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Tuesday, 26 February 1980
Page: 351

Mr MORRIS (Shortland ) -During Question Time the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) referred to contributions by members of the Opposition during the debate on Afghanistan last week and asserted that the content of the statements -

Mr SPEAKER -Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr MORRIS -I do, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER -Does he wish to make a personal explanation?

Mr MORRIS - Yes.

Mr SPEAKER -He may proceed.

Mr MORRIS -During the Prime Minister's answer he asserted that the contributions made by members of the Opposition during the Afghanistan debate were, in fact, excuses for the Soviet action. Mr Speaker, I sought your protection because of your expressed desire to raise the standard of conduct of proceedings in this chamber, and asked for a withdrawal. My reason lay in Standing Orders 76 and 77. Standing Order 76 refers to imputations of improper motives, which resulted from what the Prime Minister said. Standing Order 77 states:

When any offensive or disorderly words are used, whether by a Member who is addressing the Chair or by a Member who is present, the Speaker shall intervene.

In my years in the Parliament I have noticed that that has been regularly interpreted in such a way that, when a member on either side of the chamber finds a collective statement offensive to him, he has been able to seek the assistance of the Chair in having it withdrawn. Mr Speaker, I sought your assistance on that basis. There is no way in which the contribution that I made to the Afghanistan debate could be interpreted or distorted so as to produce the kind of conclusion which the Prime Minister attributed to members of the Opposition. I asked you, Mr Speaker, to have him withdraw it. Mr Speaker, I understand the pressure that you were under at that time. You asked me to withdraw the three letter word that I used and said that I should not prevaricate. Without wasting the time of the House, I refer you, Mr Speaker, to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. If you look at the definition of 'prevaricate' you will see that I in no way prevaricated. I sought my rights as a member of the House of Representatives and you, Sir, are here as my protector. I would like to think that if we are to improve the decorum of this chamber, it has to come from both sides of the chamber and I seek your assistance, Sir, as the umpire.

Mr SPEAKER -The honourable gentleman in fact was not making a personal explanation. He was taking a point about my ruling. I adhere to my ruling which is that if any honourable member puts a construction on something which another honourable member has said, that cannot be said to be imputing motives. All that can be done is for the honourable member who disagrees with the construction to take advantage of a personal explanation, the Standing Orders or whatever; and I will adhere to that. The word construction' was the word that the honourable gentleman himself used in the point that he was just making. As to improving the standard of the House, I must point out to the honourable member for Shortland that he continued to speak after I had asked him to resume his seat. I remind the honourable gentleman that throughout the majority of Question Time he was interjecting. I have had to draw attention to the honourable gentleman on other occasions. Therefore, I suggest to the honourable member that when he calls for a lifting of the standard of debate in the House he may use his knowledge of Parliament and of what Parliament stands for to be an exemplar for the rest.

Mr Bryant - Mr Speaker,I raise a point of order. The honourable member for Shortland raised the question of your having used the word prevaricate'. I am sure that is not exactly the word you meant to use about what he had to say because the general meaning of the word, as I understand it, is to mislead to the point of telling an untruth. Whilst there are a number of definitions of the word in the dictionary, that is the one that would normally be associated with its use. I suggest that whatever the word should be, the word 'prevaricate' was not the one that ought to be recorded against the honourable member for Shortland.

Mr SPEAKER -I must confess to the honourable member for Wills that none of us is perfect.

Mr Bryant - You speak for yourself.

Mr SPEAKER -I will speak for myself and acknowledge the perfection of the honourable member for Wills.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - During Question Time today amidst the uproar that existed from time to time you, Mr Speaker, required certain honourable members to withdraw words that they had used. You required me to withdraw when I called upon the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to tell the truth. You said that your role is to protect honourable members. What I would like to know is what words I can use when an honourable member makes untruthful statements, as disclosed here today by the personal explanations of the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) and the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris), which all exposed the Prime Minister as to the words that he used.

Mr SPEAKER - The honourable member is arguing.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - What I want to know is what words I can use to indicate the Prime Minister is not telling the truth.

Mr SPEAKER -The first point I should make is that, for honourable members in the House who do not have the call, silence is golden. Therefore the honourable gentleman ought not to interject at all. If he interjects he certainly should not use the term 'tell the truth' because that imputes the motive of telling untruths; and that I will not accept in the House.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - What if the Prime Minister does tell lies?

Mr SPEAKER -If the honourable gentleman disagrees with what the Prime Minister said, he cannot elevate himself to a superior role in which he makes a judgment as to what is the truth. If a statement is made and the honourable gentleman disagrees with it, he will have an opportunity under the Standing Orders to state his disagreement, but he is not in a unique position to make the sole judgment as to whether it is truth.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - Sir, Idid not -

Mr SPEAKER -Therefore the honourable gentleman will remain silent in the future and now.

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