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Wednesday, 3 July 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - In studying this bill some events come to one's mind; two of which are comparatively recent. During this debate we have heard a lot about parliamentary privilege; yet when we returned here on the 18th June we found that, without any prior consultation in the Parliament, all sorts of arrangements had been made inside this chamber for the broadcasting of the debates. If ever there was a serious and reprehensible breach of the privilege of Parliament it was the action of the Government in setting up these microphones we now see before us. No authority whatever has been given by this Parliament, either to the Government or to anybody else, to install this equipment.

The next event happened in the- Senate to-day. The matter that I want to canvass is the reliability of the news broadcasts of both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to-day. I have been informed that one of the best speeches ever made on a certain aspect of foreign relations, whether one agreed with it or not, was made to-day in the Senate by Senator Armstrong. Yet, apparently because the honorable senator made bold to make certain critical remarks in regard to the handling of the Spanish situation by the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), not one reference to the speech was made in the 1 o'clock news broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to-night.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is well enough acquainted with the Standing Orders to know that he must not allude to any debate of the current session in the Senate.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - We are debating broadcasts of the proceedings of the Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER - Quite clearly, the honorable gentleman was referring to a debate that took ' place in the Senate to-day. In fact, he cited an honorable senator's speech. He must desist.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - What was omitted from "the news broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to-night provides some justification for a closer acquaintance by the electorate with what is taking place in this Parliament. I am not opposed to broadcasting the proceedings of this House. I believe that the more closely acquainted the electors become with the truth of the position in this House, the better will it be for good and sane government. But I am not able to convince myself, and nothing that I have heard from the other side has helped to convince me, that the elector will be better informed by partial broadcasts of the proceedings of each House of the Parliament. I stand firmly in support of the contention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), that, if the electorate is to be fully informed, or is to have the- right fully to inform itself, either the whole of the proceedings, or none at all, should be broadcast. I see no half-way house.

Mr Calwell - Does the honorable gentleman .mean that the proceedings of each House ought to be broadcast fully?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I see no alternative. Under the Australian Consituation, the two Houses rank as equal in all matters.

Mr Calwell - The honorable gentleman would have both broadcasts made simultaneously? '

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I see no reason why they should not be made simultaneously, the people having their choice as to whether they shall listen to the House of Representatives or the Senate. The debates in the two Houses are of equal importance. The members of the Senate, unlike the members of the Legislative Councils of the Australian States and New Zealand, the Senate in Canada, and the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, are elected. by the same people as elect members to the House of Representatives. Consequently, the electorate is entitled to be fully informed in regard to the proceedings in both Houses. But under this bill it will not be. A committee is to be set up. Doubtless the members of at will go very carefully into the time that should be allotted to each House, and, in their wisdom, with the aid of that redoubtable " Mr. Majority ", who decides so many questions in this world, will determine when broadcasts shall be made of the debates in the House of Representatives, and when they shall be made of the debates in the Senate. It may be that certain debates will be initiated in this House, but will not be concluded before the switch-over is made, with the result that listener's will b'e deprived tff their right to bear subsequent speeches oh a' matter in which they are interested. The Government is not able to c'anva'ss the matter of expense, which do'es not seem to worry it in' the slightest degree. We have had before us other bills, one of which provided for the expenditure of ,a mere £800',000 on a national university which I am quite sure is n6t needed and will never be used. If the Government is prepared to incur the expense of broadcasting the proceedings of this House little additional expense would be involved in broadcasting also the proceedings of the Senate, particularly as that chamber is known to sit on fewer days and for shorter periods than does the House of Representatives. In these modern times we hear a lot about democracy. Not a very good set of definitions of democracy is available. There was a time, when democracy, in other parts of the world,- functioned in a way very different from that in which it functions here. In those days the free men of .the tribe met and decided, by argument if possible and, if not, by more forceful methods, what was to be done.

Mr Conelan - It has never been practised by the honorable member.

Mr.- ARCHIEC AMERON.- Does the honorable member refer to forceful methods? The law does not permit them to be used ; otherwise^ many decisions might be made much more quickly than they are made by argument. Those days' ii.i'e gone, perhaps never to return, at all events ill our time. We have reached the stage at which, with the spread of population, the great units of which democratic countries are composed to-day demand some form of representative government. It is only meet and just that the people who are governed from Canberra, for whom laws are made and in whose supposed interests they are administered by nineteen Ministers, should know just how this Parliament and those Ministers approach the problems with which they are confronted. My desire is that the people should become- better acquainted with the doings of this Parliament, if that hp possible. But against that I put this i: The interests of the people, their tastes an'd1 their views, a're very diverse; consequently,' the parliamentary broadcasts will have to compete with other broadcasts. Competition will be met from both the national stations and the commercial stations'. I should say that the commercial stations- will be by far the more formidable competitors, because they broadcast such items" as the " Quiz Kids " and radio plays - to which I seldom listen except under duress; I have not heard one in which there was not a murder at least every half -hour, to. say nothing of a little gun-running, and other odds and ends of adventure. Musical people will, of course, adhere to the programmes that cater for their tastes. Is it likely that a very large percentage of the electorate will desire to listen to parliamentary debates? That' is the first question we have to resolve. The second is whether it is likely that a very large percentage of that small percentage will be able, and willing if able, to listen to a debate to its conclusion; They will be in no different condition from others who pick up a volume of Ronsard, or who happen to visit . this House, coming" in and going out when they like. I suspect that there will be occasions on which the elector will be only too happy to turn the knob, cutting off his or her reception of the parliamentary broad-1 cast and getting on to something that is more interes'ting and congenial. Furthermore, whatever may be their desires, a great part of the electorate will not be able to afford the time to listen for lengthy periods to 'what the Parliament is doing in regard to any important matter.

Much as we may desire to have our debates broadcast, the taxpayers have certain rights, but I doubt whether, under the present governmental set-up, they are considered at all. Therefore, we should be well advised to postpone this proposal until after the general elections. It would' not be a" good thing if our debates were put over the air for the first time just as the present Parliament is about to expire. The scheme if acceptable^ should commence when the new Parliament assembles. The closing days of the session will riot afford the electorate the best idea of h'ow Parliament functions. There is" bound to be a rush of business towards the end. In some parliaments the 'end is rather sudden and, perhaps, undignified. It may be so on this occasion. There may he disappointment on the part of the people, if they regard this Parliament :as a forum where only first-class orator's may find a place. "When our debates go- on the air, no doubt the electors will have their minds disabused of that idea. I agree with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), that the Parliament cannot be much better than the people who elect it. I remember one member saying to me that in his view no 'Cabinet could function successfully if more than one-third of its members were -first-rate men. In the case of the present Ministry, nothing like onethird fall within that category, and the best seem to be going overseas at an unprecedented rate. The surprising thing to me is that the Ministry faces the contest ahead of it with equanimity.

A good deal may be said in favour of postponing the adoption of the scheme until television is in operation. If to the benefits of broadcasting we could only add those of television, the electors would be perfectly informed of the proceedings in this Parliament. Now and again> under the stress of circumstances, I move about the country a little, and I suspect that with television in operation it might be thought by the electors that they were setting a vision of some animal munching hay. It has been said that Hansard' dresses up our .speeches in such a way that' we ourselves cannot recognize them. With the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) I was listening to one of my friend's opposite during a trial broadcast. He has a weak voice, but I assure honorable members that Hansard has never done to any member's speech a better job than the microphone did to the voice of my friend opposite. It sounded like that of a first-class orator, so he has nothing whatever to fear from broadcasting.

Mr Brennan - -The honorable member should not say such things. They are quite incorrect.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - If the honorable member had heard the voice as it came through the microphone, he would have a different opinion. We have to answer one or two questions about this matter. The first is : Will 'the 'broadcasting of 'parliamentary proceedings improve the standard of debates ? I ha've listened to debates in -this chamber for twelve, years, and one of the things I have noticed is the increasing tendency on the part of honorable members practically to read speeches rather than deliver them.

Mr Pollard - Dp not look a*t me..

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - The honorable member for Ballarat ha's a certain amount of brains. Wha't he has to say is usually said in committee, and he usually says it in a rather forthright, if somewhat challenging way. The whole subject of the standard of our debates is important, lii many instances the debate here is spoiled because there is a tendency to deliver set speeches rather than for honorable members to deal with the statements cf the speakers preceding them.

Mr Calwell - What has the bill to do with the standard of debate?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - It has a lot to do with it. What effect will this proposal have? If we do not consider that question, the electors will answer it foi- us. If the measure will lead to a better understanding of Parliament on the part of the electorate, and a better appreciation of democratic institutions, and if it will instil into the people a much-needed respect for the rule of law, which is often discarded to-day, then the broadcasting of our debates will prove a great blessing to the community.

Mr Brennan - The honorable mem-' ber is begging the question.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I would be begging an answer from the honorable member for Batman, but I am afraid that if I did I should not get one. The matters to which I have referred ought to be considered before the measure is approved. I doubt whether the Government had given to the bill, before its introduction, the consideration which the issues at stake demand. No sooner had the bill reached this chamber from the Senate than the Minister in charge of it forecast certain vital amendments relating to privilege. I believe in the maintenance of parliamentary privilege and the rights of honorable members, but I am doubtful whether on certain occasions during this Parliament the right course was taken. I can understand that courts of law in British countries will accept the principle of parliamentary privilege, but the broadcasts of parliamentary debates will be heard in other than British countries. Once they are put on the air they will be heard in Dutch, French and American possessions very close to us. What will be the position if an honorable member were to say something that was regarded as defamatory by a Dutchman or Frenchman or American? I have heard things said in this House from time to time-

Mr Calwell - Nothing compared to what the honorable member has said about the coal-miners.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - They, at any rate, are in my own country.

Mr Beazley - And about the Russians, too.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Yes, I have said things about the Russians, and I will have a bit more to say about them.

Mr SPEAKER - Let the honorable member now say something about the bill.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am not sure what the legal position would be in respect of defamatory statements made about persons residing outside this country. '

Mr Falstein - No action would lie in regard to any statement made either in this House or out of it.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am happy to have the assurance of the honorable member, but I have observed that lawyers do not always agree. It is possible that some other lawyer may have another opinion of the matter. I propose to reserve my further comments until the bill is in committee. I believe that certain .amendments are necessary. If they are not accepted by the Government, I shall vote against the third reading of the bill.

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