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Wednesday, 8 December 1971
Page: 4354

Mr DALY (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister said that it was not moved on behalf of the Government. We all know from the Press reports of the meeting yesterday of the Government parties that the Prime : Minister (Mr McMahon) sought to have a similar motion carried by those parties but he was unsuccessful. So tonight his dummy in this place has come forward and put th h motion, which seeks to take the heat off or to remove the pressure from what is one of the greatest supporters in this country of the Liberal Party - the 'Daily Telegraph' or the 'paper you can trust'.

I do nol say that I agree with the procedure adopted in respect to the charging of persons with a breach of the privilege of this Parliament. I think that there is room for reform in respect to the procedures adopted. But I am one who believes that it should not pass outside the scope of members of this Parliament to decide in relation to those who have breached what we consider to be the rights, dignity and privileges of this House. I am one who seeks reform in this respect but not reform which sets up an outside body to decide on such matters. It must be reform which, within the Standing Orders, allows the Parliament to deliberate in respect of matters of privilege.

The present method does not allow people to make what one would call an impartial judgment. I do not know how people who are members of this Parliament one day and judges the next can be expected to be impartial. I am just a layman but. quite frankly, I could not divorce from my thoughts my opposition to or my hatreds, as the case may be, of honourable members opposite if I were promoted to the judiciary tomorrow. I do not think it is human to expect members of this Parliament to sit in judgment on people who have criticised them for years in the Press and otherwise and find impartially in respect to their activities. In that respect, I think that the Privileges Committee has shown certain shortcomings which should be covered by the reform which has been advocated over the years by honourable members on both sides of the Parliament.

Having read closely the evidence in this case and having been a member of this Parliament for 28 years, I know that the parties concerned in this breach of privilege case are guilty of contempt of this Parliament. I know it is impossible to get out when a quorum is called. I was one of the 5 members present on this side of the Parliament when a quorum was called on that night, but I do not hold myself up as a hero for being present. I will tell honourable members why I was present. I was at a meeting along way from here and the bells began to ring. As I did not know for what reason they were ringing, I dashed along to the chamber. I was told that the bells were ringing to summon a quorum. I said:'I could not care less. I am going to find out who called for the quorum and what I am going to do to him will not be printable'. When I got into this chamber I found that I could not get out. Here I was a hero among 5 simply because the Standing Orders prohibited me from leaving through this door, that door or any other door I could find. I will tell honourable members something. After 28 years here, I would have foundmy way out of this chamber if there was a way out. That, above all else, proves to me that Mr Reid could not have been right when he said that members of the Opposition had walked out. It is just not possible to get out of this chamber. Standing order 47 prevents one from doing so.

Despite the fact that Mr Reid said that he was told certain things, I think he was writing by Chance. Whilst that might have its humorous side let me say that it is important to the people outside to know that their parliamentary representatives did not walk out of the chamber in order to cause the Parliament to collapse. Let me say also that the calling of quorums is one of the oldest tricks in the game of politics. A member of the Opposition can keep a government on its toes by calling for a quorum when he knows that his colleagues are not present. That is how one keeps the Government awake in the middle of the night and in the daytime as well. Honourable members will all agree that it is pretty hard for the Liberals to keep awake, even in the middle of the day. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the tricks of the game of politics. The people outside do not know about it, but it is like a punch in a scrum in a game of rugby league or anything else; it is a part of the game. Honourable members who know the Standing Orders should use them. The fact that when a quorum is called the Opposition is not here is no discredit on the Opposition. It shows that it is awake and keeping the Government on its toes. Honourable members opposite are paid to keep a quorum in the House. The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) is never in his place when a quorum is called.

I say quite sincerely that a reform of parliamentary privileges is long overdue, not to place it out of the scope of the Parliament but to place it in a more judicial light whereby we might be able to divorce our hatreds or animosities from those in the Press and other places who come before us. At the same time I believe that honourable members who have read this evidence closely will recognise that the editors who printed and the persons who wrote this matter were guilty of stating something about this Parliament which was untrue. I could not care less what the Government thinks of it, but honourable members on this side of the House do not want to bcategorised as people who do not care for the dignity of Parliament, as people who walk out and let the Parliament collapse, particularly when these suggestions are untrue and affect us in the community. It is a very serious allegation which was made against members of this Parliament, and if the charges have been proved against these people - as they undoubtedly have, as would be accepted by those who read the evidence - the requirement that they tender an apology is, compared with what happened in the Browne-Fitzpatrick case, a very mild form of rebuke. I put it in the category of being brushed across the forehead with a feather.

Browne and Fitzpatrick were brought before the Bar of the House charged with contempt not of the Parliament but of one member. Within 48 hours they were on their way to gaol for an offence against one member. Those concerned in this latest incident have been found guilty by the Privileges Committee of an offence against the whole Parliament. But what are they required to do? They are not required to come before the Bar of the House, but just to tender an apology. To my mind this is a mild punishment indeed, and Browne has the right to ask that his case be reopened and that we apologise to him because he received 3 months imprisonment for an offence against one member of this Parliament while this present offence is against the whole Parliament. These are matters that we have to consider and arc worthy of consideration at this stage. Even though the Committee has brought in this recommendation there are those who seek just to accept it and do nothing about it. They will be the laughing stock of the country if that is the case. Some penance is necessary for those who offend the dignity of this Parliament. This is a very mild penalty which is sought by the Privileges Committee.

I give all due respect to my honourable friend who had the courage to vote in the Committee on a matter he saw affecting the dignity of his Parliament. I give credit to those who may have voted against the findings of the Committee because they did not agree with the methods adopted by the Privileges Committee which I mentioned earlier. But nothing can lake away the fact that even without a trial honourable members know that those concerned in. this offence were stating false things about this Parliament, lt might look funny to the public, bat there is nothing humorous in being depicted as people who do not do the right thing by those who have elected us. We have certain dignities and responsibilities. We occupy a high position in this country. And: if pressmen and others make is a laughing stock in this country and we do not take due retribution when we can take it in accordance, with the Standing Orders, that is something that honourable members must bear, realising that they are not doing the right thing by the people who sent them here. I understand that Mr Browne has already written to Mr Speaker asking whether he might appear before the Parliament again to vindicate his name in view of the leniency extended to those who offended not just one member, but the whole Parliament. While I do not want to show personal bias against the 'Daily Telegraph', Mr Reid or others. I suppose that not only no member of the Labor Party but also no member on the Government side has any love for them. That is why I seek reform of parliamentary privileges. Quite frankly, I would find it difficult to give any of them a very fair trial if 1 were a member of the judiciary.' I am honest about that. But there could come an occasion when I. sit on that Privileges Committee. That is why I say tonight that it is time for reform.

From long, bitter and tedious experience, I know - and I repeat- that an honourable member cannot get out through the doors of this chamber when a quorum is called. Some of the smartest characters in this House have been beckoned back by you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or by the intelligent Clerk who sits on my right. Therefore we know that the article which is the subject of this case was written from fantasy, as it were, in an endeavour to discredit not so much the Liberal Party but the members of the Labor Party. We appear to be always the villains in this case. We are expected to stay here while the Liberals go to sleep all day. We are expected to keep the House for them, as it were.

The people who really suffered in this case were not the members of the Government parties but the members of the Opposition. When it is the responsibility of the Government te run the House, why should members of the Opposition be defamed by a statement which was untrue and falsely represented and one in relation to which the Committee has found those responsible for its publication guilty of a breach of privilege? I pay tribute to those members of the Committee who have brought in this verdict in view of all the evidence. Let me say to the Committee that I think it is a pretty shabby state of affairs when after deliberations that lasted, 1 understand, for more than 30 hours, a decision was reached when some members could not possibly .be present because of their commitments. Surely when men's liberties are at stake it is good enough to expect that a committee meeting will be called al a time when all its members can be present so that all who have heard the evidence can deliberate on the issues that have to be decided. To reach a decision when a couple of members are away is not, to my mind, good enough. To the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury), who T understand exercised a casting vote, I say good luck for his courage on this important issue because it is a difficult position to be put in.

Let me say in summary that I hope the House will give consideration to reviewing the procedures involved in the trying of men when their liberty could be at slake in certain circumstances. There is room for improvement in these procedures. Having read closely every vestige of the evidence in this case, and backed up by long experience in this Parliament, 1 say that the findings of this Committee are correct, and if we adopt the motion moved by the Leader of the House it will be one of the greatest discredits ever brought on this national Parliament.

Mr DRURY - I wish to make a pers.sonal explanation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Corbett - Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr DRURY - -Yes. The honourable member for Grayndler, perhaps unwittingly, said that I, as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, had called a meeting when I knew 2 members would not be able to attend. This is not correct. If he checks tomorrow the Hansard report of my speech he will find that I went to particular pains each time to ascertain from members before I fixed a date for the next meeting whether there could be a full attendance, As 1 explained earlier tonight, it was not always possible to have a full attendance when the time came. But it is incorrect for the honourable member to say that I called a meeting knowing that 2 members would not be present.

Mr Daly - Mr Deputy Speaker, I meant no reflection on the honourable member for Ryan. All I implied was that I thought it was unfortunate that meetings had been called when all members could not be there because of circumstances. I assure the honourable member that I made no personal reflection on him in relation to the calling of that meeting.

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