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Wednesday, 1 November 1911


The PRESIDENT - Under standing order 433, it has been reported by the Chairman of Committees that Senator Vardon wilfully disregarded the authority of the Chair. Under standing order 435, I call upon Senator Vardon to make an explanation to the Senate, and offer an apology.


Senator Vardon - I was discussing the proposal to do away with the postal vote. In the course of the discussion I was claiming that it was intended to deprive mothers of the vote. The Vice-President of the Executive Council interjected something about' my having denied people votes in connexion with the South Australian Legislative Council. I do not remember his exact words ; but I said that that did not refer to the present question, but that I would be prepared to argue that question in the right time and place. I think Senator W. Russell said, " I will argue it," and I said. " I will argue that with any intelligent and respectable person." I did not use the word " No."


Senator Rae - I can swear that the honorable senator did.


Senator Millen - No, the Chairman of Committees has put that word in since.


Senator Vardon - That is the whole position. I said " I will argue the question with any intelligent and respectable person."


Senator Millen - I should like, first of all, to invite Senator O'Keefe to correct an error into which I am convinced he has fallen. I believe the honorable senator will recognise that himself when I direct his attention to it. He says now that the words used by Senator Vardon, and to which exception was taken, were " No, I will debate that matter with any intelligent and respectable person." I invite Senator O'Keefe to recall the fact that, when he was in the chair, he did not use the word "No." The words which he asked Senator Vardon to withdraw were, "I will debate that question with any intelligent and respectable person." The word " No " was never introduced until

Senator Raedeclared that he heard it, and Senator O' Keefe, when in the chair, in stating the matter to the Committee, did not use that word at all. Honorable senators will see that everything depends on whether that word was used or not.


Senator Rae - I can swear that I heard Senator Vardon use it.


Senator Millen - I did not hear it used. Senator Rae says that he heard the word. But my point is that the Chairman of Committees did not use the word " No " at all in quoting in Committee what he alleged had been said by Senator Vardon. I point out that the objection to the words, if any, must rest upon the use of the word "No." If, when Senator W. Russell interjected, Senator Vardon had replied, and had used the word " No," he would have stated practically, " I am not willing to discuss the matter with you, but with any intelligent and respectable person.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is what the honorable senator meant, and Senator Millen knows it.


Senator Millen - The whole point is in the introduction of the word " No." The use or failure to use that word "No" makes all the difference. So certain am 1 that it does make all the difference that I am prepared to suggest to Senator Vardon now that, if he has the slightest recollection of having used the word " No," his words were offensive, and they ought to be withdrawn. I did not hear the word "No" used by the honorable senator, though I was sitting just in front of him. I say that the words that were actually used by Senator Vardon could not be taken in the objectionable way in which, in the heat of the moment, they were taken by honorable senators opposite.


Senator Rae - I quite admit that the use or failure to use the word " No " does, as Senator Millen has said, make all the difference. I distinctly heard Senator Vardon use the word " No," and then add, " I will discuss it with any one who is intelligent and respectable." The honorable senator may not recollect using the word " No," but I can also appeal to the tone of his utterance to show that the implication was that Senator W. Russell was neither intelligent nor respectable. No one could fail to tell from the tone of Senator Vardon's voice that that was what he intended to convey.


Senator Millen - I tell the honorable senator honestly that I did put that interpretation upon it.


Senator Sayers - I was sirring here all the time Senator Vardon was speaking. The Vice-President of the Executive Councilreferred to something which he said Senator Vardon did not do when he was in the Legislative Council of South Australia. Senator Vardon replied that if he entered into a discussion of that question then he would be out of order, and that the Chairman would pull him up. Then he said he was prepared to discuss the matter- with " the honorable gentleman," meaning the Vice-President of the Executive Council, at any time. Sena* tor Russell said, "I will take that up." Senator Vardon- answered, " I am pre-, pared to discuss it with any intelligent or respectable person." Although the word "No" was interjected both by Senator Rae and the Honorary Minister, I think the Chairman will bear me out in saying that when he put the question from the Chair, he did not mention the word " No " at all. The word "No" came from an interjection on the other side of the chamber. The Chairman put the phrase before the Committee without the word "No." Now, sir, on that, Senator Vardon said he had not said anything that he thought was objectionable to any person. It is now put before you by the Chairman that Senator Vardon used the word "No." I think the Chairman will bear me out in saying that when he put the phrase from the Chair, he did not use the word "No." When he put the phrase to you, sir, he used the word " No, ' ' and that word makes a great difference. I do not like to hear any strong personalities. I did not take it from Sena-; tor Vardon's manner that he meant anything offensive to Senator W. Russell. He was slightly irritated, perhaps, at the interjec-lion of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, but I do not think he meant any. offence to any person. If the word "No" was not prefixed to the phrase used by Senator Vardon, I do not think any member of the Senate could take any exception to his remark.


Senator McGregor - The question is very easily decided. Senator Vardon was making an appeal for women in a certain condition to be allowed to vote by post. I said that he was in a very different mood to what he was when women, and men, too,were clamouring for votes for the Lexis.Iative Council of South Australia. He said my interjection was out of place, and I admit that it was, but it was only made to show his inconsistency. He then said he would debate that question with the

Vice-President of the Executive Council, or any one else, at the proper time. Then Senator W. Russell said, " I will debate it with you." I distinctly understood Senator Vardon to reply, "No; I will discuss it with any respect able or intelligent person." The question is easily settled. Senator Vardon is prepared to discuss the question referred to with any person who is reasonable, intelligent, and respectable, and all that sort of thing. Now, if he did not mean to say " No," when he replied to Senator W. Russell, he is, I take it, prepared to discuss the question with Senator Russell.


Senator Millen - He said so.


Senator McGregor - Then that settles it. If Senator Vardon is prepared to say now that he will discuss the question referred to with Senator Russell, Senator Russell can appoint a time and a place. Let us see if Senator Vardon will do it. That is exactly the position. I distinctly understood Senator Vardon to say " No," and to point out why he would not do it. No honorable senator who paid particular attention to the matter when it arose could understand anything from Senator Vardon's remarks, but that Senator Russell was not intelligent and respectable enough to discuss the question with Senator Vardon.


Senator Findley - I only wish to say one or two words before you give your decision, Mr. President. What difference will it make whether Senator Vardon admits making use of the word " No," or denies making use of the word ? The facts of the case are that Senator Vardon was making a speech, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council made an interjection which was not apropos to the remarks Senator Vardon was making. Senator Vardon said he would discuss the matter with the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and Senator Russell said he would discuss the matter with Senator Vardon. I want to ask what difference it can make whether Senator Vardon said, " I will discuss it with an intelligent or respectable person "-


Senator McColl - He said with " any intelligent or respectable person."


Senator Findley - Senator Vardon said, " I will discuss it with any intelligent or respectable person." Does it make any material difference whether the word " No " was used or not? If Senator Russell had not challenged Senator Vardon to discuss a question with him, the remark of Senator Vardon that he would discuss the question with an intelligent or respectable person would not have been made. What difference does it make whether the word " No " was used or not? If it were left to a jury of a thousand men, would not nine hundred and ninety-nine say that the man who made that statement intended that it should have application to the man who interjected?


Senator de Largie - I think that the whole position is quite clear.


Senator Millen - The Chairman of Committees is prepared to speak.


Senator de Largie - The honorable senator was not here when the point arose.


Senator Millen - I was here, but you were not.


Senator de Largie - The honorable senator will admit that I am in just as good a position as he is to discuss the matter, because he has said that he did not hear the words used.


Senator Millen - You were not in the chamber, and why should you try to persuade the President that you were?


Senator de Largie - I know as much as the honorable senator about what occurred. It is charged that insulting and offensive words were used to Senator W. Russell, and the customary course, when a remark is taken exception to, is for the senator who has made it, to withdraw. If the senator who has used words tq which exception is taken says that he did not mean them in an offensive sense his statement is accepted, but the words are always withdrawn, whether they were meant to be offensive or not. It does not matter whether the word " No" preceded the phrase used by Senator Vardon or not. The implication was as plain as the nose on one's face. We all know full well the feeling that exists between Senator Vardon and Senator W. Russell.Senator Vardon would have acted much more fairly if he had withdrawn the statement when the Chairman called on him to do so, than by having a wrangle when every one in the chamber knows what is at the bottom of the whole affair.


Senator Millen - We are having a moral lecture.


Senator de Largie - If I were as often on my feet lecturing the Senate as is the honorable senator, I might pose as lecturerinchief of the Senate. The honorable senator arrived in the train to-day in a very bad mood, and has not got out of it yet. The words used by Senator Vardon having been taken exception to, the Chairman was per*fectly right in asking that they be withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees. - I have been asked by the Leader of the Opposition to again state the exact words as I heard them used by Senator Vardon. Before referring to that, let me say that the reason why I left the chair, and submitted the matter to you, sir, was that I gave a ruling that Senator Vardon, in my opinion, should withdraw the words. I asked him, I suppose half-a-dozen times, in the ordinary courteous way in which any Chairman of Committees speaks to a senator, to withdraw the words, and Senator Vardon, after apparently hesitating for some time, stated definitely, " No, I will not withdraw." According to my reading of the Standing Orders, if any senator disputes a ruling of the Chairman of Committees he has only one course to pursue, and that is immediately to put in writing his reason for disputing the ruling. Senator Vardon did not propose to take that course at all. He definitely refused to obey the ruling, arid therefore I thought that, in the interests of the proper conduct of business, I should bring the matter before you, Mr. President. I submit that if the Chairman's ruling is neither to be obeyed nor the proper course to be taken, of putting in writing the reasons for disputing the ruling, the conduct of business will be considerably hampered. Every honorable senator knows - as does Senator Vardon - that there is only one course for an honorable senator to take who disputes the Chairman's ruling. I know of no feeling between Senator Vardon and Senator W. Russell, or between honorable senators and myself ; but, in my opinion, Senator Vardon having disputed my ruling, should have taken the proper course of putting in writing the reasons for disputing it.


Senator Millen - You did not give him an opportunity.

The Chairman of Committees. - I think Senator Vardon will admit he had ample opportunity of doing it, but he refused to do so, and I took the only proper course. As regards the use of the word " No," it seems to me that it is quite immaterial whether it was used or not. I admit right away that in first putting the question I did not use the word " No." The word " No," or a word like it, certainly was used by Senator Vardon so far as my hearing served me. It did not appear to me that that had the slightest material bearing on the question.


Senator Millen - Now you are stating the case for the guidance of the President.

Whether the word " No" has any bearing on the question or not is for him to state.

The Chairman of Committees. - In stating the question in the first place, it appeared to me to be absolutely immaterial to the point at issue - that Senator Vardon should withdraw the statement regarded as objectionable - whether the word "No" was used, so much so that I did not use that word in putting the question. Quite a number of honorable senators have asserted that the word " No " was used, and so far as my hearing served me the word " No," or a word very much like it, was used. After all, is there anything in the point as to whether that word was used or not ? What we have to decide is not any dispute between myself and Senator Vardon, or any other honorable senator, but a question affecting the conduct of the business of the Senate. The point is whether the Chairman's ruling should be obeyed, or if there is a reason for not obeying it, whether the proper course should not be taken by the honorable senator disputing the ruling, of putting in writing his reasons for objecting to it.


Senator Lt Colonel Cameron - I was not in the chamber when the incident under discussion took place. I think that the simplest plan will be for Senator Vardon to state, without any question of withdrawing the words he used, that they were not meant to refer to Senator W. Russell. I feel quite sure that if he will make a simple statement before a decision is given from the Chair honorable senators generally will be satisfied.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not intend to say more than a few words. - When Senator McGregor interjected to Senator Vardon the latter said that he would argue the point with the former or any one else at the proper time. I can swear that after I interjected that I would meet Senator Vardon and argue the question with him, he said "No." I will swear that anywhere as what I believe.


Senator Millen - You are hardly an impartial judge in this matter.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I want to know if Senator Millen is more impartial than I am. I do not believe that he is j but I am not here to discuss that matter. My honour is at stake. What have I done politically, morally, or otherwise, or what have I said in the Senate or elsewhere, which would justify an honorable senator on the other side in saying that I was neither intelligent nor respectable? Is the Senate going to brand me in that way ? What evil have I done ? These words come from a man who has been for twelve years president of the Young Men's Christian Association. Could hypocrisy go further?


The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator must withdraw that word.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I withdraw it, sir. I do not want to be insulting, but it is terrible to have one's word doubted. Where is the man, in South Australia or elsewhere, who can brand me as immoral or charge me with anything pertaining to immorality, or say that I am a fool, as Senator Vardon, and Senator Millen, too, would like to do for party purposes alone? I leave my case in the hands of the Senate. I want justice; I want a withdrawal of the language complained of.


Senator Chataway - You want mercy, too, I think.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No. There is the honorable senator again saying "mercy." I challenge any one to bring anything against my moral character. I am not going to bet, but I will give to a hospital which is in need of funds £20 if any member of the Senate can prove to me that I have in any instance branded myself as an immoral man or a fool, as Senator Vardon would like to paint me. I do object to such remarks coming from any man in the circumstances. I know, if I dare go back into history, what is at the bottom of this -business ! At the Coronation in England, Senator Vardon's claim was overlooked. He expected probably to be Sir Joseph to-day.


The PRESIDENT - The Chairman of Committees has reported to the effect that Senator Vardon made a statement which he regarded as being out of order. Under the Standing Orders the Chairman of Committees has the same power as the President to take exception to a statement, and to demand the withdrawal of any words if considered to be out of order. There is another aspect of this matter, and that is that when a member of the Senate makes a statement which is considered by another senator to be applicable to himself personally, and to be offensive, it has. been the custom in the Senate for the former to withdraw the statement. I think that Senator Vardon should withdraw the statement which he made. There is evidently an impression amongst a large number of honorable senators that the words which he uttered did apply specifically to Senator W. Russell, and I think that the only action which can be taken by Senator Vardon to maintain the dignity of the Senate is to withdraw the remarks which have been objected to, and which are considered by Senator W. Russell to be personally applicable to himself.


Senator Vardon - Mr. President, at your request I withdraw the words - simply and solely at your request.


Senator Long - Is it competent, sir, for an honorable senator to make a withdrawal of words in that form?


Senator Chataway - At the request of the President.


Senator Long - I think that something more than- that is due to the Senate.


The PRESIDENT - It is unusual for an honorable senator to withdraw words objected to in that manner. He may say, " At the request of the President I withdraw the statement." To add other words seems to me to be as bad as the offence itself.


Senator Vardon - At the request of the President I withdraw the statement.

In Committee :







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