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Friday, 15 September 1911

The PRESIDENT - Is it the pleasure of the Senate that the honorable senator have leave to move a motion ?

Leave granted.

Senator LYNCH - I do not desire to submit a specific motion ; all that I want to do is to draw public attention to a statement made by an honorable senator when he happened to be amongst some of his political friends outside. The statement is reported in this morning's Age. It consists of a speech by Senator St. Ledger, on the occasion of a welcome tendered to a member of another place.

The PRESIDENT - If an honorable senator rises on a question of privilege, he must commence by reading a motion to the Senate.

Senator LYNCH - I shall conclude with a motion. The grounds for moving in this matter at all are that Senator St. Ledger yesterday took occasion to reflect seriously upon the credit of the Senate, and, inferentially, upon every member of it except himself.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I wish to point out that when a question of privilege is raised, the senator who does so must, according to our practice, read his motion before he proceeds with his speech.

Senator LYNCH - I propose to move -

That certain remarks made by Senator St. Ledger, reported in the Age newspaper of 15th September, are a grave breach of the privileges of this Senate.

As I have said, the occasion to which I allude was a public function, for the purpose of welcoming back to Australia a member of another Chamber. On this occasion Senator St. Ledger referred to this body, of which he is a member. The words attributed to him are as follow -

Senator St.Ledger said that it had been intended that the Senate should be composed of some of the ripest intellects in the country. But what did they find ? On one of the benches they found . 1 collection of schoolboys or youths who should be at school.

Strange to say, Senator St. Ledger's exordium rang off at that point. Instead of giving thegathering the benefit of one of his long-winded utterances, he stopped short with casting a reflection upon members of the Senate.

Senator Findley - It was a serious reflection upon the people of Australia.

Senator LYNCH - Quite so ; I am coming to that point. I am not particularly concerned about what is said of me personally, but I am concerned about any reflection that is cast upon those who have had the honour to be elected to the Senate. I do not know whether Senator St. Ledger classifies me as a schoolboy, but I will venture to tell him that, while his knowledge of Australia is possibly confined to the curb-stones of Queen-street, Brisbane, I crossed his State long before he had been outside that city.

Senator Millen - I rise to order. I wish to know whether, on a motion of privilege, an honorable senator can enter into a criticism of another honorable senator regarding the action of the electors? Senator Lynch has been discussing a statement made by a senator in relation to the action of the electors. We have nothing to do with that. I submit that a question of privilege can only be raised when the privileges of the Senate have been actually interfered with.

The PRESIDENT - I understood that Senator Lynch was giving reasons why he brought this matter forward, and regarded Senator St. Ledger's speech as a breach of privilege.

Senator LYNCH - I think there are ample grounds for my action. If we are to tolerate an honorable senator going about casting reflections upon the Senate, we cannot very well complain at the action of those outside who may follow in the same path and do the same sort of thing. If we are not jealous of the honour and importance of the Senate - we who are members of it - it is little to be wondered at if other persons are not particular about our honour. When we find one of our members - one of the thirty-six who have been sent here to represent the people - casting a serious reflection upon the Chamber, I say that there is distinct warrant for entering a protest, and taking some specific action which will be a warning to any person who may be inclined to do likewise in the future. What has Senator St. Ledger done? He has gone out of his way to libel as " schoolboys " senators who have been sent here by the deliberate choice of the people of Australia. At the same time he has labelled himself as one of " the ripest intellects in the country," whereas, as a matter of fact, he has been the standing joke of the Senate since he has been a member of it. He is one of those political accidents who occasionally find their way into Parliament.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator must withdraw that statement. It is a reflection upon an honorable senator to say that he is " the standing joke of the Senate."

Senator LYNCH - I withdraw those words j but I hope I may be permitted 'to bear testimony to the fact that, time after time, Senator St. Ledger has provided humour for. and evoked merriment in, trie Senate by the way he has spoken. While withdrawing the words, I indicate what must be the inmost feelings even of those on the 'honorable senator's own side. Since Senator St. Ledger has taken it upon himself to hold this Chamber up to public ridicule or odium, I think that we should be lacking in our duty if we did not take the opportunity of put. ting him in his place and repudiating everything that he said yesterday. I do not want to refer to the way in which he got here, nor to the various means by which he tried to get here. He marched under every political banner which has ever been unfurled in this island continent, in order to get here and elsewhere. When he cast a reflection on a majority of the members of the Senate, he in turn cast a reflection on the matured opinions of every man and woman who voted on the 13th April last.

Senator Millen - I want to know, sir, whether under a motion of privilege one honorable senator is entitled to make an attack on another honorable senator, or to traverse his previous political history, because if that is permitted the debate will have a very wide range.

The PRESIDENT - I asked Senator Lynch to withdraw a statement, which I thought was out of order, and Senator Millen now asks me whether Senator Lynch is in order in stating that another honorable senator used his best endeavours to become a member of this Chamber.

Senator St Ledger - He added something else, sir.

Senator Millen - Senator Lynch was proceeding to deal with the previous political history of Senator St. Ledger, and I merely asked, for the guidance of the Senate, whether he was in order, because if so, it indicates the range over which the debate may proceed.

The PRESIDENT - I think that Senator Lynch will be out of order in traversing the previous history of an honorable senator, because that does not come within the breach of privilege which is alleged to have been committed.

Senator St.Ledger.^1 have no objection to an examination of my political history, but it is a matter of order.

Senator LYNCH - I would not cast any imputation on the Leader of the Opposition were it not that I was endeavouring to follow the lead of the bright intellect which has come amongst us. He told an audience - he did not happen to be amongst his petticoat friends on that occasion - that we have here " a collection of schoolboys or youths who should be at school." I was simply following the example of - this unapproachable intellect which has arrived amongst us - and the radiance of his smile is, of course, enough to make us wither within ourselves at our own insignificance - in tracing how he got here, just as he was equally entitled to trace how we got here. However, we will let that phase of the question pass. All I am concerned about now is the entering of an emphatic protest against the action of the honorable senator in referring to the Senate as he did.

Senator St Ledger - S Suppose that you do pass a censure upon me, what result can it have ?

Senator LYNCH - I am not concerned particularly about myself. What I am concerned about is that the opinion of the honorable senator should be weighed and should not be given equal credence, and perhaps, as much importance as if it had been uttered by a person whose words were worth listening to-

Senator St Ledger - Is not that a reflection on me?

Senator LYNCH - It is because the honorable senator happens by accident to be a member of the Senate that I want to point out that in future we shall not tolerate any one who happens to get here merely by a fluke - by a freak in the judgment of the people - throwing such statements broadcast throughout the Commonwealth, at the risk of having them taken at their true value if they had been uttered by a person who had regard for the truth of the statements he makes. I hope that every honorable senator will recognise the necessity of dealing with this glaring instance of breach of privilege. If they do, it will serve as a warning to those who may in future be tempted to foul their own nest in the way in which Senator St. Ledger has done.

Senator St Ledger - Why not conclude the motion with a proposal to put me in a dungeon or some place like that? That would finish the farce.

Senator LYNCH - The honorable senator's statement is a serious and unwarranted slur on the deliberate judgment of those electors throughout the Commonwealth who recorded their votes on the 13th April last, and therefore I have much pleasure in submitting my motion -

That the remarks of Senator St. Ledger, on the occasion of a welcome to Mr. Fairbairn, M.P., as reported in the Age of lo-day, in which he referred to the members of the Senate as a " collection of schoolboys, or youths who ought to be at school," are a grave breach of privilege. without further comment, and in a shape in which, I hope, every honorable senator will cordially support it.

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