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Thursday, 17 November 1910

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . -It is novel and refreshing to listen to a debate of this kind, in which every speaker is practically on the same side. It is not. my intention to utter any particularly discordant note, but I take the opportunity to absolutely deny the accuracy of a statement made by Senator Chataway "as " to the alleged failure of the Labour press and the reason for it. There was a double inaccuracy in his statement.' In the first place, the Labour press has not failed. It is growing in influence, and numbers every day, and, in the second place, its present position, as compared with what it might, and soon will be, is not due to the fact that the Government have subsidized a cable association. No appeal was made on behalf of any Labour newspaper for anything of the kind, nor was the proposal made in the interests of any Labour newspaper. Senator Chataway must have known that he was making an unfair and partisan statement.

Senator Chataway - It was in reply to the honorable senator's interjection.

Senator RAE - Still, it was unfair. Every honorable senator who has spoken in this debate from either side has had to admit that the reason why we do not get anything like fairly full, accurate, and unbiased reports of the doings of this Parliament presented to the public, is that the newspapers are purely commercial concerns run for profit-making, and that we cannot expect them to do more or less than they do at present, owing to the necessity for dividends. This is one more proof of the way in which the public are beginning to recognise the utter inefficiency of private enterprise to manage any of our public concerns, if they are to be managed well. It is an admission of the inevitable growth of Socialistic thought which, in spite of the opposition of our friends opposite, is swaying the world to-day, and which they have to recognise, and even help forward.

Senator Findley - It is an admission that the only way in which we can hope to get fair reports is by making use of a Commonwealth subsidized publication.

Senator RAE - Just so. It is a confession that, by some such method as Senator Millen has outlined, we must nationalize even our news-distributing agency, and must adopt a Socialistic and nationalized system of news distribution if the public are to be accurately informed of the doings of Parliament. I welcome this admission by our opponents who, in spite of themselves, are being gradually educated in this matter. Let me say that the growth of the National and Federal idea which, in the face of Conservative opposition, is causing more and more of the public matters concerning the Australian people to be handed over to the care of this Parliament, makes the necessity for such a publication, as has been suggested by Senator Millen, more evident. This Parliament is undertaking new duties, and is being invested with ever-increasing powers, and as its legislation in an increasing degree affects the great bulk of the people, so it becomes increasingly necessary that the people shall be supplied with an efficient medium by which to obtain information as to its doings. I trust that when in another session this matter is revived, it will take some practical shape.

Whilst I do not profess to have had such a prolonged journalistic experience as Senators Findley and Chataway, I have, in a humble way, had some connexion with the press. During three or four sessions of the New South Wales Parliament I was engaged in this very work of endeavouring to give not a full, but a fair summary of the doings of that Parliament. I was writing parliamentary notes. I found that, owing I suppose to my eminently judicial temperament, I was able to satisfy the readers of the paper for which I was writing. There was always present the difficulty to which Senator Findley has referred. The sub-editor of the newspaper sometimes found that other matters pressed upon the space available for political doings. He was not a politician, and if he required' space he did not consider the merits of the speakers whom I had reported. He cut down my reports to meet the space available in the way which he found most convenient, and very often the last speakers reported, though they may have made the most important speeches, had to suffer.

Senator Chataway - Even Hansard gives condensed reports of speeches made during an all-night sitting.

Senator RAE - Perhaps that is pardonable.

Senator Chataway - It is justifiable;I do not know whether it is pardonable.

Senator McGregor - But honorable senators have an opportunity to correct the Hansard reports. They cannot correct the press reports.

Senator RAE - That is true. I think that Senator Chataway has, to some extent, misrepresented the statements incidentally made as to the unfairness of the press reports. I do not think that honorable senators, in making such remarks, were referring to the gentlemen who take notes of our proceedings for the press. It is the proprietors and editors of the newspapers who are responsible. I know that I have often said things which the press reporter has thought worthy of recording, but, while they found a place in his notes, they did not appear in the newspaper he represented.

Senator Chataway - The newspapers can only afford a certain amount of space for parliamentary proceedings.

Senator RAE - Yes; but that space is not at all times fairly allotted. I can understand that Senator Chataway, with his purely English ideas, would, if he were a member of the Imperial Parliament, be highly satisfied with the notification in an important newspaper, " Mr. Chataway also spoke." But we cannot forget that in the Imperial Parliament a favoured section has practically a monopoly of the sayings and doings, and the great majority of members are only dummy voters behind the party leaders in that institution, in which the caucus system is carried to its logical conclusion. We can readily understand that in a multitude of 670 members it may be a distinction for some honorable member to be noticed at all. Still, I think we may very reasonably complain of the short shrift which members of both State and Commonwealth Parliaments are given in the press reports. I am not here to complain on that account by any means. I have a great deal more reason to complain sometimes of what is put in than of what is left out. Senator Long has recently had an experience, which has been referred to, of the publication of the injudicious things which an honorable senator says, and which he might wish the newspapers would not report.

Senator Chataway - They usually record the injudicious tilings said.

Senator RAE - I think we are sometimes apt to forget that it is difficult to convey a joke very well in cold type. I remember an instance of this in which I was myself concerned. On the strength of a jocular utterance of mine in the State Parliament of New South Wales, I was denounced as a being capable of coldblooded murder. I was referring to a public official who had committed some grave fault, and when some one remarked that he should be pensioned off, I jocularly said, " Pensioned off, be hanged ! He should be pole-axed." For that I was denounced in the press as a man who advocated murder in the 'first degree.

Senator Sayers - Did they know the honorable senator?

Senator RAE - They did.

Senator Chataway - That makes it worse.

Senator RAE - They knew that I was quite incapable of any such thing, but for purely party purposes they chose to put such a complexion upon what I said jocularly.

Senator Chataway - Is the honorable senator the man who said that no nonunionist should have Christian burial?

Senator RAE - No, I never said anything of the kind ; but if any one said that about me it would not trouble me in the least. After I am dead, I do not care how I am buried, whether with Christian burial or in any other way. I think it should be quite possible to arrange something on the lines suggested by Senator Millen, and in his references to the report of the Select Committee appointed by the Imperial Parliament. He mentioned the fact that a summary is issued by the French Parliament, and that it is very rare indeed that members afterwards complain of any inaccuracy or misrepresentation. From what we have heard and read of their character, the French are a highly excitable race, and we know that in the French Chamber of Deputies, and also in their Senate, stormy scenes frequently occur. The French Parliament must have discovered a useful method, or have obtained the services of verycompetent journalists, when they are able to issue a summarized report to which so little exception is taken. I think, therefore, that there are no great or insuperable difficulties in the way of arriving at a solution of the problem. I trust that, on the re-assembling of Parliament, Senator Millen will take the earliest opportunity to submit a motion in whatever direction he may think most advisable. It is rather a pity that this matter has not been considered and determined long ago. During the next few months, there will have to be laid before the electors of Australia subjects in which the deepest and most widespread interest ought to be taken. It would have been a great advantage, indeed, if we had had a publication in which we could have distributed, in a readable form, the various expressions of opinion which have been uttered in the other Chamber, and, to some extent, here, on the merits and demerits of the proposals. As such things may, in the growing national life of Australia, be more frequent in the future, and as no State other than that in which the Seat of Government is temporarily situated can get first-hand information, I trust that a scheme will be devised which, taking advantage of the latest achievements of science, will enable summarized reports, if that plan be ultimately adopted, to be issued simultaneously in the State capitals, so as to be distributable more readily to its outlying parts, such reports giving that full and fair information which it is necessary the public should have if representative government is to move fully in accord with the advanced democratic ideals of these times. There was a time, as Senator

Chataway has mentioned, when reports of parliamentary debates were considered too sacred to be lightly published abroad. Later, a man immortalized his name by first publishing in anything like proper form parliamentary debates. His name was Hansard. Senator Millen may immortalize his name if, next session he is able to devise a method of simplifying and popularizing the reports of our parliamentary proceedings. I feel sure that no attempt to increase the distribution of Hansard will, of itself, be effective. I suppose that every senator's experience is more or less similar to mine. Although he- may be interested very much in certain phases of the discussions which take place here, when he was not present, or in the other House, he has to wade through such a vast mass of* irrelevant matter in order to get at the kernel, that he is made to realize that a summarized report is the only form in which the general reader will ever be prepared to take his politics. In the stress and hurry of life, it is absolutely impossible, and certainly most distasteful, for any man, in order to obtain a clear grip of politics, to, as it were, sift out a vast mass of chaff so as to get at a few grains of wheat which he may desire to assimilate. Knowing that the feeling generally is in favour of the motion, I beg to add my expression of cordial approval, and trust that it will be given practical effect to in the next session.

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