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Thursday, 17 November 1910

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I think I may say, without any reservation, that honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber feel under a debt of gratitude to Senator Millen for having brought forward this motion. At the same time, I should have liked him to outline a scheme under which it would be possible to give effect to his proposal. Indeed, I think we were entitled to expect him to formulate such a scheme. Had he recommended the adoption of the practice which is in vogue in connexion with the French Parliament, we might have devised a workable scheme.

Senator McGregor - Why not publish a daily Hansard?

Senator DE LARGIE - That is one method of overcoming the difficulty.

Senator Millen - The publication of a daily Hansard might be very useful in

Melbourne, but it would not be useful elsewhere.

Senator DE LARGIE - When we remember the enormous area of Australia, I am afraid that the information contained in a daily Hansard would be somewhat stale before it reached the distant States, and particularly before it reached the outlying portions of Western Australia.

Senator Findley - No publication can reach any State quicker than can Hansard.

Senator DE LARGIE - A daily Hansard would be all very well from the standpoint of supplying accurate reports of our proceedings. But the method in which those reports should be conveyed to other States is quite another matter. That our proceedings in this Parliament are very inadequately and poorly reported by the press everybody must admit. The case which I quoted to-day is a sufficient proof of that. I quite recognise that when an honorable senator delivers what, in his opinion, is a. fair speech, he naturally feels some pride in having it reported. But when we find our utterances reported in the manner in. which my speech of yesterday is reported in the Argus to-day - and I make no apology for referring to my own case, because if affords us a shocking illustration of the inadequacy of the press reports of our proceedings - we feel that the public are being misled. What is the position? Yesterday, I made some observations upon a Bill relating to proposed amendments of the Constitution, and, at the conclusion of my address, some of my fellow-members were good enough to compliment me upon it. Throughout, that speech I was as serious as any man could be. At only 'one stage was I prompted to make a flippant rejoinder to an interjection by an honorable, senator. Yet, when I took up the Argus this morning, I found that that flippant rejoinder was the only portion of my speech which had been reported. In these circumstances, one cannot fail to recognise the ridiculous inadequacy of the press reports of our. parliamentary proceedings.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It would have been better if the Argus had not reported even that rejoinder.

Senator DE LARGIE - Undoubtedly. The impression which would then have been given to its readers was that I had said nothing which was important.

Senator O'Keefe - But that report was made with a view of injuring the honorable senator.

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not know that we should be under any obligation to a newspaper to report our proceedings. Thousands of electors vote to send me here, and they naturally wish to know what I say upon various questions. But simply because I represent a particular section of the community, and because the newspapers are party organs, which are published for party purposes-

Senator Fraser - They are published for cash.

Senator DE LARGIE - And for party purposes as well. I grant that they are out for £ s. d., but that they are party organs there is not the slightest doubt. I do not suggest that they should not report our proceedings just as they may think fit. The only way out of the difficulty which I can foresee is the publication by the Labour party - when it becomes sufficiently wealthy - of its own newspapers, which will give the people of Australia accurate reports of our parliamentary proceedings.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator think that we shall ever become sufficiently wealthy?

Senator DE LARGIE - No doubt we shall require to put forth a great effort. But the Labour party has overcome big obstacles in the past, and I believe that the time will come when it will possess sufficient capital to run newspapers of its own.

Senator Vardon - It has the capital now.

Senator DE LARGIE -I wish that it had, because I know of no better investment in which capital may be sunk than a daily newspaper. I have been a member of this Parliament long enough to recognise that there are members of it, who, by paying a certain price, not in hard cash, but in the sacrifice of their personal dignity, can get their speeches reported by the newspapers. But I have always resolutely declined to stoop to anything of that sort, l have never descended to kowtowing to the press. I should have nothing but contempt for myself if I did. But that such tactics are resorted to, is patent to any person who has eyes to see what goes on in this building. Why should a member of the Commonwealth Parliament descend to such tactics to get his speeches reported ? To -my mind, it is one of the most humiliating things connected with our politics to-day. This kow-towing to the press is the most humiliating' feature of our public life.

Senator Fraser - I am not aware of it, and I have been twenty-seven years in politics.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am quite aware of it. I see it every day. Any man who puts two and two together cannot fail to understand what goes on here.

Senator McGregor - Why should Senator Fraser make that remark, seeing that he half owns the press of Melbourne?

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not think that Senator Fraser gets undue favours from the press. But I have no desire to drag into this discussion the names of individuals if I can keep them out of it. Unfortunately, we are sometimes obliged to mention individual cases to illustrate our meaning. There is no denying that the press is a very powerful weapon. But it is not so powerful that a fall cannot be taken out of it, as was evidenced by the results of the recent elections. I do not charge the reporters in the press gallery with responsibility for the reports which' appear in our daily newspapers, because I recognise that they are merely employes who are engaged to do certain work. They receive their orders, and have to obey them. Indeed, the gentleman who was reporting for the Argus 'in the press gallery yesterday is a personal friend of mine,, and yet a more unfair report of my utterances could not have been published. I da not believe that he is to blame for that report. I think that the mutilation wasdone at head-quarters by a man who had no knowledge of what 'had occurred here.It is not the reporters who are responsible for the reports which appear in, the daily press. It is the gentlemen, who are armed with blue pencils,, and who have received their instructions from the newspaper proprietors. It is he who determines the sort of report that shall go into that journal. I say that that is distinctly unfair to the people of Australia, who have every right to learn about the proceedings of this public institution. If they do not get that information they are being robbed of a right to which they are entitled. But we have to ask ourselves : How is it possible to carry out what we desire? The suggestion made by the Committee referred to by Senator Millen is about as good a one as we could put into practice. If we were to supply reports in that way; I have no doubt that in time the press would be compelled to publish them; because, if the public knew where they could get a fair and reasonable report of; the proceedings of Parliament those newspapers that would not publish such a report would soon find themselves without a market. That would bring them to their knees. We know that the press is a very powerful institution indeed. I am reminded of a statement that was made many years ago by a great Scotsman, Fletcher, of Saltoun. He was a Republican and a. believer in Home Rule for Scotland. He lived in the days before the advent of the daily press, but he said, " Let me write the ballads of a people, and. I care not who makes their laws." In other words, if he were permitted to distribute amongst the populace his ideas by means of ballads - which supplied in his day the place of the daily press in ours - he would so influence public opinion that the law-makers would have to obey him. To-day the newspaper writer has taken the place of the ballad writer of old. That is all. The same principle underlies both propositions. I mention this fact to. show that at a time when there was no means of influencing public opinion by the daily press, other methods were adopted. It was the man with the pen who ruled then, just as, to a great extent, the man with the pen rules now - although his rule was not so autocratic then as it is now.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Did not our party fight the press throughout the Commonwealth at the last election?

Senator DE LARGIE - I quite recognise that fact, but I think that we should have fought much. more successfully, and that our passage would have been made much smoother, if we had had the press with us instead of against us.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Age was with us in Victoria.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am pleased to say that, in this State, we had one of the powerful newspapers on our side, and that fact made the course of the Labour representatives during the campaign a great deal smoother. In those States where we had no such journalistic assistance it was " a horse of another colour," as I know from personal experience.

Senator Mcdougall - The press did us a lot of good. They overdid their opposition altogether.'

Senator DE LARGIE - They overdid their abuse, and so did us less harm than they intended. It is clear to my mind that the Senate has a grievance as compared with another place, as far as the reporting of our proceedings is concerned. .Quite apart from the party aspect of the question, die Senate has not received anything like the amount of attention in the press to which it is entitled. Some means ought to be adopted to provide the public with fair reports of the proceedings of the Senate. 1 heartily indorse the motion, and am sorry that Senator Millen did not go further, and take the responsibility of laying down a basis to overcome a difficulty that faces the whole of us.

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