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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Senator FOLL (Queensland) . - I regret that the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley) is not present, because I take this opportunity to refer to a report published in the Courier-Mail last Wednesday in which he dealt with the censorship of speeches in this Parliament. He referred to the arrangements which I made when I was Minister for Information whereby the Chief Publicity Censor was brought to Canberra for the purpose, not so much of censoring members' speeches, but of obviating unnecessary "delay in the final release of reports of speeches for publication, in the newspapers.The present Minister has altered that arrangement. He proposes, in conjunction with Mr. President, and Mr. Speaker, to act as censor of speeches delivered in this Parliament. That arrangement may be entirely harmless, but I suggest that it is far better to have a censorship authority divorced altogether from a political atmosphere particularly when speeches delivered in this Parliament are under consideration. I think that deletions from speeches made in this Parliament were made on only two occasions during my term as Minister for Information. Consequently, the chances are that the new machinery set up by the Minister will not be called into operation at all. I am hopeful that that will be the case.. However, it is advisable that the censorship should be entirely dissociated from any form of political influence. Honorable senators are aware that Mr. Bonney, who was previously editor of the Melbourne Argus, has been appointed Chief Publicity Censor.

I think that the Minister in the report to which I have referred did an injustice to Mr. J. Williams, the former Acting Director of the Department of Information, in referring to that gentleman's association with the department. The Minister said -

I also appreciate that I may have had the benefit of this gentleman's advice officially if he had not decided to resign the position of Acting-Director immediately after touring the Netherlands East Indies with the former Minister fur Information (SenatorFoll).

The inference to be drawn from that statement is that Mr. Williams merely remained inthe department until such time as he had an opportunity to visit Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies, and on returning from that trip, immediately relinquished his position as Acting Director of Information. That is not the case. The facts arc that as Minister, I was faced with a very serious position in the department by the reason of the fact that the late Mr. Jenkins, whom I appointed with the approval of the Government, as Director of Information, suddenly became seriously ill. He had been Chief Publicity Censor, and in that capacity, over a period of fourteen months, he carried out most difficult work in building up the department. As the result of those labours his health was impaired. Consequently, he took a holiday. Later, he received a medical certificate to the effect that he could resume his duties. He came to Sydney, but I had no opportunity to see him because he was taken ill and entered hospital, where he lay at death's door for some weeks. Afterwards I was able to get him back to Melbourne, but he failed to make a recovery and died. Mr. Jenkins' association with the department wasvery sad. Upon his death, I was faced with the difficult position that I had no Chief Publicity Censor, and no Director of Information. Consequently, I requested the board of directors of the Courier-Mail to make Mr. Williams's services available to the department for a period of three months, in which period I hoped to be able to sort things out and decide upon the form which the administrative side of the department should take. The board of directors of the CourierMail replied that it could not release Mr. Williams to take the job permanently, but would make his services available as Acting Director of Information for a period of three months without cost to the Government. He took up that position in an honorary capacity. At the end of the period of three months, Mr. Jenkins was still alive, but it was not known whether he would recover. Although I was anxious to appoint a permanent director, I decided to refrain from doing so until I knew definitely whether Mr. Jenkins would be able to return to work. Consequently, at my special request, Mr. Williams stayed on with the department for a total period of seven months in a purely honorary capacity. I make itclear that it was at my request, and my request only, that Mr. Williams stayed on. He did not hang on to the job, as might be inferred from the Minister's statement, inorder to get a trip to the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya. Mr. Williams received an individual invitation to make that trip from the Governments of the Netherlands East Indies and the Straits Settlements, just as I, myself, and individual newspaper editors did. In addition, Mr. Williams was invited in his dual capacity as managing director of the Courier-Mail and as acting head of the Department of Information. It was known at the time that he was unable toremain permanently with the department. On his return from his visit to the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya, he remained with the department for a few weeks, although during that period his executive was getting into difficulty owing to his absence. Subsequently, I was able to secure the services of Mr. Holmes, who, at that time, was head of the National Travel Association, and whom I regarded as possessing excellent qualifications for appointment as head of the Department of Information. With the approval of Cabinet, I appointed him head of the department for the duration of the war, or until the department ceased to exist. Mr. Williams then returned to the CourierMail. Throughout his seven months' association with the department, he did excellent work, in respect of which he placed not only the Government, but also the nation, in his debt. We are also indebted to his executive for having made his services available. I make these facts clear in case any misunderstanding should arise as theresult of the Minister's suggestion that Mr. Williams merely stayed with the department in order to avail himself of the opportunity to make a trip to the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya and then immediately left it.

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