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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- I desire to say a few final words on the matter of the censorship of honorable member's speeches, to which the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) has referred. I should not like it to be thought that I am pursuing a vendetta against the Chair, either in the sense of attacking the speakership, or directing animadversions against Mr. Speaker. I am sure, sir, that you will not think so, because I should like to testify to my respect to your own person, and my confidence in your occupancy of your high office. We should as far as possible satisfactorily dispose of the matter. Replying to me last week, Mr. Speaker said -

When the honorable member says that the House should do its own censoring he is suggesting something that is quite impracticable.

I did not suggest anything of the kind. What I did say was that I thought it was pretty generally understood that censorship of members' speeches should be effected by Mr. Speaker only on the direction of the House or with the consent of the honorable member, and that the latter course was quite clearly one which had been followed with success up to the present. I was pleased to hear Mr. Speaker state that -

As for the censorship in general, there is no censorship of Hansard . . . When observations are made in this House which are deemed by me, or by someone who may bring the matter to my notice, as likely to be of advantage to the enemy, I consult the honorable member who has made the observations and, with his consent, I excise those parts from Hansard.

That is entirely satisfactory. Mr. Speaker makes no alterations without consultation with and the consent of the person who makes the speech. That should continue to be the case until this House by resolution determines some other course, which, up to the present, this House has not done. The matter was quite satisfactory, therefore, up to the point at which the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) interposed and put a supposititious case, which was very rightly designated by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) as a hypothetical question, and one which, but for the fact that you answered it, I should think should not have been answered. But what the right honorable gentleman said was -

In the event of an honorable member making a deliberate and calculated statement which might be regarded as giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and then refusing to give his consent to the elimination of such matter when called upon to do so, do you hold that the offending passage should remain in the record 1

There was only one possible answer to that question. Such statements should not remain in the records. But I point out that when an honorable member makes a speech that offends in that way he can only do so in the Parliament. If he makes it outside the Parliament he is subject to the ordinary law of the land, but within the Parliament he must make it within the hearing of Mr. Speaker and subject to Mr. Speaker's right to challenge the propriety of his observations at the time, and, if the observations are not objectionable within the Standing Orders, Mr. Speaker can invoke the aid and direction of the House in support of his refusal to allow: such statements to be made. The question raised by the right honorable member for North Sydney was in its nature an affront to every member of Parliament. It suggested that a member of this Parliament would make a statement which was deliberately intended to aid the enemy. Such a suggestion should not be made and could not be made without involving a reflection upon every honorable member. But, if such an unlikely event should occur, the Chair can intervene at the time. Mr. Speaker can invoke the aid of the House to support him, and he can, in the event of it escaping attention at the moment, call upon the House to direct that the statement be not published. There are ample safeguards against the remote possibility of an honorable member acting traitorously in the interests of the enemy. But the unfortunate point in the right honorable gentleman's intervention is that it led, I very respectfully suggest, to you, sir, intimating to the House that, in certain circumstances, you might be constrained to do something in excess of your duty and contrary to the practice of the House, that is, take it upon yourself, without consulting the honorable member concerned and without the direction of the House, to eliminate matter from Hansard. You concluded with the words, " It is of no use having a referee unless he is empowered to give a decision ". I respectfully point out that on a matter such as this you have not been constituted a referee by resolution of this House, and that is the only way in which you can be so constituted. You are not a referee. The person, who makes a speech in this Parliament 'is, subject to Parliament itself, and to its Standing Orders, the final arbiter as to whether his words should be published or should not. The sense of the House can be taken at the time or later to prevent the publication of matter which should not be published.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W M Nairn - I do not agree with the view of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) that the honorable member who makes a speech is the final arbiter as to whether it should or should not be published. In my opinion, the final arbiter is this House.

Mr BRENNAN - I said that.

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