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Tuesday, 29 June 1937

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) - by leave - I consider it my duty to bring before the Senate the treatment meted out to this chamber by certain newspapers of this country. Honorable senators will remember that last week I, in a personal explanation, reported to the Senate the misreport in the Canberra Times of a speech which I had delivered during the discussion on the Inter-State Commission Bill. As the correction I then made in the Senate has not appeared in that newspaper those who depend upon it for their news no doubt still believe that theversion it published was a fair record of the proceedings of this chamber on that occasion. That is but one instance. I have in my hand a cutting from the Melbourne Argus of Saturday last, which purports to give a report of the proceedings of the Senate when in committee on the Inter-State Commission Bill. It reads as follows : -

Several amendments to the Inter-State Commission Bill were moved by SenaterE. B. Johnston (Western Australia) in committee to-day, but in spite of strong support from Western Australian senators, they were defeated. The first statement was to provide for the inclusion in the matters into which the commission shall inquire, the effect of any tariff act or other law or regulation of the Commonwealth on primary industries, revenue, manufactures, or trade and commerce in any State or States. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir George Pearce) said that as the Tariff Board carried out part of these duties., there would be two bodies doing exactly similar work.

The report then went on to state that I pointed out that the matters could he dealt with by the Tariff Board. Honorable senators who were present during the discussion on that measure know that the Argus report is an entire misrepresentation of what took place with regard to the amendments moved by Senator J ohnston.

Senator Collings -Hear, hear!

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - They know that not only did Senator Johnston advocate that these matters should be dealt with by the Inter-State Commission, but that all other senators from Western Australia advocated the same; and that I pointed out that the matters mentioned could be dealt with by the commission under the bill as it had been framed. I quoted legal opinion to that effect. Senator Marwick said that he also had consulted legal authority, and had been informed that the subjects referred to by Senator Johnston could be dealt with by the Interstate Commission under the bill. Other honorable senators from Western Australia therefore accepted my assurance as being a correct statement of the effect of the bill. Senator Johnston nevertheless pressed his amendment and called for a division, but the Chairman of Committees announced that there was only one " aye ", meaning that Senator Johnston was the only one calling for a division in favour of the amendment. Nevertheless, the Argus stated that the amendment was strongly supported by other senators from Western Australia. I admit that these are only two comparatively minor incidents in a series of absolute misrepresentations of the business of the Senate.

Honorable Senators.-Hear, hear!

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I suppose we have no right to complain if we are ignored by the newspapers, but we certainly have a right to complain if the proceedings of the Senate in the transaction of public business are misrepresented. I consider also that the press has an important duty to furnish to the people of this country a correct report of the proceedings of the Parliament, as well as of the views expressed by individual members of it. You, Mr. President, some time ago, and Senator Abbott last week, drew attention to the fact that it was not so very long ago that the press of the Mother Country had to fight for the right to report parliamentary: proceedings. I have come to the conclusion that the time is rapidly approaching when the Parliament will have to fight for the right to let the people know what is being done on their behalf in the national legislature.

Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - As things are, important bills which are passed sometimes get little or no attention from the press, but if some member of this or the other chamber, in a moment of heat, uses abusive or extravagant language, he can be sure of double headlines and a full report on the cable pages of the newspapers next day. This lack of all sense of proportion in the reporting of the proceedings of the Parliament has become a menace to parliamentary institutions. I say this, not because of the comparatively insignificant incident to which I have referred, but because of the general tendency of the press in recent years either to ignore altogether the proceedings of Parliament or so to report them that no elector can possibly be aware of what is being done. The extraordinary amount of space devoted to the reporting of sporting news disposes entirely of the excuse- that there is lack of space for the reporting of parliamentary 'proceedings, and to suggest that the doings of the national legislature have no news value is to imply that the people of this country take no, interest .whatever in the government of it. I refuse to believe that, and I repeat that; in my view, the time is rapidly, approaching when, if the press does not' do its duty to our parliamentary institutions, the Parliament will have to do its* duty to the people by taking steps to ensure that they may know accurately the business that is .transacted in this building., .

The ' 'PRESIDENT. - I should like to add a few words to the observations of the Leader of the' Senate (Senator Pearce) upon this very important matter. In the first plaGe I refuse to believe that there is a single person in the public life of this country who does not wish to be judged by his words and his acts if they are fairly, presented to the people. It is, however, quite wrong to ask the people to judge a man by statements which were never made or actions of which he has never been guilty, and I agree with the Leader of the Senate that the time has arrived to call public- attention to those news agencies which are responsible for such unfair presentation of the doings of this Parliament. The Leader of the Senate has rightly said that the newspapers of this country are the inheritors of a freedom which was won only after strenuous endeavours in the Mother Country for the right to report the proceedings of Parliament. We are entitled to* expect that that right will be respected; the newspapers should not give to the people an unfair or distorted version of proceedings which it is their bounden duty to record faithfully. I have fought on the floor of this chamber for many years to secure for the Senate a fair share of publicity, comparable, at least, with the publicity given to other news which might be adjudged of interest to the people of this country. I know that I have paid for my temerity, for although I have spoken on many subjects, for many years my name did not appear in the newspapers and its readers had no means of knowing what I had to say. However, I was quite prepared to suffer, because I knew that I had done my duty in calling attention to the remissness of the newspapers in their wilful treatment of the proceedings of this chamber. 1 have in mind another example of the paltry methods adopted at times by a section of the press, including some of the socalled respectable newspapers, in their desire to present this Parliament and its members in an unfair light. I refer to the occasion last year when Dr. Earle Page, who was then Acting Prime Minister, convened the meeting of the Cabinet in Western Australia. Immediately there appeared in the Western Australian newspapers a report from Canberra to the effect that Canberra opinion was to the effect that the policy of the Government with reference to a certain matter did not meet with approval in Canberra. .Dr. Earle Page challenged this statement, and told the people in Western Australia that at the moment the only people in Canberra were public servants who, as a rule,, were rather loath to express an opinion upon any matter of government policy; therefore the right honorable gentleman suggested that the so-called expression of opinion from Canberra must have been inspired by somebody who disapproved of the Government's attitude and wished to convey the impression that there was substantial public opinion in the Federal Capital Territory against it. That incident may be regarded as a good illustration of how public opinion sometimes is manufactured, for the express purpose of placing the Government of the day in bad relation to the electors. In that case there was a deliberate attempt to manufacture news without any substantial material whatever.

Honorable Senators . - Hear, hear!

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