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Wednesday, 26 May 1915

Mr FISHER (WIDE BAY, QUEENSLAND) - Still, it is only fair that the right honorable gentleman should have the opportunity to hear me. On behalf of the. Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Rae replied to a question in the House of Commons. The Government take the strongest exception to the statement made that we had censored here information regarding our troops which was allowod to be published in England, and in accordance with the promise given to the House we made strong representations through the GovernorGeneral to the British Government practically in these terms -

My Ministers take strong exception to the reported statement made by Mr. Rae on behalf of Secretary of State regarding censoring Australian press news published in London that responsibility rested with Commonwealth Government.

The facts are that Commonwealth Government have followed implicitly secret and confidential instructions from the British Government in relation to all these matters. No advice of any kind has reached my Ministers which amplified tho terms of my telegram of 7th May.

Fact remains that on 2nd Marchsecret cable that Australian troops on way to Dardanelles, but no further advice received of their participation in action, and was compelled to assume that congratulatory message released press news, which was all we had.

That is, when the King sent his message congratulating us on the magnificent charge which had been made by the troops, we assumed that we were then free to make available the news, but we never received any proper official intimation that that was so. After all, it was an assumption that we could do that. The message continues -

Ministers press for more consideration in these matters, and desire clear statement of position at earliest possible moment, as much public anxiety and condemnation of Government for withholding news.

The reply from the Secretary of State, dated 25th May, is as follows: -

Your telegram 22nd May. Much regret any misunderstanding. Question and answer contained no reference to publication . or nonpublication of news as to Dardanelles. Question asked whether I could tell House what provisions are made with regard to censoring news destined to appear in Australian press; whether I wasawara that news already published in London had again been subject to restriction before publication in Australia; and, if so, what are public grounds on which such a course could be justified. I was not aware whether or not, in any case, your Government had withheld news published in London, and, therefore, answeredas follows : - " The responsibility for carrying out press censorship in Australia rests with Commonwealth Government, which has entire discretion in the matter of judging what may properly be published in Australia." I bad no intention of suggesting that your Government had not loyally carried out tho instructions from Home, but wished to indicate that they were free to delay publication in any ease if they thought fit.

Mr Joseph Cook - Or to publish.

Mr FISHER - Our instructions are definite, distinct, and clear, and we would be wanting in common sense if we did not interpret them in the way we did. Until the message came, until we were released, we had no right to publish anything, and I regret that I have to say so in such straightforward terms. Until we are released we assume that common-senso action will be taken, and that we will he notified when news of importance may be made public.

Mr McWilliams - Do you think that common sense . is . always used by the censor ?

Mr FISHER - We have not got to that point yet. The Government have been censoring matter in accordance with the instructions of the Imperial authorities, and have laid down this principle which we will act upon-

Mr Joseph Cook - The trouble is that you have been censoring stuff here.

Mr FISHER - I ask the right honorable gentleman not to mix up the two things. We have said to the Imperial authorities that what they think necessary we will do, and we are not here to interpret a direction now in one way and then in another way, but now that the matter has been raised in such a direct manner, and we have been practically misrepresented in the House of Commons by an answer to a question, we want a definite and distinct statement as to what our position is.

Mr Joseph Cook - Mr. Speaker

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