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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3243

Mr McLEAY (Boothby) - I was very interested in the speech of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner). I thought that it covered the subject extremely well. I should like to take up the same subject because it seems to me that in a comparatively short time the relationships between the Parliament and the Press have taken almost a full circle. It was only in 1771 that the House of Commons prosecuted some poor, humble printer in London because he dared to distribute a document relating to debates that took place in the House of Commons. That happened in 1771, which was really not such a long time ago. It was only in 1845 - just over 100 years ago - .that the Press Gallery was able to establish itself in the House of Commons. To strike a somewhat sour note, I point out that it is now 1973 and we have the situation where the Australian Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) reports on many issues to the Press Gallery rather than to the Parliament. I think this is the point that the honourable member for Bradfield was trying to make. I do not blame members of the Press Gallery. It is the Prime Minister's fault. I think that generally the relationship 'between the media and members of Parliament is not always as bad as it appears to be.

I share the view which was expressed by the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) that many of our problems are similar to those faced by members of the Press Gallery, particularly in regard to the cramped accommodation which we are forced to accept in this building. We all work long hours and we all have deadlines to meet. This applies both to journalists in the Press Gallery and to ourselves. I think those pressures have produced certain features which I believe are undesirable in this Parliament. I refer particularly to the habit of distribution of prepared speeches to the Press Gallery before the speech is read in the Parliament. There are times when this is necessary. I accept that and I realise that this would apply in the case of Ministers. But anybody could have written those speeches. We do not know who writes some speeches. I think, as the honourable member for Bradfield said, that this is one reason why we are losing all the sharpness of debate. It seems to me that it is much better for honourable members to come into this place and make a dreadful speech from notes or off-the-cuff than it is to make a perfect one by reading a speech which may have been prepared by somebody else. I recall that in the dying stages of the previous Parliament a member who is still a member today had a prepared speech that he wished to deliver on the adjournment debate. At midnight, Mr Speaker stood up and apparently because he did not see the honourable member standing left the chamber. The next morning that member's speech appeared in some daily newspapers although it was never made in the Parliament. The honourable member had to make it the following night. That is hardly the purpose of debate. That is one of the bad things that has come out of the system under which we operate in this place today.

I commend to honourable members a recent Inter Parliamentary Union report called, I think, 'Press and Parliament' which dealt with this matter. There are many interesting features mentioned in that report which apply to the situation in Australia. In some countries things are even worse than they are here. As one honourable member mentioned, in Britain journalists receive copies of speeches on the Budget and on the Estimates 24 hours before the Budget is delivered and I do not think there has ever been a single leak. In Canada journalists receive copies of speeches in the same way but all the journalists are locked up. Apparently in that country there is not the same confidence as there is in Britain. In Congo-Brazzaville whatever is dished out by the Government has to be reported that way by the journalists.

Mr Maisey - What would you suggest we should do here?

Mr McLEAY - I suggest that if we could arrange to have some sort of reporting system which would put the views of both sides I would be very happy. We all like to be reported. I take it that all members of Parliament like to be reported and talked about although we do not always like the things that are said about us, but that is part of the game.

There are a few matters about which I would like to complain, in respect of some sections of the media, at any rate, on the odd chance that some of them may be listening. One matter that is high on the list of complaints is what I believe to be a continuing campaign against the Leaders of my Party - the Liberal Party.

Mr Morrison - Oh, come, come!

Mr McLEAY - I do not say it is by all sections of the Press, but it is carried out by a significant portion of the Press. This has been happening for several years. It happened firstly in regard to the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and it also happened in respect of the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) when those gentlemen held the office of Prime Minister. It is happening now - 'and I am complaining about this most bitterly - to the Leader of our Party in Opposition, the honourable member for Bruce (Mr Snedden). I am sure that most honourable members here will remember about 2 years ago when the then Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe, was travelling to a conference in London and because he did not travel the whole of the way with Qantas Airways Ltd - I think he crossed the Pacific with some other airline - a tremendous amount of criticism was levelled against him. The only way he could travel across the Pacific was to use the facilities of some other airline. He travelled with a staff of six with some other company, Pan American Airways or something like that.

Mr Maisey - 'How many went to Japan?

Mr McLEAY - I appreciate the interjection because in the last couple of weeks we saw the Prime Minister of this country charter a Boeing 707 to travel to Japan and China. This is the second occasion on which this has happened. He had an entourage of over 50 people and I believe there was an enormous quantity of champagne and lots of other perks. Yet there was no criticism from the media. I believe that a Prime Minister should travel in some sort of style. But if we are to criticise previous Prime Ministers who travelled in a most humble way then let us criticise the present Prime Minister. The proposed appointment of Mr Mick Young who comes from my own State and who is a very successful operator - no one knows better than we do - may warrant criticism. What would have happened when we were in Government if one of our Prime Ministers had appointed the Federal Leader of the Liberal Party as his personal adviser on the best way to keep in touch with Liberal Party branches?

Mr Maisey - They would have killed us.

Mr McLEAY - There would have been criticism to high heaven. There has not been a word of criticism about this proposed appointment. As the honourable member for Moore says, they would have killed us. But of course none of our leaders has ever done that. I have been dying to say something for years about broadcasting talk-back programs. We have these wretched programs in the State of South Australia. I take it that we face the same problems as do other States. I do not listen to them very often, but whenever I do I do not think an occasion goes by without hearing someone being defamed or libelled by some anonymous person. I think this is a field which radio stations should take some steps to clean up. It is easy for somebody to telephone a radio entrepreneur and defame someone who is in public life. It has happened to me more times than I can remember. A further aggravation is the fact that many of the people who run these talkback programs are ministers of religion. I have yet to hear one of them preach the gospel on radio talk-back programs; it is all politics. I think this is a retrograde step in the media.

It is unfortunate that we have only 10 minutes in which to speak in estimates debates and that time seems to fly. I should like to be somewhat critical of the way in which the media have reported the French nuclear tests. I believe that the media has been highly selective. I think the reason for this is that it takes a great deal of technical knowledge to understand all the aspects of reports on such tests.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.

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