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Thursday, 3 July 1941

Senator COLLINGS (QueenslandLeader of the Opposition) . - in reply - In all sincerity, I say that I am astonished that the motion which I have moved should have created so much excitement. I was honestly of the opinion that the interpretation which I put on the newspaper comment was so obvious that it had only to be stated for the Senate to express, to use the terms of my motion, " its entire disapproval ". Nevertheless, I am not altogether amazed at the heat which has been displayed by honorable senators on the other side of the chamber. I know the history of the evolution of Parliament. I know the fight that had to be waged through the ages to obtain the right to have parliaments in which men would be free to express what they thought. I know, too, of the fight for the secrecy of the ballot. Unlike those younger men who rush in where angels fear to tread, and thereby expose their folly, I know the penalty that had to be paid by myself, and others, for our efforts to obtain a secret ballot. I can remember the days when there was no secret ballot - when voting was open, and the candidate with the most money to provide free beer in the streets bought and obtained the most votes. It has been suggested that I have moved this motion because we on this side of the chamber - the heirs of the pioneers who engaged in the struggle for the secrecy of the ballot - cannot stand criticism. I ask the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLcay), and those other honorable senators who have spoken from the Government benches, if they believe that the Opposition in this chamber is afraid of criticism, and is unable to bear it? They know that is not so. I arn astonished at the defence that they have put up. As Senator Spicer has said, we on this side arc the prosecutors. He is the self-appointed counsel for the defendants, and that accounts for his heat this morning. Because of their expressed approval of these newspapers honorable senators opposite are on their trial.

Senator SPICER - The accuser usually has to prove his case.

Senator COLLINGS - We shall have no trouble in doing that. Senator Spicer began his speech on behalf of the defendants by making a statement which was entirely inaccurate. I do not think that he acted with malice aforethought, but rather that he made a mistake, when he attributed to me a statement which I not only did not make, but also have no intention to make. According to the honorable senator, I said that the statements made in the press were not true. I said nothing of the kind.

Senator SPICER - To what does the honorable senator object?

Senator COLLINGS - I said that a secret ballot was taken in this chamber the day before yesterday. The publishers of two newspapers published in Tasmania, and a member of the House of Representatives. have declared that they know how certain votes were recorded. I have not challenged the truth of their statement, but I want to know how they know the way in which the votes were recorded. Counsel for the defence can put me into the witness box, in which event I shall swear that I do not know how any honorable senator on the other side of the chamber voted.

Senator SPICER - What is the honorable senator's belief ?

Senator COLLINGS - In a court of la w, belief is not evidence, and the honorable senator knows it. Belief may mean anything. I have never taken an oath in my life, and I will never do so; but I am prepared to go into the witness box and affirm that i do not know how one nian on the other side of the chamber voted. I do know how one man on this side voted, and I am prepared to go into the witness box and say so. I know how I' voted. Senator Keane is sitting alongside me, but I do not know how he voted : and I would not be impudent enough to ask him.

Senator Keane - I should resent any such question.

Senator COLLINGS - Some of the remarks made by Government supporters this morning were entirely unworthy, as well as unkind. Outside the chamber, I know that it has been said that the Opposition took advantage of the fact that one' Government supporter was abroad fighting the nation's battles with the Australian Imperial Force; that another had been taken suddenly ill, aud had been conveyed to hospital; and also that another honorable senator suffers disabilities 'because of his heroism on the other side of the world on a former sad occasion. In addition to being unworthy, such statements are untrue. The Opposition has voluntarily given a pair to Senator Wilson for so long as he is away with the Australian Imperial Force. He did not ask for it, although I know that lie desired it. We have honoured that undertaking by giving to him a pair in every division that has occurred since he left this chamber. Moreover, the Opposition has never refused a pair to a sick man. Only last week, a pair was given in such circumstances, but not on the occasion of the taking of a secret ballot:

Senator Leckie - It would have been easy for a couple of members of the Opposition to walk out when the ballot was being taken.

Senator COLLINGS - The Minister has fallen into the trap which I set for him. His interjection suits me very well. What does the Government expect from members of the Opposition? Does it expect us always to be magnanimous and self-sacrificing, and unmindful of the fact that Opposition members comprise practically half of the voting strength of this chamber? Does the Minister really think that two members of this party should have walked out of the chamber on an occasion of great importance to the nation, especially when we believe that a change should be made in the official representation of this chamber? Has the Minister himself ever done anything of that kind? Has the Government ever shown any willingness to water down its anti-Labour legislation to meet the wishes of the Opposition? In the days when the Opposition in this chamber consisted of three senators, how waa it treated by the Government majority? Yet, when the Opposition acts in. its own interest, it is told that it has done something that it, ought not to have done. I repeat that we have given sick mcn pairs whenever they have asked for them. Only last week, three of my colleagues were paired with three honorable senators opposite.

I regret that similar action on our part may have to be taken again in the near future. Before honorable senators opposite indulge in gibes, they had better go back to what occurred in their own party meeting. I ask them to reflect on their treatment of one of their number who, while a soldier in the last war, lost a leg. If honorable senators opposite will think seriously of their own conduct, they may be less inclined to lay against the Opposition charges which, in addition to being untrue, are unkind and unworthy of men holding responsible positions. I am not astounded to find honorable senators opposite rushing to defend the publishers of those two newspapers, because it is natural for men to defend their friends. Some honorable senators opposite are where they are because of newspaper tactics, and for that reason they have rushed in this morning to defend the newspapers which support them. I do not propose to lay a second charge of contempt against the Examiner, but I propose to read from another portion of it, in order that honorable senators may understand why I am impeaching it for contempt. I have never read anything more amazing. Sitting suspended from 1246 to 8.15 "p.m.

Senator COLLINGS - Before the suspension of the sitting, I was proceeding to show how the publishers of two newspapers which I have indicated are the friends of honorable senators opposite, and that it is natural that honorable senators opposite should rush to defend them. I was still less astonished at the attack made on honorable senators on this side of the chamber when I read the following news item which appeared in the Launceston Examiner, one of the newspapers which I have impugned : -

The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) lias arranged to visit Launceston on the 18th and 10th July for the annual State conference of the United Australia and Nationalist Organization.

The Prime Minister is to address a public meeting in thu Albert Hall on the 19th July.

I do not wish anybody to think that I object to that. He has a perfect right to go where he pleases, say what he pleases and address whom he pleases. The article continues -

Ameeting nf the Bass-Wilmot Divisional Council was held at Launceston last evening.

Representatives were present from the town and. country, the country representation being particularly satisfactory. The chairman was Mr. Gordon B. Rolph.

It is a gentleman named Rolph. whom I am indicting for contempt. There are the links in the chain of evidence which shows that these newspapers are so biased against the party to which I belong that they are prepared to destroy the secrecy of a ballot taken in this chamber, and to defame and politically injure three honorable senators who sit in this chamber.

Question put -

That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.

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