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Wednesday, 16 June 1915


Mr WEST (East Sydney) .- I cannot agree with the honorable members for Maribyrnong and Gippsland. It would be a great mistake for this Parliament to close its doors to the press, and to stifle Hansard, by sitting in camera. Some days ago, when the honorable member for Balaclava was speaking, I asked if he wished to form a mutual admiration society, or a kind of Star Chamber, whose members would be custodians of information which the public was not allowed to have. The chief complaint made outside is that the public do not obtain sufficient information, but I cannot understand the position taken up by those who contend that there- should be a joint sitting of both Houses in camera and that Ministers should impart to them information which ought not to be disclosed to the general public. Once such information became known to every member of the two Houses, it would be impossible to keep it out of the public press. The reporters would get the information piece by piece from different members, until they were in ' a position to publish a statement of what had taken place, and no one would be able to contradict it.


Mr Fenton - A well-guarded statement could be made to the press.


Mr WEST - Every one must know, as I do, that honorable members are always anxious to see their names in the public press. Nothing pleases an honorable member more, or helps him to take his breakfast with a greater relish, than to find, on opening his newspaper, that some of his utterances of the previous evening have been reported by the recording angels. The public have no knowledge of us except that which they gain from the press. If there is any information which should not be given in the House while Hansard and the press are present, then it should be kept within the breasts of Ministers. If Ministers are possessed of any information which cannot be stated publicly, then under no other conditions should it be disclosed to honorable members. We all know that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence have information which they will not divulge to any one, and I cannot see what useful purpose would be served by pursuing the course suggested by the honorable member for Maribyrnong and the honorable member for Macquarie. We have had it suggested that a Coalition Government should be formed, and the formation of a National Cabinet in Great Britain has been cited as an example that we should follow. Those who put forward that proposal cannot have carefully read the reports received from Great Britain from time to time. There was very grave reason for the changes made in the British Cabinet. A certain amount of suspicion attached to Lord Haldane, seeing that he visited Germany twelve months before the war, and knew Germany's resources and what was going on, and that sufficient information was nob supplied to the British Government. If the opportunity offered, I could give a good deal of information on the subject. Honorable members may rest assured that there were very serious reasons for the changes made in the personnel of the British Cabinet. The situation which gave rise to those changes has not yet occurred in Australia. Do honorable members think for one moment that if the British Ministry asked that a certain course should be followed by the Commonwealth Government the request would not be at once complied with ? I hope that we shall maintain ourselves in the position in which we have been placed by the people of Australia. If the House has no confidence in the Government, then there is a constitutional course for it to take. If the Opposition were in power to-day, would they not at once remind us of the constitutional position when a proposal for a Coalition was made ? The question is whether the members of the present Cabinet are fit to hold their onerous positions. If they are not, then there is a constitutional means of removing them. I hope that we shall hear no more of this proposal for a Coalition Government. It would be just as easy to mix oil with water as it would be to assimilate the views of some of the Opposition with those of honorable members on this side of the House. If the Opposition think that the Ministry have not the ability necessary to the proper conduct of the affairs of the Commonwealth, let them move a motion of want of confidence, or adopt one of the many other forms provided for testing the opinion of the House. The people of Australia placed the Government in power, and I am satisfied that they are pursuing the proper course. Since we cannot agree with theOpposition on matters of ordinary legislation, I am fully satisfied that it would be utterly impossible for us to agree with them on broad questions of Australian defence.







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