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Wednesday, 4 April 1962

Mr HAROLD HOLT (Higgins) (Treasurer) . - Mr. Speaker-

Mr SPEAKER -Does the Treasurer wish to speak to a point of order?

Mr HAROLD HOLT - No. I want to speak to the motion. I want to give some facts which strongly support your ruling, Sir. This is a very interesting episode, as I am sure the House will agree when I give honorable members the information which is in my possession, Just before the House met a member of the press gallery approached me and asked me if it was a fact that in speaking-

Mr Ward - I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Treasurer is now debating the subject-matter of the question that was asked. He is not discussing the motion before the chair, which is that the ruling be dissented from.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Some latitude was allowed when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, and I think the Treasurer should be given similar latitude to that which was allowed the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - I am giving the facts, Sir, which justify, in my view, the ruling that you have given. I was asked by the pressman to whom I referred whether I would confirm a statement made at the press conference held by the Leader of the Opposition after his caucus meeting this morning, to the effect that, in addition to speaking to a representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission about the statement regarding the business of the House and the intentions of the Government, I had objected to a comment made by Bishop Strong in relation to Government policy concerning West New Guinea. I replied to the pressman, " That statement is completely untrue. What were the circumstances in which it was made to you? "

Mr Peters - I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has this anything whatever to do with your ruling?

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Treasurer is enjoying the same privileges as were extended to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - Mr. Speaker.I say this in relation to your ruling: As I understood it at the time, and as I understood the subsequent elaboration given by you a moment or two ago, your ruling was to the effect that it is the practice of the House to call on the Minister who, in the judgment of the Chair, is most responsible for, or is best informed on, the matter raised. That is the practice of the House, and who could be better informed on this matter than the member of the Government against whom the allegations were made? I give an emphatic denial to the allegation that I at any time made any reference to remarks made by Bishop Strong when speaking to any member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission or, for that matter, to anybody else. In fact, it was not my purpose, when getting in touch with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, to make a complaint. It was my purpose to see that a balanced account, and an accurate account, of arrangements regarding the sittings of this House was placed before the people. I say in fairness to the Australian Broadcasting Commission that when the commission reports controversial matters its normal practice is-

Mr Peters - I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point is this: The right honorable gentleman is now answering the series of questions that I asked, and he is not entitled to do so until the motion of the Leader of the Opposition is decided.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! That has already been decided.

Mr Armitage - Who made the decision?

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I point out to the House that a great deal of laxity was allowed when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking at the time he made his motion. In the circumstances it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Treasurer should have a similar right.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - The plain facts of this matter are that the Leader of the Opposition has sought to promote in this place what he knows to be an untruth-

Mr Calwell - Mr. Speaker, I ask for a withdrawal.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I am afraid it is parliamentary.

Motion (by Mr. Peters) negatived -

That the right honorable member for Higgins be not further heard.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - The Leader of the Opposition has claimed that the proper course was for you, Mr. Speaker, to call my colleague the Postmaster-General, but he could have had no knowledge of what passed between me and a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In any event, I have disposed of that matter by giving this House my assurance, which I hope no one will seek to challenge, that I made no complaint or comment to any member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission about any statement attributed to Bishop Strong. My purpose was to ensure that a balanced account of the position would be given, as is the normal practice of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The Leader of the Opposition said that the question should have been answered by my colleague, the Postmaster-General, and that I would have had an opportunty, if I had been misrepresented, to seek leave of the House to put the record straight. Earlier in this sessional period, when I claimed that I had been grossly misrepresented by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), also by the spreading of statements which the honorable member knew to be untrue, and I sought the leave of the House to correct those statements by way of personal explanation, honorable gentlemen opposite denied me that democratic right. Now the Leader of the Opposition states: " It does not matter if we circulate these slanders about you to the press gallery and then farm them out over the air. You will have some opportunity to try to catch up with them in your own way in your own time." That is not good enough for this side of the House, and it is not the kind of conduct that we should expect from the Opposition.

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