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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) a question concerning a proposed lecture tour of the United States of America by a Mr. Brian Penton. who is editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. To-day's issue of that paper contains a long article which animadverts severely upon myself, and my distinguished colleague, the honorable member for "Watson (Mr. Falstein), and challenges us to repeat outside of Parliament the statements which were made in our questions. This man's object is stated to be that he desires to bring an action for damages against the honorable member for Watson and me. In New South Wales, the truth of a statement is no defence in an action for defamation, unless it be shown that the statement was made for the public benefit. This would mean that, although the truth of our statements were proved, Mr. Penton might succeed. The balance being weighted in his favour under the law as it now stands, a jury might find that a repetition of these statements outside of Parliament was not for the public benefit. Juries in New South Wales are empanelled from among certain classes, and there are no common jurors in that State as is the case in Queensland. A common jury has tried actions for libel in Queensland only in recent years. In the other States of the Commonwealth, the position is different in many respects. If Mr. Penton will make an affidavit, or a statutory declaration, dealing specifically with each of the statements made against him, and unequivocally, and unreservedly, denying the truth of each of them, so that he can be prosecuted for perjury if his affidavit or declaration, be untrue, he will establish a reputation for decency which he has never yet possessed.

I raise the matter because it is of extreme public interest that any one leaving Australia to deliver a lecture tour, after consultation with the Government, hut allegedly without its approbation, will claim that in some way or other, his is the voice of Australia. The man concerned has written a number of novels ; and he claims to be something of an intellectual. With regard to his intellectuality, I should just like to make one or two observations. I have, in my possession, one of his books which commences with a description of a scene on a Christmas Day in Queensland. It is supposed to represent Australian life; and it progresses through hundreds of pages to tell the story of Australia as this gentleman views it. Here are some extracts from that work-

Mr Ryan - Is the honorable member going to read the lot?

Mr CALWELL - I shall only need to read one or two extracts in order to convince even the most liberal-minded person in this Parliament and in the community that this so-called intellectual is nothing but a stupid moron.

Mr BRENNAN - If the book is in the Parliamentary Library, there will be a terrible rush for it-

Mr CALWELL - As I anticipated that interjection, I do not intend to give the title of the work. Here are some extracts from it - " Don't talk to me, yon young jackanapes," Cabell said, " I'll sec the bastard gets his deserts if I have to drag myself to court on crutches." His face was blue and lopsided with contusions, his mouth fell on his bare gums and his brow was gone from his sound eye where the toe of Larry's boot had flayed it.

He ranted round the room. " His bitch of a mother robbed me of the only thing I'd ever loved. She poisoned Harriet's mind against mo. Well, I'll show her. If she's got fifty thousand devils in league with her she can't do any worse now." " How can you say it, sir ! " James said shocked, " Mother is dead." " Aye and damned." " You mean culture," Mrs. Peppiott guessed. She was a big toadlike woman, with a pendulous, floppy toad gullet and a laborious toadlike way of breathing and a toadlike darting tongue and toadlike bulging eyes. "Spiritual things - music, poetry, the drama." She turned her eyes up under eyelids crusted with tiny warts, just like a toad's.

That purports to be a description of an Australian country woman. I quote .'mother extract -

A girl. There were three babies now. Larry watched his father fondling them. " Harriet, that's what we'll call you little one" Cabell said, dandling the sickly newborn. " And when you grow up we'll send you Home to kiss the Queen's hand and marry the handsomest man in England "... " Your ma's done her dash ", Gursey said. " She won't drop no more ". He was lying in his bunk wrapped up to the ears in blankets. His gums chattered with ague and the tie leapt up in the chalky skin hanging loosely on his skull ..." But she never had more than one of her own kind and that's you. These others - he'll take care of them. You see. They'll be Cabells. They won't have the brand on them ". He lifted himself on his elbow and let the blankets fall. "Sec?" he said. "See the brand?"

Larry's eyes widened, looking down on the thin shoulders calloused like the hide of a working bullock with the weals of many scourgings. "My mother!" he said, scandalized. " They stripped her in the streets of Sydney and the mob stood round and watched her flogged. She was a real devil was Em Surface, your ma ".

That indicates the state of mind, and the standards of decency of the so-called intellectual who wishes to leave Australia for the purpose of lecturing on behalf of the people of this Commonwealth. I could recite many other typical extracts from his works, but I shall be content to quote from a book entitled, Think - Or Be Damned. It is explained on the front page that the book is a "subversive note on national pride, patriotism, and other forms of respectable ostrichism practised in Australia ". The flyleaf carries the following dedication: - " Better a frank scoundrel than a pious humbug." - Chinese proverb.

He is certainly a frank scoundrel. One extract from the book reads -

The wishful faith in the future of our country makes -me ask: " What's to he done? How can we wriggle out of this mess? What can we snatch from the garbage heap that still has life and precious dignity.

Vague questions to which the Bishop of Wangaratta and the secretary of the Waterside Workers' Union would return very different answers, I realize. And, therefore, early in any hopeful sniffings around the womb of the future, I see that before we can discuss new orders, political reconstructions, trade adjustments, national aims, or any other quality of our days to come we must submit ourselves to an astringent, almost masochistic process of self-clarifying thought. Ill-mannered, cantankerous, unpatriotic, subversive and destructive thought, aimed to expunge from our national vocabulary every word, slogan or inflating poetic dictum which cannot be proved to have a meaning.

In this spirit, the Daily Telegraph newspaper, edited by Mr. Penton, carries on its fifth-column work in defiance of the censorship regulations. It mentioned the fact that there was a censorship, and commented on the censorship. By so doing, this newspaper and its editor rendered themselves liable to prosecution. No other newspaper in the Commonwealth has so flagrantly defied the censorship. An overt challenge to the Government was contained in the words " censor or no censor, the views expressed in these articles are going to the United States of America ". I can imagine the state of mind of an American soldier who reads them. He will believe that the people of Australia have no desire to help him or his country, and it will not be unnatural for him to consider that it is not worth while fighting to help us. I assume that this person who wishes to leave Australia has been offered money by the isolationist group in the United States of America which owns and controls the Saturday Evening Post to preach on the other side of the world what he is writing here. I hope that the Prime Minister will not permit that to be done. I could have said a good deal more about this gentleman who writes sordid and morbid novels.

Mr Conelan - The honorable member stated before that, Penton was not a gentleman.

Mr CALWELL - I apply the title only in a spirit of courtesy. I could have said a good deal more yesterday about Australia's No. 1 pornographic artist and Australia's James Joyce. I did not say as much then as I propose to say now. If he is what he claims to be, how comes it that a person who was charged recently in New South Wales with selling sly grog claimed in defence that the liquor belonged to Mr. Brian Penton? How comes it that this gentleman who claims to be a good Australian citizen and wants to speak in the United States of America on behalf of Australia recently permitted to be printed in the columns of the newspaper on which he is employed letters suggesting that old-age pensioners in Australia should be lethalized - in other words, murdered in the best-approved Nazi fashion? That the letters appeared in that paper is well known to many honorable members, and invalid and old-age pensioners' organizations have protested bitterly against them. The man who permitted such letters to be published probably wrote them himself, because they were undoubtedly written in the newspaper office. Certainly no healthy-minded Australian would have written them. He should have been interned when the police raided his fiat. He should be interned now, because he is, without the slightest doubt, a Fascist menace. I suggested this morning that he ought to be placed in a labour battalion, but I shall not persist with that idea, because of the effect that his presence would have upon decent Australian working men. A man who would write the things that he has written, do the things that he has done, and refuse to pay his debts, is a. degenerate. After his attacks on honorable members of this House and his efforts to set himself as a law above the law, his claim that he is a decent, honest citizen who wants to do a decent job strains the credulity of every honorable member. I urge the Prime Minister not to permit him to leave Australia, bad and all as he is inside this country. His proper place is not in a newspaper office, because his presence is a reflection on many decent journalists, who, in earning their living, have to associate with him, but in an internment camp. His mind is out of tune with the spirit of Australians, and I hope that the Prime Minister will not affront public opinion by permitting this man to obtain an exit permit and the necessary dollars to enable him to leave Australia. Dollar exchange is urgently needed by the Commonwealth for the purpose of purchasing ships and planes for our defence. The Government should keep him here, in a place where he can do no harm to the general public. What I have said about him is only a trifle of what could be said. All that I have done is merely to adumbrate the subject - an undesirable and putrid subject.

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