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Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Dr EVATT (Barton) (AttorneyGeneral and Minister for External Affairs) . - I propose to deal carefully and frankly with the various matters that have been placed before the House by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), and I think that I can show that the House should be satisfied that there is no ground whatever for censuring the Government. At the same time, none of us can properly object to some of these matters being brought up for consideration. I have every confidence that when the facts are fully known and appreciated the Leader of the Opposition will be, or should be, satisfied that there is no ground for censuring the Ministry. In the first place, I shall deal with the remarks of the Minister for Information (Mr.Calwell) who, on Friday last, made certain passing criticism of the manner in which the constitutional case on censorship was dealt with by the full bench of the High Court. I use the words " passing criticism ", because the issue on Friday had nothing to do with that case, and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) will be the first to admit that the matter arose incidentally in the course of a discussion, as to a new regulation.

At the outset I endorse without reservation or qualification what the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) has said. All of us have confidence in the impartiality and integrity of all the members of the High Court bench. Indeed, in this respect no member of the bench needs defence from the Government, and still less from the Opposition. I submit that we should carefully observe the real reasons of some of those who, from time to time, for political purposes, rush in to defend members of the judiciary. 1 speak without the slightest reserve or qualification. If there were any charge, or suspicion of a charge, against any member of the bench, it would be the duty of the Executive Government to investigate it, and bring it before the House for consideration and determination under the Constitution; but, as I repeat, such an occasion has never arisen in the history of Australia, and I hope that it never will arise. Having said that. I could part with the subject, but I do not think that I should do that.

I consider it to be my duty to this House to make one or two supplementary observations on the hearing of the censorship case. It would be a profound mistake for the House to accept any doctrine that the administration of justice in the High Court, or anywhere else, is immune from criticism. It is not immune, and constructive criticism may be of the utmost value to this country and to the High Court itself. Let me quote the words of a very great judge, a memlber of the House of Lords, and an Australian, Lord Atkin, who, in 1936, said -

But where the authority and position of an individual judge, or the due administration of justice, is concerned, no wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticizing, in good faith, in private or public, the public act done in the seat of justice. The path of criticism is a public way. The wrong headed are permitted to err therein. Provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.

The Minister for Information was the Minister, responsible for the seizing of newspapers which gave rise to the High Court litigation, and was, in a sense, like the Chief Censor himself, a. party to the litigation. The Commonwealth was a party to it. I am not going to examine the Minister's words nicely. No doubt we shall hear from him later in this debate. I have carefully studied the shorthand record of the proceedings before the High Court, and, as my comments will he based upon those proceedings. I ask leave to incorporate the transcript inHansard. {Leave granted.']

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