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Thursday, 18 July 1946

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - I should not have risen at this late hour had it not been for the remarks of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan). He has sought to defend his action in asking a question in this House which has resulted in the publicity of which he now complains, but which, if he were fair-minded, he would naturally expect. Too often we have heard honorable member's opposite make statements in this House traducing arid vilifying persons outside who have not the opportunity to defend themselves in any way against such attacks. The honorable member for Reid- said that he did not mention the name of the man who has had his case stated in the press to-day. I agree. All that he said in relation to this matter was -

Is the Minister further aware that this unholy alliance has been conceived in the office of J. Walter Thompson and Company, an overseas big-business advertising firm with international ramifications ?

He was referring to some plot being hatched by some true-blue Labour supporters and blue-blooded Liberals who were going to be sacrificed in order to appease Jack Lang. The honorable member's question was obviously a " Dorothy Dix ". It was a question which he drafted in collaboration with the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) because the Minister, in using the name of Blaxland, showed that he knew all about the matter. It was obvious from the Minister's reply that he knew what the honorable member really wanted. The reply was as follows -

The firm of J. Walter Thompson and Company has been engaged in a . great deal of political activity in this country. An employee of that firm, named Blaxland, has been endorsed as the Liberal candidate in opposition to the honorable member for Reid on the occasion of the next general elections.

It is obvious that the question was prearranged between the Minister and the honorable member for Reid. When the question was asked, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Menzies) took a point of order and drew attention to the fact that it constituted political propaganda of the worst possible kind. The right honorable member drew attention to the fact that the person whose name had been mentioned was not able to answer any accusation made in this House, and had no opportunity to defend himself. We predicted that honorable member's opposite would indulge in these tactics once debates in this chamber were broadcast, and would take advantage of the air to indulge in political propaganda, and traduce and defame persons outside. Had these attacks been made in the press the victims would have had some redress, because the press would be obliged to make a fair report. However, once such statements are broadcast from this House the victims have no opportunity to use the same medium in order to answer their traducers. The honorable member forReid now aggravates his offence by traducing other members of the Liberal party. He has mentioned the names of Spooner and Bridges. He alleged that an arrangement had been made by those men in regard to the electoral campaign in the division ofReid. The honorable member should make those charges outside the House and give an opportunity to the persons he attacks to defend themselves. He also mentioned the name of another gentleman, a man formerly selected as the Liberal candidate for Reid, and said that because that gentleman refused to lend himself to a suggestion that his preferences be distributed in favour of the Langcandidate he was refused selection by the Liberal party. The honorable member should know different. If that statement is on a par with his other statements, then the latter are sadly lacking in truth. I do not want to go into the reasons why that gentleman was asked to withdraw his name as a Liberal candidate. After all, it is not easy for a political body to ask a selected candidate to stand down. However, it was unfortunate that the honorable member should have used that gentleman's name in the way he did. I give the assurance that the reason why the man was asked to stand down was not the reason alleged by the honorable member. I shall leave the matter there. The article about which the honorable member has spoken contains protests from very reputable people in the community, including Dr. Duhig, Professor of Pathologyinthe University of Queensland, the Anglican Bishop of Goulburn, Dr.Louat,

Professor Bland, Mrs. Constance Murray and the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr.Fraser), a colleague of the honorable member. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who, I believe, has interpreted the matter correctly, said this -

It is most important that a solution should be found to the problem of a person's right to reply to attacks made on him in Parliament, and broadcast in parliamentary broadcasts.

A man who is personally attacked should have the right to reply.

Good newspapers which report parliamentary attacks on people give those people the right of reply in their columns.

I do not think it is a solution to the problem involved in parliamentary broadcast attacks to give the person attacked the right to demand time for areply through the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

But a solution may be found by allowing the person attacked to send his reply to the presiding officer of Parliament, or a specially selected committee of members of Parliament. Parliament could empower this officer or committee to decide whether the whole statement or a part of it should be broadcast in reply from the floor of the House.

That is a fail statement. I hope that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has been correctly reported. It seems to me that we have reached the stage when men must demand from some authority the right to answer traducers in this House who cannot be brought to account by any other means. The matter is broadcast throughout the length and breadth of Australia. There is no way by which such calumnies can beevertaken. The only redress is for the man attacked to appeal to a committee of this House,or to the presiding officer - as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has suggested - in order that justice may be done to him. The honorable member forReid has not improved his credit by having made this further attack tonight on the other men whose names he has mentioned. He knows that he cannot be brought to account for what he may say in the exercise of his privileges in this House; but, as a legal man, he must realize the consequences if he is prepared to repeat the statements outside.

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