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Friday, 22 May 1970

Mr JARMAN (DEAKIN, VICTORIA) - I was quoting from Hansard from the speech of the honourable member for Wills. He said that the purpose of the body was:

To consider complaints about the conduct of the Press or the conduct of persons and organisations towards the Press

There have been times when I have not been happy with things I have read in the Press, but we must resist most strongly any attempts to interfere with the freedom of the Press, as Voltaire said. We all know the following quotation:

I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. 1 consider that the honourable member for Wills misled the House on the political situation in Victoria. He made what are now revealed to be false statements about newspapers and tried to conceal the fact that there is a disastrous split in the Labor Party in Victoria.

The simple fact is that this split is there and it exists between the Victorian State Executive of the Australian Labor Party on the one side and the Leader of the State Opposition, Mr Holding, and the Leader of the Federal Opposition (Mr Whitlam) on the other. The honourable member for Wills told this House that the reports of the split were the result of a conspiracy by newspapers because a gallup poll had shown a big swing to Labor in that State. What the honourable member told this House was, to say the least, untrue. Let me deal with the gallup poll figures first.

The honourable member for Wills alleged falsely that the Melbourne 'Herald' had suppressed gallup poll figures because they were unfavourable to the Bolte Government. This is not true. The gallup poll to which be referred was a poll taken on 4th April to define the then voting intentions of the people of the whole of Australia in a possible Federal election at that time. The questions asked had nothing to do with State politics. The figures showing individual State's intentions in this poll were as usual not issued with the gallup poll for publication.

The reason for this is that the number involved in the individual State's samples is so small that the margin for error is too great to have the figures recorded officially. Therefore, the poll takes the picture as a whole and issues its findings on those figures. The figures for individual States are available and are given privately to those who seek them, such as the political parties, libraries and universities. But i emphasise that the figures were never issued with the gallup poll for publication in newspapers and therefore there was no suppression whatsoever by the 'Herald' or any other newspaper.

The actual number of interviews made for the survey in Victoria was 459 out of a total of 1,762 for the whole of Australia. The honourable member for Wills told this House yesterday that the number of persons interviewed in Victoria was 1,693, of whom 827 said that they would vote for Labor. The figures quoted by the honourable member for Wills were entirely wrong. Where he got those figures, I do not know. The actual number of samples taken in Victoria was a mere 459, not 1,693 as the honourable member for Wills claimed.

The other important point about this gallup poll was that it was taken to test Federal voting intentions and had nothing to do with State politics. The gallup poll organisation is at present conducting a survey of about 2,000 voters in Victoria on their voting intentions in the coming State poll. That sample should give an accurate forecast of the result of the State election. The result of this poll, I believe, will be published in the Melbourne 'Herald' next Thursday or Friday and, naturally, it will be published whether it shows a swing to the Labor Party or a swing to the Liberal Party. That is a true indication of the integrity and responsibility of the newspaper group of which we are speaking.

Now, as to the story that the split in the Victorian ALP is an invention of newspapers, let us look at the facts. I have it on good authority that at 4 o'clock on the afternoon on which Mr Holding was to deliver the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party Mr Holding's own office did not know that he had been torpedoed by the Victorian State Executive of the Australian Labor Party. A substantial document was issued by the Victorian State Executive before it was given to Mr Holding. This document. I am told, had two sections. One was printed on white paper and one was printed on green paper. The white paper section was the State Labor Party policy as seen by the State Executive, lt pledged that Labor would phase out State aid to independent schools. The green paper section, which was the speech that Mr Holding had to deliver that night contained no such reference. That was because, for 2 days in the week before, Mr Holding and the Leader of the Federal Opposition, Mr Whitlam, had argued with the State Executive to omit this statement from the platform.

We can pity Mr Holding and the Federal Leader of the Labor Party in their battle with the left wing Victorian State Executive because they believed that they had won their argument. Honourable members can imagine the panic in Mr Holding's office when, on the afternoon of the policy speech, newspaper men drew their attention to what the ALP Executive had done. As a result, I am told that there were frantic attempts between 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock that night to alter Mr Holding's speech in such a way that the difference would not be apparent.

It is significant that the speech that Mr Holding delivered that night as his Party's platform for the coming State poll did not contain the Executive's damaging pledge to phase out State aid. Far from trying to invent a split, the Melbourne Press obviously tried unsuccessfully to see Mr Holding to resolve the obvious differences. I am told that he was not available. The allegation that the story of the split which, of course, was real news, had been invented by newspapers, began with a publication in Melbourne called the 'Sunday Observer*. This paper, as is well known, is owned and published by the IPEC company headed by Mr Gordon Barton. It has as one of its feature journalists, Mr Wilfred Burchett, and it is well known also that Mr Barton has no love for Liberals and the Liberal Party. It will be remembered that the Government had refused to give Mr Barton's company a licence to operate a third airline. Mr Barton has for some time devoted much effort to defeating the Liberal Party not only in the Federal sphere but also in the State sphere.

Mr Barton's'Sunday Observer* organisation is issuing at the present time a 4-page propaganda sheet, calling itself a newspaper, which is loaded with Labor propaganda. The issue this morning contains not only the incorrect allegations made by the honourable member for Wills yesterday but also an equally incorrect article signed by him. This sheet makes no attempt to present both sides. By his association with it, the honourable member for Wilis makes a joke of all his allegations yesterday about the need for responsible and fair reporting in newspapers. His attack on the Press is both ludicrous and unwarranted. But his call for controls on the Press if adopted would create a dangerous precedent. There must be no interference with the freedom of the Press in this country by the socialists or by anyone else.

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