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Thursday, 24 March 1927

Senator GIVENS (QUEENSLAND) - I desire to raise a question of privilege. I understand that all honorable senators, as well as members of another place, received yesterday a circular letter from the then Honorary Minister, Mr. C. W. C. Marr, as Secretary to the Government, in the following terms : -

Commonwealth of Australia.

Department of Defence,

Melbourne, 23rd March, 1027.

Dear Sir,

Owing tothe removal of Parliament to Canberra, members of the House of Representatives and senators are requested to go through their books, -papers, letters, &c., in their private boxes in the various party rooms and to discard anything they do not require taken to Canberra.

Papers left in the members' boxes after Thursday next, 24th inst., will be packed and removed to Canberra, and placed in the private boxes there;but members will realize that, owing to the cost of removal, it is essential that only the papers, &c., actually required should be removed to Canberra. It will be appreciated, therefore, if each member will immediately go through hisbox, and place on one sideuseless matter,which can be disposed of by the attendants; lt is also desired to remind members that they may draw stamps due to them up to the 30th June next - the end of the financial year - and that any not drawn before that date will revert to the Treasury.

Yours faithfully,

C.   W. O. Marr,

Secretary to the Government.

What I wish to emphasize is that Parliament traditionally is and always has been master in its own house, and that no government or minister, not even the Prime Minister himself, has a right to assume any control over it. Parliament exercises control of its own affairs through its duly elected presiding officers and committees. 1 strongly resent an honorary minister, acting as Secretary to the Cabinet, presenting an ultimatum to us, and. say ing that, unless we do something by u certain date, he is coming in to pack up our papers and transfer them to Canberra willy nilly, whether we desire it or not.

Senator Abbott - All members are doing it.

Senator GIVENS - All that the Government is entitled to do in connexion with the transfer to Canberra is to intimate that we can no longer occupy these premises after a certain date. I object to interference of this kind by any minister or ministry; I object to being told by them what I must or must not do in this House. This matter is not new. There have been various attempts from time to time, on the part of a Ministry or some members of it, or some outside department to take control of Parliament in matters affecting the privileges of members. For thirteen years I was in the chair which you, Mr. Deputy President, now occupy. During thai period more than one attempt was made by Ministers and Governments to interfere with matters that properly were under the control of the presiding officers; but, as President of the Senate, I always resisted, and did not permit, interference. I hold that Parliament must be muster in its own house, and that a Minister has no more right, to interfere than has a man in the street. Let me recall what is, in my estimation, largely the cause of this attempt to interfere with the privileges of honorable senators, so that in future they may protect themselves. The older members of the Senate will remember that for many years after the establishment of federation we had no Prime Minister's Department. When that department was created there was practically nothing for its secretary to do, so he looked round to find something to occupy his attention and magnify the importance of his position. That gentleman was Mr. M. L. Shepherd, who is now secretary to the High Commissioner in London. The first thin? he attempted was to take control of Parliament. I was President at the time, and I can assure honorable senators that Mr. Shepherd's efforts did not meet with any success. The same thing is happening now. This Honorary Minister has been looking roundto see in what way he can magnify bis own importance, and find something to do when otherwise ho would be idle. I resent his attempt to take control of Parliament. No ono is entitled to do that except, as I have already stated, its duly appointed presiding officers and the chairmen of the house committees. Mr. Marr will not be permitted to take possession of my papers without my authority.

There is another, matter to which I desire to direct attention. I refer to the arrangements for the opening of Parliament at Canberra. 1 have not the slightest doubt that if the Senate had been consulted, an amicable arrangement could have been made. So far as I know, the Government has made no request to the Senate. It proposes to take control of the Senate Chamber in the new Parliament House at Canberra without reference to the Senate at all, and apparently the Senate will have no more to do with proceedings which will take place in the Senate Chamber on that occasion than if it did not exist. The whole of the arrangements have been carried out by the Government. On every other occasion the presiding officer of the Senate, 'acting in conjunction with the Joint House Committee, has been responsible for the arrangements at the opening of Parliament in so far as this chamber is concerned, its sole control being limited only by the necessity to make arrangements for the accommodation of members of another place. I am afraid that if we do not take a proper stand now we shall find ourselves the creatures of the Government instead of the Government being the creature of Parliament.

Senator Ogden - We are that now, apparently, whether we know it or not.

Senator GIVENS - Therehave been times when the Government of the day - not this Government - has tried to take control of a certain room without reference to the joint committees. As presiding officer of the Senate at that time, I instructed our officers to throw everything out of a room unless permission to use it was sought and obtained in the proper way. I hold, and I think the Senate will endorse my view, that Parliament must be supreme in its own house. It is for that reason that I have this morning directed the attention of the Senate to the latest incident. If any member of the Government attempts to look at or interfere with my private papers, or attempts to handle them in any way, I will deal with him.

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