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Thursday, 24 March 1927

Senator PEARCE - I rise to the question of privilege. In view of what appears to be an attack upon the Government under cover of privilege, it is only right that I should say a few words on this subject. There appear to be two matters involved in the statement made by Senator Givens; one is that a letter was issued by the then Honorary Minister, Major Marr, and the other has reference to the preparations for the opening ceremony at Canberra. They have 110 relation to each other, and I think that both are capable of easy explanation. With regard to the first complaint made by Senator Givens, it is probable that the Honorary Minister in question erred in a strictly technical sense; but there is no occasion for any honorable senator to get excited at what has been done, or attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill. I assure the Senate that there is no intention on the part of the Government to interfere with the rights of honorable senators or trample on their privileges. We should look at this matter from a common-sense point of view. When the removal of the various departments to Canberra was contemplated, Parliament, together with its various staffs, was regarded as a department of the Public Service.

Senator Kingsmill - Since when?

Senator PEARCE - I ask honorable senators not to become excited. Let them wait until I have finished what I want to say, and if they desire to find fault with it they may then do so. In the strictly Public Service sense, under the provisions of the Public Service Act, each parliamentary staff is regarded as a public department.

Senator Givens - It is under the control of the presiding officers, and not under the Public Service Board.

Senator PEARCE - I did not interrupt the honorable senator whilst he was speaking, and I ask him to allow me to proceed. If the Public Service Act is consulted it will be found that Parliament itself has declared that, for the purposes of the Public Service, each parliamentary staff is a department, and the clerk in each House is the head of a department. That has been claimed by Mr. President and Mr. Speaker in connexion with the invitations that are being issued for theceremonies that are to take place at the opening of the Parliament House at Canberra. They drew the attention of the Government to the fact that the clerk of the House of Representatives and the Clerk of the Senate are heads of departments, and, therefore, must be treated similarly to the heads of other departments. That, however, is by the way. As the executive of the nation the Government has had to take upon its shoulders the responsibility of effecting the removal to Canberra, including the transportation of the documents of the various departments.. But, recognizing that Parliament occupied a position different from that of other departments, in that it is master in its own house, the Government asked if in its case it should make the arrangements in connexion with the removal, or whether it was preferred that those arrangements should be made by members themselves. As the result of conferences with Colonel Farr, who was appointed to see to the removal of the impedimenta of the various departments, it was decided that he should arrange also for the removal of the furniture and impedimenta associated with Parliament. That is a perfectly commonsense arrangement. Why should there be two authorities engaged in the packing of the furniture and in making arrangements with the railway authorities, when one can do the work much better and more cheaply? Mr. President and Mr. Sneaker have concurred in that arrangement. I admit that there has been a slight breach of etiquette. Strictly speaking, no Minister should have written the letterwhich has been read by Senator Givens. If the necessity existed for such a communication it clearly ought to have been made through Mr. President and Mr. Speaker. But let rae mention the circumstances surrounding the writing of the letter. One of the senior officers of Parliament approached Major Marr, and told him that considerable difficulty was being experienced in getting members to put their papers together for transport to Canberra. He suggested tnat a letter should be sent to members asking them to expedite that work.

Senator Sampson - As a soldier Major Marr ought to have known the proper channel through which to work.

Senator Givens - He did not require a great deal of urging to interfere.

Senator PEARCE - The letter was written by Major Marr with a view to expediting the removal. I admit quite frankly that he ought not to have written it. His proper course was to write to Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, asking them to address such a communication. This is not a plot concocted round the Cabinet table to attack the privileges of Parliament. I was not aware that tho letter had been sent. Major Marr has informed me that he had no idea of invading the privileges of Parliament or of interfering with the prerogatives of its members. His sole wish was to try to facilitate the removal of Parliament to Canberra. It must be remembered that Major Marr, in addition to being secretary to the Cabinet, is also Government Whip in another place, and in that capacity he acts as a go-between the Ministry and members in matters of this kind. I can assure honorable senators that the Government has neither the intention nor the desire to in any way invade the privileges of Parliament. It will respect those privileges in the future as it has done in the past.

The other matter which Senator Givens raised does not constitute an invasion of the privileges of Parliament. At the present time it is this building which is under the control of Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, not the Houses of Parliament at Canberra. Parliament has authorized the Government to act as the constructing authority in the eretion of the Parliament House at Canberra, and has instructed it to prepare that House for the reception of Parliament. That is what the Government is doing. Therefore, until it is handed over to Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, it is in the care and underthe control of the Government. Recognizing, however, that the arrangements connected with the opening ceremony at Canberra concern not only itself but also Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, the Government has freely and fully consulted those gentlemen upon every matter pertaining to those arrangements in their application to the Houses of Parliament at Canberra; and it has their written concurrence in the arrangements that have been made. You, Mr. Deputy President, will, I think, admit that you have been frequently consulted in regard to those arrangements.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Plain). - That is so.

Senator PEARCE - On that point, therefore, I submit that there has been no invasion of the privileges of Parliament.

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