Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 June 1942


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) . - I was interested to hear the speech made this morning by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) regarding a matter which originated in the Senate, but which, nevertheless, affects this branch of the legislature also. He referred, in his usual incisive and, on the whole, logical style, to the action of Mr. President in excluding the representatives and employees of a Sydney journal from the galleries of the Senate. I cannot bring myself to agree with him entirely in this matter. His speech awakened memories of an incident which occurred in the Parliament during the time that I was Attorney-General in the Scullin Government. That incident and the present one present for consideration what should be the dispassionate attitude of the Parliament to those who, though technically strangers, are nevertheless admitted - and, I think, rightly admitted - to the chamber or its precincts for the discharge of their several functions. On the occasion to which I refer, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) was abroad, and I was with him. Confidential communications passed between the Prime Minister abroad and the Acting Prime Minister in Australia. They were clearly confidential in character, and not intended for publication, just as the communications which pass between individual Ministers in Cabinet arc, by time honoured custom, regarded as being entirely secret and confidential. They were, nevertheless, disclosed. The documents themselves came into the possession of an unauthorized person in the employ of a Melbourne newspaper and, without the slightest regard to their confidential character, they were published in full, and became the subject-matter of an animated discussion in this chamber. The result was that I, representing the Government, took action to trace the movements of the documents, and to find out how they became public. They were traced to the possession of a gentleman who represented a Melbourne newspaper, and who was accustomed to be admitted to the galleries of the House. I sought an interview with this gentleman, and he took the stand that, in accordance with a time-honoured practice, so he said, in the profession of journalism, he would not disclose the source of his information, or state how. he had obtained access to the documents. I took a different

Mr.Bren iia ii. view, namely, that the documents, having been traced to his possession, he must prove to our satisfaction that he had come by them in an honest and regular way, or abide the consequences. He remained firm in the view that he held, and abided the consequences, which were that he was excluded from the precincts of this chamber by the action of Mr. Speaker who, rightly, I think, supported the Government in this matter. The journalist was excluded, and remained excluded for some time, until, in the opinion of the Government, he had purged himself of his contempt, and might be properly re-admitted to the press galleries. The pretentious claim that a journalist was not bound to disclose the source of his information was later advanced by a representative of the press in connexion with the proceedings before a commission of inquiry which sat in Melbourne. The commissioner had authority to hear evidence and to punish appropriately recalcitrant persons who prevaricated or refused to give evidence. The witness refused to disclose the source of certain information, relying upon what was claimed to be a wellestablished rule that journalists should not be called upon to do so. Punishment having been recorded, the matter went to the appropriate court on appeal, and the claim by the witness was promptly anil, I think quite rightly, disallowed. So the matter has been placed upon a legal basis that no such claim can be sustained in law, regardless of what the practice may be among journalists themselves.

In the present case a Sydney newspaper published an article which reflected upon the Senate and, in a general way, upon all honorable senators. In my opinion, the quality of the article was poor, and it was obviously coarse and insulting. The President of the Senate made representations, not to the working journalist concerned, but, in effect, to the newspaper itself. That was the proper and dignified method of approach. There may be some difference of opinion as to whether the Senate preserves or exalts its dignity by taking notice of what a contributor to a newspaper thought fit, in a scurrilous way, to write about the chamber. I have had very long and, from the outside, intimate association with journalists and journalism through the fact, which is largely personal, that many of my close relatives and friends have worked in the profession for many years. I take a very warm interest in seeing that the profession is maintained at the high standard which, I think in fairness it should be said, it has attained in this country. I cannot state truthfully that the standard of literary excellence on the part of journalists has been maintained, or that the proprietors recognize it, or desire it, as they used to do.

The President found himself grievously insulted by the article. In my opinion, the language was undoubtedly coarse and insulting in the highest degree, and was intended to rankle in the minds of those to whom it referred. It was deliberately intended not to convey information or tol serve the public interest, but to wound; and to be, what it undoubtedly was, offensive in character. Honorable members of this House, and honorable senators, allow: themselves a fair degree of latitude in' speaking of and to each other in the', chamber. We enjoy the privilege of being able to say in this House things which we might be called upon, if the same words were used outside, to answer for in a court of law. The privilege is well founded on historical grounds. Popular representatives should be free to speak with the utmost liberality of expression if they consider that such a licence should be exercised in any particular case. Most men, conscious of what they owe to their fellow men, would be inclined to say that that privilege should not be abused, and most honorable members have observed the rule that the privileges which they enjoy shall not be misused for the purpose of venting private spleen against a person who does not enjoy a similar privilege.

In any case, the Senate and this chamber have adopted certain rules of conduct. Strict Standing Orders are enforced, which determine that certain things shall not be spoken in this chamber by one member of another. If an honorable member offends against those rules, he is. promptly brought to account for it, and asked to withdraw the remark. In special circumstances, he may be called upon to apologize for an outrage upon good taste, reflecting upon a fellow member. If he does not apologize, he may be suspended from attending the sittings of the House, and a penalty is provided for a repetition of the offence. As honorable members are aware, the House is the guardian of its own honour and dignity, and may even expel a member unless and until his conduct has been endorsed by his constituents and he is re-elected.

It would be surely a curious anomaly if the chamber were to throw open its galleries to a person who would be free, without restraint, let or hindrance, to abuse, revile and hold up to ridicule and contempt in opprobrious language the honorable members who had imposed disciplinary measures upon themselves in order to ensure proper conduct. In this instance, the President, who represents the Senate which, in turn, is responsible to the people, addressed himself to the newspaper, and asked it to dissociate itself from the scurrilous attack that had been made on honorable senators. He made no reference by name to the individual who had offended. The article itself must be deemed to have been written, not as words are sometimes uttered in a moment of heat or forgetfulness, but in cold blood, and to have been published after deliberation by those responsible for the conduct of the newspaper. Therefore, the President addressed himself to the newspaper as such, and its representative sought an interview with him. The request was granted. The representative declined to subscribe to any kind of apology, or publish an explanation of or excuse for the article. Therefore, the President took the stand that the newspaper - a powerful organ of public opinion - should not be represented in the galleries of the Senate until it made amends for its offence. With great respect to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) I think that attitude is entirely correct. It is not an affront to working journalists as such; they are just as eager to maintain the dignity and rules of their profession as honorable members of this chamber are anxious to preserve its dignity. But the Senate and the House, of Representatives have decided that the President and the Speaker respectively may determine who shall and who shall not he admitted to the public galleries. By tradition and by common consent, the press are admitted. Special accommodation has been provided for journalists, and they are welcome. Sometimes, their criticism is intelligent and well informed. Sometimes, it is unintelligent and ill informed. Sometimes, it is personal and inconsiderate. On other occasions, it is far too flattering. I have never been of sufficient importance to be much noticed one way or the other, but I have read, sometimes with pain, the slobbering flattery in sections of the . press of some members of the Labour party. I regard it as an affront to my intelligence when in the very issue in which this flattery is published, the same journalist on occasions make3 vitriolic and almost vile attacks upon other members of the Labour party. I think both are offensive in a ' way, but both are within the discretion of \ members of the journalistic profession. Very wide latitude is extended, and ought to be extended, to the press. Members extend a wide latitude to themselves, and they ought to do so. I have never taken the view that members of a democratic and popular institution like the Commonwealth Parliament should be mealy-mouthed about the direct expression of their personal opinions on the conduct of individuals, or as to policy in any particular case. A large measure of freedom should be allowed, but I think the Speaker or the President of the Senate is quite entitled to take notice of an article which serves no other purpose, and is intended to serve no other purpose, than to be scurrilous and offensive. Many unjust and unfair things have been said in the press about honorable members and about Parliament. We bear them. Sometimes we are too indulgent. It does not devolve upon us to say that this article is a part of or incidental to the freedom of the press. The press should be free. Members of Parliament should be free. I have asserted so rauch, and I have given sufficient reasons, I hope, for dissenting from the view put by the honorable member for Dalley in this particular case. This is not an attack upon journalism, whose best in-

J/r. Brennan. terests I have at heart. It is not an attack upon the freedom of the press. It is worthy of note that the article was also personally and gratuitously offensive to Mr. Speaker. For the reasons I have given and other reasons I might have given, I think that the attitude of the President was, in the \circumsbances, entirely right. Members of this chamber 'and of .the Senate would do well to place limits perhaps hard to define upon the freedom that a member of the press enjoys and has clearly abused in this case.







Suggest corrections