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Thursday, 8 September 1949


Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. 'Thompson) has introduced into this debate an air of geniality fhat I admire very much. I ratherthought thatthe honorablegentleman was going to conclude his remarks by suggesting that it would be satisfactory to all partiesif the motion and the amendment were withdrawn andwe each paid our owncosts. Iam sorry if I disappoint himwhen Isay that I unhesitatinglyand completely support the motion that has been proposed by thehonorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). I agree that it is very unfortunate that such a motion should stand on the notice-paper of any British parliament, hut it is even more unfortunate that it should have stood on the notice-paper, undisposed of, for the better part of a year.

The motion contains very grave charges. They are charges of incompetence, partiality and misconception by Mr. Deputy Speaker of his duties and his standing in this House. The charges may not be cumulative. It may be that what has been described by one speaker a incompetence has turned out to be a failure by Mr. Deputy Speaker to understand his own position. It may be that what has been charged as partiality has proved to be, upon examination, mere incompetence. But whichever way the motion is analysed, these charges, as everybody in Australia who has followed the course of debate in this House knows, are true. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), with a most unexpected flash of humour, has moved an amendment to the motion. It is a silly sort of thing which, as has been pointed out, is the opposite of the motion and is designed apparently to procure not only an acquittal but also a testimonial of character - a testimonial to which few honorable gentlemen opposite would subscribe if they were not in the position that has been so admirably defined by the honorable member for Hindmarsh as having to stick like brothers to the man that they have put into the chair.

The whole argument is based upon a consideration of the Standing Orders of the Parliament. Those Standing Orders, fairly administered, have three great virtues in a parliamentary democracy. First, they guarantee the orderly conduct of the business of the Parliament. Secondly, they protect the rights and privileges of members. I remind the House that those rights and privileges were not acquired automatically but have had to be struggled for by our predecessors over the course of centuries in the interests of the people. The Standing Orders are for the protection of the rights and privileges of members. Thirdly, because they exist in that sense, they constitute, if fairly administered, an assurance of the basic right of the electors to have their grievances represented and their views expressed in the Parliament by the member of their choice. Therefore, there is one justification for Standing Orders, fairly administered, that relates to business, and another that relates to their relationship to the whole foundation of parliamentary democracy. We have a standing order that relates to the use of offensive expressions by members and other.-, which enable members to take points of order or to submit motions to the House. It is upon the scrupulous and fair observance of those Standing Orders that the whole decent business of .parliament is postulated. They must be scrupulously observed and fairly administered.

The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke) made a thoughtful contribution to the debate, as he always does. In the course of his speech be said that it is quite true that a ruling may be given which honorable members think to be wrong, but if that occurs they have their remedy. The honorable gentleman said that the power to challenge a ruling of the Chair is quite adequate, and that the existence of the power of challenge by a motion to disagree with the ruling renders a personal challenge to the Chair by a motion of no confidence quite unnecessary. That was the process of reasoning of the honorable member for Perth. But that reasoning falls to pieces unless it can be shown that the power to challenge a ruling by moving that it be disagreed with is a sufficient one. I ask honorable members to remember this: Whenever a ruling is given and an honorable member rises in his place to move that the ruling be dissented from, everybody knows instantaneously that the proceeding is a formality. One or two members will have an opportunity to say why they consider the ruling to be wrong; but when the vote is taken it will be on strict party lines. I say to the honorable member for Hindmarsh, with all his blandishments on this matter, that if an honorable member on this side of the House moved dissent from a ruling given by Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the honorable member for Hindmarsh thought that the honorable member who moved the dissent was right in his interpretation of the rules, he would still rote against the motion, because the whole matter is regarded as a mere party matter.


Mr Thompson - By both sides of the House.


Mr MENZIES - The honorable member does not attempt to deny the truth of that statement. The position I have mentioned is fantastic. The rulings of the Chair are either pronouncements by a party politician, in which case the Chair has forfeited all privilege in this House ; or they are objective interpretations of the Standing Orders of the House. If they are objective interpretations of the Standing Orders, then I am unable to understand why nobody on the other side of the House ever has the same view as I have about whether an interpretation is right or wrong. It is unfortunate that this is a party matter. The Labour party says, in effect, " It is our Speaker who gave the ruling, and therefore we must uphold him ". On that basis, every ruling given by the occupant of the chair during this Government's term of office is right, and every objection taken by a private member to a ruling is wrong. Therefore, the whole case advanced by the honorable member for Perth falls to the ground. He has said that it is unnecessary to attack the occupant of the chair because honorable members have their remedy under the Standing Orders. I say that the standing order that covers this matter has been made a completely dead letter by the party now in office.


Mr Anthony - I have had a motion of dissent from Mr. .Speaker's ruling on the notice-paper for a very long time.


Mr MENZIES - The honorable member for Perth said, referring to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) -

The honorable member for .Richmond has not quoted any specific incident to show Mr. Deputy Speaker's partiality.

He accused the honorable member for Richmond of speaking in the general. All right, I shall speak in the particular, with the greatest possible goodwill. I shall now proceed to remind this House of an incident that provides the most conclusive proof of the indictment contained in the motion submitted by the honorable member for Wentwortb. Honorable members will recall that I said a few minutes ago that the very root of orderly debate and good decent conduct in this House is Standing Order 272 which reads -

No Member shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any Member thereof, or against any Statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

There is no ambiguity about that Standing Order. Nobody needs to have the wisdom of either Solon or Solomon to be able to understand the language used in it. The effect of Standing Order 272 is that imputations against and personal reflections on honorable members are out of order. They are, instantly they have been pronounced, breaches of the Standing Orders of this House, and I have no hesitation in saying that any presiding officer of this House who conscientiously does his duty will deal with imputations and allegations of offensive conduct without waiting for any honorable member to rise in his place to object to them. It is the duty of the Chair to enforce the Standing Orders. It is because there has been a failure on the part of the Chair to enforce Standing Order 272 that we have had scenes in this House and exchanges of remarks that do no credit to the House. Yet there is the standing order as plain as it can be! How is it interpreted ? I say to the honorable member for Hindmarsh that he can take his choice between gross impartiality or gross incompetence in the example I shall now give, because it is one or the other. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) delivered himself of an attack in this House on the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann). He was dealing with the honorable member for Maranoa in relation to his position as a member of the Parliament and as chairman of the Queensland Peanut Board, a post to which, by the way, it is interesting to note, in view of the Minister's allegations, the honorable member for Maranoa has been re-elected by 351 votes out of 400. In the course of his attack the Minister said that the honorable member for Maranoa helped to organize a co-operative trading society during an flection ; and that he used the services of his 'parliamentary secretary while doing so, and that when the election was over and the honorable member had got all the votes that he wanted he promptly reacted favorably to the crack of the whip of Dalgety and Company Limited and the shareholders of the co-operative society lost their money.

I put it to the honorable member for Hindmarsh, was that an imputation of improper conduct? Was that a breach of Standing . Order 272? Am I to understand1 that to accuse a public man of common cheating - because that was what the allegation was - is not to use offensive words against him, not to make imputations of improper motives against him or personal reflections on him? Of course, the matter could not be argued about for one moment. The honorable member for Hindmarsh would not argue about it for one moment. The honorable member for Maranoa said in reply to the Minister for Immigration -

That is a He.

1.   should think that most honorable members thought at the time that that was singularly restrained language. The Minister then said something about the Australian Country party which is irrelevant to this matter, and Mr. Deputy Speaker, who is the subject of the charges contained1 in the present motion, said -

I ask the honorable member for Maranoa to withdraw the expression "lie". It ie un parliamentary.

The honorable member for Maranoa promptly said -

I withdraw the unparliamentary expression. I ask that the Minister be instructed to withdraw his statement regarding the organizing of a co-operative society. It is offensive to me.


Mr Deputy Speaker then said -

The Minister is entitled to make his speech in his own way. I shall not allow him to be interrupted while doing so.

That was an outrageous ruling. Honorable members on the Government side can take their choice. That ruling was either the outcome of the grossest incompetence or the most shameless partiality. As I said on an earlier occasion, apparently Mr. Deputy Speaker's attitude is that the Standing Orders of this House as he interprets them mean that you may not call a man a liar in four letters, but you may call him any kind of fraudulent rogue in four sentences and get away with it. To call him a fraudulent rogue in four sentences is no breach of Standing Order 272, but to say, "It's a lie" must be at once rebuked. I should like to hear some one from the Government side of the House explain that mystery to me, and explain how it is that this man, who is inevitably to 'receive a vote of confidence as a handsome testimonial from the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction could be justified in meting out such treatment to the honorable member for Maranoa. The Minister for Immigration, encouraged by this singular act of favour from the Chair, because that is what it was, continued -

The gentleman to whom I have referred also said that the honorable member lor Maranoa used his position as chairman of the Peanut Board to urge a head grader to class his thirdgrade peanuts as first-grade nuts, and that when the grader refused to do so he was sacked.

What do honorable members, and the people of Australia, think about an allegation of that kind? Is the honorable member for Hindmarsh going home to explain that to accuse a man of such mean and contemptible conduct is not a reflection upon him? The honorable member for Maranoa repeated -

I ask for a withdrawal of that statement. It is offensive to me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker,in a ruling which I say could not honestly have been made, said -

The statement was not unparliamentary. I shall deal with any honorable member who does not allow the Minister to make hie speech without interruption.

I again quote the standing order -

No member shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any Member thereof, or against any statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all. personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

Honorable members opposite know what happened in that case. They asked for an illustration, and I have given one,, citing chapter and verse. Nevertheless, honorable members opposite, with the recollection of those words- in their minds, will in an hour or so vote that MrDeputy Speaker has upheld the dignity of the Parliament and behaved with impartiality. I say that his conduct has been calculated to lower the standards of this. Parliament in the eyes of the public. His conduct is more deliberately calculated to .deny justice to honorable members than anything else I can remember in all my time in Parliament.







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