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Thursday, 27 May 1915

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

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 10 a.m. to-morrow.

I have taken this step in order to draw attend on to what I can only regard as a serious misuse of those powers of censorship which are, of course, necessary today while this country is in a state of war. I do not want for one moment to decry, or to say anything that would suggest that censorship is not necessary. Any one who gives casual consideration to the matter will recognise that there must be censorship, but censorship is intended toprevent the publication and dissemination of news which might in any way prove of assistance to the enemy. It was never intended that the powers of censorship should be used for the purpose of suppressing criticism of administration, unless it could be shown that such discussion would in some way prejudice our case in the war. Now, having said that, may I point out that it seems to be the duty of every citizen, ifhe has a suggestion to make, or criticism to offer, to do so, if by that act he can increase the efficiency of this country in its conduct of the war. I anticipate that the Government will say that if there has been suppression of discussion the responsibility is not theirs, but that it rests upon the censors. I anticipate that, but nevertheless I think I can show to the Senate that statements submitted to the press, and which were suppressed, could by no stretch of the imagination be regarded as detrimental to the public interests of Australia. Before proceeding further, I would like to direct the attention of honorable senators to the following statement, which appeared in a leading article in a recent issue of the Times -

We do not mean that there should be any party attack on the Government; but there is abundant need of watchful and candid criticism. The duty of helping the Government, laid down at the beginning of the war and loyally discharged, does not mean that their conduct of the war is exempt from a searching criticism. Nor have they claimed any immunity of the kind. Well-directed and wellintentioned criticism is, or should be, a help, not a hindrance, to them in the discharge of their tremendous responsibilities. There is need of it now, for the business of producing war materiel - which is making war at home -has been badly bungled, and we have no assurance that the position is realized even now, or that the necessary steps have been taken to make good the discreditable failure thathas already occurred through lack of foresight and an intelligent grasp of the problem.

That sums up the position, and it is in conformity with the position as therein described that I have decided to direct attention to matters which I consider of the greatest magnitude. I refer to the fact that the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow is not working up to its fullest capacity, and I would remind the Senate that some time ago the Minister, when I put the question to him as to whether the censors were exercising their powers with a view to suppressing criticism of the administration, answered in effect, I think, that if any censor so acted he would discharge him from his position. Now I will take that statement, and show that not only have the censors suppressed criticism, but they have done so as the result of interference by the Minister himself. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I do not mean to say that they have done so by direction of the Minister, but as the result of action taken by the Minister, leading them to interpret their duties more strictly. On 13th August la. st. I furnished to four newspapers - two Sydney and two Melbourne dailies - a statement concerning the possibility of working a second shift at Lithgow. In that statement I referred to the proposal made by the State Premiers to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in despatching skilled mechanics to England to assist there in the manufacture of munitions of war, and I proceeded to show how paradoxical it was that we should be sending skilled mechanics to England to engage in the manufacture of munitions when we were able to work our own factory only one shift. I suggested that it would be much more in accordance with common sense that we should endeavour to work a second shift here rather than send the men away to be engaged in a similar occupation in the Mother Country. In addition, I drew attention to the statement that the Premiers had decided to place at the disposal of the Commonwealth all the resources of their engineering shops. This, as I showed, would mean that the works at Eveleigh, in New South Wales, and Newport, in Victoria, as well as similar establishments in the other States, would be available for this work. I suggested also that it should be possible for the Administration, after nine months of war, to organize a second shift at the factory at Lithgow. That statement was passed by the censors, and immediately after the Minister took some action to draw their attention, as I think was disclosed by a reply he gave to a question of mine on the subject, to the original instructions issued at the outbreak of the war. Now, that action taken by the Minister had direct reference to matters connected with the Small Arms Factory. It is clear that the censors interpreted the interposition of the Minister as meaning that no reference was to be made to the second shift at the Small Arms Factory. Evidently feeling that they had been re- buked for passing the original statement, the censors then proceeded to interpret their instructions literally, because when the Minister submitted to the press a reply to the statement, it was temporarily held up by them until reference was made to the Minister himself. That difficulty was overcome, and then, when I ventured to submit a rejoinder to the Minister, it was censored. I want to read that statement to the Senate, and before I do so, I venture to say that not a single member of the Senate will agree that there was the slightest necessity for censorship in connexion with it. The statement I prepared was as follows -

I am extremely disappointed with Senator Pearce's observations regarding my recent statement ;is to the practicability of organizing n second shift for the Small Arms Factory.

Senator .Pearcepractically asks the public to take it for granted that everything is being done that is possible, and with a view to discounting criticism, speaks of the undesirability of supplying information to the enemy.

This is not a question of supplying information to the enemy, but of making additional rifles to be used against them. 1 should be only too willing to refrain from further reference to the matter but for its overshadowing importance. Every day's cables from Great Britain emphasize - and latterly in very pointed language - the need for additional munitions. Senator Pearce admits this need, and yet the fact remains that with all the resources of Australia to draw upon, and after nine months of war, the Lithgow Factory is working with only a single shift.

This fact speaks for itself, and it is not to be concealed by phrases of mysterious import.

I have made ample inquiries justifying my original assertion that a second shift can he organized, and indeed should have been at work long ago. Holding that opinion, I should have failed in an obvious duty if I had not directed attention to the failure of those responsible to utilize the resources of the Small Arms Factory to the fullest extent.

That statement was censored in Sydney when submitted to both papers, which were willing to publish it.

Senator Lt Colonel O'loghlin - Is that the whole of it?

Senator MILLEN - Yes; and the whole of it was censored. The censors did not take out an objectionable phrase or paragraph, but prohibited its publication altogether. Seeing that the censors had allowed to be published a much more detailed and lengthy statement of mine a few days before, it is reasonable to assume that they suppressed the second statement because of the action taken by the Minister in the meanwhile. Perhaps the Minister did not intend them to in- terpret his instructions as they did, but because of his interposition they applied to the second statement a rule and standard which they did not apply to the first. I am willing to leave the Senate to judge whether a public service has been rendered by censoring such a. statement as I have just read. Let me direct attention to what has appeared in the press day after day recently. We have been told with repeated frequency during the last three or four weeks of the shortage of. munitions at Home. These statements came, not from irresponsible press writers, but from the heads themselves. In March last Lord Kitchener arranged a meeting with the representatives of the more important trade unions associated with the manufacture of munitions of war. 'According to the Times, he said -

I can only say that the supply of war materiel at the present moment, and for the next two or three months, is causing me very serious anxiety. He wished the workmen to realize that it was absolutely essential, not only that the arrears in the deliveries of our munitions should be wiped off, but that the output of every round of ammunition was of the utmost importance.

Commenting on this, the Times said -

Lord Kitchener tells us that, although the manufacturers of munitions of war have been working at " the highest possible pressure," the output does not only not equal our necessities, but does not fulfil expectations.

That was a plain statement that all the factories working at Home did not meet the necessities of the situation. I ask honorable senators to contrast that statement with the simple effort I made, making no reference to a shortage, but merely appealing for an increase in the output. The Times went on to say -

In other words, wo are delayed in putting our new armies in the field, and in bringing the war to a successful termination, because we cannot get arms, ammunition, and equipment fast enough.

I have a whole mass of quotations of that type, and honorable senators must have been struck with the continuity of the complaints about the shortage of munitions at Home. The curious thing is that all these complaints have been directed against the workmen. In every case an effort has been made to show that it is the workmen who are at fault, and our censors have made no protest against these criticisms of the action of the workmen in failing to deliver a full supply.

Senator de LARGIE - The Old Country newspapers put a different face on that matter, and show that the employers are just as much to blame.

Senator MILLEN - Many of the newspapers, including the Times, have insisted that the blame must not be charged to the workmen. Apparently our censors have determined that the enemy may be informed through our press, as often as people like, as to the shortage .of munitions, provided that it is shown that the fault lies with the workmen; but when, any one attempts to show how to increase the output, and that the failure rests with the administration, and not with the workmen, the censor sees a public danger, and prohibits publication. To show the freedom allowed at Home in publishing criticisms as to the supply of munitions, let me remind the Senate of two other statements. Mr. Lloyd George, in his interview with the members of a number of trades, about; the same time as the Kitchener interview, told the men -

The increase of output is so essential to us where we have to turn out munitions of war, not merely for ourselves, but to help our Allies.

There was a clear statement that the Allies were not in a position to supply their own needs, and that Great Britain had therefore to help them. Contrast that statement passed by the British censors and by ours with my expression of regret that the Lithgow Small Arms Factory was not being utilized to its fullest extent. Which of the two statements is more deserving of being censored? Admiral Jellicoe not long since informed the people of Great Britain that owing to the delay in overhauling his patrol boats his patrol service was rendered inefficient. He saw no danger in pointing OUt that the eyes and ears of his Fleet were made useless because of this delay, and our censors passed his statement, seeing no harm in it; but when one criticises the Administration here for not pushing on with the work of producing rifles they suddenly see a big public danger. Sir John French, equally candid, has on more than one occasion told the people of Great Britain that their success depended on an increased supply of munitions. He has made many statements of the kind. He said -

The problem it sets out is a comparatively simple one - munitions, more munitions, always more munitions.

About the same time, the Times declared that the action of the men and officers was up to the best traditions of the Army but that they were robbed of success by being short of ammunition. All that was passed by the censors. In yesterday morning's paper appeared a statement attributed to the Bishop of Pretoria. It is worth reading, to show what the censors pass as compared with what they censor, and also as the personal observations of a man who has just come back from the front. He said -

The troops think that the nation is not backing them up as it could and should. They feci that the ignorance and apathy at Home arc needlessly increasing their danger of losses.

After fighting desperately day and night for weeks with frightful losses, the nien, dog tired, are yet sent back to the firing line after three days' rest. They naturally conclude that there are not enough troops available. Battalion after battalion in the Ypres salient had to sit in the trenches and be pounded by the German high explosives with no guns capable of keeping down the German fire.

The men naturally conclude that the nation has failed to provide sufficient guns and ammunition. Similarly they find the Germans ready to answer every British bomb with five or ten bombs. The troops know that it is little short of murder to ask mcn, however full of fight and spirit, to face an enemy amply equipped with big guns and the right ammunition unless they are equipped with equally effective munitions.

There was a detailed statement of a deplorable deficiency, but the censors saw no objection to it. Was there, then, the slightest justification for censoring my statement, which did not suggest that we were unable to do our share in the war by turning out rifles, and made no reference to a shortage, but simply affirmed the desirability, which no one will dispute, that it is our bounden duty to take every action we can to increase our supplies of men and munitions as fast as possible? Before making my last quotation I had intended to refer to a statement made during the course of a lecture by a very distinguished member of the community in Victoria, namely, Sir John Madden. If there was one thing- on which instructions had been given to exercise censorship, unless those instructions have been very much modified during the last few months, it was in reference to particulars as to the size and number of guns. Yet the censors saw no objection to Sir John Madden telling the people, through the press, that -

When he was in England they had managed to turn out a new type of very powerful gun, thirty-eight of which had been sent to the

Continent, against which no forts in the world could stand, and that when the Allies reached the Rhine the German forts would not count for much against the artillery waiting for the use of the Allies.

One of the surprises of the war to our armies fighting in Europe was the extremely powerful artillery that the Germans managed to bring to the front at a very early period. If a country has a surprise packet of that description for the enemy, the mere fact that it is a surprise has a considerable moral effect upon the. enemy; and how the censors could pass a statement of this kind, which is open to grave challenge, I cannot see. They must have been in a hypercritical frame of mind when they ran the blue pencil through the statement that I endeavoured to bring before the public. This is the case I put before honorable senators, and I challenge any one who gives fair consideration to my statement to say that there was any reason for censoring it. Compared with the statements made in Great Britain that I have read, mine was as water is to wine. No one could pretend that there was anything in it that could give information to the enemy, and be likely to injure the public interest. The only matter which stands out in marked distinction in it, as compared with the other statements that I have read, is that, while the others reflect on the action of working men in Great Britain, mine reflected on the administration, and the moment there was a suggestion of the administration being at fault the censorship came into action. I bring this matter forward not so much with the idea of finding fault with what has been done, as to prevent any repetition of it. It seems to me clear that the censors have been unable to understand their duty, or instructions have been given that should be recalled. I do not believe that a Democracy will tolerate anything in the nature of a " gag " upon one single phrase or letter beyond what may be necessary in the public interest, or any suggestion that the censorship should be used in order to shelter the administration from public criticism.

Senator Needham - Your colleagues applied the " gag " very forcibly in the other Chamber.

Senator MILLEN - No "gag" could stop my honorable friend ; but even he, in spite of his interjection, must approve of the statement that there should be no attempt made in this Chamber to defend any effort to save any individual, no matter how high his position may be, from that criticism which failure in the discharge of his responsibilities justly calls forth. I can conceive of no greater danger than that there should grow up in Australia the impression that the Government or the Government officials are attempting to conceal something. I believe that I am right in my estimate of the people of Australia, which is that the more they are told, as far as they can be told safely, without conveying: information to the enemy, the more they are made aware of the true facts and 'the serious circumstances facing them, and the heavy calls upon them, the more they will support the Government in their efforts to carry on this war to a successful conclusion.

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