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Wednesday, 18 February 1959

Mr HAROLD HOLT (Higgins) (Treasurer) . - The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) introduced two subjects. He certainly spoke in a rather heavily humorous vein, but when a front-bench member of the Opposition comes to the Parliament - and I congratulate him on his re-appointment - with what is, by all indications, a considered statement on two matters, not so much of government policy as of community practice, I think he deserves the compliment of a reply by a representative of the Government. On both of these matters I propose to say something.

He criticized, in a general condemnation, the practice by which there is an official recognition from the Crown of services rendered to the community, frequently beyond the line of duty, and in very many cases in an entirely honorary fashion. This recognition from the Throne - because, although we quite readily concede that in modern practice the recognition is made on the recommendation of the head of the government of the day, it is the prerogative of the Crown to accept or reject advice of this character - is valued still even in this swiftly moving scientific age, by very many members of the community as one of the most rewarding gestures which may come to them in a lifetime. That is the case, whether it be a relatively humble order which is given by grant from the Throne or one of the higher orders. Before I move on from that point, I pause just to say that the form of the Labour party over the years is rather difficult to follow. It certainly has been lacking in consistency. I have heard rather class-conscious gentlemen attack this system of honours recognition from time to time, but every now and then there is a break in the cloud and some distinguished member of the Labour party or of the Labour movement surrenders, not so much to popular pressure as to his own sense of his fitness or the fitness of the recognition, in order to accept an award of this character.

Mr Calwell - Like McKell.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition interjects, " like McKell." I am quite certain that fairminded people around Australia, irrespective of their politics, will feel that Sir William McKell, by the service he gave, not only in the political life of his country but also as Governor-General, richly de served the recognition which was accorded him. But I think of a more recent instance in the case of Sir Robert Cosgrove, a very able and distinguished Premier of the State of Tasmania, and a very notable figure in the life of the Labour movement of this country. I recall with some pleasure and satisfaction that one of the most distinguished Australians of our generation, Mr. Essington Lewis, who was selected by the Menzies Government as Director-General of Munitions in time of war and was retained in that office by the Curtin Government, finally received, on the recommendation of the Curtin Government, an order far higher than any order of knighthood which has been recommended by this Government - membership of the Companion of Honour order, which is restricted to 50 members in the British Commonwealth.

Mr Haylen - You would not compare Essington Lewis with the local draper, would you?

Mr HAROLD HOLT - The honorable gentleman has his own ideas as to what sort of contribution to the community should receive a reward. I think that these things have become pretty well established in the public mind by now. There have been abuses, no doubt, in the past, but I think that Australia can fairly claim that those who have received honours of this kind in this country have, on the average, deserved them just as richly as, if not more than similar rewards have been deserved in any other part of the world, and certainly in any other part of the British Commonwealth. It has not been a distinction to be bought but one that has had to be earned. Sometimes it has followed closely on the office which has been held, but that office itself has been an office of service to the nation. In other respects there have been awards which have followed upon notable public service, frequently of an honorary kind.

There may be different opinions about these matters, but I prefer to live in a community which has the capacity to give rewards other than those of a purely financial kind; to give honour where honour is due, and to pay tribute to those who have given distinguished public service in the way that it has been done here. The honorable gentleman has sneered at some of the most self-effacing yet devoted servants of this Commonwealth; men who, in terms of ability, can hold their own in comparison with their opposite numbers in any part of the world. I do not believe that any one of them has given the kind of service he has given because the carrot of distinction has been held out to him. The distinction has followed the service. The service has not been given because of some expected distinction.

We may choose to differ on this matter. Certainly on this side of the House - and I believe we are in line with the great body of opinion in Australia - we like to feel that there is, as I say, a reward which is not a material or monetary reward, available to be given to people who have served the country well.

The other matter raised, that of book censorship, is admittedly a very difficult and complex problem. The honorable gentleman has strong views about it, and I respect his advocacy of the widest possible freedom of expression and distribution of the notable literature of our time. But governments from both sides of politics have grappled with this problem. I can remember a time when the most severe censorship ever exercised in the history of Australia was exercised by the government led by a former right honorable member for Yarra, the late Mr. Scullin. According to his own lights and judgment, and those of his colleagues who sat with him in government at that time, it was the proper course to follow, but it was largely as a result of the criticism which came from our side of the House at that time, directed against the very restrictive censorship policy then adopted, that the current machinery and practices were established.

The honorable member has been critical, but he has not been constructively critical. He has not told us what better machinery we could devise than the censorship board as it now exists. I am sure that we would be receptive to an account of how a better system could be established. So far the present system is the most effective which it has been felt possible to devise in the general interests of the community while allowing the most reasonable and proper access to the literature of our time.

We are always interested in the contributions of the honorable gentleman. They are thoughtful, but I believe that on this occasion, in the first blow that he has struck he has not been in accord with the general opinion of the Australian community. In the second instance he has certainly been critical, but he has not shown us a better way.

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