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Thursday, 6 October 1927

Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia) (Honorary Minister) . - Every honorable senator with a true sense of his responsibility as a member of this Parliament, the highest tribunal in the land, realizes that the matter now before the Senate should not be decided lightly or with any personal feeling. As has already been pointed out, the protection of the privileges of the Senate, or of any other deliberative British assembly, is a matter of serious moment to all concerned. We all subscribe to the views expressed by Senator Givens as to the necessity of maintaining the honour, integrity, and dignity of this Chamber. This Senate like every other deliberative assembly in the British Empire is governed by certain standing orders, and parliamentary practices. Moreover, it is the right of every member of those tribunals to avail himself to the fullest possible extent of the procedure laid down for the conduct of business. The Leader of this chamber (Senator Pearce), who is unfortunately absent, admitted that on the historic occasion referred to he availed himself of the procedure of the Senate to prevent a certain event from happening. It has been suggested that the notice-paper was interfered with on the 9th May. I have the notice-paper for that day in my hand. There was no interference with it. Indeed, there could have been no interference with it, because it was open to the Minister to move to do anything, by leave, immediately the President entered the chamber.

Senator Givens - At the proper time.

Senator McLACHLAN - The Senate gave that leave.

Senator Reid - In ignorance.

Senator McLACHLAN - Does the honorable senator suggest that physical disability, such as deafness- or that ignorance or the bad acoustic properties of this chamber - should affect our judgment in dealing with a matter so important as the preservation of the privileges of the Senate? If, for any reason, honorable senators on the 9th May were lulled into a false sense of security, or a belief that certain things were happening, which, in fact, were not happening, is that to be regarded as a matter of privilege ? The course adopted was strictly in accordance with, our Standing Orders. Had any senator exercised his undoubted right to object to the Leader of the Senate making a statement, by leave, the statement which he did make on the 9 th May could not have been made, and the business of the Senate could not have been conducted in the way that it was conducted.

Senator Ogden - "Would the Minister give an instance of what he considers would be a breach of parliamentary privilege ?

Senator McLACHLAN - While it is not for me to do that, I suggest that if honorable senators had cared to avail themselves to the full of their rights and privileges, objection might have been taken to the presence in this chamber on the morning of the 9th May of a member of the Royal Family. I am sure no honorable senator would dream of such a thing; but had that objection been taken, it would not have been for the first time in the history of parliaments. Honorable senators will recollect that when, on the 9th May, the Leader of the Senate asked for leave to do certain things, no voice was raised in dissent. That is made clear in Hansard.

Senator Sampson - The Leader of the Senate " put it over " us all right.

Senator McLACHLAN - If, as Senator Sampson suggests, in the language of the Palestine or Western front, Senator Pearce did " put it over us," that does not necessarily mean that his action was a breach of, privilege. Senator Pearce has frankly admitted that he used the machinery of the Senate on that occasion to obtain a certain result, although honorable senators could have prevented him from doing so had they desired. The action of the Leader of the Senate in availing himself of that machinery to attain the object he had in view, was not a breach of privilege. It has been said that Senator Kingsmill, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, had no opportunity on the 9th May to present an important report to the Senate. Whose fault was that? To agree to the motion would be tantamount to saying that the use of our own Standing Orders to bring about a * certain result constitutes a breach of privilege. On the 9th May no breach of the Standing Orders occurred. Standing Order 66, to which Senator Glasgow has referred, clearly contemplates that the procedure which Senator Givens evident ,' regards as a rigid rule, can be departed from by order of the Senate.

Senator Givens - Where were the orders on that occasion?

Senator McLACHLAN - It is reported in Hansard that immediately the President entered the chamber and took the chair Senator Pearce moved a motion by leave.

Senator Givens - To move by leave is not an order.

Senator McLACHLAN - Is my friend raising this question of privilege on the technical point that if the Senate by its silence gives consent to the moving of a motion it is not equivalent to an absolute and definite order? Under Standing Order 135, if one dissentient voice had been raised there could not have been an order, but for the reason referred to by Senator Reid no dissentient voice was raised. Whatever the cause, no dissentient voice being raised when the right, honorable the Leader of the Government in the Senate asked for leave to move a motion, it became an order. The honorable senator asked for. leave to submit a notion not once, but on two or three distinct occasions during the afternon, and on no occasion did an honorable senator dissent.

Senator Kingsmill - That will make us careful next tme

Senator McLACHLAN - It seems to me that we have been wandering through a realm of conjecture about privilege when privilege is no.t involved. If the procedure of the Senate has been used to " put something over " honorable senators - to use the words of Senator Sampson - the blame rests on the whole of the Senate for not being watchful. Perhaps on the occasion referred to honorable senators were less vigilant than usual - perhaps they did not 'realize for the moment what Senator Pearce was doing - but I appeal to Senator Givens even at this late hour not to place this in the category of breaches of privilege. To do so is to attach too much importance to it, and to set up a dangerous precedent, quite unwarranted by the facts. Tho honorable senator claims that the right of the people to petition Parliament was violated. He asks why Mr. President did not inquire, as he usually does when he takes the chair, "Has any honorable senator a petition to present?" The President, did not do so on that occasion because the right honorable Leader of the Government in the Senate intervened. The same thing may happen to-morrow.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator has made the whole position as clear as mud.

Senator McLACHLAN - It is apparently a murky subject in my friend's mind, but the Leader of the Senate kept within his rights. He obtained leave to do what he did without a dissentient voice being raised, and what he did was thus in accordance with the Standing Orders. If honorable senators were not alert enough, or if through some inadvertence on their part; they allowed the Leader of the Senate to proceed in the way he did, surely no one is entitled to regard it as a breach of privilege. One point in Senator Givens' observations which struck me as somewhat important was that if the Government could do this once it could do it again. Certainly it could, and so could any honorable senator. But that does not constitute it a breach of privilege. The right honorable the Leader of the Government in the Senate simply exercised a right given to him under the Standing Orders. According to Senator Kingsmill, it is a practice that is undesirable, but that is a matter which the Leader of the Senate must from -time to time decide according to his own conscience and according to the exigencies of the situation. I have the notice paper for the 9th May. The charge that it was departed from is unfounded. Senator J. B. Hayes has had a long parliamentary experience, and I am sure he can distinguish between a breach of privilege and a breach of procedure. I want him to ask himself whether there is any breach of privilege in this case, or whether it is something that affects the rights of honorable senators. His answer must be that it is purely a question of procedure. Senator Ogden has pointed out that no opportunity was given to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee to present a report of the committee. The opportunity to present that report was removed, not because there was any breach of the privileges of honorable senators, but because leave was given to the Leader of the Senate to proceed in a certain manner. To place what happened on the plane of. a breach of privilege would be to establish a wrong precedent, which would not redound to the credit of the Senate. It would be giving a simple matter an importance that it does not deserve.

Senator Duncan - The objection is to the alteration of the business paper.

Senator McLACHLAN - The notice paper of the 9th May was not interfered with in any respect, but immediately the President took the chair the Leader of the Government said, " By leave, I desire to move a motion."

Senator Givens - He had no right to do so.

Senator McLACHLAN - That seems to be the kernel of the honorable senator's argument. But leave was given to Senator Pearce in accordance with the Standing Orders, because no. dissentient voice . was raised. The procedure adopted on that occasion cannot form a precedent, for the simple reason that if leave is sought to make a statement, and honorable senators do not wish the statement to be made, any individual honorable senator can insist on the procedure laid down in Standing Order 66 being followed. Notwithstanding Senator Givens's technical point, I submit that the Standing Order itself contemplates leave being obtained to alter the procedure it lays down.

Senator Kingsmill - Does the honorable senator think that leave to move a motion was sought with a view to preventing an opportunity being given for the presentation of the report of the Public Accounts Committee?

Senator McLACHLAN - Senator Pearce does not disguise the fact that he used the forms of the Senate with a view to preventing that eventuality.

Senator Duncan - That is a verydamaging admission.

Senator McLACHLAN - Senator Pearce has not disguised his intention. It is competent for an honorable senator to make full use of the Standing Orders. We play games according to rules. In this great game of parliamentary responsibility we have rules by which we are governed; but because in this case they were used in a manner that does not quite appeal to the technical mind of my friend from Queensland, he asks us to regard what took place as abreach of privilege. No question of privilege is involved. Senator Pearce simply availed himself of the Standing Orders in order to attain a certain end. He saw that a difficulty that most honorable senators would desire to avoid might arise, and he availed himself of the only means he had to meet the exigencies of the situation.

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