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Thursday, 27 March 1969

The PRESIDENT - I am not involved in any area of conflict, so honourable senators should not be concerned on my behalf, lt is the Clerk's responsibility to check the number of signatures as far as he can. But wilh petitions bearing a large number of signatories it is very difficult to arrive at complete accuracy. 1 remind honourable senators that recently a petition was presented in the House of Commons bearing the signatures of over 1 million people. One can imagine the work involved there. I do not think that Senator Rae is casting reflections on the Clerk. He is in order to continue.

Senator RAE - Thank you, Mr President. I take the opportunity of saying now what I would have said later had I not been interrupted by Senator Kennelly. I wish it to be known that f am not in any way suggesting that the Clerk or any officer of the Senate has not performed his duties in accordance with the Standing Orders. I realise the sheer impossibility of the Senate staff checking the veracity of every signature to a petition. 1 felt, as I said earlier, that someone should look to see what these did contain and to see what weight should be given to them. On checking two pages I found this duplication of almost half the signatures on each page. I found also, as I did this morning, that they contain the names of well known members of the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Communist Party, and even the name of a candidate endorsed by the Labor Party in the Tasmanian Slate election. 1 wonder whether that is typical of the standard of integrity of a section of the people who have espoused that particular cause.

Senator Cohen - 1 rise to order. I suggest that without explicitly naming anybody the honourable senator is clearly referring to every honourable senator who may have espoused a petition - if 'espoused' is the technical term. If that ls so, he is clearly making reflections on honourable senators and is out of order.

The PRESIDENT - Senator Rae has not cast any reflections up to date. I will see how he proceeds.

Senator RAE - Once again let me reassure Senator Cohen by saying that I am not casting aspersions on any honourable senator. I hasten to add that so far as Senator O'Byrne is concerned I do not suggest that his signature appeared on either of the pages, or that the signature of any other honourable senator appeared on either page. I continue to say that if there was, as it seemed on the face of it, a fraud committed on the Senate, I believe some action should be taken to ensure that a fraud is not continuously perpetrated by the abuse of a very important privilege which citizens of this country have to petition this chamber. 1 repeat that I did not say that Senator O'Byrne was anything other than the tool by which the fraud was perpetrated and I make no personal accusations so far as he is concerned. 1 simply draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact-

Senator O'Byrne - I rise to order. I object very strongly to Senator Rae's mentioning my name and then speaking of a fraud being perpetrated by a tool. If ever I have looked at a tool, I am looking at one when I see him. He is a tool in the Senate.

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator O'Byrne, you arc speaking to a point of order. There is no need to be offensive, or to attempt to be offensive.

Senator O'Byrne - Is it offensive? I ask Senator Rae to withdraw the word 'tool*. If it is offensive, I am proving my point.

Senator Cormack - I rise to order.

Senator O'Byrne - I have the floor, Cormack the magnificent. Toss the mane out of your eyes.

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator O'Byrne, I suggest that you are making a doubtful speech, if I may say so.

Senator O'Byrne - I conclude by asking for a withdrawal of the reference to fraud. It is highly objectionable and unparliamentary and 1 ask for it to be withdrawn unreservedly. I insist on it being withdrawn unreservedly.

Senator Cormack - I rise to my feet, I suggest, to protect the integrity of the Senate from Senator O'Byrne. He began by taking a point of order which may on the surface appear to have some validity. He then sought to put his own construction upon it and to demand a withdrawal for an offence that has not taken place. So I ask you. Mr President, not to uphold the point of order.

Senator Cohen - J rise to order. I submit, Mr President, that you should call upon Senator Rae to withdraw the expression that he used. If it were used about me I would regard it as offensive. I suggest that it would be offensive to any honourable senator to say that he. is a tool of a fraud. I suggest to you, Mr President, that it is obviously offensive to use these expressions and that there is no doubt that no matter what Senator O'Byrne has said in response, he has said it under extreme provocation by very nasty language.

The PRESIDENT - As to the statement of Senator Rae, I would have taken exception had I thought he was offending. I do not think he was connecting the statement directly to Senator O'Byrne.

Senator RAE - Notwithstanding the display by Senator O'Byrne a moment ago-

Senator O'Byrne - I rise to order. 1 have asked for a withdrawal of offensive words. Senator Rae said that he wondered whether this was an indication of the standard of integrity of senators. He went on to refer to a fraud on the Senate, and to say that I was the tool of the fraud. 1 want that to be withdrawn. I insist that Senator Rae withdraw that statement and that imputation against me before he proceeds with his speech.

The PRESIDENT - Senator Rae, I think you might explain the situation and then we will arrive at a decision in reply to Senator O'Byrne.

Senator RAE - Mr President, 1 would like to go on to say what 1 was going to say: Notwithstanding what was just said, I would still like to repeat that I did not accuse Senator O'Byrne or any other honourable senator of any association with the fraud. I thought that I had particularised the matter by saying that I thought he was the tool - by which I mean the instrument or vehicle - through which the fraud had come before this Chamber. I was trying to go to some pains to make sure that the opposite impression could not be obtained. 1 quite unequivocally state that 1 do not in any way whatsoever accuse Senator O'Byrne of having been associated with the matter, other than in his position as the Senator who presented the petition which contained the fraud.

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