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Wednesday, 8 December 1971
Page: 4357

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I speak as the first member on the Government side who I suppose has stood out to be counted in the last few weeks. It took many weeks to deal with this case. I have listened and watched with great interest in the last few days as suggestions have been made that the Committee of Privileges, because it was adopted from the British system at the beginning of the century, is completely unacceptable. The Committee was partially denigrated. I contend that the Committee will be much better when we have our own setup. However, up to 1970 it has been acceptable to most, but suddenly it becomes unacceptable.

I support the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Allan Fraser) all the way when he suggests that it is unjust to say that because he worked for the 'Daily Telegraph' he came down with a vote of not guilty. This is an unworthy comment from any person. I refer the House to how the honourable member voted on 12th October in the case of the letter that had been printed in the 'Australian' claiming that to get anything done one had to give members of Parliament $10,000. On that case Messrs Brown, Donald Cameron, Crean, Jarman, Turnbull and Whitlam all voted together, whilst Mr Allan Fraser voted the other way despite the fact that the editor of the newspaper concerned had agreed that what was involved was a contempt of the Parliament. So, to suggest that the honourable member for EdenMonaro is motivated by nostalgia is absolutely wrong. Let me refer to the findings and the recommendations in this case and read them in part. We found: {a) That the article published . . . constitutes a contempt of the House of Representatives, and

(b)   That Mr A. D. Reid as writer of the article and Mr D. R. McNicoll as Editorinchief, Australian Consolidated Press Ltd, are both guilty of a contempt of the House of Representatives in that they were responsible for the publication of a newspaper report which incorrectly described the proceedings of the House .' . .

The point 1 wish to make is that nowhere in the proceedings did anyone come forward and present evidence to suggest that members of the Australian Labor Party walked out. I would not care whether they were members of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party or the Country Party; the statement was made that men walked out.

The honourable member for EdenMon.aro talked of intimidation at a particular meeting. I am' sorry that he raised that question; but I assure him that he did not have intimidation on his own. I know another member of the Committee who was subjected to intimidation. On a number of occasions during the latter stages of the trial, or whatever one might like to call it - 'the preparation of the Committee's findings' is probably the correct term - that member was told: 'Reid must not be found guilty'. I believe that that is a condemnation of this Parliament and a wicked condemnation of members' ability to free themselves from the yoke of politics. 1 might say that I mentioned this matter to the Chairman of the Privileges Committee many weeks ago. So, 1 cannot be accused of suddenly resorting to this statement as a bad loser.

Journalism, like politics or anything else, has its perils. Members of the Australian Journalists Association rely on various methods to gather together their information. No-one is beyond making a mistake. To be someone who can always be trusted does not mean that one is incapable of making a mistake. If honourable members read carefully the evidence and crossexamination of Mr McNicoll they will see where he refused even to consider a withdrawal of the statement that had been printed in his newspaper.

I come to the question: What exactly is privilege? I do not regard privilege as something that belongs to me or to individual members of this House. It is something that belongs to the people we represent. Privilege continues on. Although we are removed and replaced, it is still here as something belonging to the people. The report of the Committee sets out quite clearly what constitutes a breach of privilege. I remind the House that when this matter was referred to the Privileges Committee we members of that Committee had to work on terms of reference which had been laid down at the beginning of Federation in Australia and which went back into the last three or four centuries. Let me remind honourable members - some of those on my own side as well as some of those on the Opposition side - of exactly what constitutes a breach' of privilege. I quote the following from the report - and I will read it carefully:

(1)   A writing which reflects on the character or proceedings of the House or its members, or-

I ask honourable members to note this one:

(2)   A publication of proceedings of the House which is false or perverted, or partial and injurious, or

(3)   A written imputation affecting the character or conduct of a Member or Members of the House, or

(4)   A misrepresentation of the proceedings of Members in the Parliament.

Honourable members can take their pick of either requirement 2 or requirement 4. It constitutes exactly what the Committee found in its original or later findings. 1 am far from happy with the fact whereby we had this situation of the matter being recommitted. 1 defend staunchly the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges. Mr Drury, who at no time, convened a meeting without attempting to sec that ail members of the Committee could be there. It must be remembered that at times Bills are presented to the House and members of the Committee, such as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and various other members are required to speak to them and to reply to submissions made. It is a very difficult task to convene and carry out properly the proceedings of the

Committee during the times of parliamentary sittings. Perhaps the matter of whether the Committee should meet only outside of parliamentary sitting hours and in a proper, uninterrupted manner should be given consideration. The present practice is not conducive to arriving at a decision free of controversy, which I am sure everyone in this place would prefer.

I do not question Mr Reid's belief that his article was correct. If one was to read carefully the minutes of Mr Reid's evidence, one would see that he believed what he said. But with respect, 1 suggest that he was badly misled. I know that many journalists depend on certain people as sources of information. After a time, and after the passing of a certain amount of information, they might regard a source as being reliable or unreliable. This has nothing to do with the Committee or the Parliament. But if such journalists rely on people, whether they have reason to rely on them or not. and they suddenly find themselves writing the wrong thing, J regard that as a peril of occupation and an indication that perhaps more checking was required. I repeat my view, and the view of every member of the Committee, including even the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) - as contained in the minutes of the proceedings of the various meetings - that no member of the Labor Opposition walked out of the Parliament.

Mr Turnbull - Why even me?

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - The honourable member is rather unusual. Each and every one of us in this Parliament has been misrepresented by the Press at some time. I recall another unusual person named Mungo Mccallum writing an article some weeks ago which reported certain events in the Parliament. I could have easily stood in my place and taken a point of order on misrepresentation and so on. But honourable members are used to this and no-one gets greatly inflamed unless he feels that an injustice has been done. The facts are that under the present system any member of the Press is liable at any time to become the subject of an inquiry such as the one just, completed. Many articles are written which are inaccurate. Perhaps they are only partially inaccurate but a thing is either true or false and, as 1 said earlier, once the Committee found that a breach had been committed or that the article was false it had no alternative hut to come forward with the present suggestion.

Every effort has been made over the last few weeks to denigrate the findings of this Committee. I cannot help but wonder whether, if some other journalist had been involved, the same lengths would have been reached in an effort to bring about a different decision. These are questions which can only be asked because no-one really knows. I reiterate that it is time that we had a Committee of Privileges system operating in a way that would remove us from the areas of criticism which unfortunately have arisen this time, particularly because of the recommittals. Finally I hope that every honourable member of this Parliament will be objective when voting on the amendment because if justice is to be done it must bc done for all and not just for special people.

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