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Friday, 15 May 1942


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) . - I am moved to say a word or two in the matter of the censorship of Hansard. It is very well dealt with, up to a point, in that excellent little booklet prepared by the then Principal Parliamentary Reporter, Mr. J. .S. Weatherston, and circulated among honorable members; but recent occurrences and observations suggest that it would be well if the matter were brought up to date and recorded in the present numbers of Hansard, especially in relation to the state of war that now exists, most of Mr. Weatherston's observations necessarily being applicable to the previous state of war.

A short resume of the position may not be out of place. On the 2lst May, 1915, Mr. Speaker McDonald was asked by an honorable member whether it was true that reports of the proceedings of the House were censored ; to which Mr. Speaker replied -

Nobody has any authority to censor anything that takes place in this chamber but tlie House itself. No alteration of any kind is permitted in Ilansard unless it is one that I would personally sanction, and I would not censor anything that takes place in this House except by the direction of the House itself . . All we (the President and Speaker) are responsible for is the official publication, and of that no censorship is allowed either by the military or by any other department, apart from a decision of the House itself.

On the 27th May, 1915, in the Senate, Senator Pearce, then Minister for Defence, declared -

I have, so far, seen no reason for censoring of parliamentary speeches . . . But at any time a member may make an indiscreet utterance. When such n. thing occurs we shall have te deal with it in the best way we can ... If that position arises, the Government should not hesitate to take the responsibility of censoring the statements and asking Parliament to endorse their actions.

The then President of the Senate (Sena tor Givens), about that time, made the following observations : -

There has never been any censoring ot Ilansard. If anything has been kept out of Hansard, it has only been with the consent of the member who made the speech. Thai has been known to honorable members oi both chambers for twelve months.

That statement was reported in volume 80 of Hansard, at page 10,035. That, shortly, represents the position as to the censoring of the official reports up to that time; that is to say, there was no interference with the record, except, in certain particular cases, by direction of the particular branch of the legislature affected. But the reprints of members' speeches and their dissemination caine within a slightly different category. Some of these reprints had, in fact, been removed from the then Opposition party room by persons to whom no assistance had, by Mr. Speaker's direction, been afforded. Indeed, members had declined to give any such assistance. Mr. Speaker Elliott Johnson seems to have been in some doubt as to his authority in respect of parcels of reprints. He stated -

I do not feel justified in authorizing any action involving interference with parcels of such matter (reprints), the personal property of members, in their absence and without their consent.

Apparently the then Minister for Defence had intimated to Mr. Speaker that the contents of the reprints were detrimental to the safety of the Commonwealth, and that the printing and publishing of such were, he was advised, a breach of the War Precautions Regulations. A motion that seizure of reprints of speeches within the precincts of Parliament was a breach of privilege was negatived on a party vote of the House.

In the Senate, ex-Senator Gardiner raised the same question, to which ex-Senator Pearce replied for the Government that the law officers of the Crown advised that reprints from Hansard were not privileged documents, and must be censored. The President (Senator Givens) said that all tha t the presiding officers could do was to see that Hansard was not censored, and that, beyond the publication of Hansard, their authority ceased. On the 25th September, 1918, the Senate passed a motion in these terms - that, during the progress of the war, Mr. President be authorized at his discretion to direct the omission from Hansard of any remarks made in the Senate to which his attention maybe directed by the law officers of the Crown as being calculated to prejudice His Majesty's relations with a foreign power, or the successful prosecution of the war or to imperil the safety of the Commonwealth.

That motion must be taken as confirming the action taken up to that date, namely, that each House should maintain the inviolability of its own official reports. In other words, no interference could be made with the official record of a member's speech except by direction of the branch of the legislature concerned. A similar motion was agreed to in the House of Representatives. Thus, in the clearest terms, the principle was laid down that the official record of a member's speech could not be changed or mutilated without that member's consent or the direction of the House. With that determination, I entirely agree.

Since the beginning of the present war with Germany, Mr. Speaker Bell laid down the position on the 1st of May, 1940, in reply to a question asked by an honorable member. He said -

There is no censorship of Hansard,. An occasion arose last week when the Minister for the Navy directed the attention of the Principal Parliamentary Reporter to some remarks made by certain honorable members, andhe was asked by the Minister if the remarks could be deleted. The Principal Parliamentary Reporter informed the Minister for the Navy that that could bo done only on the authority of Mr. Speaker, and with the consent of the honorable members concerned. The consent of the honorable members was obtained, and the remarks were deleted. T here will be no censorship of Hansard without the authority of the House. (Volume 163, page 416.)

The position therefore is made clear again. My observations would not be necessary but for the fact that you, Mr. Speaker, on a recent occasion, whether at the request of the military . authorities or others I do not know, did, in fact, heavily censor a speech of an honorable member without consulting him! I emphasize that no censorship can be properly exercised by Mr. Speaker on any authority, without the consent of the member making the speech or by a resolution of the House concerned.







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