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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Senator Lt Col GOULD (New South Wales) - The remarks I have to make on the proposed new clause 206c will be equally applicable to the amendment proposed by Senator Pearce. I think that members of Parliament are becoming altogether too sensitive to attacks upon candidates for parliamentary honours. Under the existing law there is provision for the protection of any person against whom any false or defamatory statement is made. The ordinary process of law that is open to every individual in the community is equally open to candidates for Parliament, and I am unable to understand why they should be shielded by a special law.

Senator McGregor - Because slanders may be uttered against them at a time when they cannot answer them.

Senator de Largie - And at a time when they are calculated to do much injury.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is perfectly true. But candidates should be open to criticism and, in my opinion, it is better that they should rely upon the existing law than that we should pass a special provision for their protection. If we provide aready and simple means by which persons who make unjustifiable statements can be haled before a Court, I am afraid that we shall, to a great extent, destroy criticism which might be very useful.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - As a matter of fact, newspapers are immune now in making statements about candidates, or they would not lieso cheerfully as they do.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Senator Pearce's amendment would carry the matter still further than the clause because he provides that any person, whether a newspaper proprietor or not, who publishes matter calculated to unfairly prejudice the electors against a candidate, shall be liable under the clause.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - That means "knowingly " publishes.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - I admit that, but the difficulty is to determine when this is unfairly done. It does not necessarily deal with any reference to a man's personal conduct. The statement might be made that a certain candidate, whilst a member of Parliament, constantly absented himself from the House, and refrained from voting, and was, therefore, not a fit man to be returned ; whilst it might be that he had absented himself in consequence of illness or other sufficient cause. Why should a man who has made a statement of that kind about a candidate be liable to be haled before a. Court and fined £5? If I object to criticism on such occasions, I have my redress under the existing law. I think that some honorable senators are becoming too tender about criticism. I have suffered as well as other persons from unfair and unjust criticism, but I do not ask to be specially protected against it.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - There is no reason why the honorable senator should lie down under it. He should take his flogging standing.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I need not lie down under it, but it does not follow that if a man says a word about me, I should be able to hale him before a Police Court straight away. Candidates standing for Parliament do so with a knowledge that they will be subject to all sorts of aspersions and imputations, but they are also aware that the public shrewdly estimate their value.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator's voice may reach 100 persons, whilst the newspaper reaches 100,000.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is perfectly true, but I think we must be prepared for this kind of thing when we enter public life. Members of Parliament in the course of their speeches often make all sorts of aspersions upon people outside, and call in question their character and conduct, whilst those persons have no redress. This is allowed, because if is considered necessary that the utmost liberty of speech should be permitted to Members of Parliament, and that they should not be afraid to make their views known on all public questions. I believe that the electors may be seriously hampered in their choice if they are not given the fullest opportunity of knowing what a candidate's career and character is. I do not justify misstatements, but' I say that it is inevitable, if a healthy battle is to be fought in the open, that candidates must submit themselves to free criticism. I am content in the circumstances to rest satisfied with the protection of the law as it stands, arid not to ask Parliament tor some special means to protect my character and reputation.

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