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Friday, 13 November 1964

Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia) . - I want to rise to say that I do not believe one word of what Senator Branson said. I was not in this Parliament 23 years ago and neither was he, but I had quite a lot to do with the men he has commented on today. Of all the members of the Cabinet of those days - I am not suggesting that any of them gave this matter any thought - these two men were certainly nothing if they were not fighters. They are the last two men in the world I could imagine suggesting such a thing. Senator Branson rose a second time to repeat his charge, even after Senator McKenna, very gently and decently, offered him a way out. If Senator Branson made his remarks in the heat of debate and wished to withdraw, I would concede him that right, as it is the right of every honorable senator. During debates sometimes our blood pressure rises and very strong feelings are engendered. I would not hold anything against an honorable senator just because he became excited or took umbrage at some remarks. Senator Branson has taken umbrage because Senator Hendrickson has insisted that he name the people to whom he referred. Is this course not preferable to leaving the men unnamed and thus smearing every member of the Cabinet of those days? Senator Branson should at least have the courage to state the names of the men.

These two men I knew welL On many occasions 1 disagreed with them. But neither ever ran away from defending his opinions either privately or at party meetings. It is peculiar to me that after Senator Branson is requested to name the two men, a syllogism arises in his argument. For years two men were constantly maligned and smeared by the Liberal and Country Parties. But then a syllogism is created because one of the men is dead and the other is very seriously ill and is not in the Parliamentary arena today. Can anybody imagine Senator Branson or any other member of the Liberal Party hiding this charge for 23 years if it had a scintilla of truth in it? Three weeks before a Senate election in a debate of this type this scurrilous and untrue attack is made. Where is the authority for it?

This is one facet of Parliamentary life that worries me and this might be a good time to discuss it. I agree that there must be Parliamentary privilege. People elected to a national Parliament must be able to make statements without the fear of being dragged through the courts. But I have never been happy that a member of Parliament can tear down the respect and character of people without fear of reprisal. I defend the institution of Parliamentary privilege, but I believe that it is nearly time that this Parliament examined its standards of decency and self respect. For too long I have sat in this chamber and heard the characters of people outside anailed and torn to shreds: It is conceivable that businesses could be ruined by taking away the character of the men who conduct them. It seems to me that now is a good time to make Senator Branson appear before a tribunal of this Parliament: He cannot be made to answer to men who are dead, but he can be made to answer to his colleagues in the Senate;

I suggest that no member of this Parliament, irrespective of his party affiliations and no person listening to the broadcasting of proceedings this afternoon, believes that the charge made by Senator Branson is true. By his actions Senator Branson has made suspect the whole of the debate today. This is a matter of regret. Whatever may be the result of this debate, I want to see it thrashed out so that Australia will get something out of it. I support every word that Senator McKenna has said today. Senator Branson has repeated the charge and has refused to name the person he claims gave him his information, Can anybody imagine Senator Branson waiting all these years to reveal something of that nature? I have no doubt that for many years before he was elected to the Senate the names of the two men concerned fell readily from Senator Branson's tongue with just as little authority. I do not believe one word of bis charge. I knew the two men well and, as 1 have said, I disagreed with them on occasions, but in the final analysis they earned my admiration. The honorable senator made a scurrilous attack. I say directly to him that it was an untrue attack; and if he has a vestige of manhood left in his body, for goodness sake, let him withdraw the charge before even that is lost.

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