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Tuesday, 6 September 1960

Mr HAMILTON (Canning) .- I join with the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) in his criticism of some newspaper articles that have appeared recently concerning the operations of this Parliament. However, I would like my position to be very clear, and I think most honorable members are grateful for the fact that only one newspaper in this place took up the cudgels. It would appear that the others had no truck with this kind of attack, and for that they deserve some thanks from honorable members of this Parliament. The attack that was made has been dealt with, of course, in another place. It was a most scathing attack on all members of the House of Representatives and all senators.

It is rather strange that we never find the press, as a body, telling the people what it or its representatives receive from this Parliament. There has never been any mention of these things in the newspapers in the fourteen years or so that I have beet? here. The press representatives enjoy concessions here. They have the use of the dining rooms, for instance, for far greater periods than the members of Parliament do.

Mr Curtin - The press barons do not pay for their dining room accommodation.

Mr HAMILTON - Let us be fair; the pressmen pay for their meals.

Mr Curtin - Their employers do not pay for the amenities provided.

Mr HAMILTON - Well, if the honorable member thinks a little further, he may consider it wise to leave it at that.

Let me make a further point in this connexion. Since the retiring allowance scheme for members of Parliament was introduced in the 1940's, I have never known any organ of the press to give members of Parliament the credit for having subscribed to the retiring allowance fund. I have never seen a reference in the press to the financial position of that fund, although figures released only recently showed quite plainly that the fund had a credit balance of about £106,000, and that it had used no accrued interest. It was also apparent that the fund had not received any government contribution but had, over the whole period1 of its operation, paid out some £230,000 to retired members or widows.

I do not mind the press failing to publish these facts, but it is not only the members themselves who suffer because the correct situation is not put before the people. The wives of members are also embarrassed by it in the ordinary course of their daily contacts with people, because everybody loves to have a go at members' wives, saying, " Look at what the members are getting! " But the people are never told that parliamentarians are paying subscriptions at an excessive rate in order to get very little more than an age pensioner couple can obtain, provided that they can gain some additional income from working or from superannuation. It is an unfair attitude which they adopt and I suppose we must put up with it; but I repeat that in this particular instance I am glad to say that only one section of the press engaged in this sort of thing.

I wish now to remind honorable members of a resolution that was carried in this Parliament as far back as 20th December, 1912. I think we will all agree that in those days the ethics and manners of the press were far higher than they are to-day. At that time, Mr. Bamford, the then Chairman of Committees, moved, pursuant to notice -

That in the opinion of this House, immediate action should be taken to protect members of this Parliament from the aspersions and misrepresentations of the newspaper press by making an order that, when any article or paragraph appears in a newspaper reflecting upon the good conduct or integrity of a member which, in the opinion of the said member, is calculated to prejudice him in the eyes of the community, and the member affected, by personal explanation or otherwise, declares that the statements so made in regard to himself are erroneous, misleading and injurious, and the House in good faith accepts such statement, no representative or representatives of the newspaper implicated be allowed within the precincts of Parliament House unless, or until, the explanation or contra diction made by the aggrieved member be given in the aforesaid newspaper prominence equal to that given to the offending article or paragraph.

That question was put and passed.

Mr Murray - This would be a lonely place if that were carried out.

Mr HAMILTON - That may be so. If honorable members want to protect themselves they must watch their interests in this regard; and they are the masters of their own destiny here. If these things happen honorable members can take action against the press. That would be nothing novel because 48 years ago, almost to the month, such action was taken to protect members of this Parliament. I would not be certain whether that resolution committed future Parliaments, but if it was incumbent upon members in those days to take that action, it is probably more so to-day because of the scurrilous attacks made upon members from time to time. I read in "The West Australian " a letter to the editor, in which the correspondent talked of the privileges we get and finished up with this gem of all time - a statement that upon retirement or defeat we all get the privilege of free travel. That correspondent can go anywhere he likes and he will realize that that is not so.

I want now to speak about the Constitutional Review Committee. In his policy speech in 1955 the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said there were tremendous problems facing this Parliament. For the sake of accuracy, I will quote what he said -

We still believe that there are many constitutional problems, from the relations between the Houses to the creation of new States, which need the studious consideration of an all-Party Committee.

We can take that statement to cover the Constitution from A to Z, because the only matter arising after the creation of States is the machinery whereby the Constitution can be altered. On 24th May, 1956, very shortly after the 1955 election, this committee was set up under the chairmanship of Senator Spicer. It had its first meeting in June, 1956, and because of various happenings - the appointment of the chairman to the Commonwealth Industrial Court, various elections, and the need to re-constitute the committee - its report was not tabled in this House until October, 1958, just prior to the last general election. Following that election the committee was re-constituted to write the reasons for the report it had given, and they are now in the hands of all honorable members. One of the things about which I wish to complain is simply that the committee, in its report tabled in 1958, on page 6, paragraph 28, said -

The Committee wishes to point out, however, that because of insufficient time it was not able to conclude its deliberations on all aspects of the Constitution which it wished to consider fully.

That committee, during the couple of years it was working and despite hold-ups took evidence in regard to some of the remaining questions which were not dealt with in its report, but now we find, apparently, that the committee is not to be re-constituted and no further committee is to be constituted to finish the job. It was the first time since federation that an all-party parliamentary committee tackled such a job, but now the Parliament is left in the air again with this job half completed or two-thirds completed.

Unless honorable members pay attention to matters of this kind we will reach the crazy stage of having nothing attempted and nothing finished. Despite what the Government might say, if sufficient pressure was applied by members of this Parliament I feel certain that a committee would be constituted to complete that job, and for once in the life of this federation the Parliament would have something concrete before it in respect of constitutional reform. It would have supplied to it a report based on evidence received by this committee and that evidence would be available, although it depends entirely upon the Parliament whether it thinks fit to make such evidence available, and to whom. We have all sorts of people writing to the newspapers about the Constitution; but evidence such as the Constitutional Review Committee was able to obtain will be invaluable for reference in years to come. I wonder how many members of the Parliament are aware of the difficulty of getting a copy of the debates which took place during the conventions of the early '90's, before our federation was formed. I have not seen one complete set; and I can assure members that they are very scarce indeed. Therefore, a complete study of this report would be most valuable to members of this Parliament.

I have heard some members of the public and even some members of this Parliament say that the committee's report tends to wards being something like a socialistic document. I take exception to that statement here and now, whether in doing so I offend any member of this Parliament or any member of the public. If that sort of charge is made against members of the committee, including the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), Mr. Justice Joske, who was in this Parliament until very recently, Senator Sir Neil O'sullivan, Senator Wright, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) and myself, I throw it back into the teeth of those who make it. Whether we agree with the report or not, members of this Parliament should be prepared to stand up against any members of the public who might say that this is a socialistic document. The committee made an honest effort to review the Constitution, as it was directed to do, and it reported to the Parliament.

I shall conclude by mentioning two matters in respect of the Constitution. The first is the defence power which is covered by section 51 (vi.). That section deals with " naval and military defence " but makes no mention of the Air Force. Another problem is that if a person dies in Western Australia and has investments in New South Wales and Victoria, before his beneficiaries can get anything from his estate, the whole of the probate has to be opened up. It is a harvest for the lawyers, as they themselves will tell us. Yet we sit here and do nothing about problems of that kind. At present there is no uniform company law. No matter what the State Attorneys-General might be doing in conjunction with our own AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) to bring in a uniform company law, until this Parliament is clothed with the relevant power it would be wise to have a report from the Constitutional Review Committee on which to base our arguments when we go out to fight this issue. I hope that honorable members will watch this matter and ensure that - in the near future, I hope, but at least at some time in the future - a committee is constituted to complete this job. It was commenced when twelve members from both Houses of the Parliament sat for two years earnestly trying to prepare for the Parliament a document that would prove of value in me years to come.

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