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Friday, 13 November 1964

Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - I do not intend to speak at any great length. Unfortunately, the debate this afternoon was clouded with personalities and, in some measure, with poisonality. The debate started when the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) delivered a brilliant speech. He had to borrow, in some measure, from the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition in the other place (Mr. Calwell). That was necessary because the Leader of the Opposition in the other place told the truth. Then we heard a mean speech . by a distinguished senator from Tasmania whose academic brilliance should have lifted him above such a mean approach. But, with the characteristics of a base actor, he had to act the part. He tried to discredit the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber. I do not think that did the honorable senator much credit. On many occasions I have paid tribute to his brilliance and sincerity. The Senate was debating a matter of major importance to Australia and its people - the defence of this nation.


Senator DITTMER - I will not deal with that debate-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order! I want to deal with the honorable senator. I point out to him that we are not dealing with the defence statement. The honorable senator is speaking on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. He was out of order.

Senator DITTMER - I mentioned those matters only as preliminary remarks and because that was the tenor of the debate today. At the end of that debate a most vicious attack was made on two people who are not in a position to defend themselves! I disagree with my distinguished colleague, Senator Willesee. I would never vitiate the privileges of parliamentarians. Some parliamentarians may be in the fortunate position of possessing wealth and so being able to defend themselves outside the Parliament. But, I believe that on all occasions when remarks are uttered they should be uttered with a sense of political, personal and parliamentary responsibility. As Senator Willesee has suggested, Senator Branson did not exhibit any of those qualities. I know that he was challenged to name the two men concerned. He could have named any other two men, but it was just unfortunate that he named two men who are not in a position to defend themselves and who have been denied the right to be present in the precincts of the Parliament. One of them is not physically capable of defending himself, and the other has gone beyond the great divide.

In all decency, at the re-assembling of the Senate next week, Senator Branson should either withdraw his statement or substantiate it. I am not challenging his integrity, but I believe that he adopted a mean approach in the dying stages of this sitting. He challenged the integrity of two really great men, with both of whom I disagreed on occasions, although I was not in this Parliament with either of them for very long. However, I had met them on many occasions before I entered this Parliament. Both of them were great men. They had a contentious approach, as distinct from my approach.

Senator Bransonhas alternative methods of proceeding. If he does not wish to withdraw his charge, he should substantiate it.

If he has the courage, he should ask for an avenue to be made available to enable him to vindicate what he did in such a miserable and mean way this afternoon. Perhaps he was briefed. I would hesitate to think that any Minister would brief him. I know that the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge), in particular, would not brief him on this matter because the Minister's integrity is above reproach.

I say in all seriousness that the two men who have been attacked are distinguished men in the political history of this country. One of them is distinguished in the judicial history of this country. He sacrificed the opportunity to be Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia by stepping down from the High Court in 1940 in order to enter this Parliament. He came into this Parliament not on the Government side but as a member of the Opposition. He did not know that the party whose policy he espoused would ever become the Government. He sacrificed his prospects of a judicial career. Dr. Evatt had a legal career not only unequalled in the history of the Sydney Law School but unequalled in the history of any law school in Australia. I know that he was difficult in certain circumstances. We all admit that he had not had his shoulders rounded. But let us be humane in our interpretation of his actions. No one can take from Dr. Evatt the greatness or the brilliance of his intellect.

Senator Cavanagh - Or the greatness of bis patriotism.

Senator DITTMER - I have already dealt with his sacrifice. I shall deal with this issue in my own way, Senator Cavanagh, because I feel so incensed about the action of a senator who seeks to make political capital, on the eve of an election, of the personalities of two people who cannot defend themselves.

I hope that, when we re-assemble next week, Senator Branson will withdraw what he has said. I have not the greatest admiration for him, but I have a measure of respect for him and I think he will withdraw it. If he does not withdraw his allegation, I hope he will substantiate it and that, in substantiating it, he will ask for an inquiry of a particular type. The honorable senator knows the avenues open to him, just as well as I do, so that he can substantiate his allegation. I quarrelled with the two previous speakers when they referred to the honorable senator because they misquoted him. I have not misquoted Senator Branson at all. That would be far divorced from my approach to this problem.

The honorable senator has avenues open to him. People can be subpoenaed, called to give evidence and, if necessary, compelled to do so. That would be the decent thing for Senator Branson to do in respect of the two people he has challenged, because one is dead and one is mentally incapacitated. The honorable senator should say whether he will retract his statement or pursue the other course. He must do that in justice to this nation. I appeal to Senator Branson to do the decent thing and let the truth be recognised.

Senator Branson - Have I the right to speak again.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- No. The honorable senator has the right to make a personal explanation.

Senator Branson - I think a personal explanation will cover what I have to say. In good faith, I was given some information. I accepted it as such. Probably immaturely, I did not seek the permission of the informant to use his name. That is most regrettable. Until such time as I can use his name, I withdraw the allegation. I withdraw my statement until such time as I can put the name before the Senate.

Question resolved in the affimative.

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