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Friday, 6 March 1942
Page: 252

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - in reply. - The usual practice, in regard to meetings of the House, is for the Government to indicate its desires to the Opposition, which then expresses its view upon the matter. No departure from that arrangement has been made, and all that I have done to-day has been to give effect to a discussion which I had with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden). Incidentally, that discussion did not commence this morning. I took into account all the views that have been expressed by honorable members during this debate, and I knew that many members come from distant places. My problem was to decide whether it would be more sensible to meet a week before Easter, knowing that that meeting would either have to be carried on over the holidays, such as they are, involving dislocation of and disturbance to the arrangements of honorable gentlemen, or meet a week after Easter. After reviewing the matter, I considered that continuing the sitting without interruption, if that was the wish of the House, would be more practicable if we met a week after Easter. I indicated that view to the Opposition, which declared that it preferred to meet earlier; and as this Government has never had any hesitation in meeting Parliament, I immediately acceded to that wish. Yet it has taken an hour and twenty minutes, during which honorable gentlement have indulged in a tirade of criticism upon the general administration of the Government, to decide this simple matter. To the House and to the country I say clearly and distinctly that the ordinary opportunities which Parliament requires for the examination of all the administrative acts of governments in times of difficulty must be taken into account, having regard to the major duty that confronts the country. It is silly for any honorable member to assume that the normal functioning of Parliament, the normal functioning of government, or the normal consultation which is incidental to the proper democratic examination of governmental proposals, is at all feasible at this particular period in our history. I humbugneither myself nor the country by presuming to carry on in a normal way either in this Parliament, in the Cabinet room, or elsewhere.

Mr Archie Cameron - In other words, the Prime Minister says he cannot make the democratic system work now.

Mr CURTIN - I do not say that. The honorable member for Barker wants to live either at the North Pole or at the South Pole. Neither of those regions is habitable. The honorable member goes from one extreme to the other.

The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) referred to instructions alleged to have been given to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and I informed him that I had not given them. I now have a communication addressed by the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to the present Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley), dated the 25th February, 1942. In that letter the chairman says -

No instruction has been given by the present Government to the commission that criticism of domestic and political policy or actions should be suppressed.

The communication also states that on the 21st September, 1939, the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) gave over the telephone instructions which included the following: "Commentaries must be free of criticism of government action or policy ", and " Commentators were to make no reference over the air to the fact that restrictions were being imposed upon their freedom ". That is all I have to say in reply to the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth. I have said on a previous occasion that broadcasting is a vexed problem whether one is in office or not in office. It appears to me that the honorable member was annoyed yesterday and to-day because he is not in office.

Mr SPEAKER - Order !

Mr CURTIN - I say that just as an aside, but it is a reasonable comment on the demeanour which has been displayed. The Joint Committee on Broadcasting has been at work. The honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) has said that the report will shortly be ready. I acknowledge that in any broadcasting system there is bound to be room for difference of opinion as to what is fair or unfair. Particularly when a great part of the service must relate to comment on facts, with views being thrust among news, difficulty inevitably arises. I have never had any illusion that it was easy to make impartial comment. I have been the editor of a newspaper, and I know how difficult is the problem of impartial comment, and that applies to the Australian Broadcasting Commission as well as to any other system of presenting news and views to the public. I accept the problem as one of acute difficulty. No matter how it will be solved, there will still be room for dispute. I believe that the report of the committee ought to be made available. In the meantime, insofar as instructions have been issued to the Commission, they have been given only for the purpose of ensuring that the utmost impartiality shall be preserved. I do not want to say anything more about the session " Canberra Calling", because, as honorable gentlemen know, that has been discontinued. The Australian Broadcasting Commission proceeds on a news basis now.

Mr Anthony - But who gave the instructions that the commercial broadcasting stations were to broadcast the Australian Broadcasting Commission's news sessions?

Mr CURTIN - Nobody. I was not in a position to answer that question last night. Nobody gave such an instruction. The Commercial Broadcasting Federation requested the opportunity to share in the services. I remind myself, if I may, in parenthesis, that at the conference of newspaper editors and representatives of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial broadcasting stations, which sat in this chamber for a whole clay under my presidency for the purpose of arriving at some arrangement in respect of censorship, broadcasting and news services generally, utmost agreement was reached. The criticism of honorable gentlemen here last night was absurd when contrasted with all the very sober and responsible views of the editors of the great journals in Australia. Censorship has been fairly and properly treated.

Coming now to other criticisms, the very next item on the notice-paper, in fact the business for to-day, relates to the very subject raised by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear).

Mr Rosevear - It does not.

Mr CURTIN - Why not?

Mr Rosevear - There is no opportunity in that to deal with Australian defence provisions. It is a debate on international affairs, not Australian defences.

Mr CURTIN - I think that it will afford the opportunity which the honorable member desires. However, yesterday I hoped that the debate on the Loan Bill would not take nearly the time it took, in view of the fact that there was no opposition to the measure. Parliament met recently and sat two full days in what is called a secret session. The utmost information available to the Government was placed before honorable gentlemen. To responsible members of this Parliament, I, as the head of a responsible government, say that I recognize the position of this Parliament. It is one of great difficulty. I recognized it as Leader of the Opposition. I endeavoured then to make this Parliament workable. I did my best to help the government of the day to carry on the functions of government. I felt that on the Leader of the Opposition devolved tremendous responsibilities, having regard to the circumstances, to ensure that this democratic system would at least manifest its capacity for sobriety and quick decisions to enable things which have to be done, whether by legislation or by executive action, to be done promptly. I remind myself of that long and difficult period. Now, I find myself here as head of the Government, and I say, as I interjected, without any personal reference to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), that I accept this trusteeship which has come to me. I shall discharge it with all I have, because I know that thousands of my fellow citizens are giving their all in the most terrible and dangerous of all encounters. And honorable gentlemen opposite are not going to sit there pinpricking me, gibing at me from point to point and place to place, putting merely grit in my shoe so that the discomfort rather than the length- of the road snail be the thing which will destroy the Government and therefore the

Parliament and the country, because this Government is the only practicable government at the moment to carry on the administration of Australia and conduct thewar. I accept that responsibility and all it involves, but I say to the Opposition members that I am always ready to listen to reasonable, well-stated andshortly-stated criticism germane to the point. Furthermore, I am ready to take that criticism well into account and reflect it in the decisions of the Government. In any matter on which there is room for argument andwhich can be resolved by consultation, the Leader of the Opposition knows I am ready to meet him in theway that, as Leader of the Opposition, I was ever ready to meet the heads ofpreviousgovernments. If a committeewill best meet a particular problem, I am ready to set up that committee. So that the Government shall be answerable to the Parliament, I am ready to be answerable to the decisions of Parliament, but I shall not be amenable to controversy, muck-raking debates, fault-finding and mere holding up of decisions. The Government will make somewrong decisions, because sometimes it works hastily. It will come to findings the best in the circumstances, but probably, not as good as theywould be if we had longer time at our disposal. This Government stands here. It can be put outwhenever honorable members like, but while it is here it will govern.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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