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Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I mover-

That this House places on record its belief that -

(1)   by its public attack (made through a Minister speaking from his place in the House) upon the integrity of Justices of the High Court;

(2)   by its attempt (made through Ministers who still retain office) to intimidate a public officer in respect of Court Proceedings to which the Minister for the Interior was a party ;

(3)   by its attempt to put the Coal Tribunals beyond the control of the High Court;

(4)   by its interference with the discretion reposed in the Maritime Industry Commission presided over by a Judge; and (5). by its feeble failure to enforce the laws against war-time- strikers; the Government is undermining the authority of the Courts and of the Law and is thereby injuring the basic structure of Australian democracy, and is therefore deserving of the censure of this House.

Honorable members will observe that, in relation to each portion of the motion, the reference I have made is to the Government. It is the Government's public attack upon Justices of the High Court that is involved; it is the Government's interference with the normal process of justice in the cases referred to, that is involved. I say that, because there has been a growing practice in the last two or three years of Ministers making statements and attacks, of doing this or that, and then saying, " I was speaking only for myself, not as a Minister". Time after time, we have had instances in this House of the head of the Government or the leader of the House for the time being explaining that what had been said or written by some Minister represented only the private view of that gentleman. The time has come when it should be understood that no Minister who stands in his place in this House and speaks as a Minister, offers a private opinion. He speaks for the Government. It is because he is a member of the Government that he speaks from the table.

Mr Brennan - That is not in accordance with the constitutional history of this country.

Mr MENZIES - It is in accordance with a very fine practice, established for very many years, that when Ministers speak at the table, particularly on behalf of the Government, in reply to a debate, their speeches are those of the Government. Otherwise, the position would be absurd; any Minister might say anything at all in respect of either policy or anything else, and the Government could always - as, indeed, it so frequently does - wash its hands of the whole matter, and say, " You will never know when it is our policy; but whenever it proves to be an unsuitable policy, we shall be able to deny that it is ours and to say that it is merely something which the Minister himself has said ". A few days ago, in this House, a debate occurred on a motion submitted by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron).

The reply to it by the Government was made through the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell). There could be no ambiguity about that position, because he was the spokesman of the Government, and, acting as the spokesman of the Government,he thought fit, referring to the newspaper litigation, to say this -

I believe that the law was undeniably on the side of the Government in the action taken, and that, if it had been taken by another government, the High Court's judgment would have been considerably different.

I do not recall any other case in which a government of Australia, speaking through its Minister for Information or any other Minister, has so glaringly charged the highest court in this country with dishonesty and corruption. " If the action had been taken by another government, the High Court's judgment would have been considerably different." Of all the outrageous statements made about the judiciary in this country, that is the most outrageous; and it has never been repudiated by this Government, or any Minister - it still stands. The honorable gentleman went on to say -

At any rate, a rather disgraceful spectacle was presented to the people of Australia by the conduct of two justices in that case, when the matter was mentioned to them on the Monday morning. Mr. Justice Starke and Mr. Justice Rich threw away their wigs when they took their seats en the High Court Bench.

Mr.Lemmon. - They did.

Mr MENZIES - The honorable gentleman was present?

Mr Lemmon - Yes.

Mr MENZIES - I repeat- .

Mr. JusticeStarke and Mr. Justice Rich threw away their wigs when they took their seats on the High Court Bench, and openly barracked for the press.

I do not know whether or not that is supposed to be a literal description of what 'occurred. I have a reasonably close acquaintance with the High Court, and I am bound to say that over the lost ten years I have never seen Mr. Justice Starke wear a wig!

Mr Ward - I do not think that the right honorable gentleman's acquaintance with it will ever be any closer.

Mr MENZIES - I believe that I may still appear before it.

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