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Wednesday, 14 October 1964

Senator COHEN (Victoria) .- I rise to join issue with the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) on some statements he made earlier tonight while discussing the estimates for the AttorneyGeneral's Department. The Minister's statements related to a visitor to Australia, Mr. E. S. Sachs. Replying to Senators Cavanagh and Murphy who had raised some questions about answers given by the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) concerning Mr. Sachs, the Minister for Works saw fit to associate himself with the- statements adverse to Mr. Sachs which had been made in another place by the Attorney-General. I refer to an answer given on 1st October to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) by the Attorney-General who said -

.   . I understand, and accept, that in an action in the courts in South Africa in 1950 or thereabouts Mr. Sachs said on oath that he was a Communist.

When tackled about this matter tonight, the Minister for Works, who represents the Attorney-General in this chamber, said, in effect, that if there were any error on the part of the Attorney-General it was a minor one and that the date should have been 1945 and not 1950. He left a very clear implication that Mr. Sachs, who is a visitor to this country and has no voice of his own in this chamber, had said under oath in a court case in South Africa in 1945 that he was a Communist at that time. That is an allegation of a serious character against a person who is not a Communist.

It is necessary to look at the matter in perspective and I want to take a few minutes of the Senate's time to examine certain known facts concerning Mr. Sachs's record so far as it is possible to ascertain them, and to suggest that when the record is examined, it is evident that the AttorneyGeneral has lent himself to some reckless statements about Mr. Sachs's character and his political allegiances. To my great regret, the Minister for Works, who represents the Attorney-General in this House has taken the position, not that he does not know the facts and will refer the questions to the Attorney-General, but that he makes himself independently responsible for the statements he has made. I do not think the Minister would want to retreat from that position because earlier he did not pretend that he wanted further information. He put himself in the position of one who knows the facts.

So far as it is possible to ascertain the facts. Mr. Sachs was a member of the Communist Party of South Africa until 1931 when he was expelled because of differences with the party. That was 33 years ago. Anybody who comes forward in 1964 and wants to highlight Mr. Sachs's Communist association or Communist membership bears the heavy responsibility of saying that that is a fair statement to make about him in 1964. I am not speaking from facts which I know of my own knowledge. I rely on a report of a decided case reported in the South African Law Reports in 1952 and on what was said by the learned trial judge. Mr. Justice Clayden, in giving judgment in a case in which Mr. Sachs sought damages for libel on the ground that he had been falsely called a Communist. The case was heard in May 1951 and it was reported in Volume 2 of the 1952 South African Law Reports. Mr. Sachs was awarded £500 damages in the Witwatersrand Local Division by Mr. Justice Clayden for his false allegation.

May 1951 when the judgment was given was just a few months after 1950 - the year in which according to the AttorneyGeneral Mr. Sachs had said on oath in a court in South Africa that he was a Communist. The Minister for Works now says that it was not 1950, really, but 1945. It is necessary then to look at the history of Mr. Sachs, or what can be ascertained about Mr. Sachs, between 1931 and 1945. What is known is that in 1942 in a libel case in the Witwatersrand Local Division, Mr. Sachs recovered £600 damages for libel because he had been falsely called a Communist. That was in 1942 - 11 years after he was expelled from the Communist Party. This much can be established and it is referred to in this judgment in the 1952 volume of South African Law Reports. It is therefore known that in 1942, Mr. Sachs obtained damages for libel because he was falsely called a Communist.

Senator Paltridge - He made his expulsion pay.

Senator COHEN - Apparently he was a successful plaintiff in a large number of actions and if anybody cares to repeat those allegations against him outside this Parliament he may well find himself an unsuccessful defendant in a libel action. The year 1945 is the year on which apparently the Minister for Works now relies as a relevant time. I ask him to name the case in which

Mr.Sachs stated in 1945 that he was a Communist at that time and to produce the record if he can. If the Minister cannot do that, I ask him to tell the Senate frankly what is the source of the information on which he bases the allegations he has made. Unless that is done, we will be left with the uncomfortable feeling that Ministers of the Crown - the Attorney-General and the Minister who represents him in this place - have acted irresponsibility and have lent their names to assertions which cannot be justified and that the only purpose of making any reference to communism in relation to Mr. Sachs is an attempt to discredit him. The animus which they have displayed towards him in these answers would be much better directed against the apartheid policies of the South African Government of which Mr. Sachs is so forthright and resolute an opponent. For a moment or two 1 want to refer to what was said in the South African court so that it will be beyond argument and so that the Minister will know what he has to deal with, because there can be no other purpose and no other justification for dragging this Communist allegation across the scene unless it is to smear Mr. Sachs while he is visiting Australia to raise funds for the defence of accused persons and their relatives who are disadvantaged under the repressive South African law. The Minister for Works was very quick to react a couple of weeks ago in this chamber against what he thought were unjustified allegations made by counsel assisting the Royal Commission on H.M.A.S. " Voyager " in relation to people whom he considered it was his duty to defend in this chamber. I do not wish to debate with him tonight whether he was justified on that occasion in seeking to defend individual persons who had been named by counsel assisting the Royal Commission. The fact is that he rose to resent the allegations against these people which were made on what he thought to be an unsupported basis. What is the difference? What is the reason for applying to a man against whom a vague political allegation is made a standard different from the standard applied to serving officers in the Royal Australian Navy against whom an allegation of negligence is made?

When you are dealing with people's reputations you are dealing with something which is very precious. In politics we become accustomed to give and take, to the rough and tumble. We are used to allegations which hurt occasionally and perhaps we are used to hitting back as hard as we receive. But there are some objective standards of fairness in public life in this country - or there ought to be - and a man who visits this country for a purpose supported by probably the whole of the civilised world - the purpose of resistance to racial policies which have been condemned in the United Nations and which Australia at long last is tending to support by its vote in the United Nations - and whose visit is supported by people like the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Woods, should not have his reputation put at peril by irresponsible statements, no matter how distinguished the person making those statements. Statements reflecting upon the character and associations of visitors to Australia should not be made unless there is ample and abundant proof to justify them. Anybody who falls short of that standard of restraint, when it comes to dealing with personal reputations, deserves censure, t regret having to say these things. 1 am sorry that the Minister has seen fit to associate himself fully with the reckless statement made by the Attorney-General in the other place.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr: Calwell) has asked a number of questions of the Attorney-General which, I understand, are to be answered in due course. I cannot anticipate what the answers will be, but I am bound to say that the AttorneyGeneral will be pushing uphill to justify his statements in the light of the statements and findings of Mr. Justice Clayden in the case of " Sachs v. Werkerspers Uitgewersmaatskappy Bpk." in 1952. In that case the learned Judge sets out the history of Mr. Sachs. I. ask the indulgence of the Senate to read it into the record. The learned Judge stated -

The general circumstances in which the articles complained of have to be interpreted are as follows. The plaintiff has been the general secretary of the Garment Workers Union for over 20 years. He has always been an active trade unionist and is regarded with respect in trade union circles. He has represented the South African workers overseas, as a Government nominee and otherwise. As general secretary he is, in terms of the constitution of the Garment Workers Union, a member of the central executive committee of the Union . . .

The plaintiff was recently re-elected as general secretary. The plaintiff is on the national executive and is treasurer of the South African Labour Party. In 1943-

That is the year after he was awarded damages for libel in the Witwatersrand Local Division and two years before the date that the Minister for Works now seizes upon as the probable date on which Mr. Sachs confessed, if he did, to being a Communist. The Judge continued -

In 1943 he stood as a Socialist Labour Party candidate for the Transvaal Provincial Council. The evidence shows that he is opposed to the Government policy of " apartheid ", that he holds " very democratic " views in regard to the position of the native in industry. His views are against race equality but in favour of the view that the non-European worker has a place in industry and must be protected accordingly.

Mr. Sachswas successful in eight of his ten claims in this action. In relation to the particular allegations of " communism " against Mr. Sachs, His Honour said -

Uncontradicted evidence has been given . . . that it is common knowledge, very well known, that Mr. Sachs was expelled by the Communist Parly many years ago . . . Claim 10 is, I consider, serious; not only because of the allegation that the plaintiff is a Communist but because of the way in which this is made, by suggesting that he is a " concealed " one, and because of the attributes given to such a person by the definition of Communism. The damages will be £500.

HisHonour gave judgment after rejecting a number of defences, none of which included the defence of justification. It was never sought by those who had published the defamatory material to justify the allegation. The defence was that the material really referred not to the plaintiff, but to some other person. There was a denial by the defendant that the offending article was capable of referring to the plaintiff, who was Mr. Sachs.

I have gone to the trouble of documenting the case, so far as it is possible to do so, not for the purpose of asserting any personal knowledge of the facts, but because, knowing something of the mission of Mr. Sachs to this country, it seems to me in the highest degree reprehensible that Ministers of the Crown lend themselves to aspersions on the associations of visitors to this country. It does not really matter whether the persons concerned are visitors. It happens that Mr. Sachs is a visitor. Such aspersions can only have the effect, the design or the purpose of undermining the standing in the community of the person against whom they are made. That is the burden of my complaint. I suggest that we have to be careful where we throw stones and that the same kind of caution and restraint is necessary in dealing with allegations of personal associations of this kind as was thought to be justified, from the point of view of the Minister, when he set out to defend people against whom he did not think there was proper evidence or against whom he thought unfounded allegations had been made. I invite the Minister to say, if he can, from where he gets his information about this matter because it seems, on the face of it, to be inconsistent with all that is known from an apparently impeccable source after judicial inquiry about a person who, I would suggest, has been grossly offended by the Minister's remarks.

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