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Wednesday, 17 June 1903

Sir EDMUND BARTON (HUNTER, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for External Affairs) - On the motion that the petition be read, I do not propose to descend so far as to justify my action in accepting an invitation to an audience with the Pope ; but a statement is made in the petition as to remarks reported to have been uttered by me

Mr Wilks - I rise to order. honorable members. - Gag !

Mr SPEAKER - The standing orders under which we are working require that there shall be no debate upon the subjectmatter of a petition. All that can be done at the present time is to discuss the motion whichthe honorable member for Dai ley has moved. Debate can take place only upon the abstract questions whether the petition shall or shall not be received, and whether it shall or shall not be read. There can be no discussion of its subject-matter, because, until it has been read, the House is presumed not to know what its subjectmatter is. On the point of order taken by the honorable and learned member for Corio, the petition is not out of order for any reason yet disclosed ; . but I cannot be taken to know what its subject-matter is.

Sir Edmund Barton - What opportunity has a member of theHouse who is misrepresented by a statement in a petition to put himself right before honorable members ?

Mr SPEAKER - I know of no such opportunity, unless a motion is submitted which deals in some way with the subjectmatter of the petition. I am quite sure, "however, that, after the petition has been read, the House will readily accord to the Prime Minister, or to any other honorable member under similar circumstances, an opportunity to make a personal explanation.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Petition received and read.

Sir EDMUND BARTON - As a matter of personal explanation, I would say that I do not intend to discuss the propriety of having accepted permission to pay a visit to so distinguished a statesman and personage as the head of the Roman Church. If I wished to justify that action, I need only point to the numerous precedents for such visits which existed before I myself paid one, and to a notable case which has occurred since. I wish to call attention, however, for the- purpose of explanation, to a statement in the petition which repeats a press report to the effect that I said that, so long as I remained at the head of the Australian Government, Catholics might rely upon receiving in Australia a greater share of liberality and benevolence. than they receive in other parts of the Empire. The facts are these : In the interview which took place, and which is alluded to in the petition, the Pope said that lie was exceedingly pleased to observe the feeling of tolerance which existed in Australia towards people professing any religious creed ; that he observed with great gratification the numerous proofs of that spirit, and hoped that it might long continue. Perhaps, honorable members may think, in the light of. recent event,*, that he was not fully informed of the conditions prevailing here when he gave vent to that statement. My answer to him, through the prelate who acted as interpreter, was, so far as I can recollect, that he might rely upon the tolerance to which he had alluded always continuing in Australia, That is the sum and substance of what took place on the question of thu treatment of Catholics in Australia. I should like to odd that repeatedly after my return to Australia, and notably on the occasion of my first speech in reference to my tour, at the Town Hall, Sydney, on the 17th October, 1902, I corrected the report which is alluded to in this petition, in the terms which I am now using. Seeing that ti iti t speech and many others gave the sum and substance of .my interview in this particular, long before this petition was got up, honorable members may draw their own conclusions as to the spirit of tolerance and fair play which has dictated the repetition of the misstatement! I am quite sure that the Minister for Defence, who was present, will indorse the correctness of the version which I have given.

Sir John Forrest - Hear, hear.

Sir EDMUND BARTON - Of course, no newspaper reporter was present at the interview, and I have repeatedly made public the correct version of what actually occurred. Notwithstanding that fact, honorable members now find an incorrect version repeated in the petition, without doubt for sectarian purposes. In what I actually said, I believe that, instead of misrepresenting, I rightfully represented the feeling of the vast majority of the people of the Commonwealth. I must express my hope and belief that, notwithstanding the conclusion to be drawn from the presentation of the petition, the Commonwealth at large will maintain that spirit of tolerance to which the petition is so gross an exception.

Mr WILKS - I should not refer to this matter, but-

Mr SPEAKER - Does the honorable member rise to a point of order ?

Mr WILKS - I desire to reply to the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member cannot do that. So that the House may be under no misapprehension in regard to this matter, I will read Standing Order 89, which says -

Every petition, which according to the rules of Hie House can be received, shall bo brought to the table by the member presenting the same, and no discussion upon the subject-matter thereof shall be allowed.

I am sure, if the honorable member has been misrepresented in any way, the House will give him the same opportunity as would be given to any other honorable member, to explain his position. If he has not been misrepresented, I do not see what he can have to explain.

Mr WILKS - The petition has been misrepresented.

Mr SPEAKER - It will not be in order for the honorable member to make any explanation in regard to the petition.

Mr WILKS - I, too, have been misrepresented, as the member' who presented the petition. I claim the tolerance which the Prime Minister asks for himself. While I was glad to hear his version of the interview with the Pope, I desire bo say, on behalf of the petitioners, that the petition was in circulation months before his return to Australia.

Sir Edmund Barton - How many signatures were obtained before my return 1- I know that a great many have been obtained since.

Mr WILKS - I am not prepared to say how many signatures were obtained after the right honorable gentleman's return. The petitioners, however, signed the document without any knowledge of a repudiation by the Prime Minister of the newspaper report to which it refers. In reply to what he has said with reference to sectarian principle-

Sir Edmund Barton - I did not use the words "sectarian principle." I cannot conceive of any principle in sectarianism.

Mr WILKS - The light honorable gentleman said that the petitioners signed the document in a spirit of sectarianism. I wish to say on their behalf, however, that in signing the petition they were only exercising their rights as citizens, and I should have been allowed to present it to the Blouse without the trouble which we have had to-day.

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