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Wednesday, 26 March 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - I shall refer to two aspects of the second-reading speech delivered by the Postmaster-General (Senator McLeay). My first reference will be to the emphasis laid by him on education. The honorable gentleman quoted the characteristic statement made by the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) that the Australian Broadcasting Commission would be composed of men possessing qualities which would ensure that broadcasting would be used, not only for entertainment, but also for the education of the people. I contend that the broadcasting commission is not a medium of education. I admit that it is a medium of entertainment; of the musical selections broadcast some are very good and others not so good. It is a medium for supplying news, which is very heavily censored and, therefore, practically valueless. It is a method of broadcasting censored addresses on various subjects. On the subject of censorship I shall refer to an invitation that was issued by the broadcasting commission, in 1938, to Judge Foster of the County Court of Victoria. He was asked, among others, I assume, to broadcast an address on the freedom of speech, which he consented to do, over station 3AR, Melbourne. The 2nd May, 193S, was the time chosen for the address, which was to be part of a series entitled " Changing Viewpoints ". Having submitted the manuscript of his address, Judge Foster was invited to discuss it with an official of the Victorian division of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who informed him that large sections of the address, which he specified, must be deleted before the talk could be given. Those sections included passages relating to' censorship by church and government and to his own personal experience of official interference with th<; liberty of the subject. He proposed to state facts - not mere assumptions, opinions, views, comments or criticism. In the eighth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the year ended the 30th June, 1940. there appears this statement -

Any aspiring speaker may have his scrip read and be given an audition. Most serious subjects are to an extent controversial; in respect of some there is wide and well-marked cleavage of opinion; but the commission lias not hesitated to programme them on that account, lt recognizes the necessity, in the interests of democracy, of stimulating listeners to form their own opinions rather than .adopt standardized opinions.

The body which issued the report containing that passage suppressed facts which cannot, be denied and which have been stated over and over again. Yet the commission claims that it allows freedom of discussion. After having had that interview, Judge Foster wrote to the commission as follows: - f have spent the hours since our interview in thinking over the problems it involved, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to fit my thoughts on the subject of "Freedom of Speech" within the narrow limits which the restrictions which you so politefully and tactfully indicated allow.

It is a little humorous, perhaps, to contemplate a broadcast on free speech under restrictions that are so obviously a denial of it.

With regrets, I must decline to speak on this subject under the limitations the Australian Broadcasting Commission feels compelled to impose.

I should like my withdrawal to be regarded as a protest against this denial of democratic liberty.

Judge Foster is a man whose standing and probity in the community are equal, and possibly superior, to the standing and probity of Mr. Cleary, who is chairman of the commission. Mr. Cleary, according to the Melbourne Argus, dated Thursday, the 5th May, 1938, said -

He had approved of the censorship which had been applied to Judge Foster's notes. The address contained an unnecessary attack, he said, and would have had a bad influence on a section of the listening public. It was unnecessarily offensive.

Later I shall read the portions which were censored from Judge Foster's proposed address, so that, honorable senators will be able to form their own judgment of the bias displayed by Mr. Cleary when lie said that the address was offensive; but, first, I shall give the text on which Judge Foster proposed to make hi.address. I shall quote that text, because 1. consider it appropriate to the times through which we are passing when we have so many persons, who, regarding themselves as the intellectual superiors of their fellows, use the powers they possess to suppress others who would not state opinions in conformity with their own, and then claim to be democrats. Without any hope of my suggestion, being accepted, I submit that Ministers might well have the text of Judge Foster'? proposed address typed and pasted in their bats for reference. Judge Foster proposed to take as the text for his address the following from Milton's Areopagitica. dated 1644-

Censorship will conduce to the discouragement of all learning and the stop of truth not only by disexercising and blunting our abilities in what we know already, but by hindering and cropping the discovery might be yet further made both in religion* and civil wisdom. If the waters of truth flow not in perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.

To create the muddy pool of conformity and tradition is exactly what the Australian Broadcasting Commission would do. The sections objected to in the address proposed to be delivered by Judge Foster read: -

The world owes much to the early Greeks as the originators of liberty of thought and discussion, but by the Middle Ages we find Reason in chains, and a fight for freedom against the powerful opposition or the organized Church of the time that has not been completely won yet.

No particular church was named. Judge Foster decided to state his case as dispassionately and as fairly as one should in the circumstances. It continued: -

The Church's desire to drive out heresy may have been perfectly well motived, but it nevertheless resulted in enormous physical suffering, as well as a considerable suppression of freedom. Heresy included all matters from opinions about the circulation of the blood - for which, Dr. Harvey was condemned - to the denial of a geocentric universe, for which Galileo suffered imprisonment and worse. As late as the beginning of last century sixteen booksellers in England were in prison at the one time for selling Tom Paine's Age of Ranson, and as recently as twenty years ago a Victorian publisher was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for publishing a facetious article on a religious topic.

That is what this gentleman, Mr Cleary, decided was offensive and should not be broadcast Another passage which was censored referred to Judge Foster's personal experiences with a government. What he said is based on fact, because I was present when he was arrainged before the court and charged under the War Precautions Act. Had he not been the capable lawyer that he is possibly he would have been either fined or sentenced to jail. The crown prosecutor at the time, just as crown prosecutors do today, tried to submit as evidence that which was not evidence according to the law, but Judge Foster was able to convince the magistrate of that fact, and the evidence was not allowed. This is what lie had to say about his own experiences : -

During the two conscription campaigns I opposed the Government proposals and engaged myself upon the publicity side of the anti-conscriptionist's campaign. I thus had an opportunity of becoming acquainted at first hand with the suppressive rigors of the censorship imposed under the War Precautions Act. Concerning these times, Dr. Bean, Dr. Jauncey and Professor Scott have all written, but none of . them has by a long shot estimated the extent and severity of that censorship. Few public men on the anti-conscription side escaped prosecution or conviction, though they, as it turned out, represented the majority of citizens and soldiers. I myself was prosecuted and subjected to a long trial for a speech I made in a city hall, in which I had the audacity to criticize the Prime Minister, the Right Honorable William Morris Hughes. . .

That is another reference which Mr. Cleary describes as offensive. It is a fact, which has been stated over and over again. Yet we are asked by Mr. Cleary and his colleagues to believe that the Australian Broadcasting Commission recognizes the necessity in the interests of democracy to stimulate listeners to form their own opinions rather than adopt standard opinions. That was stated in the commission's report for 1940-41. Judge Foster's proposed address was censored in 1938, before the war. We are asked to accept the members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission as democrats, as the educators of what they regard as public opinion. In his address Judge Foster proposed to say something which is appropriate nowadays, seeing that suppression is being practised with greater severity. Another portion reads -

It is interesting to note in passing that the development of executive action is one of the gravest menaces of democracy, lt was uwu at its worst during the Great War, when the legislative powers of Parliament were largely usurped by the Cabinet. The War Precautions Act had conferred powers on the Government-in-Council to make regulations upon almost any subject. . This power was freely availed of, and laws in the shape oT regulations were turned out over night at secret meetings by Cabinet, sometimes two members only. Under these regulations all the fundamental liberties were curtailed or destroyed ; trial by jury; sanctity of home; habeas corpus, Magna Charta; free speech. The story of some of these regulations would make astounding reading to this generation - but I am to talk about free speech ....

The series of regulations being issued at present will also make astounding reading for generations to come.

Senator Herbert Hays - Regulations issued to-day have nothing to do with broadcasting.

Senator CAMERON - That is absolutely incorrect. All I have said is that in his proposed speech Judge Foster directed attention to what had been done to deny freedom of speech to citizens. He intended to give information based on facts, yet; because he proposed to make those facts public, his speech was censored. That occurred in 193S, before. the war started. From information which I have received, I believe that hundreds of instances of harsh censorship could be cited. I propose to mention another instance to give an idea of the policy that has been followed by those in control of our national stations. Mr. R. W. G. Mackay, who arrived in Australia from England recently, and who, T understand, is a solicitor and a member of the British Labour party holding a very responsible position in the community, proposed to give an address over the air. He submitted the text of his broadcast to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and I shall read to the Senate some of the passages which were censored.

Senator McLeay - Be fair. The censoring was not done by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The honorable senator is making an unfair attack on the commission.

Senator CAMERON - Judge Foster's speech was censored on behalf of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Mr. Mackay's speech was to have been delivered over a national station.

Senator McLeay - But it was not censored by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Senator CAMERON - I fail to see that that makes any difference. I can quite conceive of those responsible for censoring Judge Foster's proposed address taking similar action with respect to the address which Mr. Mackay proposed to give.

Senator McLeay - I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator in order in levelling a charge against the Australian Broadcasting Commission for censoring a speech when actually the censoring was done by the Department of Information? The honorable senator is abusing the privilege he enjoys as a member of this chamber.

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