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Thursday, 5 April 1973
Page: 1143


Mr Snedden - I rise to a point of order. I ask for your ruling, Mr Speaker. Do you rule that, when a general aspersion is cast, if any honourable member thinks that it is an aspersion on him personally he is entitled to claim that it is an aspersion on him personally and that it is offensive to him, and in those circumstances you would require the person who cast the aspersion to withdraw unqualifiedly the aspersion against that honourable member?


Mr SPEAKER - I thought that what I said before lunch was quite clear. I said that when I was a member of the Opposition I felt insulted by some epithets of the type that at times are cast from both sides of the chamber and 1 was offended. At that time the right honourable member for Lowe was Prime Minister. What was read out this morning by the Leader of the Country Party was quite factual, but he did not read the whole story, of course. I said that the right honourable member for Lowe was an unmitigated liar and I asked for a withdrawal. The Prime Minister of that time did withdraw and I withdrew. But that was not a ruling. That was a decision I took myself. Of course, it is a matter for each individual member to make up his own mind and it must be seen whether the person who makes the accusation or throws the epithet across the chamber will withdraw it. It is not at all a ruling that I made.


Mr Snedden - But I am asking you to rule, Mr Speaker, on whether you will require a general aspersion to which an individual honourable member-


Mr SPEAKER - No.I certainly shall not rule that way and I never have ruled that way.


Mr Snedden - I want to draw your attention to the fact that this morning you used words to this effect:I think if any member of a party thinks it is an aspersion on him personally he is entitled to do so and I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw as far as the honourable member for Cowper is concerned'. When the Prime Minister used words which purported to be a withdrawal but had conditions attached to them, you said: 'There can be no qualification. The Prime Minister will withdraw.' The Prime Minister has not withdrawn. While he does not withdraw he is in conflict with and in defiance of your ruling. He has not yet withdrawn and I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that until-


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The right honourable gentleman is now out of order. The Prime Minister did withdraw.

Opposition members - No.


Mr SPEAKER - He did withdraw after lunch.


Mr Charles Jones - Mr Speaker, can I speak to the point of order?


Mr SPEAKER - No, the Leader of the Opposition is addressing the Chair.


Mr Snedden - I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that until the Prime Minister withdraws without qualification he is defying your ruling, and unless you enforce your ruling-


Mr Daly - I rise to a point of order. Mr Speaker, you have just indicated that the Prime Minister did withdraw the statement. The Leader of the Opposition now is questioning your integrity and truthfulness and I suggest that he is out of order.


Mr SPEAKER - Order!


Mr Snedden - I am putting it to you, Mr Speaker, that until the Prime Minister withdraws unqualifiedly he is defying your ruling. If you do not enforce your ruling against him you are undermining your authority, reputation and standing in this House by assigning to the Prime Minister, merely because he is the Prime Minister or for some other reason best known to yourself -


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The right honourable gentleman is now reflecting on the Chair. I shall defend the Leader of the Opposition as much as I shall defend the Prime Minister if anything like this happens in the future.


Mr Snedden - If I am in defiance of your ruling, Mr Speaker, I would expect you to assert your authority over me. Equally, I would expect you to assert your authority over the Prime Minister. As I said to you when you were elected to your office - unanimously and without opposition - you occupy an office of the Parliament, not of a party. Therefore, if I were in defiance of your ruling, I would expect you to treat me in exactly the same way as 1 expect you to treat the Prime Minister. What I am saying is that you, in your own words this morning, said to the Prime Minister:

There can be no qualification. The Prime Minister will withdraw.

I have had the proceedings which were recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Commission or Hansard - I am not sure who does it - listened to in relation to this matter. ] was in the chamber at the time that you made this remark. The Prime Minister made no attempt this morning to withdraw his remark unqualifiedly, as directed by you. This afternoon he spoke to a motion to suspend Standing Orders. In that statement he did not withdraw unqualifiedly the remarks you instructed him to withdraw, as I pointed out immediately when I followed the honourable gentleman in speaking to the motion. I am asking you, Mr Speaker, to rule that the Prime Minister, in accordance with your direction, should withdraw his remarks unqualifiedly. If you do not so rule I believe that your authority and your standing in this Parliament will be very sorely prejudiced.


Mr Charles Jones - Mr Speaker, I wish to bring to your attention and to the attention of honourable members the rulings which have been given in this place by former Speakers and which you said you would observe. I have already this day referred to a ruling given by a former Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock). He said: lt has been the practice in this House that a general statement cannot be regarded as offensive. Only a statement referring to a particular individual in the House can be claimed to be offensive. Therefore, there is no substance in the point of order.

This ruling was given to a point of order which I took on 23rd April 1969, as recorded at page 1375 of Hansard. If I may put the whole matter on record-


Mr Jarman - I rise to order. Mr Speaker, may I ask you: Do the rulings of previous Speakers bind you completely or do you make your own rulings in these matters?


Mr Charles Jones - There is no point of order, Mr Speaker.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! No point of order is involved.


Mr Daly - You gave a good ruling.


Mr Charles Jones - I used to be a very good Chairman, Mr Speaker. The ruling which I have just read was given by the honourable member for Lyne, who was the then Deputy Speaker, on 23rd April 1969 in an almost identical situation to that which existed here this morning. The Prime Minister made a general statement concerning the Country Party and the Liberal Party. Personally I agreed with that statement, if I might say so. The facts are that in similar circumstances in 1969 the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), as the Minister for Social Services, made a somewhat similar statement saying that the Australian Labor Party was in alliance with the Communist Party. I took the same point of order which the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) took this morning. I said:

I raise a point of order. The statement by the Minister that the Australian Labor Party is in alliance with the Communist Party-


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister is now debating the question.


Mr Charles Jones - Anyway, that was the point that was taken then, Mr Speaker. I draw your attention to page 70 of the Index to Subjects of Hansard from 12th August 1969 to 26th September 1969. A ruling given by the then Speaker, the Honourable W. J. Aston reads:

A request for withdrawal of remarks applied to a parliamentary party and claimed to be offensive cannot be acceded to unless the remarks can be shown to refer to identifiable members of that Party.

That was Speaker Aston's interpretation of a situation that existed in this chamber this morning. I contest the point that there is any substance in the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden).


Mr Fox - I rise to order. With due respect to the Minister for Transport, he is not answering the point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no substance to the point of order.


Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I wish to speak to the point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). Reference was made to events earlier in the day. Mr Speaker, I remind you of my point of order in which I indicated that I regarded the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) as being personally offensive to me. I remind you, Sir, that you also sought from the Prime Minister a withdrawal of his remarks. I have checked carefully and to the best of my knowledge the Prime Minister has not observed the ruling which you gave. He did, however, attempt to substitute for a withdrawal a general statement. That general statement did not accord with my original objection based on entirely different grounds. What was said by the Prime Minister, referring to me as a member of this House, concerns me greatly.

What has been said by the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) has had no bearing whatever on the issue. He has referred to a ruling given by a Deputy Speaker at an earlier time in relation to an objection based on entirely different grounds. Of course, this reference could only be regarded as a further subterfuge to protect the Prime Minister from the ruling which you gave this morning. I believe that the position is quite clear to this House. The Prime Minister has not observed the ruling that you gave. I believe that it would be improper for us to accept the substitute approach made by the Prime Minister to try to extricate himself from the position in which he and the Government now find themselves. The records show very clearly that the Prime Minister has avoided observing a ruling given by Mr Speaker in this Parliament. This is a most serious and important issue. It is one that impinges very much upon the actions of the House earlier today. These actions were, of course, of great significance.

I believe that it is a vital necessity that the Standing Orders be observed at all times and that there be a proper approach by you, Mr Speaker, in discharging your duties. We on this side of the chamber have a duty to assist you in this regard. For that reason, what has been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition in taking his point of order is correct. I believe that you must rule that the Prime Minister has not observed your ruling. I believe, likewise, that unless this is done the events of the day will remain as an improper procedure o£ this House. If this were to be the situation we would be setting a precedent which would be wrong for this Parliament. It would be wrong for this precedent to be regarded as one upon which to base future procedures of this House of Representatives. I urge you to take cognisance of what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that the evidence put forward by the Minister for Transport has no bearing at all on the matter, as I mentioned a moment ago. The only person who can correct-


Mr Keating - On a point of order. The honourable member has raised a point of order but he is making a speech.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Cowper is speaking to the point of order. I ask him to keep his remarks brief.


Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am certain that I am within the Standing Orders in everything I have so far said. I will endeavour to be as brief as possible. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that the province of Speakership imposes upon you the responsibility of observing the Standing Orders and in so doing you must make rulings in accordance with those Standing Orders. I believe that you did this at the point of time when you said to the Prime Minister that he should withdraw and apologise to me as a member of this House. This was not done. I believe that the whole issue since that point of time is one that rests upon your shoulders as Speaker to correct, and I appeal to you so to do.


Mr SPEAKER -The ruling of the Chair is that the withdrawal by the Prime Minister which was made after lunch not only covers the honourable member for Cowper but every member of the Opposition.


Mr Lynch - On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr Speaker, whether the withdrawal made by the Prime Minister was totally unqualified and unconditional?


Mr SPEAKER -I have just given a ruling that it was acceptable to the Chair.







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