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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 2258

Mr PRESIDENT -I ask Hansard whether it has taken down the relevant words. I am informed by Hansard that it has. We shall wait for the Hansard passage to be delivered.

Senator Greenwood - Mr President,I rise on a point of order. The point of order is based on standing order 418, but it also relates to standing orders 422 and 423. They relate to the procedure under which words which have been used in the chamber may be taken down. Standing order 422 reads:

No Senator shall interrupt another senator whilst speaking, unless ( 1 ) to request that his words be taken down;

I make the submission that Senator McAuliffe did not rise and make that request. Therefore, in terms of what he alleges was said by Senator Wright, there is no basis in the Standing Orders on which it can be based. Standing order 423 is possibly more directly pertinent. It states:

When any senator objects to words used in Debate, and desires them to be taken down, the President shall direct them to be taken down by the Clerk accordingly:

My point is that that procedure has not been followed. I spoke before from my recollection of what Senator Wright has said. You, Sir, have asked for the transcript of Hansard in order to check whose recollection is correct. I am quite happy to wait for that to be produced. I submitI think this is relevant to the conduct of the Senate and the practice which you observe, Mr President- that when Government supporters want to resort to the tactics which are used by members of their party in a host of places, the truth ought to have some element and it should not be used as a tactic simply to deny words to be spoken by Opposition senators. Senator Wright did not use the words which are alleged to have been used.

Senator Milliner - I speak to the point of order that has just been raised by Senator Greenwood. It is unfortunate, Mr President, that Senator Greenwood, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, did not read a little further from the Standing Orders.

Mr PRESIDENT - Which Standing Order?

Senator Milliner - Standing order 424 states:

Every such objection must be taken at the time when such words are used, and will not be afterwards entertained.

I do not want to rely so much on the Standing Orders; I want to rely on some common sense. If an honourable senator feels that words have been used against him that are a reflection on his character, surely it is the responsibility of honourable senators to behave as such and if exception is taken to words that are used, the honourable senator offended should ask for their withdrawal.

Mr PRESIDENT - There is a dispute as to what words were uttered. That is all I am worried about.

Senator Milliner - That is true, Mr President, but Senator Greenwood raised another issue. But he knew of standing order 424 and he did not want to -

The PRESIDENT - Order! You cannot reflect on Senator Greenwood.

Senator McAuliffe - Senator Wrightplainly said the words that I lacked courage to stand up for decency.

The PRESIDENT - Order! You have supplied me with the words.

Senator McAuliffe - Why does not Senator Wright be manly and stand up and admit it and let us finish the incident.

The PRESIDENT - Order! Let us finish the incident by all means. I now have to find out what the words were. I have asked Hansard to produce the words and they are on the way. Surely we can get on with the debate and deal with these points of order subsequently. I am sure Senator McAuliffe would agree to allow the debate to proceed. I call Senator Wright.

Senator WRIGHT - Mr President,I take the opportunity on the resumption of my speech to say that Senator McAuliffe was interjecting during my speech, and I said that he did not have the courage to stand up on certain proceedings during the evening.

Senator McAULIFFE (QUEENSLAND) - You said 'decency '.

Senator WRIGHT - And decency, yes. You ruled upon that, Mr President, and called on me to resume my speech. That closed that incident. I then said that I do not cloak myself with points of order so as to hurl abuse at honourable senators opposite, the implication being that that is how Senator McAuliffe used his point of order. That I will maintain -

Senator Cavanagh - I rise on a point of order.

The PRESIDENT - Order Senator Cavanagh, Senator Wright is addressing himself to a point of order.

Senator Cavanagh - I do not think he is.

Senator Webster - How many are on their feet?

Senator Cavanagh - I am.

The PRESIDENT - Order! Hansard has now produced its transcript of what was said. I shall read it out. As far as that is concerned, that is what was said, and we will take it from there. The Hansard report shows that Senator Wright, in referring to Senator McAuliffe, used these words: 'He has not the courage to stand up for a level of decency which is required in the chamber of which he is a member'. Those are the words that Hansard recorded.

Senator McAuliffe - Those words are offensive to me.

The PRESIDENT - Order! If they are offensive to Senator McAuliffe, I am sure that Senator Wright will withdraw them.

Senator McAuliffe - My record will stand up to his any day.

Senator Wright - I would ordinarily respond to your request, Mr President, but I controvert any proposition that that is not most courteous parliamentary debate. Having regard to what Senator McAuliffe had said, I think -

Senator Cavanagh - I rise on a point of order.

Senator Wright - Just let me respond to the President.

Senator Cavanagh - I rise on a point of order, Mr President. You have asked Senator Wright to withdraw those words.

Senator Wright - I am not withdrawing them.

Senator Cavanagh - No, he has not withdrawn them, in defiance of the Chair, and I suggest that he be named.

Senator Greenwood - I rise on a point of order, Mr President, because I think that the Senate should reflect on how this situation arose. Senator Wright made statements which you have verified from the transcript of Hansard. Senator McAuliffe then rose and, if I might say so, used words which the Hansard record, when we see it tomorrow, will disclose to be abusive of Senator Wright, but Senator Wright did not rise to take any objection. In what followed thereafter, Senator McAuliffe alleged and put down in writing which you, Sir, would have before you, words which he said Senator Wright used but which your reading of the Hansard transcript quite demonstrably shows Senator Wright did not use. In those circumstances, I would submit that it is not a matter of requiring Senator Wright to withdraw on the basis that the words are offensive, because in my submission it is not offensive to use the words which Senator Wright used. But if there is to be some form of justice done -

Senator Cavanagh - I rise on a point of order, Mr President.

Senator Greenwood - I am speaking on a point of order. Won't you even allow points of order to be raised?

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Cavanagh, please resume your seat. Senator Greenwood is addressing me on a point of order.

Senator Cavanagh - Yes, but I have another point of order.

The PRESIDENT - All right, I will hear you when I have heard Senator Greenwood. Please resume your seat.

Senator Cavanagh - But, Mr President, I rise on a point of order.

The PRESIDENT - Senator Cavanagh,will you resume your seat? I call Senator Greenwood.

Senator Greenwood - Mr President,standing order 418 is in the Standing Orders for the protection of the Senate. If, to use an example used earlier by some other honourable senator, common sense is to be applied, I submit that having regard to what has transpired and to the error which is disclosed by Senator McAuliffe 's own recollection and belief as to the words used by Senator Wright, as disclosed by what he put in writing shortly thereafter, it is seeking to take an unfair advantage, an unwarranted advantage, and to misuse the Standing Orders to apply for a withdrawal of the character which has now been requested. I submit, Mr President, that it would be totally unfair to Senator Wright to require him in those circumstances to take any action of the character you intimated you might require.

Senator Cavanagh - Mr President,all I wanted to say was that you permitted an honourable senator to get up and canvass your ruling, which is unpardonable under the Standing Orders. The whole point is that you have given a ruling; you have asked for a withdrawal. A withdrawal has not been forthcoming, and action should be taken.

Sentor Byrne- Mr President, speaking to the point of order, Senator Wright made a certain statement to which Senator McAuliffe objected. His recollection of it was stated in the record of objection which he then presented to you. On the reading from Hansard those were not the words which were said and therefore Senator McAuliffe 's protest at that stage could not have any validity because he was protesting against something that was not said. That was acknowledged by Senator McAuliffe because when the actual words came from Hansard Senator McAuliff rose and said- what is the term?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - 'That is offensive to me.'

Senator Byrne - Yes, exactly- 'that is offensive to me. ' But, if he is going to object he must object at the time and that was not the time. The time had passed and that was not the time. Senator McAuliffe objected to words that Hansard established were not said. When the actual words were disclosed Senator McAuliffe acknowledged that he had objected to something that was not said by objecting to the real record but at that stage under the Standing Orders it was too late because the moment had passed. Therefore I submit that Senator McAuliffe is not entitled to take objection at this stage to the words that were actually said.

The PRESIDENT - Order! I shall address myself to the Senate. When the matter first arose and objection was taken I informed honourable senators that I had not heard the words that Senator McAuliffe claimed he had heard from Senator Wright. I then asked Senator McAuliffe if he would put down in writing his recollection of what Senator Wright had said. Senator McAuliffe then said he understood Senator Wright to say that he was indecent, cowardly and lacked courage. I then asked Hansard to produce what in fact was said and I repeat it. Senator Wright said:

He has not the courage to stand up to a level of decency which is required in the chamber of which he is a member.

Honourable senators, I have looked at this whole problem of what are words which are reflective and cause pain and anguish to senators. I am reminded of a ruling of the Speaker of the House of Commons in Canada who said that Parliament is no place for a shrinking soul. Therefore I think the matter should be closed so that we can get on with the business of the House. I call Senator Wright.

Senator WRIGHT -The Minister who is represented in this chamber and responsible for an answer in this form should have it clearly made known to him that the Senate will not accept this answer. We should support Senator Little's protest that it is entirely inappropriate for information which this Senate requries of a Minister. Nothing more need be said as to the form of the answer. As to the substance, I am amazed that when Senator Little indicates in his question that he requires clarification as to the proposition that the Minister puts out in the White Paper and he concludes his question by asking the Minister to table for the information of senators the document upon which his. statement was based and the statistical information supplied to him by his advisers, prompting the conclusions referred to, that that was not regarded as an entirely proper request and responded to by an answer carefully putting out the calculations that would exhibit the accuracy of the Minister's contention.

I rise in support of Senator Little's protest and to define my standards of the level of responsibility that the Senate requires of Ministers. In my view, unless a proper answer is supplied and this one is withdrawn, the Senate ought not any longer to allow representation of this Minister in this chamber. This chamber is entitled to information. The information could not have been more courteously requested. The information can be supplied by the Minister, with all the office staff that he has available, to the Minister's advantage and to the satisfaction of the honourable senator who asks for the information.

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