Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 17 November 1910

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) , - I move -

That, in the opinion of this Senate, it is desirable that steps be taken to make available to the public more adequate reports of the proceedings of Parliament than are at present furnished by the press.

I do not propose to ask the attention of honorable senators for any great length of time, bearing in mind the late period of the session. Honorable senators will notice that in the motion I am submitting for their consideration, I have limited myself to a mere statement of opinion, and have avoided all reference to details and methods for giving effect to the opinion which I ask honorable senators to indorse. The first thing that we have to consider is 'that in any country, such as Australia, possessing a broad democratic franchise, under which every man and woman so disposed may take a part in the public affairs of the nation, it is desirable, and indeed essential that the people should be provided with a means of knowing and understanding the action which Parliament is taking or proposes to take. It is impossible for any elector to cast an intelligent vote unless he is fully seized of the public matters concerning which he is asked to give a vote, and which may 'be determined by his vote.

Senator Givens - Better information as to parliamentary proceedings would be most valuable when it was proposed to take a referendum.

Senator MILLEN - That is so. A Democracy, in my judgment, would be dangerous unless it were enlightened, and having secured a broad Democracy in Australia, we should see that our people are furnished with all the information necessary to enable them to properly discharge the very important functions with which they are intrusted. I .should like to draw the attention of honorable senators to the great difference which has been created by the establishment of Federation. When each Parliament in Australia was legislating for a single State, the gap between it and the electors was very much less than that which separates the electors of Australia from the Federal Parliament. In my own State, and the same thing applies to all the other States, prior to Federation, the Parliament was sitting in the city of Sydney. The daily newspapers of the State were in close touch with it, and the information concerning its proceedings which they supplied was rapidly circulated in the various centres of the State.

Senator Givens - The reports of the daily newspapers were very limited.

Senator MILLEN - Having to report the proceedings only of the local Parliament, which was immediately under the observation of the editorial and other writers for the press, it was possible for the daily newspapers, without going to extraordinary expense, to publish fuller reports of the proceedings of the local Parliament than the chief newspapers of the capitals of the Australian States are able to publish concerning the proceedings of the Federal Parliament.

Senator Rae - And they did so.

Senator MILLEN - I think they did. Having the proceedings only of the local Parliament to report, the press gave fuller, and, I think, more accurate, reports of those proceedings than are furnished today of the proceedings of this Parliament when the newspapers have to rely so largely upon the telegraph wires. If honorable senators agree with me as to the need of furnishing the electors with reasonable opportunities for ascertaining what has been said and done in their name by their representatives in this Parliament, we have to consider whether or not that need is" now being met. I do not propose this afternoon to produce any elaborate evidence in justification of my belief that it is not being met. I am going to rely upon the experience of honorable senators themselves, because the time at our disposal for the consideration of the matter is so limited. I think that honorable senators generally will agree with me that the reports of the proceedings of the Federal Parliament, which appear in the Australian press to-day, are so meagre as to be almost misleading.

Senator Givens - And they are nearly always coloured by the political views id vacated by the newspapers in which they appear.

Senator MILLEN - That is another matter, and I am not here to-day to launch any tirade against the press. I wish to deal with the facts as they are, and to approach the matter, as I invite other honorable senators to do, without any feeling regarding the way in which the press at present discharge their functions. lt is because the reports of our proceedings are so meagre that the electors generally have an extremely vague knowledge as to what transpires here. I am satisfied that my experience finds a duplicate in the experience of every other member of the Senate, when I say that when I have travelled about the State" of New South Wales, at election and other times, I have been appalled at the want of knowledge on the part of the electors of the why and wherefore of the business that is transacted in this National Parliament in their name. We cannot expect the electors to come here for their information. It would be impossible, even if they so desired, for them to make themselves acquainted firsthand with what transpires here. There is, then, only one thing to do, and that is to create some channel by means of which accurate information of what is done in this Parliament may be carried direct to the political fountain-head, the electors, who will be called upon sooner or later to act upon it. I do not mean to suggest that full verbatim reports of our proceedings are required. I do not think that that is at all necessary ; but I do think that some means should be devised by which what one might call abridged reports, giving a fair and accurate account of what transpires here, might be provided for the information of the people. Such reports are not already being furnished ; and I think they ought to be. What I suggest is that we should place before the electors what might be termed a photograph in miniature of our proceedings, and not a caricature of them. In offering these remarks, it is not my intention to make any attack at all upon the press of Australia. I recognise that the press has to discharge a highly-important function, and has rendered great public service. But we must always remember that it works within defined limits. We are frequently told, when such matters are under discussion, that a newspaper is first, and above all, a commercial undertaking. It undertakes to supply news which those controlling it believe their customers desire. In doing that, it is always confronted .with the fact that it has to cater for a mixed body of readers, desiring a variety of general news; and an attempt must be made to balance the requirements of its customers, with, say, an elaborate description of the dresses worn at the Melbourne Cup, and an account of the Burns- Johnson fight; and this limits the space available for reports of proceedings in the Federal Parliament.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator does not propose that the dress and fashion of members of this Parliament should be described in the reports ?

Senator MILLEN - I am not suggesting anything. I am trying to put the facts fairly to the press, and fairly also in support of the object which I have in view. The press has the general demand of which I have spoken to meet, and that it meets it fairly I am quite prepared to admit. But that the press is unable to meet the demand for the special treatment of special subjects is shown by the fact that everywhere we see springing up journals devoted to special subjects, such, for instance, as sporting, scientific, and trade journals. Exactly the same argument which I am using to-day might be addressed to the daily press by those who have started these smaller ventures. The proprietors of the daily newspapers might claim that they are looking after the wants of the sporting, the scientific, and the commercial world, and report proceedings of interest to all. But the answer to that would be that certain people look for a publication which will give greater attention to the matters in which they are particularly interested. Exactly the same thing, in my judgment, applies to the position with which we are confronted to-day. The press may claim that, having regard to the fact that it is a commercial undertaking, and to the demands of the general community for information of various kinds, it cannot be expected to give more space to the proceedings of Parliament. But the question is whether the space that is devoted to parliamentary proceedings is sufficient to enable the electors to accurately gauge what is done here. In this connexion, I utter the one personal note which I may be accused of uttering to-day. Are members of this Parliament given a reasonable opportunity of speaking through the press to their electors? We are frequently told here, and this applies more particularly to the Opposition, that, although we may be quite unable to affect the course of legislation, it is our business to speak to the electors beyond these walls. How can we do so unless an opportunity presents itself? It is equally desirable that those who have defended measures submitted to this Parliament should have a reasonable opportunity of placing before the electors the reasons why they have assisted to place them upon the statute-book.

Senator Stewart - The electors can buy Hansard for the session for half-a-crown.

Senator MILLEN - No doubt they can; but Hansard, for the purpose I have in view, is useless.

Senator Stewart - It is the cheapest reading I know of.

Senator MILLEN - If it were proposed to distribute Hansard to the electors, it would reach them too late to be of any use, unless they were particularly interested in a particular debate.

Senator Rae - Does the honorable senator think that it contains too much chaff for the amount of wheat supplied?

Senator MILLEN - -No: what I mean is that I received to-day, for instance, the proof Hansard containing the reports of last Friday's proceedings. How long will it be before people in the other States re'ceive it?%

Senator Givens - The man up in the Gulf.

Senator MILLEN - Without going so far as that most attractive State, let us ask ourselves how long it will be before people in Victoria will be in a position to ascertain from Hansard what transpired in this Parliament last week? We want something more up to date if the object I have in view is to be attained. There is one other matter to which I should like to draw attention, and here, again, I do not wish it to be assumed that I make any attack upon the newspapers. I point to the fact that there is a growing tendency to exaggerate little incidents that transpire in this Parliament to the exclusion of the more solid utterances which we as members of the Senate have frequently been pleased to Listen to. If any honorable senator wishes to cause an increase of overtime in the Telegraph Branch of the Post and Telegraph Department, he has only to utter here some words, which he will probably be the first to regret next morning, concerning a political opponent, to have them wired all over the country, and to secure the honour of black cross-heads in all the principal newspapers next morning. The prominence given in the daily press to these little incidents suggests to the minds of the electors a view of us which can only be regarded as a caricature. It is as if one were asked to draw a portrait of an individual who had some little disfigurement, such as a mole on his cheek, and made a sketch in which the little defect was indicated so plainly as to render the picture not a portrait, but a distorted caricature. That is really what some of the press reports of our proceedings must present to the electors. Remarks which honorable senators are themselves the first to regret, little altercations with the Chair, or differences of opinion between members, are reported verbatim, whilst the report of important matters to which honorable senators have devoted considerable time and attention is reduced to a few lines.

Senator Rae - Frequently the elector treasures up the little personalities after they have been forgotten here.

Senator MILLEN - It is for that reason that, I am inclined to think, the newspapers publish them. That does not enable an elector to acquire that information on which alone he can cast an intelligent vote. I commenced by stating that I was submitting what may be termed a bald motion. I have done so purposely. I merely want the Senate at this stage of the session to affirm the opinion expressed in the motion. If it is good enough to adopt the motion, it is my intention next session to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire as to the best methods of giving effect to it. That we are not breaking entirely new ground is proved by the fact that in other countries something is done in the direction at which I am aiming.

Senator Rae - Is there a daily Hansard in any of them?

Senator MILLEN - More than that. Some years ago a Select Committee was appointed by the Imperial House of Commons to inquire into this very subject, and it obtained information as to the system adopted in the French Parliament. I find that France has no less than four or five reports. Do not let honorable senators run away with the idea that I am advocating so many reports. I merely want to show what is done elsewhere. In addition to a full report which corresponds to our Hansard, France has what is termed an analytical report, but which, I think, would be better described as an abridged report. Then it has a summary and two shorter reports which conform more to the records in our Journals. It is the analytical report to which I desire to call attention. I do not wish it to be thought that I am advocating that we should have an analytical report in substitution of, or addition to, our Hansard. I am merely mentioning facts. In France the analytical report is prepared by a staff quite distinct from the Hansard staff. It is prepared by gentlemen who, rather than being' shorthand writers, are men of letters or experienced journalists who are capable of condensing a speech as it proceeds. The report is made available at the public expense to any journal in France which cares to insert it. From the Blue-Book I have referred to I learn that the condensation is carried on to the extent of about 50 per cent, of the matter uttered. That, of course, is a detail that will be more "or less governed by our circumstances. The report is printed as the debate proceeds, just as happens in a newspaper office. The first slip containing the report up to 5.30 p.m. is published at about 6.45 p.m., and it is followed by others. There is one note in the Blue-Book to which I specially direct attention. It says -

While preserving the manner and individuality of each speaker they modify violent expression.

That is, the editorial stair -

The deputies have not the right of revising the work of the editing secretaries as they do that of the reporting staff. If a deputy is not satisfied as to the manner in which his speech has been analyzed he may protest at the next sitting. Such protests are extremely rare.

There is an indication that it is possible to have an analytical report prepared with the promptitude which marks the reporting operations of a newspaper, but prepared under official supervision, and which apparently gives satisfaction to the speakers. Clearly, they are enabled, as I have briefly indicated, to reach the electors with a rapidity which is not possible with our present editorial staff, and with a completeness which is not insured by the press reports. France is not the only country which has official reports of that kind. Italy, following probably its example, has also two reports in addition to its Proceedings. It has a summarized report and a report in extenso, the former being promptly published at the end of the day and the other at later intervals. Coming nearer home, South Australia has made a contract with the daily newspapers of Adelaide by which the proceedings of Parliament are published therein.

Senator Findley - Not in all the newspapers.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The work is divided ; one newspaper takes the Legislative Council and the other takes the House of Assembly.

Senator Findley - That is unsatisfactory.

Senator MILLEN - It 'is open to this objection, that if a person wants to ascertain what is being done in Parliament he has to buy two newspapers.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Buy one and borrow one.

Senator MILLEN - Surely in the city of culture people do not resort to methods of that kind.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon -Indeed, they do not. I merely state what they could do if they were driven to it.

Senator MILLEN - As regards what South Australians could do if they were driven to it I shudder to consider. I want honorable senators to distinctly understand that 1 am not now advocating any method or system. I ask them not to do that either, for the simple reason that if we were to start now to discuss details the chances are that we should think about differences of opinion on the details until we lost sight, probably, of the main object which we have in view, that is to invite the Senate to say whether or not it is satisfied that by means of the press reports the public have a full and fair opportunity to ascertain what is being done for them. If it is not satisfied that these methods are sufficient the motion asks honorable senators to affirm that the time has arrived when steps should be taken to furnish fuller arid more ample opportunities for the electors to make themselves acquainted with what Parliament is doing.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [3.21]. - In seconding the motion, I wish to state that we are greatly indebted to Senator Millen for bringing it forward, as well as for the very full manner in which he has stated the reasons which have influenced him, and also the manner in which he has indicated possible ways, without pledging himself to any of them, in which the object he has in view may be attained. I think that most of us will be prepared to vote for the motion, which is simply an abstract expression of the desirability of more adequate reports of the proceedings and the debates of Parliament being furnished to the electors. I quite agree with my honorable friend that it would be impossible at present - it would be difficult at any time - to formulate a scheme by which that object could be accomplished. There are very grave difficulties, " particularly having regard to the great extent of this country. In many places, the population is sparse, and there would be great difficulty in communicating the reports in whatever form they were circulated, to individual electors. I think that the principal reason for this motion, and the discontent that exists and which I feel, is that the electors are not afforded an opportunity to ascertain fully and accurately how we discharge the trust reposed in us. It is not merely that we wish them to be apprised of all the little side-shows to which my honorable friend has referred, or the little personalities indulged in.

Senator Givens - Or even the pearls of wisdom which fall.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Or the pearls of wisdom which my honorable friend distributes with a lavish hand, and which it would be well to furnish to the public. Although we do not distribute pearls of wisdom so freely from this side, still, perhaps occasionally there is a modest remark made by an honorable senator which is worthy of consideration even by his con.stitutents. That is the real point. I am not one of those who would in any way cast a reproach on the .press, and I hope that it will not be deemed for a moment that this motion, either directly or indirectly, is intended to reflect on the ability or the zeal of the press in connexion with the affairs of the Commonwealth or of this Parliament. We have to pay attention to the necessities of the case.- The newspapers of this country are not carried on from motives of philanthropy altogether. Of course, there are public interests to be conserved ; and I believe that the press of Australia stands as high in its devotion to the public service as_ does the press of any other country. But it is not alone from patriotic motives that it is conducted. It is conducted for the purpose of gain ; and it is no disparagement to a great press to make that remark. Therefore, we must take into account the pressure of other news which the newspapers have to communicate - the pressure- of the' news which pays best, and so on. Although, perhaps, the highest of all news is that which ' concerns the people in the administration of their affairs in the Parliament, still, that may not be at the time that which is most attractive to them. What sells the paper is possibly that which is most looked after. Taking these things into account, there is a good deal to be said in regard to the meagreness of the reports to which Senator Millen has referred. There is a matter which I feel wants remedying if it can be done. Probably, most of the information which is supplied through the press - certainly in the States in which Parliament is not sitting - is furnished by telegraph. I am bound to say that, because of the haste with which necessarily these very highly summarized reports are compiled, and the economy of space which has to be observed in the newspapers, we sometimes get, certainly in South Australia - and I speak with all re- spect to the great newspapers there - reports which are abbreviated out of all semblance of what we have said.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Especially, by those belonging to the Labour party.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - No; it is the other way about.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No; the honorable senator is wrong there.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I find that my honorable friend, for instance, who is one of those whose words of gold are treasured up by the reporters, and communicated -through the press, is far more clearly reported than I am, with my more halting speech, in the newspapers to which I refer.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator must have dreamt that.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I think that the extreme condensation which takes place is attributable to the reasons to which Senator Millen has alluded, and those to which I have referred. It is due very much to the exigencies of time. It is very difficult to get hold of the exact points in a speech of some length, and to compress them, perhaps, into two or three sentences, lt is the fault of the speaker, very often, I dare say, but the electors in the State are not supplied by these meagre reports with an adequate idea of what has been said by their representatives. It is from that point of view that I regard this motion. I think that from one end of Australia to the other we should endeavour to convey - of course, we have no right to call upon the newspapers to do it from motives of philanthropy - an intelligible notion of what we have been saying and doing here in respect of matters of great national importance. For that reason it gives me great pleasure to second this motion, and I look forward to the time next session when my honorable friend will have an opportunity of formulating some scheme which we will then be able to discuss, and probably to put in force. In reply to Senator Stewart. I would like to .say that the way to arrive at what we desire is not by circulating Hansard. To begin with, that plan would be oppressively expensive. It would be ridiculous to attempt it.

Senator Rae - A great number of the copies of Hansard would be wasted.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Yes. The Federal authorities have been exceedingly generous in placing at the disposal of members of this Parliament a very liberal number of copies of Ilansard for distribution amongst persons who are likely to appreciate them. At first, I circulated all the copies which were allotted to me, but gradually I found that a number of them were simply laid aside. As a result, I now avail myself of only three or four copies, not because I would not like to use the whole of the number placed at my disposal if. their distribution would serve a useful purpose, but merely because I know that the remainder would be wasted.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My position is different. I have to buy some copies of Hansard.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I think that, on one occasion, I did put at the honorable senator's disposal one or " more of my own copies of Hansard, and 1 shall always be glad to do so, in order that he may not be required to purchase copies. Senator Stewart has said that Hansard provides the finest and cheapest reading that is available to the public. With all respect to everybody concerned, I think that to plod through the whole of the Hansard reports in order to pick out the subjects in which one is' interested is the dreariest task imaginable. Some such arrangement as that suggested by Senator Millen would be very much preferable to attempting to circulate the Hansard reports, and if an arrangement can be made between Parliament and the press for the publication of abbreviated reports of our proceedings it will probably meet the case and enable people to understand what their parliamentary representatives are doing. I have great pleasure in seconding the motion.

Suggest corrections