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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2485

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - I note, Mr Acting Speaker, that you have ruled against my point of order. I move:

That the ruling be dissented from. (Dr J. F. Cairns having submitted his objection to the ruling in writing)-

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - I do not desire to detain the House for very long in speaking to this motion, but I do so having clearly heard what the Minister had to say and having had a good deal more reason to listen to it more clearly than perhaps you had yourself, Mr Acting Speaker, and perhaps more reason than other members of the House had to listen to it. 1 was quite clear that the Minister was deliberately saying that certain people who write in newspapers and certain members of the Opposition had raised this matter and were asking questions about it for the purpose of undermining security. To me this means a very serious charge. It means, I think, specifically that those members of the Opposition who have asked questions about this matter have been doing so to undermine the security of Australia. One well remembers when this matter was last raised in this House by the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin). It resulted in a very notable libel action being taken by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), as a result of which one of the largest and most monopolistic newspapers in Australia was required to pay very substantial damages. I should like the Minister for Defence to say this in a place where I could make him also the subject of a similar action. If he does that 1 will make him the subject of a similar action.

But at the moment I am concerned with the procedures of this House. At the same time I am concerned about the attitude of other members of the Government to one of their colleagues who will choose to do this sort of thing. If they remain silent and if they vote with the Minister, I will assume that they agree with him about my position, because I think it is I who am involved at the moment. I will assume that they agree with him unless they either say that they do not do so or take some appropriate action. I have moved this motion because this is a matter that has direct significance under the Standing Orders. The Standing Orders are quite clear. They provide that if any member of this House desires to make any submission of this order or of this character about any other member he shall do so by means of a substantive motion that can be debated and voted upon; he shall not do it in the course of answering a question or in the course of debate about some other matter. I have not had time to look at the. Standing Orders in detail or to ascertain what particular standing order is involved here, and I think that those honourable members, like the former Minister - one is never sure now, when one looks across the chamber, on which bench Ministers are sitting -

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - You have been away a long time.

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - I have been away long enough to be unsure about who is the Prime Minister this week, and I am sure that if 1 had been away another week there might have been another change in the Prime Ministership. But that is not the point that is the subject of debate here. Mr Acting Speaker, the subject of debate here is whether your ruling should be disagreed with, and I submit that it should be because I think it is completely contrary to the facts. Firstly, it implies that the Minister for Defence did not say what he did say. Secondly, it implies that what he did say is not an offence under the Standing Orders. Both those implications are wrong. So I submit therefore that your ruling in this matter is wrong and that the House should vote that your ruling is wrong so that the matter can be put in order. For many years in this House it has been too easy for people to make direct statements, implications and insinuations of disloyalty. Working to undermine security' is a common expression that has been used. It has been far too easy for Ministers, in particular, in answering a question to say these things and to get away with them. They have been able to get away with them because too many people who have occupied your chair, Mr Acting Speaker, have been prepared to rule the way that you did.I say therefore that your ruling is wrong and that it should be disagreed with.

Mr Nixon - That is a reflection on the ruling of the Chair.

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - Of course I am reflecting upon the ruling of the Chair. The whole purpose of this motion is to reflect upon the ruling of the Chair. The purpose of the motion - and it may have escaped the attention of honourable members who were interjecting - is to indicate that the Acting Speaker's ruling is wrong. Of course I am reflecting upon his ruling.

What would he the purpose of moving the_ motion if I were not? I ask honourable members who were interjecting to give the matter a little more careful thought than their interjections indicate they are giving to it. I submit that if honourable members opposite give this matter a little more careful thought and have regard for the reputation of this Parliament, even for their own reputations, they will agree that this kind of practice should be curtailed and Ministers should not be allowed to make statements of this type contrary to the Standing Orders, which require such statements, if they are to be made, to be made in a different form. That should be the effective law of this Parliament and until rulings such as your ruling, Mr Acting Speaker, are disagreed with, this will not be the effective law of this Parliament. Therefore I submit that your ruling should be disagreed with.

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