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
Thursday, 27 May 1915

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member must not discuss that matter under, this item.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am not, going to do so. I am merely illustrating my point that our censorshipisunnecessarily restricted.

Mr Fenton - Does the honorable member say that it is proposed to censor the reports of the two Committees, to which he has referred?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - No. I do not know what they are going to do in reference to them. But I say that, in view of what has already been done in the matter of utterances outside this chamber, the censor ought to censor those reports. Only the other day Senator Millen made a suggestion to. the Minister that the Factory ought to be working a double shift-a statement which was published in the press, I understand, because some censor allowed it to pass. That officer was promptly carpeted and instructed that he must not permit that sort of thing in the future. The censor, acting on the jacketing which he had received, promptly proceeded to censor the statement of the Minister in reply to. Senator Millen, and of course was immediately carpeted once more. He was then told that he must let the Minister's reply go through. But when Senator Millen attempted to make a rejoinder, down came the censor upon his utterance, with the result that it has never appeared in print. Yet it was. a statement of the mildest character, as honorable members will admit when I read it. It is as follows:-

I am extremely disappointed with Senator Pearce's observations regarding my recent statement as to the practicability of. organizing a second shift for the Small Arms Factory.

Senator Pearcepractically asks the public to take it for- granted that everything is being done thai is possible, and with a view to discounting criticism, speaks of the undesirability of supplying information to the enemy.

This is not a question of supplying information to. the enemy, but of making additional rifles, to be used against them. I should be only too willing to refrain from further reference to the matter but for its overshadowing importance. Every day's cables fromGreat Britain emphasize - and latterly in very pointed language-the need for additional munitions. Senator Pearce admits- this need, and yetthe fact remains that with all the. resources of Australia to draw upon, and after nine months of war, the Lithgow Factory is working with only a single shift.

This fact speaks for itself, and it is not to be concealed by phrases of mysterious import.

I have made, ample inquiries justifying my original assertion that a second shift can be organized, and indeed should have been at work long ago. Holding that opinion, I should have failed in an obvious duty if I had not directed attention to the failure of those responsible to utilize the, resources of the Small Arms Factory to the fullest extent. "That statement was censored and was not allowed to be published. If this sort of thing is permitted, we have reached the stage when, no matter how incompetent and. dilatory our public officials may be, end; no matter how the Minister himself may be failing in his duty, we must not indulge ' in criticism, and the Minister may shelter himself from attack under the censorship for which he alone is responsible. If it be a fact that the Small Arms Factory can be worked two shifts, and that it is only working one, I have no hesitation in saying that that is one of the best ways of which I have any knowledge of defeating the Empire. And so it comes about that the censorship ostensibly exercised to prevent the enemy defeating us may, by that very means, give the enemy such advantages, and allow him to get on such a head of steam in respect of his own preparations, as to snake it impossible to do anything against him. That is not what we desire. We want criticism of a helpful kind, and the greatest publicity given to that criticism in the public press. But while Senator Millen's mild criticism is turned down, these same censors permit the publication of the following criticism, which was evidently passed also by the censors in Great Britain -

The Bishop of Pretoria (Dr. M. B. Furse), in a letter to the Times after a month's visit to the Army in Northern France and Flanders, appeals to the nation to adopt compulsory service.

He says : - "The troops think that the nation is not backing them up as it could and should.

That isa very plain and distinct statement " They feel that the ignorance and apathy at Homeare needlessly increasing their danger of losses. "After fighting desperately day and night for weeks with frightful losses, the men, dog-tired, are yet sent back to, the firing line after three days' rest. They naturally conclude that there are not . enough troops available. Battalion after battalion in theYpres salient had to sit in the trenches and be pounded by the German high explosives with no. guns capable of keeping down . the German fire. " The men naturally conclude that the nation has failed to provide sufficient guns and ammunition, . Similarly they find the. Germans readyto answer every British bomb with five or ten bombs. The troops know that it is little short of murder to ask men, however full of fight and spirit, to face an enemy amply equipped with big guns and the right ammunition unless they are equipped with equally effective munitions.

These statements arc passed by our own censors, and allowed to be published, but a mild criticism, such as that offered by Senator Millen regarding the working of a second shift at the Small Arms Factory, is promptly censored, and not allowed to appear in the press.

Mr Watt - Does not the right honorable gentleman recognise that it was the publication of Lt.Colonel a'Court Repington's criticism in the Times that led to the reconstruction of the British Ministry?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I was about to point out that British public opinion no doubt forced on the reconstruction that has just taken place. I have before me a budget of statements taken from the Times, which are infinitely stronger than anything Senator Millen has stated. But while those statements may go over the whole world through the medium of the English newspapers, we may not here contribute a small modicum of criticism on our defence making for fear that it should influence the war. Anything more ludicrous than the censorship in Australia cannot be conceived. The Small Arms Factory is working but one shift a day, and two Parliamentary Committees have reported that it should be working two shifts; yet, when a responsible ex-Minister of Defence makes that statement, it is not allowed to appear in the press for fear of some untoward circumstance occurring favorably to the enemy. The sooner we rid ourselves of this sort of thing the better. There is another aspect of this matter to which I should like to call attention, and that is that there is, it seems, a double censorship of all news from oversea published in Australia. It is censored at the other end of the world, and censored again at this end. I do not think that was ever contemplated. I find, for instance, that Mr. McKenna, speaking on this matter in the House of Commons, laid it down as a general principle that "What has been passed here will, in ordinary' circumstances, be considered to have passed for the whole world." Our censors do not so interpret their instructions. They insist upon exercising their own rights of censorship with respect to oversea news after it has passed the censors at Home. That being so, the public of Australia are not allowed to know what is going on con- cerning matters as to which the newspapers at Home are full. I submit that if we are going to stimulate recruiting, if we are going to bring home to the public mind of Australia the gravity of this war, we must let the people know the facts as far as we can reasonably do so. We must let them know, also, that our own possibilities are not being exploited to the fullest extent, and that everything is not as right as right can be. Wherever there is room for criticism that criticism should be permitted, and the true facts put before the people to the fullest extent compatible with the efficient prosecution of the war. It is of no use to humbug ourselves, and to act the part of the ostrich in connexion with a war of this kind.

Mr Brennan -Does not the Leader of the Opposition see that he would be liable to be interned if he did what he he suggests? Has he not read the regulations that he passed ? .

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That I passed ?

Mr Brennan - Yes; that the right honorable gentleman assented to with very great cheerfulness.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am afraid that we are doing here every day much that they hesitate to do in other parts of the world. Whatever the regulations may or may not be, it cannot tend to the successful completion of this war to restrict criticism that is intended only to add to the efficiency of our preparations. Mr. Brennan. - Hear, hear! Iwish that the right honorable member could be induced, to vote up to that idea.

Mr JOSEPH COOK -i am prepared to do so at any time. The trouble to which I have referred comes,I am inclined to think, from the want of definite and precise instructions to the censors. We have sixty or seventy censors in Australia, and I understand that there is only one department of censorship. Inthe Old Country specialization, of censorship is provided for. There is an independent censorship in respect of defence matters, another censorship concerning trade, and, in, short, I understand, four or five separate departments under responsible Ministers. Here, however, one Minister takes control of the wholecensorship,and censors' matters having to. do with ordinary business - as inthe caseof sugar the other day-as well asmattersrelating to the conduct of the war. This, I think, is where weare going wrong. We are overweighting these censors, and putting upon them responsibilities for which they are utterly and eminently unsuited. And so the whole thing is being muddled and confused. We have sixty or seventy censors, and unless they are given preciseinstructions to adopt, as far as possible, a uniform interpretation, we are bound to have this trouble. A censor in Sydney, interpreting some vague instructions issued by the Minister, refused to allow Senator Millen's very mild criticism to be published. From what I have seen of his instructions, he was justified in doing so. The fault lies, so far as I can see, in the instructions issued by the Minister. The censors may make inferences. Inferences may be drawn in regard to any matter. The censors may connect up anything with the war and war preparations, and so rule out any statement, whether it be really useful criticism or whether it be harmful. Something should be done to remedy this state of affairs at the earliest possible moment. The whole Department, I think, needs to be reorganized. Some trained ability ought to be brought to bear on the censor's work, so that we may know what we ought to know, and be prevented from knowing what, in the public interest, we should not know. The Government must bring to bear practical training on these matters, just as they have had to do in connexion with other things. Many of these difficulties have been overcome in the Old Country; but we are still struggling with them here. I insist that nothing should be censored that is a fair public criticism of the administration of the Government, moreparticularly when that criticism is designed only to further the interests that we all have at heart in connexion with the world-war that is being waged.

Suggest corrections