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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr ROSEVEAR (DALLEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not concerned with this matter from the personal aspect, but I desire to know whether Mr. Penton wrote certain articles in the Sydney Daily Telegraph concerning a recent debate in this House, and whether the despatch outside Australia of copies of the newspaper containing those articles was prohibited by the authorities for the reason that such action might cause misunderstanding in the United States of America? If those are the facts, why should this man be allowed to say in America what was in his writings which were not permitted to be sent out of Australia?

Mr CURTIN - The censor prohibited the export of those articles because, in his judgment, they contained statements which should not be published outside Australia.

Mr FALSTEIN - Was the right honorable gentleman invited to read those articles?

Mr CURTIN - I am not a censor, and [ have no desire to usurp the functions of a censor. It will be a bad day for Australia when a Minister takes to himself the responsibility of saying what shall, and what shall not, be published, or what shall be said or not said. That is one thing. The other thing is that, as I understand the situation, the articles which were published in certain American newspapers led to a request that Mr. Penton should deliver lectures in the United States of America on the same subjects. Certain people in that country agreed to promote a tour, and I was asked whether I would allow the man to leave Australia. My answer to such a question is that any man who is not at present employed in the fighting services of this country .by those who control those forces, but is occupied in a civil occupation-

Mr McEwen - ~Not being a reserved occupation.

Mr CURTIN - I see no reason why representative bodies in distant countries which say that they are friends of Australia should not invite a person to their country in order to engage in a lecturing tour.

Mr ROSEVEAR - The right honorable gentleman is missing the latter part of my question, in which I asked whether this man should be permitted to talk in the United States of America what he was prohibited from sending away in written form.

Mr CURTIN - As put to me the purpose of the lecturing tour was not that Mr. Penton should talk things which were prohibited from being exported from Australia, but that he should talk the things which appeared in his articles published in the United States of America. I have this to say, and I make no bones about it: I have known all kinds of men in my lifetime as writers and publicists.

Mr CALWELL - But, never one worse than this fellow.

Mr CURTIN - I say emphatically that judgment of a. writer should be based on what he writes, not upon how long he stays away from Australia.

Mr CALWELL - I have no desire to harass the Prime Minister, but I ask him whether he has read the articles by Mr. Brian Penton which, in the opinion of the censor, were so dangerous to Australia's war effort that an order was issued forbidding their transmission abroad? Did the Prime Minister note this statement in one of the articles -

Censor or no censor, these views are going to the United States of America.

Having regard to that statement, and also to the fact that the Daily Telegraph, over a period of several months, has repeatedly contravened censorship regulations, and that Mr. Penton who has frequently been taken into the confidence of Federal Ministers, has broken that confidence-

Mr CURTIN - Will the honorable member repeat that?

Mr CALWELL - I say that, in view of the fact that Mr. Penton has been frequently taken into the confidence of Federal Ministers and has broken that confidence, what guarantee has the Prime

Minister - if, in his desire to be scrupulously fair, he allows Mr. Penton to leave Australia - that Mr. Penton will not be in a position to communicate his views in America in such a way that they will discourage the giving of allied aid to Australia, and injure the prosecution of our common war aims?

Mr CURTIN - Am I to understand the honorable member's question to imply that Ministers of State have entrusted confidences to Mr. Brian Penton, and that, those confidences have been abused? If that is to be regarded as an accusation against any Minister, I shall ask whatever Minister is concerned to make the position clear to me. The statement is news to me.

Mr CALWELL - I am referring to press conferences with Ministers when certain things were told to press representatives in confidence, and not for publication.

Mr CURTIN - I have not seen Mr. Penton at any conference. No confidence that I have imparted at such a conference has been broken by anybody. 1 think they know me well enough to understand that they would do it only once. So that I may make my own position clear, let me explain that, last week, I had a consultation with the editors of the morning and evening newspapers in Melbourne. On Monday last I had a similar consultation in Sydney, and Mr. Penton was not present. My purpose in holding these conferences was, not to influence what the- newspapers shall, in their own judgment, say, but to give them at least such facts as may prevent them from misstating the war position.

Mr Fadden - That was done by the Prime Minister's predecessors.

Mr CURTIN - It has been done by every Commonwealth Government since the outbreak of the war. As for the other questions which have been asked. I do not think that I can add to what I have already said.

Mr FALSTEIN - What about the statement that, censor or no censor, he would express his views in the United States of America?

Mr CURTIN - I read that article, and to me it conveyed this: There are special representatives in Australia of a great number of American newspapers. These correspondents are not allowed to cable what news they like, but we have no hold over them, and cannot make them stay in Australia. They will go back to the United States of America and there they will be free to write anything they like about this country, subject only to the censorship imposed by the Government of the United States.

Mr Calwell - The Government cannot prevent the American correspondents from going back to their own country to do what they will, but it can at least prevent this fellow from going there.

Mr CURTIN - I do not think that he is so important as to justify the Government taking action to prevent him from going. If the Army authorities want him, they can have him to-morrow. As a citizen, and as the editor of one of the leading newspapers in Australia, he has been invited by a representative group of friends of Australia in the United States of America to visit that country. The honorable member and the House will bear with me when I say this : We have friends in the United States of America, many friends, and there are many organizations there anxious to assist Australia. So far as I know, the body which has invited Mr. Penton to go to the United States of America is a body of representative Americans. Was I to affront them by telling them that a man whose articles could be published in the press of the United States of America, and for whom I had no particular use here, should be denied the opportunity to pay a visit for three or four months to that country? That is the problem as I saw it. I am somewhat staggered that this Parliament should be made the forum for some of the statements that have been made. This is how T view the matter: Other men besides Mr. Penton have been invited to pay visits to other countries, ostensibly to be of service to Australia. Business men, manufacturers and newspaper editors have gone, and no Australian Government has ever raised any objection to their going on business which Ls not regarded as prejudicial to the conduct of the war.

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