ministry of Pood before the closing date, the 14th June, and that the consignment may be 650,000 cases short? In view of the financial loss which confronts the growers, will the Minister make urgent representations to the Ministry of Pood in the United Kingdom for an extension of time for the fulfilment of the contract?
– I have discussed this matter with the Premier of Tasmania, and with representatives of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, and of the Waterside “Workers Federation. Every effort is being made to get labour to load the apples. I understand that the shippers at Hobart have already asked the Government of the United Kingdom for an extension of time, and that the extension has been granted. However, in view of the seriousness of the position, I shall again communicate with the Premier of Tasmania in order to learn whether any advantage may be gained by making a further request to the Government of the United Kingdom.
– Because of the in creasing cost of living and the inadequacy of the amount of pensions paid to totally and permanently incapacitated servicemen, will the Minister for Repatriation inform the Senate when the Government proposes to introduce legislation to increase the rate of those pensions?
– The matter of pensions and allowances to servicemen and war widows has been investigated by a sub-committee of the Cabinet. A report has been presented and the results of that report will he announced at an early date.
– On the 15th March Senator O’Byrne asked a question without notice concerning the method of computing the basic wage. The Commonwealth Statistician has informed me as follows: -
The basic wage is not computed on the “ C “ Series Retail Price Index. The basic wage is determined by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court at intervals in the light of evidence covering a wide range of economic circumstances.
The “ C “ Series Retail Price Index is used by the court only to make automatic quarterly adjustments to the basic wage in conformity with price variations shown by the index.
Mie regimen of the index is based substantially on the recommendations of the Basic Wage Commission of 1920 and it was reviewed in 1936 by the Conference of Statisticians.
In the Basic Wage case, now proceeding, certain submissions have been made by union advocates to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court relative to the court’s use of the index. The Commonwealth Statistician has supplied two memoranda to the court and has given evidence before the court in regard thereto. It was then indicated that the regimen, weighting, &c, of the index will be considered this year by Conference of Statisticians in the light of post-war conditions.
Successive governments in the past have regarded this as a matter best dealt with between the Commonwealth Statistician, the court and the representatives of employer* and employees. It is open to parties represented before the court to make any submission which they deem lit.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer state whether, in a revision of taxation, the Government will give consideration to allowing to taxpayers taxation deductions in respect of money expended in educating dependent children, including the teaching of music ?
– I shall convey the honorable senator’s question to the Treasurer and obtain an answer.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state what progress is being made with the construction or establishment of a bulk sugar store in Hobart as set out in the agreement between the Australian Government and the Government of Queensland?
– I am not aware of the present position, but if the honorable senator will place his question on the notice-paper, I shall have the matter investigated and provide him with a reply in due course.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether it is true that Government members of this Parliament are worried at the serious delay in bringing the Government’s health scheme into operation? Is the Minister aware that members of the Labour party, and the general public, are worried also at the Government’s failure so far to introduce an efficient and equitable national health scheme? As medical authorities claim that worry kills more people than cancer does, will the Minister take action to eliminate all this worry and so safeguard the national health ?
– I was not aware of any wide-spread worry amongst members of Parliament about this matter. I have read some newspaper reports about the views of the general public. As the national health scheme is within the province of the Minister for Health, I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to his notice, and obtain a reply at an early date.
– In view of the difficulty experienced by the Minister for Health in implementing a national health scheme, will the Minister for Social Services, who also represents the Minister for Health in this chamber, consider reconstituting the all-party committee on social security to assist in this and other social service matters where research is necessary to obtain valuable data which will expedite the passage of useful legislation, as the former committee did from 1941 to 1946?
– Whatever criticism may be made of the Government’s delay in implementing a national health service, I think that it must fade into insignificance in comparison with the criticism that should be directed against the last Administration for its complete inability to introduce such a scheme. If honorable senators opposite will exercise a little patience I think that the Minister for Health will bring forward a workable scheme which will satisfy them-
– Is the Minister for Social Services satisfied with his C0league’s progress in that direction?
– I think that the Minister is making very good progress, having regard to the complexity of the difficulties which confront him, with which honorable senators opposite are more familiar than are honorable senators on this side of the chamber. Concerning the second part of the honorable senator’s question, I think that it is worth a good deal of consideration, and I should like an opportunity to reflect upon it.
– Some time ago, the Leader of the Government in the Senate told me, in answer to a question, that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act had been declared invalid by the High Court. That being so, how is it now proposed to get over the difficulty so as to allow the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) to put his proposed scheme into operation ?
– I did not say that the whole of the act had been declared invalid by the High Court, but only those sections which required doctors to prescribe on a particular form. So far as 1 am aware, no difficulty arising out of the High Court’s decision stands in the way of implementing the kind of plan which the Minister for Health may seek to put into operation.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information : -
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the press announcement about the duration and value of tea and butter rationing coupons means that the ration of those commodities to householders is to be increased? If not, can the Minister say whether the people of this country can look forward to an early increase of their tea and butter ration, or the abolition of the rationing of those commodities altogether ?
– I understood that questions based on newspaper reports were not to be encouraged. However, the answer to the honorable senator’s question is that although the current tea and butter rationing tickets have been doubled in value, the period that they are to cover has also been doubled. In other words, they will expire on the 9th July instead of on about the 11th June. The whole question of tea and butter rationing is still receiving consideration.
– I hope that the Minister was not reflecting on the Chair when he said that he believed that questions based on newspaper reports were not to be encouraged.
– I assure you, Mr. President, that nothing was further from my mind.
– I have a question to ask the Minister for Trade and Customs, which is not based on a newspaper report. I should like to know whether butter and tea rationing has been extended temporarily to avoid announcing the Government’s intention until after the New South Wales elections have been held?
– I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition is being facetious or offensive, but I can assure him that my department is not interested in the result of the New South “Wales elections.
– Has every step been taken by the Government to acquaint people in all parts of the Commonwealth of the alteration of the value and duration of tea and butter rationing coupons? Experience indicates that great administrative difficulties, and consequently the utmost inconvenience to householders, can be caused by a change such as this. I should like to know whether the Government is satisfied that the utmost publicity has been given to the alteration of the value of the coupons and the period of their duration, so that no confusion may take place in the minds of the public and members of the retail trade?
– I realize the importance of the point raised by the honorable senator, and I assure him that complete steps have been taken by press and radio and through administrative channels to inform the public and the retail trade generally of the Government’s decision.
– Having regard to the importance of butter to the health of the children of this country and the neglect of this Government to abolish butter rationing, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether he will examine a report from Eire which set3 out the reasons why the British Government had refused to import butter from that country? I ask the Minister, further, whether the report will-be taken into consideration by this Government when butter rationing in Australia is being reviewed ?
– I have not read the report to which the honorable senator has referred, but if it is of interest to the administration of my department I shall be very happy to read it and to benefit from it.
– In view of the fact that some rest homes, where patients discharged from hospitals convalesce until they have recovered, cannot get sufficient butter, will the Minister for Trade and Customs consider granting them a special ration ?
– I hasten to assure the honorable senator that applications for special rations of butter in circumstances such as those indicated by the honorable senator are always given very sympathetic consideration by my department.
– Is it a fact that Liberal party candidates, prior to the 10th December, promised electors that a Liberal government would put value back into the £1, and prevent further increases in the prices of consumable goods? Is it also a fact that the Minister for Trade and Customs, in reply to a question in this Senate on the 8th March, stated that the Government was taking action to prevent increases in the cost of living? Did he also state, in reply to a question, that the Government had a formula by which it intended to put value back in the £1 ? Since the prices of consumable goods increased after the 10th December, and have increased still more since the 8th March, the date when the Minister assured the Senate that the Government was taking action to prevent further increases, will the Minister advise the Senate of the nature of the formula that the Government has prepared, and will his Government immediately put the formula into operation? Can he assure members of the Senate that no further increase in prices of consumable goods will take place?
– One might think that this was a “ Dorothy Dix “ question. In reply to it, I propose to quote from the statement by Sir Stafford Cripps to the House of Commons, in December, 1949 -
No devaluation, no economies, no governmental action of any kind can in fact save our present social and living standards unless we all collectively and severally play our full part. That is not a rhetorical statement or a flight of the imagination. It is the stark fact . . . Unless we can all quickly produce more and get our costs down we shall suffer a tragic fall in our standard of living, accompanied by all the demoralizing insecurity of widespread unemployment . . .
I commend the statement of Sir Stafford Cripps to honorable senators opposite.
– Is it a fact that the Liberal party in Australia has adopted the policy of the Labour party in Great Britain ?
– As the people of Australia well know, we are a Liberal party. If there is any good in the Labour party’s policy, we are prepared to give it a go.
– As the Australian £1 is now of less value than ever before, will the Minister for Trade and Customs say whether the Government will consider calling a convention of the States to consider the matter, or, alternatively, submit to the public a referendum on the matter, so that at least some of the worry experienced by the poorly paid members of the community may be lifted from their shoulders ?
– I can assure the honorable senator that the Government is fully conscious of its responsibility, and with a little co-operation from honorable senators opposite and those whom they represent we shall restore the purchasing power of the £1.
– That is not an answer to my question. I asked whether the Government would consider calling a convention of the State parliaments, or, alternatively, whether the Government would submit the matter to a referendum of the people so that the people could be given an opportunity to express their views. I want an answer to that question.
– I can quite understand the honorable senator’s keenness to obtain an answer to the question that he asked. However, it is not customary to make announcements on such matters in answer to questions, and, in any event, I have no authority from the Government to take Senator Grant into my .confidence.
– Can the Leader of the Senate say whether it is a fact that under the administration of Labour governments between 1941 and 1949 the value of the Australian £1 depreciated from 19s. to 13s., taking into consideration the value of retail goods and services in the “ C “ series index ? If it is correct that the Australian £1 depreciated by 6s. in eight years, will the Minister say whether he considers that the depreciation was due to the mal-administration of the socialist administrations that were in office during those years?
– It is an historical fact that the value of the £1 started its downward slide under the regime of a Labour-socialist government. We are encountering great difficulty in arresting the slide.
– As the Minister for Trade and Customs has told us in answer to an earlier question what Sir Stafford Cripps recommended in order to put value back into the £1, will he tell us what this Government has done to achieve that end ?
– I cannot delay the Senate by giving that information now. It would take me more than the whole afternoon to tell honorable senators what this Government has done to increase production.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs confirm the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in Launceston that it is not the responsibility of the Parliament to put value back into the £1 ?
– I rise to a point of order. Is not the honorable senator reading ?
– I am reading the question.
– Is the honorable senator quoting a statement as part of his question? If so, I submit, Mr. President, that he is prohibited from doing so by your ruling .
– I have ruled thai it is not permissible, when asking a question, to read from newspapers or periodicals. 1 have not yet ruled that it is disorderly to quote a statement made by some one outside the Parliament, although other Presidents have ruled in that way. Senator Hendrickson is in order.
– Before the general election of the 10th December, the Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, stated in his policy speech that if his party were returned to power he would endeavour to put value back into the £1, the value of which was then stated to be 12s. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs confirm the statement of the Prime Minister that it is not the responsibility of the Parliament to pui value back into the £1, but that it is, and always was, the responsibility of the people to do so?
– I rise to a point of order. It is quite apparent that Senator Hendrickson was reading from, a printed document. I submit that he was readme from a book or paper or pamphlet, which would bring his action within the ruling that you, Mr. President, gave recently.
– I am not clairvoyant, nor have I second sight. I cannot see Senator Hendrickson’s notes, but he said that he was reading his question. He did not say that he was reading from a newspaper. On Thursday last, I asked Senator Wright whether he was reading from a document, and stated that, if hp were doing so, he would be out of order. If Senator Hendrickson had been reading from a document when he was asking his question, he would have been out of order. However, Senator Hendrickson may have heard the Prime Minister make the statement to which he referred. I do not know. I understand that he wrote out his question, and read it.
– As it would apparently embarrass the Leader of the Government to answer my question, I withdraw it.
– In view of the statements made from time to time that the Government has put value back into the£1, and of the fact that the basic wage is fixed on a quarterly basis according to the “ C “ series index in the six capital cities, and seeing that the basic wage has been increased since the 10th December, how can the Minister for Trade and Customs claim that value has been put back into the £1 by the Government ?
– If the honorable senator will see me afterwards in my room, I shall explain the matter to him.
– Some time agoI directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Supply a question relating to the establishment of a committee to investigate government transport services. I ask whether an answer to it is available?
– An answer to the question is not yet available.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs to the results of the general elections that were held recently in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria. In those elections, the electors showed a continued and growing confidence in the Labour party’s platform of democracy. Will the Minister allay my fears of a double dissolution of this Parliament, because I am afraid that if it occurs the Government will be defeated and the people will lose the advantage of its wonderful efforts to put value back into the£1?
– As the honorable senator’s fears are apparently based upon a hallucination, I am afraid there is very little that I can do to allay them. As to the alleged march of progress of the Labour Government in Queensland, it may be of interest to the honorable senator to know that that Government is in a very substantial minority as far as the electorate is concerned, because much less than 50 per cent. of the people voted for it.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Trade and Customs, arises from the question asked by Senator Cole. Is the Minister aware that in the recent general election in Victoria the Labour party gained at least ten, and probably twelve, seats ? In view of his statement regarding the Queensland Government, I direct his attention to a report in to-day’s Melbourne Argus that in that election it took, on the average, 20,250 votes to elect a Labour party candidate, 16,000 votes to elect a Liberalparty candidate and 10,000 votes to elect an Australian Country party candidate. Does the Minister subscribe to the view that was expressed by the Melbourne Sun-News Pictorial that the result of the general election in Victoria can be hailed as a non-Labour victory ?
– I am rather surprised at the question of the honorable senator. Apparently he is a “ tiger “ for punishment. I had noticed, but I was not going to rub it in, that only 44 per cent. or 45 per cent. of the electors voted for Labour candidates, and out of a house of 65 they gained only about 24 seats. I am sorry for the honorable senator, but I cannot help him.
– On the 26th
April, Senator O’Byrne asked me the following questions about campaign medals : -
The Minister acting for the Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : -
– In view of fie great emphasis being placed on the necessity for increased production, and the important part that the Government believes incentive payments will play in that connexion, will the Minister for Trade and Customs consider introducing the system of incentive payments in government munitions factories?
– I shall refer the honorable senator’s question to my colleague concerned in the matter.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The Minister for Works and Housing has supplied the following information : -
asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
What progress, if any, has been made towards finalizing the claims of those superannuated officers of the Commonwealth whose services were utilized by the Commonwealth during the war period as supernumerary employees, and from whose salaries deductions were made on account of superannuation?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following information : -
The conditions applicable to superannuation pensioners who are temporarily re-employed by the Commonwealth after their retirement are under review by the present Government in the light of the examination undertaken by the Chifley Government immediately prior to the last general elections. This and associated problems are receiving the close attention of the Government, but the stage of final consideration by Cabinet has not yet been reached.
asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
On the 10th May, Senator Cole asked me a question concerning the arrival of ships in ballast to load pyrites from the west coast of Tasmania. I have had inquiries made and I now supply the honorable senator with the following information : -
The shipment of pyrites from Tasmania to Melbourne is a matter of utmost Commonwealth importance due to the fact that pyrites is used in conjunction with sulphuric acid and sulphur rock to manufacture superphosphates. If this commodity is not available in sufficient quantities in Australia to meet the demand, it necessitates its importation from the United States of America, thus forcing the Commonwealth to expend dollars. There are restricting factors in this trade which only small vessels are able to overcome. Therefore, to ensure that the greatest possible quantity of pyrites is lifted from Tasmania, it is necessary on occasions to return vessels to the pyrites loading point in ballast. When circumstances permit, the vessels operating in this trade are used to load cargoes from Melbourne for Tasmania, and the position which at the moment exists is quoted as an example - Edenhope is now loading in Melbourne for Burnie, Elmore for Launceston and Enfield also for Burnie. -
asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
Will the Minister inform the Senate what amount of subsidy has been or will be paid by the Commonwealth on coal already imported or to be imported, amounting in all to at least 1,000,000 tons, for use in South Australia and Victoria?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
The Commonwealth Government has decided to import a quantity of coal from overseas by arrangement with the Victorian and South Australian Governments. A similar quantity of coal which would normally be received by those States as their share* of New South Wales production will be diverted to certain essential heavy industries in New South Wales, principally the steel industry. The cost to the Commonwealth Government in respect of imported coal will be the difference between the landed cost of imported coal and the cost which would have bren incurred by the Victorian and South Australian Governments had a similar quantity of coal been imported by those governments from New South Wales. The quantities of coal involved are still the subject of negotiations, but they would amount to approximately 85.”>,000 tons. The charge to he finally borne by the Commonwealth cannot be determined until the final overseas shipment ha>? arrived, but the estimated cost of the subsidy on the quantities ordered is approximately £1,700,000.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Is it a fact that in recent State declarations of the basic wage, the female rates of pay are only 54 per cent, of the male basic wage; if so, will the Minister consider introducing in the Austra’ian Capital Territory bus fares at lower rates for women passengers, thus setting an example to State governments and private commercial interests, in order to bring the female basic wage into line with living costs?
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answer : -
The female basic wage under awards of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is 54 per cent, of the male basic wage. This is a primary amount to which is added marginal amounts fixed according to the relative skill and experience of the particular workers or group of workers, or to special conditions which they encounter during the course of their employment. There is no female basic wage for the Australian Capita! Territory, rates of wages being determined on a percentage ranging from 00 per cent, to 75 per cent, of the male basic wage plus marginal amounts. It would not be practicable to determine bus fares on the basis of the earning capacity of individuals.
asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Will the Government inquire from the governments of Egypt, Norway, and Sweden as to what progress bas been made in connexion with the development of long distance high tension transmission lines for electricity?
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answer: -
The Government through its technical experts is well aware of the developments which are taking place in the field of long d.stance transmission of electricity in these and other countries. Several well known international conferences such as the C.I.G.R.E. (International Conference on Large Electric Systems) held in Paris every two years, and ibc World Power Conference usually held eery four years, provide an opportunity for a discussion of technical problems of the kind mentioned. Further consideration will be given to the development of Ions distance, high tension transmission lines when the?e conferences meet in June-July of this year. Austraia will be represented by leading electrical engineers.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answer : - 1 and 2. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has submitted proposals for the further encouragement of Australian artists, these proposals are receiving consideration and the honorable senator will be informed when a decision has been reached.
Debate resumed from the 11th May (vide page 2419), on motion by Senator Wright -
That the ruling of Mr. President - to the effect that the reading of an extract from a, report of House of Commons proceedings as part of a question without notice is not in order - be dissented from.
. -Standing Orders 98 to 103 inclusive, which deal with the formulation of questions, are not very specific, and the interpretations placed upon them by former Presidents have been published from time to time in booklet form. In speaking to this motion, there should be no need for me to emphasize that there is no suggestion of unfairness or partiality on your part, Mr. President. This is a matter that affects all honorable senators, and on which a considered opinion is most desirable. In the fourteenth edition of May’s Parliamentary Practice, at page 336, the following paragraph appears : -
The purpose of a question is to obtain information or press for action, and it should not be in effect a short speech, or limited to giving information, or framed so as to suggest its own answer or convey a particular point of view. The facts on which a question is based may he set out briefly, provided the Member asking it makes himself responsible for their accuracy, but extracts from newspapers or books, quotations from speeches, etc.. are not admissible. Where the facts are of sufficient moment the Speaker has required prima facie proof of their authenticity. A question which publishes the names of persons or statements not strictly necessary to render the question intelligible will be refused a place on the notice-paper.
Our own Standing Orders do not cover the specific point now under discussion. Therefore I shall refer to the interpreta tions that have been placed upon them at various times. The first was during the presidency of Senator R. C. Baker. Ruling 208, which appears on page 34 of volume I. of Rulings of the President of the Senate, states -
Questions relative to tittle-tattle in the newspapers, and opinions of outside authorities, are not out of order, but the practice of asking them is to be deprecated.
From that quotation, and from others that I shall make, honorable senators will see that newspapers rather than periodicals or authenticated documents have been specifically singled out. So far as I can see, there has not been a formal ruling in regard to extracts from authenticated documents as distinct from newspapers. In volume 2, at page 22, appears the following ruling by President Gould :-
Extracts from Newspapers.
Should not be unduly long; a Senator is responsible for the correctness thereof.
In that ruling there is an implication that permission can be given by the President to quote from a newspaper, but that such quotation should not be unduly long, and that the honorable senatorquoting must be in a position to accept responsibility for the accuracy of the statements that he is quoting. The next ruling to which I direct attention is contained in volume 3 at page 9. President Turley ruled -
In asking a question a Senator cannot introduce argument, and the reading of newspaper extracts is discountenanced.
Newspaper extracts should not be read in asking a question. In volume 4, page 36, Ruling 376 states -
In asking a question it is not in order to read a very long extract; or to include alleged facts under cover of asking for information.
The implication is that permission should not be withheld to quote from a newspaper, but that the quotation should not be unduly long, although that ruling is somewhat inconsistent with the previous ruling. However, Ruling 382, which appears on page 37 of the same volume, states -
In asking a question a Senator may direct attention to the leading facts reviewed in a newspaper article, but he is not entitled to quote from a newspaper unless he is prepared to vouch for the accuracy of the quotation.
In volume 5, page 15, Ruling 75 by President Newlands provides that -
A Senator basing a question upon news paper statements must signify in writing that he accepts responsibility for their accuracy.
I do not know what was in the minds of the previous Presidents who made those rulings, but it is significant that the last two rulings that I have read, which provide that a senator must vouch for the accuracy of any report that he quotes, mention only newspapers and not periodicals. That is why it is important to obtain a considered ruling now, because the document on which Senator Wright attempted to base his question on the previous day of sitting is a publication, the accuracy and authenticity of which speaks for itself. It is the Journal of the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, which is issued under the authority of the General Council of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, so that its accuracy and authenticity naturally carry much greater weight than would an extract from an article in a newspaper, and it would be quite unnecessary, I should think, for an honorable senator who quoted from it to vouch for the accuracy of any statement contained therein. Concerning the length of the quotation, the position appears to be that a senator may refer to newspaper reports and statements, but the references must not be too lengthy or tedious. However, that was obviously not the basis upon which you, Mr. President, disallowed the question, because Senator Wright had not got any distance with it. In fact, the matter which he proposed to quote occupies only ten lines of print, so that it would not be disallowed on the ground of length or tediousness.
– What does the honorable senator regard as being tedious or lengthy ?
– I do not propose to read the passage to which Senator Wright intended to refer. Honorable senators may read it for themselves. It appears in the issue of December, 1949, of the Journal of the Parliaments of the
Commonwealth. The matter affects Government supporters particularly, because in the past most questions have been based upon newspaper reports and comments, and I should like to know whether the decision given by you, sir, on Thursday means that in no circumstances can a question that is based on printed matter or statements be asked. In the course of your ruling you used the following words : - it is not permissible to quote from newspapers or statements when asking questions.
And that is the ruling against which we now protest and on which we invite debate. As I said at the outset there is not the slightest suggestion of unfairness or partiality on the part of the Chair, but it is important now to clarify the point raised by Senator Wright, not so much by stating a new principle, as by re-stating an existing principle, which should be the guiding element in the conduct of the business of the Senate at question time. It may be, Mr. President, that in the past you have been overtolerant, but it is necessary now that the position should be laid down clearly and at length.
. -I note that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) has not charged the President with partiality in this matter, and I think that that is very important. The business of the Senate should be conducted and controlled, as it hasbeen in the past, in accordance with a tradition that members of this chamber are proud to live up to. For that reason I was somewhat surprised at the action of Senator Wright, who is a new member, in making the motion now under discussion. Rulings are not always, I presume, based upon standing orders, because it would be impossible to draft standing orders to meet every contingency that may arise in debate, and I think that the Minister will agree that rulings are based, at least to some degree, upon the judgment of the President, who plays a very important part in the conduct of the business of the chamber, and must always do so. If the rulings of the President are to be challenged merely because a question that was directed at a Minister for propagandist purposes-
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) has no right to say that, because I did not know what the question was going to be.
– I have every right to make the remark that I did because I was not impressed in any way by the attitude adopted by the Minister when the question was asked. The Minister was itching to get to his feet, and if ever a question looked like a “ Dorothy Dix “ it was the question asked by Senator Wright.
– I knew nothing whatever about it.
– The Minister rose immediately the question was asked, and inquired of the Chair how he could answer the question unless he heard the rest of it.
– I did not know what was being asked until afterwards.
– Our debates are guided by May’s Parliamentary Practice, which has been referred to by the Minister. Of course, the construction of any passage in that work depends on the interpretation placed upon it, and because the Minister is a legal man I realize that he can probably interpret it to greater advantage than I can. However, concerning the passage in May’s Parliamentary Practice, which states “extracts from newspapers or books are not admissible “, it is clear that the document produced by the Minister this afternoon is a “book” within the meaning of that passage.
– It certainly was. I do not argue about that.
– Then the honorable senator said that newspapers have been ruled out on the ground that the matter contained in them may not be authentic. He went on to argue that if a question were based on a quotation from a newspaper it would depend on the nature of the question whether authority was required to confirm its authenticity. However, I think that that is just the point at which the President must exercise his judgment. If the President thought that a question was asked, not to elicit information or for the benefit of the Senate or the people, but simply for propagandist purposes, he would undoubtedly be justified in ruling it out of order. The motion under discussion was made because a question asked by Senator Wright, who is a Government supporter, was ruled out of order. Questions asked in this chamber can be placed in three categories; first, questions asked for the purpose of eliciting information; secondly, propaganda questions asked for the purpose of gaining some political advantage - I say quite frankly that honorable senators opposite do not have a monopoly of questions of that kind - and, thirdly, questions asked, not only for propaganda purposes but also in an attempt to discredit an honorable senator. Questions of that kind have, until recently, not been common in this chamber. I cannot remember one being asked or ruled out of order in my experience of the Parliament, which extends over some years, except in the present Parliament. A question of tha? kind was asked by Senator McCallum.
– I rise to order. I submit that Senator Ashley should confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair. This is not a second-reading debate.
– The subjectmatter of the motion is very important, because it relates to the conduct of proceedings in this chamber. I consider that I should extend some latitude to honorable senators who speak upon the motion, so that we may cover the whole of the ground and, if possible, save further disputation. The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition are in order, but he must not pursue that line of argument too far.
– The motion arises from a question that was asked by an honorable senator. I submit that references to questions that have been asked in this chamber are in . order, because they are relevant to the very kernel of the motion. On one occasion Senator McCallum asked whether Senator Morrow was to be allowed to continue to .sit with the members of the Labour party in this chamber. It will not be suggested that the question was not asked in aa endeavour to gain some political advantage and to discredit Senator Morrow.
The honorable senator is quite capable of defending himself, and I assume that he will have something to say about that matter later on, but the only crime that was alleged against him was that he attended a peace conference. Throughout the world to-day men are attending peace conferences in an endeavour to secure peace, which should be the object of every person in this country. It was alleged that the peace conference at which Senator Morrow attended had some connexion with Communists. If it had, the honorable senator might not have been aware of it. I am not suggesting that he was not aware of it, but let us assume that he was not. Was Senator McCallum justified in asking a question that was, admittedly, designed to damage Senator Morrow ? It is regrettable when any person, whether he refers to a member of this Senate or a person outside it, resorts to the practice of asking questions in this chamber that may be described as a coward’s castle. I have never said in this chamber anything against another person that I would not have been prepared to say on the public platform. I think it is wrong when members of the Senate like Senator Wright and Senator McCallum, the “poison cart” distributors here, try to defame honorable senators on this side of the chamber.
– I rise to order. I object to the phrase “ poison cart “. The terms that I used in my question were terms used by the executive of the Australian Labour party. I made no other statement.
– Do you ask for a withdrawal of the phrase ?
– I ask that the phrase “poison cart” be withdrawn, on the ground that it is offensive to me.
– I withdraw the phrase. Senator McCallum, at any rate by innuendo, endeavoured to destroy the reputation of Senator Morrow. Apparently the phrase “ poison cart “ is too strong and is not palatable to him. Any person who endeavours to destroy the character of another person should know the way in which his conduct can be described. I expect something better than that from two honorable senators opposite who are supposed to represent in this chamber the intellectual section of society. When I protested last week against a question being answered or discussed, you, Mr. President, said that you would direct the broadcasting-
– I rise to order. The only matter before the Chair is a motion that a ruling of Mr. President to the effect that the reading of an extract from a report of the House of Commons proceedings a3 part of a question is not in order. I do not think it is necessary, or appropriate to the question, for the Leader of the Opposition to deal generally with the conduct of the Senate during the last twelve months.
– The Leader of the Opposition is arguing that my ruling involves the matter of questions asked for propaganda purposes. He has pointed out that during question time propaganda is indulged in. In support of his argument, he has referred to what happened on a previous occasion. I consider it to be advisable to canvass the whole matter now, so that we may arrive at a clear conception of the rights of honorable senators in regard to questions. The clearer the conception, the less possibility there will be of motions of dissent from my rulings. I realize that during this debate words may be uttered that may hurt some honorable senators, but I ask the Senate to be patient so that the matter may be dealt with as fully as possible.
– I rise to order. You, Mr. President, gave only one reason for refusing to allow my question. I submit that the only issue on this motion is whether the reason that you advanced in support of your decision was right or wrong. You will, in effect, open up a debate upon all kinds of questions if you adopt the course that you have indicated.
– What is the point of order?
– My point of order is that it is out of order for an honorable senator to go beyond the scope of this motion, part of which reads as follows : -
I say, with great respect, that although the question of Senator Morrow’s statements in relation to the Communist party or the Labour party is one of importance to the Senate, it is in no way relevant to this motion.
– I have pointed out that the motion affects all questions asked in this chamber. When I ruled Senator Wright’s question out of order I had in my mind that it involved other considerations. Whilst any matter impinging on the particular question may be dealt with in passing, it would not be in order for an honorable senator to speak at length on matters other than the one at issue. Apparently the motion involves more than appears on the surface. I ask honorable senators to keep as near as possible to the motion. By so doing they will contribute to the better conduct of the debate.
– Senator Wright presumes to- possess a great deal of knowledge in these matters. However, I remind the Senate that several days ago he endeavoured, through you, Mr. President, to ask me a similar question, despite his considerable experience as a member of the Tasmanian Parliament and limited experience in this chamber. Invariably he has numerous reference books and documents before him, and flutters about on the Government side of the chamber, imparting advice - either good or bad - to his colleagues. Obviously the honorable senator endeavoured to address that question to me through ignorance or through a wrong interpretation of the Standing Orders. I therefore suggest that you, Mr. President, should not be swayed by the advice that Senator Wright has proffered. At the time that I took exception to the question that was being asked by Senator McCallum, I pointed out the danger involved and you, sir, endeavoured to protect the person involved. However, this report subsequently appeared in the press -
Because of the announcement by the-
– I rise to order. Standing Order 414 provides -
No Senator shall read extracts from newspapers or other documents, except Hansard, referring to Debates in the Senate during the same Session.
Notwithstanding the experience that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) has had in this chamber, I submit that there is no escape from that provision.
– I protest. The phrase there is no escape from that provision “ is very offensive.
– We do not want to get too “ namby-pamby “ in regard to this matter. The meaning of the standing order is clear.
– .There is no debate on it.
– I submit that Standing Order 414 does not apply in this instance. The point arose from something that developed at question time, not during debate. Standing Order 414 refers only to the reading of extracts of debates in this chamber.
– I rule that the Leader of the Opposition was in order in referring to a question that had been asked.
– At the time, Mr. President, you endeavoured to protect Senator Morrow, by directing that the question should not be recorded in Hansard, and that it should not be broadcast. Although some of the press representatives in the gallery were decent enough to respect your wishes, a report of the matter appeared in some of the newspapers. One such report reads -
Because of the announcement by the Federal Labour party Executive that the Peace Council was a Communist organization, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator O’sullivan) was asked whether Senator Morrow (Tasmania) would continue to occupy a Labour seat, or a separate seat. The question was immediately disallowed by the President (Sr. the Hon. Gordon Brown1 because it involved a senator in relation to his party.
The question addressed to me, to which I have referred, was asked solely for propaganda purposes. I am glad that, by your ruling, Mr. President, the same freedom will be allowed in this matter to the Opposition as to honorable senator, on the Government side of the chamber. I am sure that any honorable senator who was a member of this chamber during t]], regime of the former Government would agree that you have always carried out your duties with distinction and fairness to both sides.
– That is not disputed.
– Now “new Johnnies-come-lately “, with all their wisdom, try to besmirch the character of honorable senators on this side of the chamber. As a result of this discussion I hope that honorable senators occupying the Government benches will restrict the propaganda that they try to “put across”. Members of the Opposition do not object to fair propaganda by Government senators so long as the object is not to discredit them. But the Opposition will strenuously protect its members against propaganda by honorable senators opposite intended merely to defame them. That was solely the reason for my objection. I should be glad if the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) or the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) would assure the Senate that, in future, questions asked solely for propaganda purposes will be discouraged. When I was in office in the former Government I always assisted the President to ensure that every honorable senator received fair treatment.
– The honorable senator’s followers were very well regimented.
– It would be much better if the honorable senator were to regiment some of his own followers. I trust, Mr. President, that your explanation will be satisfactory to honorable senators on both sides of the chamber.
– Mr. President-
– Does the honorable senator wish to speak?
– If you please.
– I believe that several other honorable senators wish to speak, and it is proper that they should. The more who speak the better it will be. In the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom.
– Will you, by speaking now, Mr. President, close the debate?
– No. All honorable senators who wish to speak will have an opportunity to do so. The motion of dissent was moved by Senator Wright, and is in the following terms: -
That the ruling of Mr. President - to the effect that the reading of an extract from a report of House of Commons proceedings as part of a question without notice is not in order - be dissented from.
When all other honorable senators who wish to speak have spoken, Senator Wright will be called upon to reply.
This is the first time that a ruling of mine has been made the subject of a motion of dissent. That, of course, does not make me a modern Solomon. I realize that I am human, and can make mistakes. I do not profess to know the Standing Orders so thoroughly that it is impossible for me to fall from grace. I do not for one moment resent the action of an honorable senator in questioning my ruling. It is my desire that the debates in the Senate shall be conducted on the highest plane, and that every one shall receive justice. I may sometimes make a mistake and hurt the feelings of an honorable senator, but I have never done so wittingly. It would be impossible for a President to conduct the proceedings of the Senate, or for a Speaker to conduct the proceedings of the House of Representatives, unless he had the goodwill and confidence of those over whom he presided. I believe that I enjoy the goodwill and confidence of honorable senators generally, and I have always done my best to conduct the debates with decorum. We should not forget that, upon occasion, proceedings in this chamber are broadcast. As the representatives of a democracy we are, in a sense, fighting for the retention of the parliamentary system. It behoves those who preside over the deliberations of the Parliament so to conduct proceedings that the public will realize that it would be foolish on their part to allow parliamentary institutions to be destroyed. Those who, in the heat of debate, forget that truth, do a disservice to democracy. We should always strive to maintain the dignity of the Parliament, and to uphold its prestige. Senator Wright said that I, in giving my ruling, had only one point in mind.
I assure him that I had several points in mind, the chief of which was that we are now living under a new dispensation, and cannot allow ourselves to he ruled by the dead hand of the past. Only a few days ago, I gave a ruling that was contrary to one that had been given by President Baker. I believe that I was right, and that I had the support of a majority of honorable senators. In these days, it is impossible to conform to all the rulings that have been given in the past. I have here a publication setting forth rulings given by past Presidents. They are many and varied, and can be used to support almost any contention. Even the devil can quote Scripture to suit his purpose. I have gone through these publications when debates have become trying, and I find that the rulings sometimes contradict one another. I must bring to bear common sense and reason when giving rulings. I point out to Senator Wright, and to honorable senators generally, that the proceedings of the Senate are broadcast from time to time and that questions without notice are sometimes re-broadcast. Therefore, the President is in duty bound to require honorable senators to make their questions brief so that as many as possible may be asked within the time allotted for re-broadcasting. For that reason, I state emphatically that I am opposed to Ministers reading long statements during question time. I have mentioned this before, and, in future, hope to take action against Ministers who do not conform to what will be my ruling that long statements shall not be read in question time. They may be read later.
As for my ruling in the case of Senator Wright, I am not a thought reader, and I did not know how long was the extract that he proposed to read in the course of asking his question. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) has now told us that it was an extract of only ten lines. However, whether it was short or long, it is now desirable that we should decide that no extracts whatsoever :-hall be read by honorable senators in question time. That is only right and proper. If it is decided that no honorable senator may read from a newspaper when asking a question, then it follows logically that he must not read from a book or a periodical. I have not laid it down that questions must not be based on newspaper reports, although some Presidents have done that in the past. I have said that honorable senators should not quote at length from newspapers, or indeed, quote from them at all. It is better that they should frame their questions in this way: Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to an article in such and such a newspaper or book or periodical, and then state as briefly as possible what the article covers. Senator Sir Walter Kingsmill, when President, ruled that if an honorable senator based a question on a newspaper report he must be prepared to give an undertaking in writing to accept responsibility for its accuracy. I do not go so far as that, although I may change my mind. At the moment, it is competent for an honorable senator to ask a question based upon a newspaper article, but not to read an extract from the newspaper. The Standing Orders lay down certain rules governing the asking of questions, and honorable senators may read the Standing Orders themselves. However, they do not cover the whole of the ground, and it devolves upon the President to give rulings from time to time so that, over the years, precedents have been established. It does not follow, however, that a President is bound to follow slavishly the precedents created by his predecessors. Times have changed; radio broadcasting has been developed and microphones have been installed so that the speeches of honorable senators and members of the House of Representatives may be heard by the public. There is no standing order forbidding the reading of extracts from periodicals. However, presiding officers in this and in the State Parliaments have always taken May’s Parliamentary Practice as their guide. Both the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) and the Minister for Trade and Customs (.Senator O’Sullivan) quoted from May, and I quote once more the following passage : -
Extracts from newspapers or books, quotations from speeches, &c, are not admissible.
That is the rule of the House of Commons, the Mother of Parliaments. Surely that ought to be enough for any honorable senator. We should remember that there is an important difference between questions asked on notice, and those asked without notice. A question on notice is written out and handed to the Clerk, who may alter it so as to put it in order. If he is in doubt, he will ask the President whether he should delete this or that. However, a question asked without notice, may be recorded for broadcasting between 7.25 p.m. and 8 p.m. The questions may be disorderly, but if it eludes the vigilance of the President, it will be broadcast. I did take action last week in annexion with a question asked by Senator McCallum, and the broadcasting authorities wisely and decently did not broadcast that question. If a disorderly question is asked, another honorable senator can, if he is quick, take objection te it. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) was very speedy, and, before Senator “Wright was able to read the quotation - which I am now informed was one of ten lines only - directed my attention to the fact that the honorable senator was reading an extract from a book. I think I said at the time that I was about to call Senator Wright to order. However, if the Leader of thu Opposition had not directed attention to the extract, it would have been broadcast that evening. A disorderly question would go out to the public. Honorable senators will see the difficulty.
– The House of Commons disorderly?
– I did not say the House of Commons. The Minister, with his highly trained legal mind, should not fall into such ineptitude. I did not say that the House of Commons was disorderly. I was pointing out that a quotation from a book is disorderly. It might be the very acme of human intelligence. I am not disparaging or criticizing it in any way. When Senator Wright began to read an extract, my attention was drawn to the fact, I stopped him and told him that it was disorderly to read quotations. I informed Senator Wright in terms that a schoolboy could understand, that he could frame his question in such a way that it would come within the ambit of the Standing Orders or the rules laid down by past Presidents or by myself. Hp replied, “ I will do that. I will conform to your wishes, Mr. President “. For his subsequent statements I turn to Ilansard, which is a reputable publication and is usually very accurate. In fact it often improves on the speeches. Hansard records these statements -
– Accepting that indication, may I now put my question in a form conformable with your ruling? I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a statement made by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on the subject of putting value back in the £1, to this effect-
– I rise to order.
– Order ! I must first hear what the honorable senator has to say before I can rule on it.
– I ask the Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a statement by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to this effect; “Under devaluation, no country-
– Order ! If the honorable senator is reading from the book that he is holding, his question is not in order.
That is the point. I was not criticizing the matter at all. I did not know what it was and, as a matter of fact, Senator Wright had said only a few words. But after Senator Wright had been told by me for the second time not to read extracts, he continued to do so. I think I have covered the ground fairly. I ask that honorable senators should consider these matters and do all in their power to help the President to carry out the standing orders. I am not a martinet or a dictator and I think that it would be wrong for any President or Speaker to adopt a dictatorial attitude. I am placed in the Chair by the indulgence and goodwill of the Senate to carry out the Standing Orders to the best of my ability. I try to do so as liberally as possible so that there shall be orderly discussion, and so that the Senate shall not be a rabble. I think it would be wrong for a President to adopt the attitude of a school teacher, but at the same time honorable senators should do their best to help the President to carry out his duties. I believe my ruling to be just and proper because we are living in the era of radio broadcasting. It is essential that the President should act firmly with those who would take up the broadcasting time by reading extracts, whether long or short, and also with Ministers who make long statements in answer to questions.
– I have listened to the President and also to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) and to me it is rather peculiar that the Minister should have quoted rulings of the Presidents of the Senate from time to time. He quoted from volume 3 the following ruling by President Turley: -
In asking a question a Senator cannot introduce argument, and the reading of newspaper extracts is discountenanced.
The report of that ruling i9 in Hansard of 1911, page 2579. If the honorable senator read it, he would find that that ruling was given because some honorable senator had read from a newspaper. The question of a periodical or some other book did not enter into the question on that occasion. The other reference is to be found in volume 5, of Rulings of the President of the Senate, ruling 75 -
A Senator basing a question upon newspaper statements must signify in writing that he accepts responsibility for their accuracy.
That quotation also referred to a quotation made from a newspaper. President Kingsmill ruled that a senator who quoted a newspaper statement must verify its accuracy. That is impossible, but it does not enter into the question now before the chamber, because honorable senators are discussing a quotation from a report which has been termed a book. In volume 4, ruling 376 states -
In asking a question, it is not in order to read a very long extract;
Senator O’sullivan said that the case now before the Senate concerned an extract of only ten lines, but the ruling I have just quoted continues - or to include alleged facts under cover of asking for information.
I think it will be found that the rulings which have been quoted dealt with specific cases. After reading the ruling9 that have been given in the Senate from time to time, I have concluded that Senator “Wright is the first honorable senator to be caught reading from a book and to be called to order as a result. Therefore, it is necessary to go further than rulings and standing orders and to study the practices of the Mother of Parliaments. You, Mr. President, have read a portion of May’s Parliamentary Practice on questions. The portion that you quoted shows that extracts from newspapers or books or quotations from speeches ale not admissible in relation to questions. Senator Wright seems to have been the first honorable senator to be caught in this Senate reading from a book, and the President has given his ruling. Apparently the President was within his rights and acted in accordance with the practice of the Mother of Parliaments in doing so. I base my statement on that point in May’s Parliamentary Practice.
– The previous rulings did not go so far as books, but referred only to newspapers-
– Apparently that i9 correct. I have consulted one report in Ilansard and found that it covered the reading from a newspaper. The honorable senator has stated that a report was involved in the question now before the chamber, but the report to which he referred was in the form of a book. I shall quote from May’s Parliamentary Practice, page 336, under the heading, “ Rules of Order regarding Form and Contents of Questions “ -
The purpose of a question is to obtain information or press for action and it should not be in effect a short speech, or limited to giving information, or framed so as to suggest its own answer or convey a particular point of view. The facts on which a question is based may be set out briefly, provided the Member asking it makes himself responsible for their accuracy. But extracts from newspapers or books, quotations from speeches, &c, are not admissible.
I draw the attention of honorable senators to the point that questions should not be framed so as to suggest their own answer, or convey a particular point of view. There is no question in my mind that the honorable senator, notwithstanding that he was quoting from a book, was framing a question to convey his point of view or, alternatively, to convey a particular point of view so that the Minister would answer easily. In the circumstances, I believe that the ruling of the President was sound. As the question has not been raised previously in connexion with quotation!’ from a book, the only course consult the practice of the Mother of Parliaments as given in May’s publication.
I suggest that the Senate might consider another point which ha9 no direct relation to the question at issue, but may arise in future in relation to debates and questions. There is justification for the statement by the President that honorable senators should frame their questions in accordance with the form indicated in May’s Parliamentary Practice and, at the same time, should comply with the Standing Orders. I know that it is not always possible for an honorable senator to contain himself when he sees an opportunity to score a point in asking a question. That is only human nature. But honorable senators should consider whether they cannot make question time in the Senate purely a period for questions. I suggest also that the Ministers should answer questions and not dodge the issue too often and pass it on to some one else. Honorable senators should endeavour to avoid wasting time and spreading propaganda. When asking questions, honorable senators should make sure that they are seeking information. I think the ruling of the President was sound and that Senator Wright was very hasty in the first place in challenging the ruling. I hope that, on reflection, the honorable senator will see that he was, in fact, putting the question in such a way that he was giving the answer to the Minister or supplying the information so that the question could be answered quickly. I think that he was entirely out of order, and I ,:hall vote to uphold your ruling, Mr. President.
– I emphasize at the outset that this motion is no reflection on you personally, Mr. President. I am sure that you appreciate that fully. Those of us who practise in the profession to which I belong are accustomed to having our opinions queried and frequently overruled. The fact that someone does not agree with us is not taken as a personal reflection of any kind.
The Standing Orders of this Parliament are not the easiest documents to construe. Many of them are capable of more than one meaning. At least, there is ample scope for difference of opinion on their meaning. In a debate of this kind, it is desirable I believe, that there should be no party heat. We should all approach problems associated with our StandingOrders primarily as members of this Senate. It is the desire of all of us, I am sure, that the rules laid down for the deliberations of this chamber should be such that they will best promote the working of our parliamentary system.
Reference has been made both by yourself, Mr. President, and, I think, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan), to a certain passage from May’s Parliamentary Practice. I understand that you find some support for your ruling in that passage, the relevant portion of which states -
The facts on which a question is based may be set out briefly, provided the Member asking it makes himself responsible for their accuracy, but extracts from newspapers or books, quotations from speeches, etc., are not admissible.
That is the rule to be applied. There is nothing in that passage that limits the prohibition to the reading of extracts from books or newspapers. A question is objectionable if it involves a quotation of any kind from somebody else’s speech. Surely it will not be argued that Senator Wright would have been in order had he copied his quotation from the official record of the House of Commons, and then, when asked what he was reading from, said, “ I am reading from a note “. or that the question would not have been objectionable had Senator Wright not been reading from a book.
– The nature of the question is important.
– If that is your view of this matter, Mr. President, I challenge it. There is nothing in May to support such an interpretation. The point that May makes is not that an honorable senator is quoting from a newspaper or a book, but that he is quoting somebody else’s words, and using them as a foundation for his question. I raise this .matter because it is well that we should have it straight in our minds. Thi? afternoon we had an illustration of the difficulty that can arise. Senator Hendrickson purported to quote from a speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the course of the last election campaign.
– That is not so. He denied that.
– I suggest that it is right.
– The AttorneyGeneral said that Senator Hendrickson had “purported” to quote from something.
– I withdraw the word “ purported “ and say that he was quoting a speech delivered by the Prime Minister in the course of the last election campaign.
– That is what he said he was doing.
– Yes. If an honorable senator asks, “Has the Minister heard of a speech by the present Prime Minister in which he said . . .” and then quotes from the Prime Minister’s words surely that cannot be construed as anything but quoting from a speech!
– Are we not entitled to do that?
– No. That is exactly the point I am making, and it is exactly what May say3. Let us get this clear, otherwise an impossible situation may arise. Let us suppose that Senator Wright, when asking the question to which objection was taken, had said, “Has the Minister seen the speech of Mr. Attlee delivered at such and such a place, in which he said- “, and then proceeded to quote what he claimed to be Mr. Attlee’s exact words. That would come within the evil with which May deals in the passage to which I have referred. Surely the rules of the Parliament are not so ridiculous that although an honorable senator may not quote from an authentic record such as the official report of the House of Commons or The Times newspaper, he may quote from his own note of what has appeared in those publications.
– Or quote from his own memory of what has been published.
– I agree with the honorable senator.
– That does not uphold Senator Wright.
– I am not concerned with that at the moment. I am endeavouring to look at this matter impartially, and in the light of the opinion given by the President himself to the Senate this afternoon. Surely it is false reasoning to argue that what is objectionable is the reading of newspaper reports, an extract from the official report of the House of Commons, or a passage from a book. The thing that is objectionable is quoting some one else’s words, whether they have been written or spoken. Therefore, I suggest in all seriousness that if Senator Wright was wrong last Thursday in the method that he adopted in putting his question, Senator Hendrickson was equally wrong to-day.
– I only asked whether it was a fact that the Prime Minister had made certain statements.
– The honorable senator was not entitled to quote the speech. That is objectionable whether the quotation is made from memory, from notes, or from newspapers or documents. The Opposition cannot have it both ways.
– That does not justify Senator Wright.
– I repeat that I am not concerned with that problem at the moment. I am concerned with the President’s opinion of the proper procedure and, on that point, my view is that if the President’s ruling is correct, then it must go the whole distance. If Senator Hendrickson was in order, then I suggest that Senator Wright, too, was in order.
– The circumstances were different altogether.
– The Opposition cannot have it both ways. If this debate clarifies this issue, it will have served a useful purpose, but I do not think that any honorable senator, upon reflection, will argue that, although it is out of order for a member of this chamber to quote from the authentic record of the House of Commons, it is quit,e in order for him to quote from what he has written himself, and say, “I am only referring to my notes “.
– Not necessarily.
– The AttorneyGeneral is confusing the speech with the question.
– There is no confusion at all. The practice which, according to May, is objectionable is that of quoting other people’s material whether it be written or spoken material.
– The AttorneyGeneral cannot substantiate that view. That is his own interpretation of what May has said.
– The words are quite plain, and I do not think that they can mean anything else. If they mean that an honorable senator may quote from a note of a speech, but not from the authentic record of that speech, they are sheer nonsense, and I suggest that May never wrote nonsense.
So far, this debate has roamed over a somewhat larger field than that embraced by the motion. You, Mr. President, have referred to the conditions under which we work. Our proceedings are broadcast, and it is necessary to avoid undue propaganda in the asking and answering of questions. There are one or two comments that I should like to make on that subject. While the proceedings of this chamber are being broadcast honorable senators frequently ask questions of Ministers in another place who are merely represented in this chamber. In nine cases out of ten, the honorable senator who asks such a question knows that it cannot be answered by the Minister in this chamber.
– That does not apply to the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport.
– I am speaking of questions that are directed to Ministers who are only represented in the Senate. If honorable senators sincerely desire to make the best use of broadcasting time, it would be most desirable if they agreed that all questions directed to Ministers who are in the House of Representatives should be automatically placed on the notice-paper of this chamber. In nine cases out of ten honorable senators who ask such questions know that the Ministers in this chamber cannot possibly answer them. The only excuse for asking them instead of putting them on the notice-paper is that the proceedings are being broadcast.
– Honorable senators opposite asked similar questions when they were in opposition.
– We are talking about propaganda and this is relevant to propaganda. If honorable senat::s oppo- site are sincerely concerned that question time should be used to the best advantage of those who listen to the wireless broadcast, they should not ask oral questions which they know cannot be answered on that day. In my short experience nf this chamber during my second term nf membership of it, I have observed that the rules concerning questions are frequently broken by members of the Opposition
– What about the honors’ Mp ‘pip tors on the Minister’s own side of 1,n p chamber ?
– I admit that the rules are sometimes broken by them, too, but most of the questions asked come from the Opposition. I suggest that in the final analysis the object of questions is stated perfectly clearly in the Standing Orders. That object is to elicit information and to ascertain facts; and I suggest that it is distinctly out of order for honorable senators to ask their questions for propagandist purposes in such a way as to include a lot ot innuendo and arguments. I believe that the difficulties that have been raised recently concerning the permissibility of certain questions would be avoided if those who as*.ed questions realized that by that means they can quite rightly elicit information from Ministers on matters of public importance. I suggest that many of the questions asked are not bona fade attempts by honorable senators to seek information on public questions. This debate may serve some useful purpose if it clears the air in relation to this matter. I emphasize again that the difficulty is not merely one of the President having to decide whether honorable senators are quoting from documents, but concerns the correctness of the ruling that no quotations shall be made from documents. If it means that there must bf no quotations, then that ruling must apply not merely to the reading of portions of documents themselves, but must also apply to attempts to read from copies made of a document or from notes which include a quotation or a paraphrase of a document. However, if the rule is not to extend that far, I suggest that no objection should be taken at all to quotations, and if no ‘objection should be taken to quotations, then Senator Wright was perfectly in order.
– I think that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) was pretty good until he declared that Senator Wright was perfectly in order.
– I put both sides of the controversy.
– I think thai the last part of the Minister’s statement was definitely wrong.
.- I think that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer ; should be perfectly happy with the commendation of his speech expressed by Senator O’Flaherty, because I think that a lot of things that the Minister said were wrong. I think that in this matter the President’s ruling was perfectly right, and I am amazed at the ingenuity displayed by members of the Government in adducing arguments in an effort to prove that the President was not right. The Attorney-General quoted from May’. Parliamentary Practice, but Mav is quite definite on the point in issue. That work states -
The purpose of a question is to obtain information or press for action, and it should not be in effect a short speech, or limited to giving information, or framed so as to suggest its own answer or convey a particular point of view. The facts on which a question is based may be set out briefly, provided the Member asking it makes himself responsible for their accuracy, but extracts from newspapers or books, quotations from speeches, &c., are not admissible.
From that passage the Attorney-General drew the quite unjustifiable inference that only a quotation from some other person’s statement was precluded from being used as the basis of a question. Frankly, I think that the Minister took a great liberty in placing that construction upon the passage, which states quite clearly that a member may not make a quotation from a book the basis of a question. A quotation need not necessarily deal with a statement made by some one else, but might, for instance, be a passage describing some scenery.
– That is the point.
– The extract taken from a book might be an allegorical statement, a story, a yarn or anything.
– It would still be a statement contained in a book.
– It might even be a quotation from another author’s work. The matter that appears in a book is the thing that makes it worth reading and the Minister’s contention that it is permissible to read an extract from a book, provided that it is not a direct quotation of someone, is completely unsubstantiated. Although I am not always an admirer of the law in its application to every-day life, I say that the law is the accumulation of common sense over the centuries. By the method of trial and error rules and customs become reduced to certain limits, many of which are embodied in legislation passed by the Parliament, so that our laws are made with the consent of those whom they shall govern. In this chamber, we are governed by a set of standing orders; but no one could reasonably suggest that our standing orders could cover every conceivable contingency that may arise. Like our laws, the Standing Orders of the Senate are silent on many aspects of procedure. For instance, the Standing Orders are silent on the point raised by Senator Wright. There is nothing in them to say that an honorable senator may not quote from a book; but parliamentary tradition, which has developed over hundreds of years and has been expressed by many speakers of the House of Commons and Presidents of this chamber, support the principle enunciated in May’s Parliamentary Practice, which is very definite. May merely says that members may not quote from a book; and that is neither more nor less than what the President said on Thursday last. Senator Wright came to the Parliament with wide political experience in Tasmania, and my information is that he was actually Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Tasmanian House of Assembly. Is that true or false? His reputation has gone before him, but whether it is a reputation for fame or infamy time will tell.
– My past will bear just as much examination at that of Senator Armstrong.
– Those are threatening words.
– The honorable senator should compare his past record with mine.
– The honorable senator scares us with strong words! I am merely saying that from all the information we have about him he should be right sometimes when he examines the Standing Orders. I am not concerned with whether or not his legal practice in Tasmania was devoted mainly to criminal law. Whether that was a good background to enable him to inform the President of the correctness or otherwise of his rulings I do not know. The fact remains, however, that the honorable senator did the right thing to come to the Senate, because had he remained in the Tasmania Parliament he would have been Deputy Leader of the Opposition for many years to come. During the years that I have been a member of this chamber I do not know any honorable senator who has made so many challenges to the President and has been right so rarely. The honorable senator must be careful, or the phrase, “ Wright is never right “ will be applied to him. Concerning the incident that has given rise to the debate, it is obvious that the honorable senator could have couched his question in the simplest possible form, and without breaking the Standing Orders, which he should know because of his background. Other honorable senators who have not had the benefit of his legal experience might be excused for having made a mistake, but he should not be forgiven. Would it not have been simple for him to have couched his question in, say, the following terms : - “ Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a statement by the Prime Minister that government action cannot save us unless we all play our part?” However, apparently the honorable senator wanted to squeeze the last ounce out of the lemon, despite the Standing Orders and the information contained in May, by which the President of this chamber has been guided for many years.
Having said that, I express my appreciation that in the course of the debate no personal reflection has been cast on the President, who occupies relatively the same position as a judge in a court of law.
When an act of Parliament is silent on a matter in a case that is being tried before a court, counsel and the jury naturally turn to the judge for guidance. How many acts of Parliament are completely silent on aspects on which they might be expected to throw some light! In such instances it becomes the duty of the judge to determine what the legislature should have expressed in black and white. In the matter that we have been discussing, the Standing Orders are silent on the point whether or not a quotation may be made from a book, and it therefore devolved upon the President to give a ruling on the matter. In the ruling that the President gave he is supported by the accumulated experience of hundreds of years of parliamentary procedure, and, in particular, by 50 years’ experience of the Senate. Furthermore, having regard to May’s Parliamentary Practice, I cannot understand how the point raised by Senator Wright can be argued, but can only conclude that the honorable senator has been moved by reasons of pique to seek to justify his attempt to use propagandist matter for political purposes. Both in this chamber and in the House of Representatives too many questions, the object of which has been character assassination, have been asked. Bad as the practice has become in this chamber, it has been a thousand times worse there. That is a new departure in the Parliament, and the sooner it ceases the better. A duty devolves upon the Leader of the Government in each chamber to prevent such questions from being asked. That duty is accepted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) in this chamber, who has decided that he will be responsible for the type of questions asked by his supporters. We are not here to destroy the characters of persons outside the Parliament. We can go outside the Parliament and say all we want from a political platform about individuals, and take the risk of the. consequences that may follow. Honorable senators, when they ask questions in the shelter of the Senate, must be very careful. They must not be unworthy of the trust that has been reposed in them. For the reasons I have given, Mr. President, I support your ruling.
I refer only in passing to the fact that questions are directed to Ministers in- this chamber who represent Ministers who are members of the House of Representatives. That has been a common practice in the Senate, and I fail to see why objection should be taken to it. When I was a Minister, questions were often directed to me in connexion with matters that were the responsibility of other Ministers whom 1 represented in this chamber. In many instances, I was able- to supply a reasonable answer to the question immediately - I admit that it was not always a complete one - and to promise that the rest of the information sought would be supplied by the responsible Minister later. Why is it wrong for an honorable senator to address a question to a Minister in this chamber who represents another Minister, even when, he knows that it will not be answered immediately?
– Questions of that kind should be placed upon, the notice-paper.
– Already the notice-paper is overcrowded because of the inability of Ministers to discharge from it questions that affect their departments. In those circumstances, we should put as few questions as possible upon the notice-paper. Why should honorable senators be ashamed of asking such questions while the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast, even though they know that an answer will not be supplied immediately? I accept the challenge of the Attorney-General. I submit that questions of that kind are in order. When the Labour party was in power it did not complain about them, and now that it is in Opposition it does not expect the present Government to complain about them.
– I support the ruling of the President.
– That is a surprise !
– I say in reply to the interjection by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) that I listened with rapt attention to the arguments that he advanced in support of his contention that the ruling was incorrect. While the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) was speaking I said to myself that it was fortunate that he was not charging a fee for the opinion that he was then expressing, because, although the greater portion of his remarks was absolutely correct, in his concluding words he contradicted almost entirely what he had. said earlier regarding the alleged incorrectness of the ruling. I refer in passing to the statement of the Attorney-General that questions have been asked merely for propaganda purposes by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, while the proceedings of the Senate were being broadcast. I point out that on one occasion when, owing to an official function, the Senate did not meet until 8 p.m., questions without notice were concluded by approximately 8.30 p.m. Our proceedings were being broadcast. Three-quarters of an hour was then devoted to supplying answers to questions upon notice asked by honorable senators opposite. Some of the answers covered three pages. The Government took advantage of that opportunity to indulge in propaganda about the work that it had done.
This Parliament is not the only place in which the rules governing debates are based upon the principles set out in May’s Parliamentary Practice. Other bodies in the community try to conduct their affairs in the same way as does thi9 Parliament. The function of the occupant of the chair should be to interpret the appropriate rules or standing orders. I say without hesitation that the question asked by Senator Wright from which this motion arises did not comply with the ordinary rules of etiquette or parliamentary procedure. It was not designed to elicit information from the Minister to whom it was addressed. The honorable senator said -
I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a statement made by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom-
Let us assume that the Minister had read the statement. Did Senator Wright intend then to ask whether the Minister endorsed the statement or whether the Government proposed to emulate the actions of the Labour party in the United Kingdom? He began’ to refer to the contents of the statement. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) then rose to order, and the President ruled that it was not in order for Senator Wright to read from the hook he was holding. It will doubtless be agreed that during the last Parliament, when 33 members of the Senate were supporters of the Labour party and only three were members of the non-Labour parties, the President extended every courtesy to the members of the Opposition and granted them equal rights with members of the Government party.
– T is not in dispute.
– It is said that the President’s ruling was wrong.
– I have not said that it was unfair. I have said only that it was wrong.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs and the AttorneyGeneral are experienced in the law, but I venture to assert that neither of them made out a case in justification of the motion submitted by Senator Wright or submitted one argument that would entitle us to say that the President’s ruling was incorrect. The Attorney-General expressed an opinion upon the ruling, for which we did not have to pay, but I believe that if we were to approach him outside the Parliament and pay him to express his opinion, it would be well worthwhile to do so, because I am convinced that he would express the opinion that I have expressed.
When a ruling is given from the Chair, it can be viewed in the light of rulings that have been given previously, because one ruling has an effect upon subsequent rulings. I believe that the President, in ruling in the way in which he did, acted in conformity with established practice, In one year, the Labour party may be in office and in the following year nonLabour parties may occupy the treasury bench. Therefore, we should do everything possible to protect the rights and privileges of members of the Senate. I believe that one way in which to do that is to support the ruling of the President.
– I have listened with considerable interest to the points of view that have been expressed by honorable senators. I believe that the President’s ruling was correct. On the forms on which questions upon notice are written, rules for theguidance of honorable senators in asking, questions are set out. One rule reads as follows : -
The purpose of a question is to obtain and not to supply information; questions, therefore, should ask directly for the information sought.
Senator Wright, in asking his question, began to read from a book. What was his object in doing so? Another of the rules to which I have referred states -
Questions should not contain -
3 ) Inferences,
I suggest that Senator Wright was seeking to read from the book a passage that he considered was an argument in support of the point he was trying to make, or one which he believed to contain an imputation, or from which an inference favorable to his point of view could be drawn. To introduce argument, inference “or imputation into a question is, as I understand it, a contravention of standing orders.
I recollect that soon after my election to the Senate, a discussion arose upon the Standing Orders, and that I had the temerity to express my opinion upon the point at issue. One honorable senator, who was opposed to me politically, told me afterwards that he considered I was very brave to intervene in the debate after having been in the Senate for so short a time. Yet Senator Wright has had the temerity to move a motion of dissent from a ruling of the President and on several occasions to challenge rulings or statements by the Chairman of Committees. The President must endeavour to interpret the Standing Orders to the best of his ability. In that task, the exercise of common sense is of paramount importance. Through the years that I have been associated with the President in this chamber he has used common sense to the ultimate in the administration of his office. An honorable senator occupying the office of President, has recourse to the Standing Orders to resolve points of order raised during debate. In this instance the President has made a decision in a matter on which the
Standing Orders are silent. In relation to questions seeking information Standing Order 99 provides -
In putting any such Question, no argument or opinion shall be offered, nor inference nor imputation made, nor any facts stated, except si- far as maj be necessary to explain such “Question; . . .
The standing order does not prohibit an honorable senator from reading from a document. Therefore we have to face the situation in the light of the reason for the President’s ruling. There is no definite statement that an honorable senator cannot do this or that. It appears that Senator Wright desired to cite something from a book. May’s Parliamentary Practice states that that is not admissible. With all due respect to the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer), I claim that be did not state the matter quite correctly. Fie implied that objection was taken to the honorable senator reading from a book, but that no objection would have been taken if the honorable senator had written on a piece of paper what he desired to cite, as a result of a previous reading of the book. It seems to be the difference between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum.
– That is what I said it was.
– If it is incorrect for an honorable senator to read to the Senate something from a document, it must also be wrong for an honorable senator to submit, in his own handwriting, an extract from that document previously made. If that is what the Minister intended to convey, I agree with him. I do not think that we should, on the one hand, say that an honorable senator must not do a certain thing, but that he may do it by adopting a different procedure. I submit that what Senator Wright proposed to cite could have been an opinion or argument. It could also have contained an inference or imputation. Whether it contained facts to explain the question I do not know. However, the desire to use the extract would still be dubious. Of necessity it would be contrary to the meaning and function of Standing Order 99. Had I been President I should have ruled similarly.
Sitting suspended from 5.52 to 8 p.m.
– Recently, a tendency has developed both in the Senate and the House of Representatives to depart from the Standing Orders when asking questions. For instance, it has become common to preface questions with lengthy observations. Sometimes, a short preface may be justified or even necessary, but in general, the making of lengthy prefaces represents a departure from thistrict observance of the Standing Orders. Sometimes, the Ministers ask that questions be placed on the notice-paper. Then, when the time comes to answer the question, they deliver a long-winded reply tu the Senate. That practice, also, is not in accordance with the Standing Orders, and when questions are broadcast it provides Ministers with an opportunity to indulge in propaganda rather than tv supply information. All honorable senators are indebted to you, Mr. President, for the way you have administered the Standing Orders. It seems to me that an attempt has been made to introduce propaganda even into this debate. Honorable senators who support the Government have said that questions should not be asked without notice in the Senate of a Minister who represents another Minister in the House of Representatives. Such questions, they say, should be placed on the notice-paper. The practice has always been to ask questions without notice of Ministers who represent other Ministers. If the Minister to whom the question is addressed can answer it he does so. If he is not able to do so, he asks that it be placed on the notice-paper. I object to any proposal to depart from that practice.
I express my appreciation of your tolerance, Mr. President, during your long term of office. You have alway? tried to be impartial in your rulings, and I cannot remember any previous occasion in the last seven years when a ruling of yours has been the subject of a motion of dissent. Sometimes, honorable senators have expressed dissatisfaction with a ruling, but never before has a motion of dissent been moved. I support the ruling that is the subject of this motion. It iin conformity with Standing Order 90. and if it is not upheld the way will be opened to the introduction of undesirable practices. I was astonished that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator
O’Sullivan) should have supported the motion. I cannot understand why ha did .so, or the reason for the observations that he made. In conclusion, I may say that I believe that this debate is a pure waste of time.
– I propose to deal only with the question at issue. It is necessary that we should do so as realists, and I am pleased that all honorable senators who so far have addressed themselves to the question have been realistic in their approach. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) quoted from May’s Parliamentary Practice, and raised the point whether the rule governing the quoting of matter from a newspaper could be applied to the quoting of matter from a book. However, if the rule does not apply to a book as well as to a newspaper, an honorable senator would be in order in quoting the entire contents of a book. If the President’s ruling be dissented from, it would be possible for honorable senators, by makin lengthy quotations, to keep the Senate in session indefinitely. Standing Order 99 gives the President wide power. Honorable senators have quoted from May’s Parliamentary Practice in support of their arguments, but we should also turn for guidance to the established customs and practices of the Senate. I have been a member of the Senate for the last twelve years, during which time many rulings have been .given, some by President Cunningham, some by President J. B. Hayes, and others by yourself. The very point we are now discussing has been the subject of many rulings during the last twelve years. Now, a new honorable senator has tried to read into Standing Order 99 something which no President of the Senate was ever previously able to find in it, and he is asking us to depart from the established practice of the Senate. If we do so, where are we to stop? If every conceivable point has to he covered by a specific provision, the Standing Orders would fill a large volume. As the Attorney-General knows, usage and custom often constitute a deciding factor in actions at law. We also know that Arbitration Courts, in framing their awards, frequently declare that established usages and customs shall not be interfered with. In giving your ruling, Mr. President, you relied on the custom and practice of the Senate over a long, period of years. Senator Wright, who is a new arrival in the Senate, has questioned your ruling. He is, of course, quite entitled to do so, and I merely remark that he seems to be prepared to take more punishment than any otherman I have ever known. He has not taken a trick yet. His own leader spoke in support of your ruling, Mr. President, as also did the Attorney-General, and most other honorable senators who have so far addressed themselves to the motion.
If we are to get the best results in this Senate, all honorable -senators should cooperate with the President. Are we now ‘ to refuse that co-operation? Senator Wright asks us to refuse it, but I suggest that it would be a grave mistake to do so. Senator Wright has had experience in another parliament. For some lime he was deputy leader of his party in a State parliament, and I understand that he raised many points of order when he was there. Surely he has learned something from experience. The honorable senator reminds me very much of a story J heard about a little boy who went to school for the first time. He was a spoilt little boy at home and when the teacher was trying to teach him his A. B.C., the little boy said that the teacher was wrong and it should start from Z.B.W.M.P.B.F. “ It is all right “, said the teacher, “ He will learn in time “.
– I speak in opposition to the motion and in support of the ruling of the President. I regret that through my late arrival in Canberra to-day I did not have the advantage of hearing honorable senators on the opposite s:de of the chamber speaking in opposition to the President’s ruling. I propose first to review the facts so that the foundation can be laid for consideration of the Standing Orders in application to those farts. Last week in the Senate, Senator Wright rose, addressed a question to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) and proceeded to direct his attention to the remarks of a distinguished statesman whom hp did not name at that time. Senator Wright proceeded to say “ the statement is . . .” and presumably be purported to quote the exact words of the statesman. At that point, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) objected to a quotation being made and claimed that such a quotation in a question without notice was objectionable from the viewpoint of the Standing Orders. The President made it perfectly clear that, in his view, it was wrong to quote from newspapers or to read quotations from statements in asking questions without notice. Senator “Wright said immediately, “ Accepting that indication, I shall endeavour to frame my question in accordance with it”. ‘ Senator Wright again endeavoured to frame the question. A further objection was taken by the Leader of the Opposition and again Senator Wright, who was holding a book, proceeded to frame the question. The President then said, “ If you are reading in fact from the book you are holding, then you are not in order “. By the clearest implication, Senator Wright admitted that he was reading from the book because he said instantly, “ Then in that case, I move to dissent from your ruling “.
I think that is a clear statement of the facts and it shows quite clearly that once Senator Wright indicated by his words that he accepted the President’s ruling, he showed by his act that he was acting in clear defiance of the President’s ruling. 1 believe that it was in that spirit that Senator Wright, perhaps rather hastily, submitted this motion. It may be a very good thing that he did so. With the light shed on it in this debate, an important point could be clarified. If the Senate decides to uphold the President’s ruling, everybody will be in better shape at question time in the future.
I shall now pass to consideration of the Standing Orders. The Senate Standing Orders are silent on questions without notice and, in fact, they are brief and sketchy in dealing with questions at all. The first reference is in Standing Order 66 which deals with the routine of business of the chamber and points out the order of the business. The second item of Standing Order 66 relates to giving notices and questions without notice. I pass to a consideration of Standing Order 93 which states -
After Notices hare been given, Questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs: and to other Senators, relating to any Bill, Motion, or other public matter connected with the business on the Notice Paper of which such Senators may have charge.
That is interpreted to refer to questions with or without notice. The important point that I draw from that Standing Order is that questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown and they may be questions with or without notice. Standing Order 99 states -
In putting any such Question, no argument or opinion shall be offered, no inference nor imputation made, nor any facts stated, except so far as may be necessary to explain such Question : and the President may direct the Clerk to niter any Question so as to conform with t !i i =- Order.
I admit that there is ambiguity in that standing order. The question that arises immediately is whether the words “ except so far as may be necessary to explain such question “ apply to all the matters that are particularized. I prefer the other view. I read Standing Order 99 in this fashion: In putting any such question, with or without notice, no argument or opinion should be offered. I pause there and take that as a substantive provision in the rules. That stands without any exception, in my view, and there is a very clear rule of common sense for that provision. If a senator could address argument to the Senate in framing a question to a Minister on a matter of public interest in accordance with the Standing Order 98, what would be the length of the argument? Would it be limited to five minutes or might it run to one hour? Would that refer to a particular type of question with or without notice?
Again, there is complete prohibition on the offering of opinions when an honorable senator is seeking information on public affairs. The words “no opinion shall be offered “ are perfectly wide and general in their terms. They do not mean only that the opinion of the senator shall not be offered. They mean that no opinion of any senator or, in fact, anybody at all shall be offered in the course of a question in this chamber. The next section of Standing Order 99 which I quote is the phrase -
It means that if an honorable senator purports to seek information about public affairs, he should not make inferences or imputations against the government, the Minister or any body outside the Parliament. That is a clear rule of common sense and justice and I am forced to conclude that one must read the words “so far as may be necessary to explain such question “ as applying to the words to which they are contiguous. In other words, in putting such question, “ no argument or opinion shall be offered nor inference nor imputation made, except so far as may be necessary to explain such question “.
The standing order goes on to say -
The President may direct the Clerk to alter any question so as to conform to this order.
That sentence refers obviously only to a question upon notice which is written and delivered to the clerk at the table, placed on the notice-paper and dealt with on some subsequent occasion. It would not be practicable for the President to direct the Clerk to amend a question that is flowing from the mouth of a senator and which is not committed to writing other than through the record taken by Hansard. So the latter part of Standing Order 99 obviously relates solely to a question upon notice.
I think I have covered the Standing Orders that bear particular reference to the motion before the Senate and I believe from that analysis that it is perfectly clear that Senator Wright was endeavouring to put before the Senate the viewpoint of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It may have been a very good viewpoint but if the honorable senator was entitled to do that, two consequences would flow. That opinion may have been very lengthy. If the honorable senator was entitled to embark on it, he was entitled to conclude it, even though the opinion took half an hour or an hour. The second conclusion is that if the honorable senator was entitled to quote what the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said, he would be entitled to quote any statement made by any Domain orator. I number myself among them. I am not speaking in disparaging terms about Domain orators, because I have spoken in the Domain in more than one State. 1 say that the honorable senator would be entitled to mouth in this Senate the opinion of people of high and low degree, of worth and lack of worth, and this Senate could be made the sounding-board at question time for the expressions of all kinds of people who were not immediately connected with the Senate, but would use it when questions were re-broadcast on occasions when the proceedings generally were not being broadcast. I suggest that the rule is strictly in accordance with the quotation of the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) when he referred to May’s Parliamentary Practice on page 336. I interpolate here that I understand there are no questions without notice in the House of Commons, but I do not think that that matters particularly because I take it that the ruling made by the President, which I am supporting, is directed to questions upon notice and without notice. May’s Parliamentary Practice states -
The purpose of a question is to obtain information or press for action and it should not be, in effect, a short speech or limited to giving information or framed so as to suggest its own answer or convey a particular point of view.
The point that I would underline is that it is not framed to convey a particular point of view - and I add, whether it is the viewpoint of the questioning senator or somebody else which he is putting forward–
– And whether quoted from memory or from a book.
– I agree. My own view is that if one wishes to make reference to a statement at all, one would be entitled to refer to the fact that a statement had been made on a particular subject-matter.
– And how would it be described ?
– In endeavouring to frame his question in accordance with the Standing Orders, the honorable senator indicated that he had in mind the devaluation of the £1. Now that he has interjected, let me say that I was rather astonished that an honorable senator from the Government side should raise that matter. I recall that although the Government has undertaken very speedily to put more value back into the £1, during the five months that have elapsed since the election, the value of the £1 has depreciated more and more. Therefore, I begin by congratulating the honorable senator on his temerity to embark on such a subject, particularly as thu Government has not given any indication of what it proposes to do about the matter. Having paid the honorable senator that courtesy and tendered my congratulations to him, 1 assume that he was going to ask whether the Government agreed with the viewpoint of the British Prime Minister on means of putting more value back into the currency. The honorable senator would have been quite in order, I suggest, subject to your ruling, Mr. President, had he asked the Minister for Trade and Customs whether he had seen a statement by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, about putting value back into the currency, and if so, whether he agreed with the views expressed by the Prime Minister. In that form the question does not put the viewpoint of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom or of Bill Jones, both of whom are perrons outside the Senate, outside the control of the Senate, and who, therefore, should not be able to use this place as a platform for expressing their views. In that way an honorable senator may pose a question which directs attention to a statement with sufficient relevancy to enable the person questioned to identify the matter and, if he is aware of the statement, to give a completely intelligible answer if he has an intelligent mind and a knowledge of the subject matter. Therefore, in answer to Senator Wright’s interjection, I say that that may well have been the way in which he could have handled his question completely in conformity with the President’s ruling. I realize that one is occasionally embarrassed when endeavouring to ask questions. In this chamber, there are two opposing political groups and, in the clash of rival thoughts, each side is entitled to, and does, make an effort to stress and press its viewpoint. There is an eternal striving against the Standing
Orders to get that viewpoint over at each and every opportunity, and it is for the President and the members of each party to be watchful that the Standing Orders are not infringed.
In ruling as you did on Thursday last, Mr. President, you have alined yourself with many of your illustrious predecessors. Senator Aylett to-night drew upon his own personal experience to cite rulings, given by your immediate predecessor, the late Senator Cunningham. J took the opportunity to have a member of my staff search the records of the Senate, and I propose to go back very much further than Senator Aylett did. On the 23rd of September, 1920, the then President of the Senate, Senator Givens, ruled on a question asked by Senator Payne, that -
No statement or question may he made in answering a question.
I believe that Senator Givens was President of this chamber for at least thirteen years, so we may regard him as at least having had the opportunity to steep himself in the Standing Orders and the rules and traditions of the Senate. The quotations that I propose to make from the rulings of President Givens will indicate how much in line you, Mr. President, have been with his thoughts in this instance. On the occasion to which I have referred, Senator Givens ruled further that a question was permissible only to elicit information. It wa« obvious, be said, that -if honorable senators were deprived of the privilege of making a staement in putting a question, no statement by a newspaper should be included in a question, as that would give to newspapers a privilege denied to members of the Senate. There, very clearly, is the principle that underlie-! your ruling, Mr. President. On the 4th May, 192.1, President Givens ruled that Senator Duncan was not entitled to make a statement in asking a question, much less to quote a statement that had been made by some one else. On the 12th May, 1921, he ruled, on a question asked by Senator Duncan, that a senator was not in order in quoting any statements from the press or from individuals outside the Senate. He was not entitled, in asking a question, to make a statement himself, much less to quote a statement that had been made by any person outside. A few minutes later, President Givens gave a similar ruling in relation to a question asked by Senator Gardiner. In August, 1921, when Senator Payne directed a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, President Givens said -
I draw the attention of honorable senators to the Standing Orders which forbid the quoting of a newspaper in connexion with the asking of a question, and I remind them that to ask the Minister if he has seen a certain statement in a newspaper is tantamount to quoting that statement from that newspaper. Furthermore, the Standing Orders are explicit and emphatic in declaring that no honorable senator may make a statement while asking a question.
– That is a ruling that is frequently broken.
– Very frequently.
– And it was broken frequently when honorable senators opposite were on this side of the chamber.
– In the light of the interjection by the Attorney-General I believe that I should point out that when there were only three anti-Labour senators gracing the Opposition benches-
– At least they graced them.
– I said so. They would have been completely bankrupt at question time but for their reading of newspapers each morning and, may I add, but for the indulgence and tolerance of the President, and of the Labour Government which recognized the valiant fight that those three lonely senators were making. In addition, we happened to be members of a government that was not afraid of questions because it had nothing to fear.
– They are not in the same position now.
– No, but I trust that we shall occupy these benches with as much grace as members of the present Government did, but, of course, for a very much shorter time. The final ruling that I shall quote was given by President Givens, on the 19th November, 1918. On that occasion, he ruled that Senator O’Keefe was not entitled in asking a ques tion to read a statement from the London correspondent of the Melbourne Age. The President said -
I point out again, as I have frequently done before, that it is contrary to the Standing Orders for an honorable senator to make a statement in asking a question. No one outside Parliament can have a greater right than a member of the Senate in this regard and to give permission to the honorable senator to read the statement he has referred to would give the newspaper correspondent that greater right.
A few minutes later, the President brought Senator O’Keefe to order and ruled that he was entitled to ask any question seeking information on public business, but not to make a statement or to quote a statement. I suggest, Mr. President, that in the light of these extracts from the rulings of one of your illustrious predecessors - apart from those of Presidents of this Senate during the intervening period - you have placed yourself in excellent company by ruling as you did last week, and in view of the arguments that have been advanced from this side of the chamber - quite objectively, I hope - on what should be a non-party question, I shall be delighted if the Senate unanimously, or nearly unanimously, upholds your ruling. There is a very important principle involved. As President Givens said on many occasions, we must not allow this Senate to become a platform for people who are not members of this chamber,, and are not responsible to it.
I come now to quotations from newspapers. All of us who have had experience in public life know only too well how often newspapers err and that quoting from newspapers is a dangerous procedure. I do not suggest that newspapers deliberately mislead the people or that they deliberately misquote statements. Mistakes arise from the very way in which their news is gathered. Even in this Senate, what is reported in the newspapers depends on the degree of interest that the “ individual reporter is taking in the proceedings. It depends too on his conception of what is of interest, and what is not. The reporter, having done his best in the light of his limited interest or perhaps on some occasion his full interest, sends his report to his newspaper. That report filters through many hands. It goes to the news editor, to the sub-editor and to the editor. Each of them looks at the item from the viewpoint of the space that he has left to fill. The first man blue-pencils the report tfr reduce its size. The second, not knowing what the first has done, again bluepencils the item and it is further bluepencilled by the third man.
– Then the fourth man cuts, it oat altogether.
– That does happen sometimes, but usually some portion of the original report finds its way into the pages of the newspaper which is read at the breakfast tables or the dinner tables of the people of Australia. Under such conditions it is very easy, without any malice at all, for the final report to be a complete distortion of what actually happened. Had we wanted to be harsh we could have imposed very severe restrictions on honorable senators opposite “when they were on this side of the chamber, but having regard to their numbers and to chivalry, we did not object to many things that they did, and it may be as I have said, that owing to the indulgence of the President and of the then Government, Opposition senators were permitted to quote freely from newspapers. If this debate clears the air and the viewpoint that I am expressing is accepted by the Senate, I think that we shall have a much clearer perception of the position in the future. I do not put books in a different category from newspapers. After all, books are written to express a viewpoint. It may be the viewpoint of the writer, or of a particular clique, but quoting from books amounts to bringing somebody into this chamber and giving him an elevated platform. Not only may his viewpoint appear in Hansard, but if it is repeated on an occasion when the proceedings of this chamber are being broadcast it will also be heard all over Australia. Peculiar difficulties present themselves concerning the appearance of such matter in official records. According to Standing Order 99 an honorable senator may state facts only so far as it may be necessary to explain a question. That is often a matter for nice judgment on the part of the President. If the statement of facts preliminary to the interrogative portion of the question takes longer than the inter rogative portion, or the questioner is too long in reaching the point, the President is quite entitled to disallow the question. I draw the attention of the Senate to thi’ fact that again and again the President has asked an honorable senator to cut short his preliminary recital of facts and to put his question. No fixed line can be drawn in the matter, which is one for the clarity of mind and the good sense of honorable senators themselves and, ultimately, for the discretion of the President. Once quotations are permitted at question time it is difficult to know where to draw the line, particularly when the proceedings of the chamber are being broadcast. On days when the proceedings of this; chamber are not broadcast the proceedings at question time are recorded an<i re-broadcast in the evening, and it i? only fair that questions should be kept as short and as concise as possible. It is also desirable that the replies should bc concise and to the point. At this stage I cannot help referring to the unsatisfactory manner in which members of the Government reply to questions. Honorable senators are requested far too frequently to place questions o-n the notice-paper. Of course, I realize from my own recent experience as a Minister that the present Ministers, who have only held their portfolios for a short period, cannot be expected to be thoroughly familiar with the departments that they administer.
– And, of course, Ministers in this chamber represent other Ministers in the House of Representatives.
– I am well aware of that difficulty, but I feel that there is a general reluctance on the par’ of Ministers to answer questions. I suggest that Ministers might make some serious attempt to dispose of question* without continually requesting member.of the Opposition to place their questions on the notice-paper.
– We also get facetious replies at times.
– And facetious questions are asked at times.
– The replies given by Ministers are sometimes quiteabrupt. This debate, which has been initiated by Senator Wright, may do quite a lot of good if we can use the occasion to exchange our thoughts quite frankly, and so clear the air. I feel that I have put to the Senate sufficient arguments to show that your ruling, Mr. President, was in line with precedent, that it was in accordance with common sense and justice, and that it was in line with May’s Parliamentary Practice, which is the outstanding authority, insofar as that work applies to our institution. My colleagues and I support your ruling, and we shall be disappointed if many supporters of the Government are not prepared to join us on this occasion in upholding your authority.
– I rise to support your ruling, Mr. President. I was particularly pleased to hear you say this afternoon that you are prepared to make a decision on any point in the light of common sense and logic and taking into account changing circumstances, rather than to permit the chamber to be ruled by the dead hand of the past. Senator McKenna has proved that not only was your ruling last week in accordance with common sense and logic, but also that it is in line with the established precedents set out in the textbooks. I have read the Standing Orders many times, and no doubt they are open to different interpretations, according to the background, experience and qualification of those who read them. However, the final test of a ruling is whether it is in accordance with common sense and logic. The motion of dissent from your ruling arose, I think, purely from the ignorance of the honorable senator concerned, who had not given himself time to settle down in this chamber and to appreciate the procedure that is followed in it. We have noticed the speed with which the honorable senator has taken points of objection. I was surprised that one who was newly elected to the Parliament did not allow himself sufficient time to become accustomed to the atmosphere of this chamber, which is different from the Parliament to which he formerly belonged in Tasmania. It seem9 to me that whatever new job one undertakes he must realize that he will inevitably come in contact with people who have greater experience of the pro cedure in that job. One must serve an apprenticeship in a new job. One cannot walk in and take charge without settling down and finding out what it is about. When 1 first entered this chamber three years ago I realized that since I was new to the Parliament 1 had to go carefully, and I sat in my place for some time before I even asked a question of a Minister. Either by good luck or by canny instinct, I escaped many of the pitfalls into which other honorable senators have fallen, and, without any disrespect to them, I have profited by their mistake’. I say that without any malice, but merely as an idea that might well be adopted by honorable senators opposite.
It appears to me that whatever interpretation is placed on a ruling of the Chair, it must be accepted in a spirit of sportsmanship. I look upon you, sir, as an umpire, and having had some experience as an umpire in that thrilling game, Australian Rules football, I realize that an umpire has only his quick wits and his whistle on which to rely - and, at times, his fleetness of foot to get him out of trouble when the game is ended. However, after the heat of the game has departed it is usually realized that not only has he done his best, hut also that he has ruled in accordance with the rules of the game; and that is what you have done in this instance, Mr. President. Your rulings, on this as in other matters, have been given in the light of common sense and logic. In other words, you have decided matters, not so much according to the written rules, but in accordance with what you believe to be right and proper, having regard to the need at all times to uphold the dignity of the Senate. I realize that the Government is eager to conclude a lot of parliamentary business, but it appears to me that by bringing forward this matter it is defeating its own object To-day has been appointed an additional sitting day for the Senate to enable th” debate or. Senator Wright’s motion to proceed, but that is not assisting the Government to complete its legislative programme. In fact, Senator Wright appears almost as a secret, delaying weapon inserted by the Opposition in the Government’s ranks. Certainly, almost the entire day’s sitting has been occupied in debating whether or not your ruling last week was correct, and most of the debate has arisen from the remarks made by Ministers who have taken part in the debate. The real point in all these matters, it seems to me, is not so much what was said, but the manner in which it was said. A nasty thing can be said with a smile, and it is accepted by the’ other party; but in other circumstances, the strongest objection may be taken to the remark. A similar observation may be made with regard to the replies furnished by Ministers to questions without notice.
I am glad that the field of debate has been widened by your remarks, Mr. President, and that you have given an explanation which affords us an opportunity to express our opinions upon it. I recall that quite recently I asked a question concerning the establishment of the aluminium industry in Tasmania which required only a short reply. However, no oral reply was given to the question, but in due course a written reply was furnished which gave a multitude of extraneous details, almost to the last nut and bolt in the works, and occupied three pages of print. I know all about the area and the progress that has been made in the construction of the works. When I asked the question all I wanted to know was what stage the Government had reached in its construction programme. A great deal of time was wasted in furnishing a lot of extraneous information, based upon the alleged efficiency of the Minister in charge of the project, and the obvious reason for furnishing such a lengthy reply was an endeavour on the part of the Government to make political capital out of the matter. In conclusion, if I might diagnose in medical terms the cause of the present complaint from which honorable senators opposite are suffering I would say that it was not unexpected because certain symptoms were present; the patients are suffering from “political poliomyelitis “ and “ Liberal lumbago “. They are showing signs of considerable distress at recent political happenings in Tasmania and Victoria, but when the debate is over and they have settled down and realized that they have lost sight of their objective, and that your ruling was right and proper, I shall be disappointed if they do not almost unanimously support your ruling.
– I rise to support your ruling and to oppose this ill-advised motion. It has been shown this afternoon that in giving your ruling you have followed many illustrious occupants of your high office. If incidents such as that which gave rise to this motion had occurred in earlier times, when the proceedings were not broadcast, they would have been dealt with more summarily, and, indeed, the manner in which you disposed of the original incident says a lot for your tact and common sense. It cannot be denied that honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, and particularly those in Opposition, put questions without notice to Ministers which cannot be answered immediately because the Ministers directly concerned are not members of this chamber, and the questions have, therefore, to be placed on the noticepaper. However, I support the protest made by Senator McKenna at the nature of the replies given by Ministers to questions on matters concerning the department that they themselves administer. Concerning the use of quotations in asking questions of Ministers, including quotations from press statements, such as the one sought to be used by Senator Wright, I think that you have been extremely tolerant and have allowed honorable senators every opportunity to ask their questions. I have suffered on some occasions when I have not been allowed to put into a question all that I have desired to put into it but, upon reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the President was right.
I am convinced that no good purpose would be served by agreeing to this motion. I am at a loss to understand the reasons that prompted its submission. This afternoon and this evening I have watched the legal caucus on the other side of the chamber. I refer to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan), the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) and the Government Whip, Senator Wright. That legal trio is trying to find a way out of the difficulty to which this debate has given rise, because they realize the consequences that ‘would ensue if the motion were carried. All members of the Senate who seek ministerial replies to questions on a variety of subjects would be at a disadvantage if the motion were agreed to. To be facetious, Mr. President, this debate has led me to the conclusion that if on judgment day our Lord were indisposed, you need not be afraid that you would be appointed to take his place. If he were asked, Senator Wright would do so, and, if he did so, we should be reminded of the warning that was uttered by a now famous Australian when he was appointed to high office in the House of Representatives - “ May the Good Lord have mercy on you all “. I am sure that some of us would require some assistance.
I was prepared to leave Senator McKenna in charge of my affairs, but when I heard the Minister for Trade and Customs interject and say he had not said that the President’s ruling was wrong but that it was unfair-
– I said it was wrong but not unfair.
– That spoils my flair for the Minister. I was going to engage him, but now I have to rely upon the good graces of Senator McKenna.
This motion is ill-advised. Throughout the years, Presidents of the Senate have dealt with questions without notice and questions upon notice in a way that was in the best interest of the people of Australia. They have exercised tolerance and good judgment. They have given honorable senators a reasonable opportunity to explain their points of view when asking questions, even to the point of permitting them to indulge in a little political propaganda. It would be bad for all parties if that opportunity were taken from us.
– I assure you, Mr. President, that I support your ruling. I can understand why Senator Wright, a newcomer to the Senate who believed that his legal knowledge would stand him in good stead, submitted this motion, but I fail to understand why the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) seconded it. The Minister has been a member of the Senate for over three years. During the lifetime of the last Parliament, he and his colleagues were called to order by the President when they attempted to quote from newspapers when asking questions. I should have thought that the Minister’s knowledge of the Standing Orders, of which he has made a study during the last few years, would have prevented him from falling into the trap of seconding a motion of disagreement with a ruling that was in conformity with many other rulings given in this chamber. When I have attempted to quote from newspapers, I have been called to order by you, Mr. President, and by your predecessor and by his predecessor. I cannot understand what Senator Wright quibbled about, nor can I understand the action of the Minister for Trade and Customs in supporting him.
I understand that the fact that this debate has gone on for so long is not very palatable to honorable senators opposite, but they were responsible for initiating it. There is no need for me to repeat what has been said regarding May’s Parliamentary Practice and previous rulings. There is no need for me to refer to the Standing Orders ; that has been done already. I urge the Government to put a stop to the frivolity of young legal giants who walk into this chamber believing that they have the right to command it and to tell honorable senators where they “get off”. Senator Wright is fortunate in that the President is very kindly. On at least three occasions another President would have named him for the remarks that he made. To-day, having read a standing order, he said, “You cannot get away from that “, but the President was very kind to him. I suggest to the Minister for Trade and Customs that he should take Senator Wright to his room and there explain to him the courtesies of debate in the Senate.
– As Senator Amour has said, honorable senators opposite are not pleased that this debate is still in progress, but the discussion will clarify many points regarding conduct and procedure in this chamber on which some Government supporters appear to be in doubt. When Senator Wright asked the question from which this debate has arisen, he made several attempts to evade the ruling of the President, who exhibited great tolerance towards him. The actions of the honorable senator on that occasion showed clearly that not only was he aware that, having regard to established practice in this chamber, he was acting discourteously, but also that he wished, during question time, when the Government was being sorely pressed upon matters of vital importance to the public, to introduce a subject that would delay the business of the Senate and prevent the real purpose of question time from being achieved. In the course of the debate various authorities and precedents in support of the ruling have been cited. I hesitate to assess the intelligence of Senator “Wright as being so low that he did not know that by submitting the motion he had left the Government with something that it regrets, that is, a very weak case against the ruling.
The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) said that no discourtesy to the President was intended by the submission of the motion. He pointed out that the opinions of legal men are often challenged. That is true. “When lawyers are engaged to prosecute and defend cases, at least 50 per cent, of them must be wrong, because the lawyer who loses his case is always wrong; but sometimes the percentage of lawyers who are wrong is greater than 50 per cent., because in some cases judges disagree with the lawyers on both sides. The analogy of the legal men that has been drawn by the AttorneyGeneral does not support the case that honorable senators opposite have endeavoured to make. It is true that a legal man does not take umbrage when his opinion is challenged, but he is accustomed to giving opinions and, if he can establish them, so much the better for him. I hope that the President of the Senate will continue to be just and tolerant.
I believe that questions directed to Ministers should be designed to elicit information and that Ministers should extend to honorable senators the courtesy of supplying answers to such questions. If an honorable senator asks a question that is really designed to elicit information from the Government, it does not matter what subject-matter he incor porates in it as long as the objective is a proper one, but when an honorable senator attempts to quote from a book that has been in print for a considerable time, that has been available for the Minister »r anybody else to read and that could be discussed with the Minister outside the chamber, the President is acting properly and in conformity with the rulings of his predecessors by not permitting him to do so. It has been said that the passage that Senator “Wright desired to read was a short one, but it could have been of interminable length.
The Opposition has ensured that this matter shall be discussed thoroughly. The debate will not delay legislation that is before the Senate because the other House is not ready to receive it. It appears that the motion was submitted for the purpose of initiating a debate that was entirely unnecessary. I compliment you on your ruling, Mr. President, and I trust that the Senate will uphold it.
, - I divide questions into several categories - questions that may be considered to be proper, questions that may be considered to be improper, questions that may be considered to be relevant and questions that may be considered to be irrelevant. You, Mr. President, as the presiding officer of the Senate, must judge a question in the light of the Standing Orders and in the light of what May’s Parliamentary Practice has to say about it, if that publication is accepted by you as an authority. I suggest that in deciding what questions should be allowed and what questions should not be allowed, you are influenced by established procedure. The question that was asked by Senator Wright was, to my mind, a leading question that suggested its answer. If questions of that kind are to be permitted, there is no limit to the number of them that could be asked. It would be easy to ask many questions of the kind that was asked by Senator Wright. We could ask, for instance, whether the attention of a Minister had been drawn to a statement made by some one in the House of Commons, in the House of Representatives or at a public meeting. Questions of that kind, particularly when reference is made to written or reported statements, although very interesting in their way, do not help the conduct of the business of the Senate. In those circumstances the President should rule that the question is either relevant or irrelevant, proper or improper. I agree that a tendency has developed recently to a9k questions imputing ulterior motives. Personality should be respected. A question that reflects on the integrity, education or religion of an honorable senator should not he asked. Each question should be dealt with impartially on its merits. Recently there has been a departure from that procedure which, if allowed to continue to the degree that has been evident in another place, will deservedly lower the prestige of the Senate in the eyes of the people. We are not here for the purpose of scoring from one another on matters that do not affect the affairs of the nation, but reflect merely on an individual. I can remember many occasions in this chamber when answers to questions have been very abrupt, whilst on other occasions answers to perfectly earnest questions have been refused. I am very interested in the matter of the purchasing power of the £1, and have followed developments in that connexion closely since World War I. On a number of occasions I have been refused answers to relevant questions, and I have also received impudent answers. Reference has been made to the procedure in the courts. In many instances questions asked by legal practitioners have been disallowed by judges because they were considered improper or irrelevant. The President of the Senate is in a position somewhat similar to that of a judge in this respect. I support his ruling because the question asked was leading, and suggested its own answer. I am not adverse to questions being asked for propaganda purposes. I think that they are quite in order. I disagree with the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) in that connexion. If an honorable senator is sufficiently interested to frame an intelligent question for propaganda purposes he should be entitled to ask it. Even though the Minister to whom a question is directed may not be able to answer it immediately, the asking of such a question helps to arouse the interest of persons listening to the broadcast of the proceedings. During my term of office in the former Government I always answered immediately questions that I was in a position to answer. On occasions an honorable senator has informed me, prior to the sitting, of the text of a question that he intended to ask me. That enabled me to make inquiries in order to be able to answer the question when asked in this chamber. Invariably I prefixed my answer by stating that the honorable senator asking the question had been good enough to bring it to my notice previously. That is a proper and satisfactory procedure. I have not the same objection to propaganda as have other members of this chamber. An unwritten law in the Parliament is that, in the asking of questions, or during debates, a member should not reflect unnecessarily or provocatively on other members with whom he disagrees. That makes for a better feeling between members.
– Why does not the honorable senator put a bit of the Yarra Bank “ touch “ into it?
– The Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) has many times previously made provocative, impudent and insulting remarks. If I were to refer to some of his infamous political past, I am 9ure that many people would be astounded. However, I have respect for human personality. Although, since assuming office, the Minister has not treated my colleagues or me respectfully, we have always extended to him the courtesy and respect due to his office. I remind the Senate that Ministers in the former Government always answered questions courteously, and to the best of their ability. It is to be hoped that the Minister will improve in this respect with the passage of time. I do not wish to reflect on the Minister or any one else, but if we are to uphold the prestige of this chamber we shall have to deal with questions on their merits. Political considerations should not develop into personal issues.
I was very interested in Senator Wright’s question, and should like to have heard recited the ten lines to which the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) has referred. However, in conformity with th6 Standing Orders and the accepted procedure in this chamber, quite rightly the President disallowed the question. For a considerable time the President has been very lenient. Had I been in his place I should have disallowed many frivolous questions, which have tended to make a burlesque of the proceedings in this chamber. Although those questions may have been amusing or entertaining to some people, they added nothing to the knowledge of honorable senators. They did not assist in any way an understanding of the problems with which we have to deal. I offer this comment in all seriousness: If any honorable senator wishes to qualify as a clown or a comedian he should rehearse in places other than this chamber. Although such efforts may be appreciated on the concert platform or at the opera, they are not appreciated in this chamber. We are passing through unprecedented conditions, and in out approach to questions with which we have to deal we should be quite serious. Unless questions that are obviously improper or irrelevant are disallowed the Senate will not be accepted by the people at our valuation. The people who listen to the broadcasts of the proceedings of the Senate will judge the issue. One of the reasons why people speak so disparagingly of the Parliament in general, and politicians in particular, is that they do not consider that many questions have been dealt with by their elected representatives seriously and sincerely. I hope that the President’9 ruling will be upheld, and ti) at, as a result of this debate, honorable senators who have been inclined to make a burlesque of the proceedings in this chamber will exercise greater discretion and discrimination in the future.
– I rise to speak in support of the President’s ruling. He has been most tolerant with honorable senators, particularly at question time. Even when the quiet of this chamber has been disturbed during debates on contentious legislation, he has remained calm and has given just decisions. Unfortunately, honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber have fallen into the habit of hurling personal epithets at honorable senators on this side of the chamber. However, I intend to refer only to Senator Wright’s motion that the President’s ruling be dissented from. A report of the incident reads -
– Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a statement of the Right Honorable the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the House of Commons in October, 1949, that under devaluation no countries, no governmental action of any kind-
– Is the honorable senator reading?
– Yes, from an official report.
– I rule the question out of order.
May’s Parliamentary Practice contains a reference to such matters, but, unfortunately, the Standing Orders are not specific about them. The relevant standing order merely provides that an honorable senator may not read from a paper, periodical or book. It is also laid down that questions should not be asked in such a manner that they provide their own answer. When I am framing questions I spend a lot of time on them in an endeavour to help Ministers as much as possible, but Senator Wright, on his own admission, asked a question which contained its own answer. He has further admitted that he was reading from a book, something which is contrary to the rule set forth by the highest authority on parliamentary practice. For those reasons, the ruling must be upheld.
– In my opinion, your ruling was correct, Mr. President. I was astonished that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) should have seconded the motion of dissent from your ruling. He indulged in some strawsplitting by trying to draw a distinction between periodicals, books and newspapers, but I point out that practically all periodicals are registered at the General Post Office for transmission by post as newspapers. I have been a member of this Senate for a number of years, and in all that time I have never known any other honorable senator to raise so many points of order as has Senator Wright in the short time he has been here. I cannot imagine what would happen if the Labour party did net have a majority in the Senate and you, Mr. President, were not occupying your present position.
– We should get some work done.
– Yes, I have no doubt that the “ guillotine “ would be applied, even in this place. Even the Minister for Trade and Customs made it clear that Senator Wright, when asking his question was not quoting from a newspaper. However, all that has been thrashed out. I hope that”, for the sake of good government, and the dignity of the Senate, the ruling will be upheld.
– To-day, we have been given a demonstration of the degree of unity that may be expected among supporters of the present Government. A similar demonstration was given the other day in Victoria. The people are learning not to expect effective legislation from governments that rely for support upon parties which enter into a political marriage one day, and desert one another the next. Never before in my long political experience have I seen a man so openly deserted by his colleagues as the brilliant young legal boy from Tasmania has been deserted to-day. I have often listened to the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) speaking in support of legislation, and even though I am politically opposed to him it has been a pleasure to hear him. To-night, however, I felt sorry for him when I realized what a thankless task had been thrust upon him by this inexperienced senator from Tasmania. The Attorney-General, in effect, chided him for having moved the motion of dissent from the President’s ruling. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) took no more than five minutes to say why the Senate should support Senator Wright’s motion.
– The rest of the day has been wasted by the Opposition.
– We were sent here by the electors to take an active part in the debates in the Senate. They expect us to have something to say even on this motion moved by Senator Wright, and so miserably supported by two members of the Government. I heartily support your ruling, Mr. President, as must most other honorable senators, including the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), who has had much experience in this chamber. This political giant from Tasmania, who has come here flying his colours like another Napoleon, became vexed when the President would not allow him to read an extract in the course of asking a question, and decided to move a motion of dissent from the ruling, although whether he consulted with his colleagues on the matter I do not know. If he did, they have proved traitors to him ; if he did not, I should not like to be Senator Wright when the big boys of his party, including the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) chastise him for wasting a day of the Senate’s time.
– Time is being wasted by the big boys of the Opposition.
– Senator Maher knows nothing of this matter. This motion provides us with an opportunity to comment on the proceedings in the Senate since the present Government ha= been in office. I have asked questions of Ministers in response to requests by constituents for information. On almost every occasion the questions have been most abruptly answered. I make an exception in the case of the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), who has always done his best to supply information. However, the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport has never once given a reasonable answer to a question. It seems to me that we are getting very close to fascism, and it is fortunate for the people that the Labour party is in » majority in this Senate. I remind honorable senators opposite that, when the Labour party was in power with 33 supporters out of a Senate of 36 members, we were never discourteous to the Opposition. All questions asked by Opposition senators were dealt with on their merits, and reasonable replies given to them.
It has been shown by honorable senators who have addressed themselves to this motion, including the Minister for Trade and Customs and the Attorney-General, that your ruling, Mr. President, was the only possible one in the circumstances. Senator Wright evidently came here with the idea that the Labour party would be out of office for ever, and that the Government which he supports could act like a dictator. The Labour party has shown recently in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria that the writing is on the wall for the anti-Labour parties. If the Prime Minister persists with some of the legislation that he has introduced it will not be long befor the Labour party is back on the treasury bench. If the elector« could hear the impudent way in which Ministers of the Crown answer questions put to them in the Parliament, the Labour party would be back in power in a very short time, indeed. I have great pleasure in supporting your ruling, Mr. President.
Senator SANDFORD (Victoria) [9.44J. - I have been impressed by the lack of support which has been forthcoming for the motion of dissent moved by Senator Wright, who came here with a self -inflated ego, obviously under the impression that he was going to reform the Senate. The motion we are now discussing was illconceived, and has not been supported even by the honorable senator’s own colleagues. I notice that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) and the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) were very half-hearted while speaking in support of this motion. The Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) interjected, but he has not had one word to say in support of Senator Wright. Yet honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber had the colossal effrontery to interject while Senator Hendrickson was speaking that honorable senators on this side of the chamber wore wasting time. It is a Government motion, but not one honorable senator on that side of the chamber, except the two Ministers that I have mentioned, have had the courage to defend Senator Wright. I have no doubt that the honorable senator will be taken to task. Some time ago the Liberal party expelled some recalcitrant members in Victoria. I suggest to Senator Wright that he should curb his ego a little. He should endeavour to ascertain the lie of the land before he ventures into these wild schemes. I uphold the ruling of the President and join with other senators in saying that we have had the utmost courtesy and tolerance from him. This motion is ridiculous and ill-conceived. That has been borne out by the lack of support from the Government side. I hope that the good sense of honorable senators opposite will prevail and that when the vote is taken they will vote in favour of the President.
– With my colleagues on this side of the chamber, 1 express entire agreement with the ruling of the President. The matter has been well canvassed and the honorable senator who brought the motion forward has found from the debate that he has a lot to learn about procedure in the Senate. He has been given a well-deserved rebuke. The debate has been most interesting and has cleared up many points. For that reason I am pleased that the matter has been ventilated. I assure you, Mr. President, of my support.
– It is not because of lack of loyalty to a colleague, or to lack of courage, that honorable senators on this side of the House have refrained from taking part in the debate. I think that I speak for other new senators when I say that I did not rise to speak because I did not feel that I had been long enough in the Senate to give a considered opinion on the ruling.
– The honorable senator has been in the chamber as long as Senator Wright.
– That is neither here nor there. Senator Wright has had experience in other places. Many honorable senators newly elected to the chamber felt as I did that we would be wasting the time of the Senate in speaking on a matter of which we knew little.
. - in reply - This motion has been used by the Opposition in this chamber to pursue the persistent time-wasting tactics that they have adopted ever since the present Government came into office. To-day honorable senators have had a de luxe demonstration of the depths to which honorable senators on the Opposition side will descend in obstructing the business of the Government. Its business is to put legislation through this Parliament if the Parliament is in agreement with it after due consideration. The Senate has had before it to-day a motion which could be debated by any intelligent body of men within one hour. It is a simple proposition that the ruling of the President to the effect that reading of an extract from the report of the House of Commons proceedings as part of a question without notice is not in order.. In submitting my motion I am not referring to any particular occupant of the chair. When I address you, Mr. President, I am addressing you as the impartial occupant of the chair having the function of arbitrating upon the proceedings of this chamber.
Before I address myself to such of the submissions that have been made from the Opposition side that I can grace by the name of arguments, I want to refer to two matters which you, Mr. President, have seen fit to rule are included in the ambit of this debate. The first is as to the attitude of Ministers to questions in this chamber. Honorable senators have heard some presumptuous statements from the dignitaries of the Opposition reflecting upon copious answers, in some cases, and in others to abrupt answers of the Ministers who have never failed to give courteous and conscientious answers to questions in this chamber. Every opportunity has been taken by honorable senators on the Opposition side to exploit the position when they know that they are interrogating Ministers who merely represent, in this chamber, Ministers who are members of another House. It is quite obvious that the situation should be recognized by anybody who wishes to use the institution of this Senate for its legitimate purpose. That purpose is to be informed upon departmental affairs, and honorable senators should either give the courtesy to which Senator Cameron said that he as Minister was accustomed, by indicating beforehand that the question was to be asked, or should put upon the noticepaper a question directed to a department being administered by a Ministerin another chamber. This criticism of the attitude on answers to questions comes grandly, does it not, from those who display from their questions that they are simply out to make cheap jests whenever they can score a political point, and do not use questions for their proper purpose?
The second aspect of the debate on which I shall comment is the reference that was made earlier to-day to a question that was asked last week in which Senator Morrow was mentioned. I was very impressed by the significant silence of Senator Morrow when he rose to speak in this debate. He chose not to say a word upon that subject. Some responsible leaders of the Opposition have stooped to-day to make the accusation that honorable senators on this side are using a coward’s castle in referring to that subject on the floor of the chamber. I want to say with full sense of all the responsibility which my membership of this chamber imposes on me that–
– I rise to order.Is Senator Wright in order in discussing me personally on a motion of dissent and in speaking in reply on that motion?
– I took the liberty as President to give a good deal of latitude to this debate because I felt that if I did so, honorable senators would be able to clear up many matters that otherwise would have to wait until some future time. I thought that it was better to enlarge the scope of the debate so that we could do, once and for all, that which may otherwise take many discussions. Possibly to some extent I am to blame. I have sat here quietly and have heard many things that may have been beyond the ambit of the debate. I think Senator Wright would be well advised not to pursue the course that he has taken because only a few days ago I disallowed a question for the reason that it affected the personal relationship of a senator to his party. I went so far as to request the Australian Broadcasting Commission not to broadcast it, and I also disallowed the question completely so that it would not be recorded inHansard. I ask Senator Wright to leave that matter in abeyance because of the action that I took.
- Mr. President,I have very great respect for the rulings of the Chair, but while I have responsibilities as a member of this chamber, I shall discharge them. UntilI am ruled out of order, I intend to proceed pursuant to the ruling thatyou gave this afternoon that reference to that question was within the scope of this debate. I am not referring to Senator Morrow’s personal life in any way. I am saying that I regard it as part of my responsibility, as a member of this chamber, to bring to public attention any conduct of a member of this chamber which may reveal to the public the true nature of this political faith.
– Order! I shall not permit the honorable senator to deal with this question, when I have already told him that it affects a senator personally in his relationship to his party. I admit that we are all public men and our associations are open to criticism or their reverse ; but when I, as President, call attention to the effect upon a senator of a question being discussed publicly, and when I have asked other people and organizations not to deal with it, I do not think that it is fit and proper that I should allow Senator Wright to deal with this question in a personal way. In a general way, we are certainly all subject to criticism by one another and by the general public. We are public men and our attitude and actions are subject to open criticism by the public. However, there is a line to be drawn when the personal relationship of a senator and his party are affected or may be affected adversely. So I ask the honorable senator not to pursue that line.
– I can only interpret that as a direction, and I accept it respectfully whilst expressing the wish that you, Mr. President, had intervened on my behalf when, in the course of this debate, a number of senators opposite referred to my relations with my party.
– Order! The honorable senator had every opportunity to ask for the withdrawal of remarks to which he objected. I do not believe that the Chair should continually intervene in proceedings. If I wished I could probably intervene every few minutes, but I believe that honorable senators have good sense and, like myself, a sense of humour. Therefore, I intervene as little as possible. If an honorable senator resents the remarks of any other honorable senator, he is quite in order in asking that those remarksbe withdrawn.
Already to-day I have called for the withdrawal of remarks that have been regarded as offensive.
– I shall proceed now to the subject-matter of the motion. You have ruled, Mr. President, that, in asking a question, an honorable senator is not entitled to read an extract from the official report of the proceedings of the House of Commons. I was astonished at the arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley). He said that there were two kinds of questions. First, there were those that were asked solely for propaganda purposes, and secondly, those that genuinely sought information. The honorable senator is the leader of a party that has been directing feebly phrased propaganda questions at the Government for the last ten weeks; yet he pretends to deprecate questions that have only a propaganda value! Apparently, in this game of politics, when information is true it is described by those whom it hurts as propaganda, and therefore to be deprecated. Thequestion which in this instance has been described as propaganda sought the view of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) on a most important statement by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, one of the leading socialist members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. When we find that archsocialist expressing the view, according to the official report of the House of Commons, that we must quickly produce more to keep costs down, and saying in addition that increased production cannot be the result of any governmental action, but only of a joint effort in which we all collectively and separately play our full part, we see in a clearer light the efforts of those obstructionists of the Opposition who have tried to muzzle me to prevent me from pointing out how recreant they are to this leader in the socialist field.
– I rise to order. I ask for the withdrawal of the statement that the Opposition has tried to muzzle the honorable senator. It is a reflection on me personally and on other members of my party.
– As the words are distasteful to Senator O’Flaherty, I ask Senator Wright to withdraw them.
– Pursuant to your ruling, and in deference to you, Mr. President, I withdraw the words. The Leader of the Opposition objected to my question because the truth was starkly revealed by a great socialist leader, Sir Stafford Cripps, and it hurt honorable senators opposite. Another objection that has been raised during this debate is that the question implied a point of view. I pause to enable honorable senators to appreciate fully the significance of that submission. Nothing further need be said, except to urge reflection on the proceedings of the Senate during the current session.
Senator McKenna pointed out, quite correctly, that the only reference made to this matter in the Standing Orders is in Standing Order 99. I shall not quote that standing order again. The plain fact is that it merely implies that, so far as is necessary to explain a question, an honorable senator may state facts. A statement by Sir Stafford Cripps is as much a statement of fact as is a statement of any other condition of affairs such as the lighting in this chamber, atmospheric conditions, or the digestion of the honorable senator. Clearly it is not only in order, but common sense demands, that at least some basis of fact should be laid for every question if it is to be answered. Senator McKenna referred also to May’s Parliamentary Practice. He did not emphasize the following passage: -
The facts on which a question is based may be set out briefly.
Then the learned senator went on to say that it mattered not whether the person quoted by a questioner was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or some stump orator, or whether the quotation was brief or lengthy. In making such superficial statements the honorable senator was clearly flying in the face of (he authority upon which he was relying. He then went further and quoted the following extract from May’s Parliamentary Practice -
He did not inform the Senate, however, that that passage in May’s Parliamentary Practice is based on a House of Commons ruling given in 1907. I have the full text of that ruling before me. It may be found in volume 172 of the official report of the House of Commons at pages 225-26. With the concurrence of the Senate I shall incorporate the ruling in Hansard. [Leave granted.’]
Mr. LONSDALE. Has the attention of the right honorable Gentleman been called to a paragraph in the “ Sligo Champion “ in which it is stated that the following resolutions were unanimously passed at a meeting of the Mullinabreena branch of the United Irish League - “ That with reference to the evicted holding of John Quinn on the Gore-Booth estate, Streamstown, county Sligo, we call on the Estates Commissioners to send an official here to take up possession of the evicted holding and pay the present occupier (Edward Layng) the sum of ?190 in cash as already agreed upon “. “ That having the correspondence in reference to re-instatement of John Quinn before us, and knowing as we do the unreliability of Edward Layng’s word, we hereby declare that nothing but the immediate surrender of John Quinn’s holding by Edward Layng will satisfy this League, and as the Estates Commissioners are quite willing to pay him the ?100 compensation any day he gives up possession we demand that Mr. Layng give up possession on the 1st March, and we call on the people to take note of this resolution “.
Mr. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford). I, rise to order. If I am not mistaken it has been the practice at the Table to refuse to allow Questions to be put on the Paper asking if a Minister’s attention has been directed to a statement in a newspaper, and then quoting that statement. Is it not equally out of order to quote newspaper statements in like manner in a supplementary Question?
Mr. LONSDALE. My Question is if the right honorable Gentleman’s attention has been directed to an order issued by the United Irish League.
– The honorable Member was quoting from a newspaper, and newspaper quotations are not allowed to appear in Questions on the Paper; presumably, therefore, they are not in order in supplementary Questions.
Mr. LONSDALE. But this resolution was passed by the branch.
– The honorable Member began by asking if the attention of the right honorable Gentleman had been directed to a statement in a newspaper, which he proceeded to read. That is not in order.
That refers only to the citation of newspaper reports. It is interesting to compare the circumstances in which that ruling was given with those of the ruling now under discussion. The report referred to appeared in a newspaper called the Sligo Champion and concerned th, activities of estate commissioners. The quotation that I sought to make was from the remarks of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer on the all important question of the value of the people’s money. When an honorable senator quotes in support of his arguments a passage from May’s Parliamentary Practice without explaining the ruling upon which the passage is based, and when it is subsequently revealed that the ruling refers only to newspaper reports, honorable senators can gauge the value of his case for themselves. Senator McKenna then made several quotations from Hansard of this Parliament, of 1920 or 1921. All the rulings that he quoted related to newspapers. Having answered those arguments I now offer my own submission very briefly.
– It is about time.
-I shall be pardoned, I trust, if I derive some amusement from this demand for brevity from those whose deliberately planned tactics in this long and tedious debate have been to waste time and to obstruct the programme of the Government.
– I rise to order. I ask for the withdrawal of the statement that this debate has been deliberately planned by the Opposition to obstruct the Government.
– Senator Nash has taken objection to Senator Wright’s remarks, and I ask that they be withdrawn.
-I submit, Mr. President, that you are entitled to a.°k for a withdrawal only of statements that may properly be regarded as offensive. I claim that I am within the bounds of reasonable debate and fair criticism when I say that the debate is a deliberately planned waste of the time of the Government and of the Senate.
– The statement that this debate was deliberately planned by the Opposition is offensive to me, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
- Senator Nash has asked for the withdrawal of the words, and Senator O’Byrne has made a similar request.
Opposition Senators. - They are offensive to all of us.
– Interjections indicate that the words are offensive tn all members of the Opposition, and I ask Senator Wright to withdraw them.
– In deference to your ruling, Mr. President, I withdraw the words. Assuming that it is permissible to state factual information when asking a question, the ruling that you have given, Mr. President, prohibits the reading of extracts from - to use your own language - newspapers or statements.
– Order! I think that I said newspapers, books, or periodicals.
-I am reading from the same document as you read from earlier to-day. It shows that you. words were -
It is not permissible to quote from newspapers or statements when questions are being asked.
That means that it is permissible to state oral information, or to state from recollection the contents of a document, whether a newspaper or book, although it is not permissible to quote directly from a document as the basis of authority. Surely, upon reflection, the Senate will agree that, as was so ably demonstrated by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) this afternoon and subsequently acquiesced in by Senator Nash when he spoke, once that conclusion has been made apparent, its unreasonableness must persuade the Senate that the information on which a question has been based, particularly if it concerns a matter or fact, should be stated accurately. In this instance the authenticity of the statement was not in doubt because it was an official report of an utterance by a very highly placed statesman. In conclusion, the whole incident contained an element of humour when I found, on what Senator McKenna called “ this high level platform “, that the members who adorn the Opposition are not prepared to receive a statement by so eminent a person as Sir Stafford Cripps.
– Arising from what Senator Wright has said, I think that I should make my position clear. I have stated on several occasions that honorable senators should try as far as possible to make their questions short and to the point and not to quote at length, particularly because the proceedings of the Senate are broadcast. I ruled out of order a question which included a quotation, and Senator Wright has tried to put words in my mouth and to convey the impression that I would condone the use of a quotation if it were memorized and repeated without referring, say, to a book in which it appeared and without saying, “I am quoting from this book”. It would be quite wrong for any honorable senator to do so, and Senator Wright’s suggestion that I would tolerate such a practice might place me in a false position. If an honorable senator asks a question that contains quotations that he has memorized, irrespective of whether the quotations are short or long, I shall call him to order. If Senator Wright, instead of reading from a book, were to sit down and memorize slabs of it containing statements by, say, the Prime Minister or Sir Stafford Cripps, and sought to incorporate them in a question to a Minister, he would be distinctly out of order, and it would be ridiculous for me to rule otherwise. Under the circumstances that operate, the Chair must insist that senators restrict their questions to concise statements. As Senator Armstrong pointed out, Senator Wright could easily have put his question in a form such as that suggested by him, namely: “ Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to ft statement by the Prime Minister of Great Britain who said ‘by government action alone we cannot solve our problems ‘, &c”. Instead of doing so Senator Wright - even after I had tried to explain to him the form in which such a question should be asked - deliberately went on to read from a book, whereas, by reason of his mental capacity and his power of expression, he could easily have asked the question in conformity with the Standing Orders. If we are going to be fair to one another and to give an opportunity to each honorable senator to ask questions during broadcasting time, questions must be expressed shortly so that as many senators as possible may have an opportunity to ask them.
Question resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 11th May (vide page 2474), on motion by Senator Spooner) -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Motion (by Senator O’Byrne) put-
That the debate be now adjourned.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hob. Gordon Brown.)
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of the Treasury - W. E. Sheehan.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for postal purposes - Collaroy Beach, New South Wales.
Senate adjourned at 10.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 May 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19500516_senate_19_207/>.