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Thursday, 3 July 1941

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- The only serious aspect of this matter is the readiness with which the members of the Opposition would interfere with the liberties of the press. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has propounded this motion upon the basis that certain statements contained in the newspapers referred to were not true, and, in those circumstances, I submit that the onus lies upon him to satisfy me and every other member of the Senate that what appeared in the newspapers was not true. Everything that we have heard in this chamber this morning would convince an unbiased observer that the three Labour senators representing Tasmania who are alleged to have supported the Labour candidate for the presidency did support him. Not a single member of the Opposition is prepared to stand up in his place and say that, he does not believe that those senators voted for the Labour Party nominee. It would be a simple matter for the three Labour members from Tasmania to place the matter beyond doubt.

Senator AYLETT (TASMANIA) - Ho w ?

Senator SPICER - By telling us that they did not vote as has been alleged.

Senator Aylett - We should then break the oath which we took here three years ago.

Senator SPICER - No breaking of their oath would be involved in such action. Two Tasmanian newspapers have been charged by the Leader of the Opposition with a serious offence, and, if I understand anything about the principles of British justice, the duty of the prosecutor is to prove his case.

Senator Keane -Which he did.

Senator SPICER - He did not. He produced a newspaper which contained a sta tement tha t, every member ofthis chamber believes to be true. The obligation lies on the Leader of the Opposition who, on this occasion, is taking on the task of prosecutor, to convince us that the statements in the newspapers are not true. So far he has done nothing to prove that they are untrue. Moreover, I challenge him to tell us that he believes that the statements are untrue. He is not prepared to do so, and yet we are asked to declare that these newspapers have been guilty of contempt.

There is another important aspect of this subject. In a democracy it is a serious matter to find that a responsible political party would be prepared, if it controlled the censorship, to prevent the publication of the truth. Indeed, the Opposition would go farther, for it would use the censorship to prevent reasonable political criticism by newspapers. This newspaper comment has got under the skin of the Opposition, and that is the real cause of its complaint. The Opposition objects to the electors of Tasmania being told how their representatives in this chamber acted. I am not prepared to support the motion, for I believe that the carrying of it would bring Parliament into contempt.

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