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Friday, 20 October 1905

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) - 1 should be sorry to miss the opportunity of discussing the desirability or otherwise of recommitting the Bill for the purpose of reconsidering clause 34." "Unless very much stronger reasons to the contrary can be adduced than have been given in this instance, it is quite proper to consider the question of rectifying a mistake. It has been argued that because certain honorable senators were absent it is unfair to the remainder to ask for a reconsideration of the clause. That is equivalent to asserting that the public exist for our benefit and convenience, and that it is not our duty to be here to safeguard their interests.

It is turning the whole thing topsy-turvy. If for any reason the clause is not satisfactory, it is worse than absurd for any one to say that because certain honorable senators were absent on a previous occasion we ought not to ask the remainder to consider how the public may be affected by it. A question of reconsideration should be decided solely on the merits of the case. I admit that, occasionally, where a vote has been taken in a small Committee, and it is obvious that the result would not have been different if there had been an ordinary attendance, that fact should carry some weight. That is not the present position. However, I do not suppose it will be of the slightest use to dwell long upon that aspect of the case. I do not believe that any honorable senator will alter his .vote because he considers that the public are going to be inconvenienced or otherwise. I am afraid that honorable senators opposite want their own way absolutely.

Senator Story - This provision is inserted for the convenience of the public.

Senator CLEMONS - Let me point out to the honorable senator what the provision means, or, at any rate, how it will affect certain States. In Tasmania there are many newspapers, representing various shades of political opinion ; but there is no newspaper which does not participate in the benefits of the press association. The smaller newspapers - and I am sure it will not hurt Senator Story's feelings if I say that the Labour paper there may properly be classed with them - are charged a much lower rate for cable information than are the larger newspapers.

Senator Story - Would it be possible for another large newspaper to get into the association?

Senator CLEMONS - I am here to state facts, and not to answer questions. The Examiner and the Daily Telegraph, in Launceston, and the Mercury, in Hobart, have to pay more for identically the same cable information than the smaller newspapers. In these circumstances, Senator Story will admit that in Tasmania the grievance is wholly imaginary.

Senator Story - No.

Senator CLEMONS - Then I shall not waste any more time in attempting to persuade the honorable senator that it is. He is forced to admit that, so far as that State is concerned, what lie wants is that the smaller papers shall get the cable news not at lower rates than the larger newspapers, but at still lower rates than they are now charged.

Senator Story - The position is that it is impossible for any new daily newspaper to start without paying a very high price for its cable news.

Senator CLEMONS - That is not the position in Tasmania, where smaller newspapers have been started, and have been in a position to get this information at a lower rate than is paid by the larger newspapers. I do not believe, either, that there is any impediment to starting larger ones.

Senator Story - Tasmania is not all " Australia.

Senator CLEMONS - No, and Senator Story is not competent to speak for all Australia. I say, without fear of contradiction, that a great deal of this alleged grievance is unreal.

Senator Guthrie - Are the Tasmanian newspapers satisfied with the present service?

Senator CLEMONS - They are perfectly satisfied with the existing arrangements for getting cablegraphic news. I am firmly convinced that not one of the smaller newspapers has any grievance. The grievance is simply* on the part of those who want to get their news for nothing. It must be recognised also that if this clause becomes law, a demand will be made by certain newspapers for the cabled news at times of excitement - in times of war, for instance - and they will discontinue using it when times are dull.

Senator Story - Has that occurred in Tasmania ?

Senator CLEMONS - It will occur everywhere. When there is a demand for cable news, in consequence of stirring events occurring in other parts of the world, there will be a demand upon the Minister to exercise the power that this clause gives, but I am confident that the moment the war, or other important event, no longer excites attention the demand will drop off.

Senator Story - That is only supposition.

Senator CLEMONS - It is a supposition that is based on the experience of the past, as Senator Story must know. There is no fairness in the proposal, and for that reason. There is no guarantee that there will be the same demand for news in dull times as in times of excitement. That is one of the most damaging arguments against the clause. I have been informed, only within the last ten minutes, by a newspaper in Launceston - and I had not the faintest idea that the information was coming to me - that what I have stated is the case. Some of the facts were known to me previously. It is pointed out that the clause will give the Minister enormous power such as cannot be exercised in any other sphere within the Commonwealth.

Senator Pearce - Is the newspaper referred to the Clipper?

Senator CLEMONS - No, it is the Launceston Examiner.Senator Pearce would be none the worse for reading that newspaper sometimes. In no other direction have such powers as these been conferred upon a Minister. If it were proposed to give him such power in other directions, the members of the Labour Party would be the first to protest. I have heard them protest in the most vigorous manner against power being conferred upon a Minister to interfere with persons in the exercise of their rights. But honorable senators opposite are quite prepared to confer any power upon a Minister when they think it will suit their own interest. I hope that the Government will recognise that the Senate ought to have an opportunity to reconsider a subject which is of such great importance. There is nothing abnormal about the demand.

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