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Wednesday, 25 February 1942

Senator ASHLEY (New South WalesMinister for Information) . - On the 20th February, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) alleged in the House of Representatives that on that day the Australian news session broadcast from Canberra included: a statement that no further cables to members of the Australian Imperial Force should be lodged at post offices. Even before the honorable member made that assertion I had shown to him the press statement which I had issued that afternoon, and from which the broadcast, news item had been prepared. It was indicated clearly in the press statement that the suspension referred only to cables and mail matter for members of the Australian Imperial Force who were known to have been in Malaya and Singapore. The honorable member for Barker insisted that his hearing was good, despite the fact that at least one other honorable member interjected to the effect that Malaya and Singapore had been mentioned in the broadcast. After a thorough examination of the announcer's script, I am obliged to challenge the effectiveness of the hearing of the honorable member for Barker. The actual item broadcast in the Canberra news at 1 o'clock that night was as follows: -

The Postmaster-General said to-day that the transmission of telegrams and postal articles to Australian forces in Malaya and Singapore had been entirely suspended. The public was requested to discontinue lodging cables, telegrams or postal articles for members of the forces who had been known to be there.

On the same night, at 10.15 p.m., the following statement was broadcast : -

The public is asked not to lodge cables, telegrams or postal articles for members of the Australian forces who have been known to be in Malaya and Singapore. The PostmasterGeneral pointed out to-day that transmission to these places has been entirely suspended.

The fullest investigation in Sydney and Canberra proves that these were the only references to the subject in the Canberra news, and in each case it was clear to all but the honorable member for Barker that the advice referred to telegrams and postal articles addressed to members of the forces who had been in Malaya and Singapore. The statement was issued by me, following a suggestion from ihe Department of the Army, because large numbers of telegrams, cables and letters were still being despatched to our forces who had been in Malaya. It was done in the public interest, and the information was faithfully broadcast. By giving his distorted version of this news item, and denying the use of an important qualification the honorable member for Barker suggested that the implication was that Australia's overseas cable service was interrupted by enemy action - a fantastic and entirely foolish interpretation. It is unfortunate that this news session should have been subjected to such an irresponsible attack the effect of which would be to undermine public confidence in an official news service conducted to provide authentic information for the benefit of the public.

I assure honorable senators that the whole object of the Canberra session is based upon the understanding reached recently by myself and both national and commercial radio services that the news should be factual and objective. I draw the attention of honorable senators to the significant fact that, on the same evening that the honorable member for Barker made his comments, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman) also criticized broadcasts made by a government department. It was on the same day also that the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, publicly condemned certain aspects of the Australian news broadcasts from Canberra - a veritable " broadside " from South Australia. Mr. Playford's attack was as unreasonable as that of the honorable member for Barker, and was couched in general terms in order to make another political attack upon the broadcasting services of this country, which have done everything requested of them in connexion with the Commonwealth war effort. The honorable member for Grey complained that information of value to the enemy had been broadcast on Sunday evenings in the " All Australia " sessions of the Department of Information. He cited the broadcast statement that Japan could approach Australia by by-passing the Dutch East Indies as a typically dangerous statement. That was a general statement of an obvious fact, and Japan needed no help from us in that respect if it wished to follow such a course. Eather, was it a means of bringing home to the people of Australia a realization of the fact that they must be prepared for all eventualities, and must not regard one course of action as the only logical one. Too many countries have fallen as the result of an overdose of " honeyed " words, and T believe that the people should be cognizant of the danger which confronts us. All matter broadcast in the Sunday night sessions of the Department of Information is scrutinized with the greatest care - as is all matter broadcast by censors who operate in close co-operation with the defence authorities.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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