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Wednesday, 18 February 1959

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) , - I want to say a few words on the subject of book censorship. I realize that in every country it is necessary to have some form of control over the kind of books that are allowed to enter the country and to be sold, published or circulated in the country. But I am not absolutely satisfied with the way that the censorship laws have been administered in Australia. Far too many books for my liking have been banned in this country which have been freely read in other countries. What I want to do to-night is to repeat what I said on a previous occasion - that is, that the books that are banned by the Literature Censorship Board should be made freely available to members of the Parliament in order that honorable members may double-check the decisions of the board. I hold that view because, surely among the duties that we have to perform in this Parliament ohe of the most important must be to make certain that the people who sent us into the Parliament are not being deprived of the right to read literature which other civilized people enjoy the right to read.

I went to the Librarian here and asked him whether it would be possible for members of Parliament to read, for the purpose of checking the actions of the censorship board, books that had been placed on the censorship list. He told me he would not be permitted to allow a member of Parliament to read any of these books because that would be contrary to customs regulations.

I then went to the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty), and the Minister roared with laughter when I told him that the Librarian had said that a member of the Parliament could not read such a book because that would be a breach of customs regulations- He said, " If we cannot trust a member of the national Parliament to read such books we have no right to give that responsibility to the Censorship Board ". Because, after all, we are superior to the Censorship Board. The Parliament is above any board that is appointed, and if a member of the Parliament, having read a book that has been declared unfit for circulation, believes that the book should not have been banned, and is prepared to get up and say so in the Parliament, that honorable member should have the right to rise in the Parliament and challenge the decision of the Censorship Board and state his reasons for so doing. But how can he do so if he is not to be given the right to read books that the censorship authorities have declared to be unfit for circulation?

The Minister for Customs and Excise then told me, very rightly, that he would give instructions that members of the national Parliament would have that right in order that they might carry out that important duty and responsibility to the community. He said, " If you go to the Librarian and ask for the books, he will have them made available to you ". But the Librarian, in the usual bureaucratic manner of some of these people, decided that he was going to stop members of the Parliament from reading the books no matter what happened. So by devious means, he eventually succeeded in preventing the Minister's own decision from being implemented. He did this by going to the Minister and pointing out to him all kinds of difficulties which he was able to manufacture in his own mind and which, in the end, led to the Minister deciding that he would allow the books to be made available provided that the applicant went first of all to a member of the library staff and named the book he wanted. It would then be made available to him.

Imagine my surprise when I went to the Librarian subsequently to carry out what I thought was settled policy only to be told that the Library Committee had decided that members of the Parliament were not to be allowed to read the books unless they sat inside the library where they would be under the constant surveillance of the Librarian. We are not allowed to take such a book outside the library. Why? Because these sage and august gentlemen of the Library Committee have said that members of the Parliament might leave the particular book in a tramcar forgetfully and somebody, who was not entitled to read such a book, might read it. That is the best reason the Library Committee could advance for refusing to allow a member of this Parliament to carry out his duty in respect of censorship in a proper way.

How can a member of the Parliament check on the activities of the Literature Censorship Board if he has to do all his reading sitting in the library under the constant surveillance of some member of the library staff or of the Library Committee? I hope that when the new Library Committee is appointed and meets for the first time, it will drop this infantile attitude on the question of books which members of the Parliament have a duty to check upon, and that it will give to honorable members an opportunity to check properly books that have been banned. If a member of the Parliament, after reading a book, is prepared to rise in this House and say that the decision of the Literature Censorship Board in banning it was wrong, let him do so and thus strike a great blow for freedom. 1 understand - although this decision of the Library Committee is secret - that unfortunately this was not a party decision. Honorable members on both sides of the House were party to it. I have not been able to discover who they were; but no matter to what party they belong, I believe that it was an infantile decision. Members of the Parliament are not allowed to check on a book which has been banned by the Literature Censorship Board unless they sit like convicts under the constant surveillance of the Librarian or members of his staff. I hope that better judgment will prevail.

In this connexion, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), had one of those occasional lucid moments when his judgment was completely sound. He was one who did adopt a broadminded and sensible attitude on this matter. I did not think the day would come when I would ask anybody to follow the example of the honorable member for Mackellar, but on this occasion I hope that the other members of the Library Committee will be as broad-minded, sensible and grown-up with respect to book censorship as the honorable member for Mackellar has proved to be.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 11.4 p.m.

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