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Thursday, 3 July 1941

Senator GIBSON (Victoria) .- I have been in politics for twenty years, and only once during that .period have I known of a censure motion relating to an individual member of Parliament being introduced. On that occasion, the motion was not seconded. If we are to censure members of this Parliament for the remarks they make, where would the matter end ? I thought that the Labour party stands for freedom of speech, hui it is now trying to gag and censure those who freely express their opinions.

Senator Fraser - He would not have been allowed to make the statement in the House of Representatives.

Senator GIBSON - If the honorable member for Denison were censured for making the remarks referred to, the party that happened to be in a majority could censure every speaker opposing it. I hope that the Senate will reject this ridiculous motion.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I rise to order and appeal to you, Mr. President, to have regard for the Standing Orders. In my opinion, it would be a flagrant breach of all the courtesies that have ever existed .between the two branches of the legislature to censure members of the other chamber, either individually or collectively. I regret that you have been somewhat embarrassed, by the raising of this matter, po early in your career as President, but there is more in this than whether the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Beck) did or did not make a certain statement. He represnts a division in the House of Representatives, and is entitled r,o all of the privileges attached to membership of that chamber. Standing Order 41S, to which Senator Johnston referred this morning, states -

Sci senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any member of such House, or of any House of a State parliament, or against any statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on members shall be considered highly disorderly.

The Leader of the Opposition (.Senator Collings) disapproves of a statement of a more or less political character made by the honorable member for Denison because it affects certain senators from a particular State. I ask first of all that the motion should be ruled out of order-

Senator Fraser - I rise to a point of order. I draw your attention, Mr. President, to the ruling that you have already given, and to Standing Order 429, which states -

If any objection is taken to the ruling or decision of the President, such objection must bc taken at once, and in writing. . . .

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator is endeavouring to get over a stile which has not yet been reached. I am asking you, sir, to rule in a certain way. I could take the action to which the honorable senator has just referred, but it would please me better not no have to do so. I now refer you to Standing Order 427. You, Mr. President, have already observed that under the standing order there is no power to deal with anybody except the person named as the printer or publisher of the newspaper concerned. Standing Order 427 provides that any senator complaining of a statement in a newspaper as a breach of privilege must submit a substantive motion declaring that the person in question has been guilty of contempt. Therefore, I suggest that you should rule that the present motion is out of order. If the Senate rejects it, as it probably will, its action will serve as a precedent in years to come. Senator Fraser once referred to the dark days of Magna Charta, but I point out that it would be contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and of the Standing Orders to carry this motion. I do not know what power the Leader of the Opposition has to submit a motion of this kind.

Senator Collett - Is it proposed to transmit the motion, if carried, to the other branch of the legislature?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is such a fatuous motion that I do not know what would happen to it, but, if we passed it, an unhappy position would arise because the House of Representatives would probably retaliate and take similar action because of some statement by an honorable senator that might cause offence. Supposing that I were to say that, on occasions, inkwells had been thrown about in the other chamber and that bad language had hean used. I could go on with that kind of recrimination indefinitely, but it ie important for us to preserve the dignity of both chambers. Honorable members in the other branch of the legislature have to answer in the long run to their masters, the electors, if they comport themselves in any way derogatory to the dignity of the Parliament. If the Leader of the Opposition has any authority at all for submitting this motion, I have not been able to discover it in the Standing Orders. As I do not believe that this Senate should be set up as a judge of the conduct of members of the House of Representatives, I ask that the motion be ruled out of order. I ask yo.u, Mr. President, to do this in the interests of good relations between the two branches of the legislature, and in the spirit of Standing Orders 418 and 427. Some matters irrelevant to the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition have been mentioned, since his motion is based on the grounds advanced this morning regarding the two Tasmanian newspapers to which reference has been made. The Senate would be ill-advised in taking the action proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, and I ask for a ruling whether the Senate has power to censure a member of the House of Representatives.

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