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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) . - I think honorable members will agree that the sole purpose of censorship is to preserve the security of the country, and, unless censorship can be justified on the grounds of internal security, it has no place in a democratic system. Indeed, I remember that when the present Opposition was inoffice, certain members of the present Government very rightly indicated in general terms that censorship should be used only for that purpose. I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) last week whether he would lay upon the table of the House all written instructions to newspapers or broadcasting companies, censoring or giving instructions for censorship of any particular matter, so that private members of this House, as custodians of, the rights of the people, might know that these instructions were solely directed to security and to no other purpose. I further suggested to the Prime Minister that, if he was not prepared to do that, he should suggest means by which private members could have some say as to what should or should not be censored, so that they would be watchdogs of democracy to see that censorship was used for its proper purpose. I have had some experience in respect of security and I know that censorship instructions cannot be made public, because to make them so would be to defeat one of the purposes for which censorship is instituted. But it seems to me that members of this House are entitled to know those instructions, and the mere tabling of them should not mean that they would be available for publication in the newspapers. In fact, the press has them now, and private members have no access to them at all. I see no reason why they should not have the right of access to all instructions which go to newspapers and broadcasting companies indicating what should or should not be reported or spoken about.

Mr Curtin - The honorable member has discovered this right since ceasing to be a Minister.

Mr SPENDER - No. I ask the Prime Minister to permit me to develop my argument. I do not wish to be controversial. I am concerned solely with the fundamental rights of democracy. The Prime Minister was approached with respect to this matter in the Advisory War Council, with the result that it was made possible to every one of the council to go to the Chief Publicity Censor and have the various instructions made available to him. So I am not quarrelling with the access given to representatives of the Opposition on the council, but I am directing my attention to this matter, because I have reason to believe that censorship instructions are not always concerned with national security.

The first matter I desire to mention is the resignation of Mr. Rorke, the Deputy Censor in New South Wales, tie was a censor of some ability and had experience in the last war. I think £ am correct in saying he was a censor in New South Wales up to two or three weeks ago, when he resigned. What is behind the resignation I cannot speak about, but I do desire to have an answer lo this question: Is it a fact that Mr. Rorke submitted to the newspapers an explanation of his side of the question and chat its publication was prohibited by the Censor ? If so, on what grounds ? This is a vital matter. It seems extraordinary that a man who was a censor in this country during the last war, and has been a censor for two years during this war, should have been precluded - if I am correctly informed - from expressing his view as to the grounds for the resignation which was finally forced upon him.

Mr Harrison - That is not censorship; it is suppression.

Mr SPENDER - At any rate, it was a matter which should concern private members on both sides of the House. If it bo, as suggested to me, that Mr. Rorke took exception two months ago to censorship instructions given to him on the ground that they had nothing to do with security matters, but were designed to prevent political criticism, and if, from that time onwards, his position became untenable to him, so that, finally, he had no alternative but to resign, the House should demand an inquiry. I am not dealing at the moment with the merits of the case. I desire to know specifically whether a censorship instruction was issued to make any explanation by Mr. Rorke subject to censorship, and if, in fact, all of his statement but two or three lines was suppressed. The question is whether a democratic government, in a time of war, is taking steps to prevent complete freedom of criticism of what is being done. I ask the Prime Minister to give me an answer to my questions either this evening or as early as possible.

Another matter touching the censorship in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission has caused me concern. In the Senate the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley) was asked whether instructions had been given to the commission which in effect directed the commission how it should express itself. I now ask the Prime Minister, specifically, whether it is a fact that instructions were given, either directly or indirectly, by Ministers, to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, first, that there should be no reference to Mr. Churchill in the overseas broadcasts ; secondly, that there should be no reference to the totality of the war, that is, that the Pacific war was part and parcel of a total war; and, thirdly, that there was to be nothing broadcast to detract from the proposition that the main and vital centre of the war at present was the Pacific?

Mr Falstein - Why does not the honorable member ask his questions during question time?

Mr SPENDER - I am not in the habit of asking many questions, and this is the first time that I have spoken on the motion for the adjournment of the House ; but these are vital matters. I do not make any challenge in respect of the merits of the third question. I am asking these specific questions because a general question was asked of the Minister for Information who, in his reply, stated in a general way that no instruction had been given at any time as to how the Australian Broadcasting Commission should conduct its commentaries or its announcements. There was a further statement that an instruction had been given by the previous Government to prevent political criticism. I wish to dissociate myself from any direction of that kind to the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Curtin - Did the honorable gentleman say that the Minister for Information had said that no such instructions were given?

Mr SPENDER - The Minister was asked a general question and he gave a general reply. I am asking a specific question, but I propose to go farther. I wish to have tabled in the House any written instructions issued to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, or, what is more important, any written confirmation from the Australian Broadcasting Commission of verbal instructions given to it. Such a letter would be most important.

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