Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 21 May 1915


Mr JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) . - I feel that already something has been gained this morning by securing from the Prime Minister, for the first time, a statement to the effect that he will consult with Opposition members regarding this very important question of censorship. I can tell the right honorable gentleman that honorable members have not taken action without having the fullest possible justification for so doing. Criticism which is intended to facilitate the discharge of the obligations arising out of the war is being censored - unwisely and unduly, I think. I hold very Strongly that the action of censoring such criticism tends to inefficiency and not efficiency in the conduct of the war. Our supreme object should be the public interest. What is the public interest? Surely it cannot be injured by a free, full, and frank criticism of the way in which the war is being conducted. Almost every day such criticism takes place in the Old Country. In fact, in a recent speech Mr. Asquith invited it. He said -

To-day all our efforts and energies are concentrated upon tlie war, and we are all in absolute agreement that it behoves every man among us, here or elsewhere, by act of service, or, if that is impossible, in such other channels as may be open to him - and of these appropriate parliamentary criticism is not the least important - to subordinate every other interest to the one overmastering purpose.

What boots parliamentary criticism here if the public may know nothing about it ? Take, for instance, the speech delivered last night by the honorable member for Macquarie. I did not hear the whole of it, but that portion of it which I was privileged to hear seemed to be criticism of a temperate and capable kind directed to a subject with which the honorable member's very position as representative of the Macquarie electorate makes him fully acquainted. Yet in this morning's newspapers there is not even a reference to it. Such censorship cannot be in the public interest. If there should happen to be some concern under the control of the Government into which, in the opinion of capable judges outside, there should be an inquiry, and about which there should be free discussion, surely there ought to be no censoring of such a matter as that. The honorable member was referring to the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. My opinion is that this factory is in such a condition that some action of a special kind should be taken in regard to it, because, while munitions are our overmastering requirement at the present time, the gates of that factory are closed every Saturday religiously at noon and not opened till Monday morning. Such a state of affairs is an absolute farce; in fact, it is a tragedy. We may as well give notice to the Germans that we are not fighting at the week-end as to stop work in our preparations for battle. As Lord Kitchener has repeatedly told the workmen in the Old Country, the battle is being fought in our workshops. But, apparently, what Lord Kitchener can tell the workmen in Great Britain we are not permitted to say here. That is our complaint. In Australia we are not permitted to do anything like what people are permitted to do every day of their lives in other countries of the world, and I maintain that it will be wrong to permit such a state of affairs to continue. The Prime Minister has given his assurance that no political considerations enter into the attitude which he and his Ministers assume in regard to censorship. I give him credit for that statement, but may I suggest that this morning for the first time has he taken the only course which can put it to the proof. He will recollect that immediately war broke out Oppositionists were appointed to the control of the censorship in the Old Country in conjunction with Government men. That was the best proof that the Imperial Government could give that no political considerations were to prevail in connexion with the censorship.


Mr Fisher - The British Government appointed an Oppositionist as censor.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Mr. F. E. Smith was Chief Censor for many months.


Mr Fisher - He was the Government Censor, but he happened to be a member of the Opposition. We have been doing likewise here. Opponents of the Government are doing the censor work, and doing it very well.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am making no complaint except upon one point, namely, that the Ministry are directing the censorship of criticism, which is intended to be helpful, and which, I believe, is helpful. Before long I shall make the right honorable gentleman aware of the kind of criticism that is being censored - if he is not aware of it already. I maintain that a very serious state of affairs is growing up in connexion with this matter. Apparently. whatever a Minister or an officer may say goes in. I heard an officer saying the other day that we had arranged for about 20,000 more soldiers than we had rifles available. Could a statement like that help our people here or help recruiting ? I had to correct the officer on a public platform, but of course the whole thing was censored. I think the only thing published about the meeting was that a dog was howling while I was speaking. I have not inquired as to whether I am subjected to a rigid censorship by some newspapers that I could name, but the fact remains that oftentimes when I have essayed to give particulars which I have thought would be useful, and facts concerning the present situation, I have found no mention of them in the newspapers.


Mr Fisher - In the first five years of our public life we were both censored unscrupulously.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I get plenty of censuring and censoring. I appreciate the spirit of the Prime Minister to-day, and I tell him that the invitation which he has given to the Opposition will be most cordially accepted, and that we shall do our best to put this matter on a proper basis. But at the same time I wish to remind honorable members of the importance of this matter, and to quote one instance which indicates it. I am told that if any news is censored the man concerned may not be told by the newspaper proprietor that his news lias been censored. Is that not an absurd condition of affairs, that a man may not be told that an important deliverance of his own has been censored ? I wonder how far this is to go. If it is to continue, this thing may happen - I do not speak of the present Ministry; I am merely illustrating the principle of the matter ; but there have been incompetent administrators during a period of national crisis, and men have been put out of office for not doing what they should have done, and because their removal has been an overpowering national necessity. If the, censorship is to be the exclusive prerogative of the Minister or an official who may be censurable and incompetent- I do not make any reflection on present Ministers; I do not wish to do so; I have no justification for doing so; I am speaking absolutely impersonally and putting a hypothetical case, and in the history of the British Empire incompetent men have shielded themselves by preventing the publication of anything relating to their administration or incompetency - it comes to this that we may push the point of censorship to the point of injuring instead of helping ourselves in the prosecution of the war. Is criticism which tends to efficiency to be censored ? That is the over-mastering question, and the only consideration. If we are to permit an undisputed censorship by the very people who are affected by that criticism, we are doing a very wrong thing in connexion with the prosecution of the war, and may defeat the very purpose we have in view, namely, the preservation of our efficiency in the conduct of the war in the most vigorous way, and under the most advantageous terms to ourselves. The

Prime Minister asks us to come out in the open. The answer is that we cannot come out in the open for the simple reason that if we make a statement to the newspapers it is censored, and we may not even ascertain from those newspapers the fact that it has been censored.


Mr Mahon - Is not half the trouble due to the fact that the censors have no expert knowledge of newspaper work ?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I should think that that fact has a good deal to do with the matter. But I maintain that criticism of facts that makes for greater efficiency at tlie Small Arms Factory should not be absolutely shut out as is now done. Here in Australia we are told that we must not say anything about the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, and that, if we do, our remarks shall not appear in public.


Mr Thomas - Or the Empire would collapse.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Yes; if the public should happen to know that we were not getting quite as many rifles as "we would like to get. Lord Kitchener is telling the British people every day that he is not getting the munitions he requires. He is not afraid to let the enemy know that he needs more munitions. The statement is being circulated throughout the Empire.


Mr Glynn - Every issue of the Times has an article upon the subject.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Every issue of the Times certainly contains criticism which would not be permissible under our censorship in Australia. Does the Prime Minister remember the castigation the Times gave to Winston Churchill the other day ?


Mr J H Catts - Apparently there issomething wrong if we judge by the reconstruction that is now in progress.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - It is fair to assume that there has been an overpowering public desire in Great Britain that something more should be done.


Mr Fisher - I hope that no censorship here has been exercised in regard to the actions or statements of Ministers.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am able to tell the honorable member that a statement, not reflecting on the Minister, but suggesting another course that the Minister should take at the Small Arms Factory, has not been allowed to appear in the public press, That statement had been carefully prepared by the ex-Minister of Defence, but was not allowed to appear in public print. If that act of suppression does not approach suspiciously near the introduction of the political element into the censorship, I should like to know what does.


Mr Fisher - Did not that statement by Senator Millen appear in tlie press'?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - It did, but the Minister had the last say on the matter, and nothing further has appeared. Enough said ! That sort of censorship should cease, because no one could read the statement by the ex-Minister of Defence on a question with which he was entirely familiar without feeling that it was a criticism that was both, appropriate and deserving of consideration. Let us. see what had happened in England. According to a leading article in the Times, of 16th March, Lord Kitchener told the Empire - that although the manufacturers of munitionsof war have been working at " the highest possible pressure." the output does not only not equal our necessities, but does not fulfil expectations.

Senator Millennever said anything half as severe as that.


Mr Fisher - I think there is method in Lord Kitchener's statement.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - And there ismethod in our criticism, I think; but whilst our statements are suppressed, criticism in England is allowed to be published broadcast.


Mr Fisher - At Home there are unlimited opportunities of producing munitions of war.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - And in our case it is alleged by competent authorities that whilst our opportunities for producing munitions of war are not unlimited they are much more than are being taken advantage of. It is that criticism, that judgment, that conviction, which is not allowed to appear in public print by direction of the Minister himself. Clearly it is criticism of the Minister's administration that tlie Minister himself will not permit to appear. Lord Kitchener further said -

In other words, we are delayed in putting our new armies in tlie field, and in bringing the war to a successful termination becausewe cannot get arms, and ammunition, and equipment fast enough.

No statement could be stronger, yet it was published in the Times, which circulates all over the British Empire. Senator Millen made a statement which was not one-tenth as serious as that of Lord Kitchener, and the Minister would not allow it to appear.


Mr Carr - There is to be a conference; why say more at this stage?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I hope we are going to confer, and I am furnishing reasons why there should be some conference.


Mr Fisher - Does the honorable member's hope imply a doubt of my statement?


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I hope not. The Times article continued -

Lord Kitchener acknowledged that the majority of our workmen were toiling loyally and well, but he also said bluntly that there were casus where " absence, irregular time-keeping, and slack work " had led to a marked diminution of output.

Lord Kitchener is reported in the same issue as having said - " I can only say that the supply of war material at the present moment, and for the next two or three months is causing me very serious anxiety." He wished the workmen to realize that it is absolutely essential, not only that the arrears in the deliveries of our munitions should be wiped off, but that the output of every round of ammunition was of the utmost Importance. The new Defence of the Realm Bill, for the mobilization of our industrial resources was, in his opinion, imperatively necessary.

Then a statement was published in the Melbourne Herald, which purported to come from the Glasgow correspondent of the Times. I venture to say that such a statement would never be permitted to come from the mouth of any critic in Australia -

We have a very unpalatable message to give to the public in regard to the production of munitions in the north. Only after consultation with responsible persons I decided to write. If there were a prospect of improvement I would not speak, but the strong force of public opinion is needed. It is no exaggeration to say that not merely the successful prosecution of the war, but its whole issue, is jeopardized by the industrial inefficiency in the north.

I say nothing as to the justification for that criticism. I am only instancing the fact that the most scarifying criticism in regard to the production of munitions of war in the Old Country is permitted to appear in the public press every day as a matter of course. That Glasgow correspondent continued -

The country is living in a fool's paradise. 1 believe that the Government, too, is a most important cause of the attitude of certain sections of organized labour.

One could not get a statement of that character published in our Australian newspapers. If any Australian public man were to dare to say that we are living in a fool's paradise, and that the whole issue is being jeopardized by the actions of the Minister - but perish the thought; no one has ever suggested such a thing, and if any one had suggested it, no newspaper would be permitted to make the statement public. In that fact lies the distinction and the difference between the censorship in England and the censorship here. The Times, criticising another speech by Lord Kitchener, said -

He sought the publicity of the House of Lords in order to have a straight talk with the working man on drink, irregular timekeeping, slack work, and trade union restrictions on the one hand, and on wages and war rewards on the other.

So the criticism goes on. To it must be added the statement by Admiral Jellicoe that his ships were being rendered inefficient by the lack of industrial efficiency in the workshops and arsenals, and Sir John French's statement that his operations were hampered because he required more men and more ammunition. But here in Australia one must not say a word about our little factory at Lithgow lest it should jeopardize the conduct of the war. Such an attitude is farcical. Regarding the Small Arms Factory, I desire to call the attention of the Ministry to a few facts, mention of which is appropriate just now. I realize that, although I may mention these facts in the House to-day, they will not be permitted to be published in the press to-morrow. First of all, let honorable members get into their minds the fact that the war machine at Lithgow does not work at night, or at week-ends. The enemy is fighting every night and all night - on Sundays and on Saturday afternoons - but those men at Lithgow, who have as much to do with the successful prosecution of the war as have the men at the front, are not permitted - I will put it that way - to work on Saturday afternoons or on Sundays.


Mr J H Catts - We have 33,000 men out of work.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I understand that the reason given for not working more than one shift in the Small Arms Factory is that there is not available a sufficient number of trained workmen.


Mr Riley - More men cannot be put on to work, if there is not the material.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Is that the point ?


Mr Riley - I am not saying that it is.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - If there be anything in the suggestion, could there be a more utter condemnation of the management of this place ?


Mr Riley - The honorable member himself could not manufacture if he had not material.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Does the honorable member not see that it is the prime function of the management to have material on hand ?


Mr Riley - Did the honorable member know that war was going to break out at the time it did? The management knew no more than he did.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - That is no answer. A management, which is making rifles for war, is making them, in the light of war, which may break out at any moment. All this is news to me, but if it is true that there is no material


Mr Riley - I do not say " no" material.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - Then, no material for a second shift-


Mr Riley - Perhaps so.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - If that be the case, I think somebody ought to be questioned on the point. As to the training of men for this work, honorable members will recollect that last year I persuaded Mr. Swinburne, of the Inter-State Commission,, who is a trained engineer, and has had to do with engineering works all his life, to proceed to Lithgow, not only to settle the dispute that was then on, but to try to arrange a set of working conditions that would be mutually satisfactory for the future. Mr. Swinburne spent his New Year's holiday over this work; and in the course of his report, which has been laid upon the table, he, speaking of the dispute, said -

The A.S.E. contend that the whole of the toolmaking, from beginning to end, is mechanics' or engineer's work. They readily admit that part can be clone by unskilled labour, but demand that that part should be done by apprentices to the trade, and not by men, or older youths, brought in from the manufacturing branch. It docs not matter how competent the unskilled labourers may have proved themselves, or if they are competent the A.S.E. insist on having the right to say whether they are so, and, if they are, they may be admitted as members of the A.S.E. to the grade of machinists.

This is what I wish to call attention to -

The management contend that, with the exception of the making of jigs, gauges, vyces, parts of machines, and the higher class work, all the smaller tools, such as cutters, drillers, reamers, and repetition work, can, under the supervision of mechanics, be made by hands who have not served their apprenticeship as mechanics, by the special automatic or semiautomatic machines which have been, or are being installed in the tool-room for that purpose; and, further, say that it is customary at other works. Mr. Wright instances American and Birmingham practice in support of his view; while, on the other hand, the A.S.E. instance Enfield practice, at which latter place it is said the tool-room is altogether run by mechanics and apprentices.

The point is that, when there was a dispute with the Engineers Society, the manager of the factory said that anybody, when once shown, could do the work under the direction of a few skilled workmen, but now, when it comes to the matter of a double shift, he declares that men cannot be trained. One statement is at variance with the other, so far as I understand, and I cannot believe that this factory could not be so managed, as to put all these automatic and high-grade machines to their full use.


Mr Mathews - Things may be better when Mr. Wright goes away.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am not criticising Mr. Wright, unless it is by implication in my remarks. I am mentioning facts that Mr. Wright himself has stated, and these are all fair subjects for criticism. When such criticism is made, either here or outside, it ought not to be subject to the censorship. Nobody, so far as I know, would think of telling the enemy how many rifles were turned out, or anything of that kind. Of course, such information as that would be censorable; but, surely, criticism directed to making the establishment more efficient, and to the multiplying of the munitions of war, ought to be regarded as legitimate, reasonable, and helpful?







Suggest corrections