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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) ., - With some honorable senators who have already spoken, I was inclined to doubt the wisdom of Senator Chataway, at this juncture, moving such a motion, and drawing attention to the circumstances which have been referred to; but I think that events have justified the honorable senator, and notably the double-barrelled declaration from the Minister of Defence - firstly, that, so far as the Government are concerned, ' they are prepared to take prompt and effective action in the event of these inducements resulting in an actual breach of the provisions of the Defence Act on the part of cadets ; and, secondly, that the Minister intends to confer with his colleague, the ' Postmaster-General, with a view to either preventing altogether or regulating the passage through the post of newspapers containing incitements of this character. I infer from the latter declaration that, either the gravity of the particular article which was read by Senator Chataway in submitting his motion has commended itself to the Minister's serious consideration, or that, prior to this motion being submitted, ' the honorable senator was cognisant of the publication of that or similar articles throughout the Commonwealth. In either case, his statement in the Senate to-day will amount to a warning to all who are,' or have been, instrumental in circulating amongst the reading public such literature' as that to which we have been treated today, that for the future they will have to be careful, not of their criticism, I would remind Senator Rae, of the policy of the Defence Act, but of the advice they give to the public to disobey that Act, if they wish to preserve the privileges the Commonwealth Government give for , the transmission of their publications through the post. They will also have to look very carefully to their utterances in that regard if they wish to evade the consequences of the obligations which would be cast upon the Government to take action against them as inciting to breaches of a most important public duty imposed by the Defence Act. Some criticism was offered on the ground that Senator Chataway based his motion upon a statement which appeared in a newspaper published at Macleay. I venture to say that it matters not how obscure may be the centre from which a newspaper is issued-

Senator Gardiner - Mackay is not an -obscure centre.

Senator KEATING - I am not saying that it is, but that no matter how obscure may be the centre from which advice of that kind comes, through the medium of a newspaper, its obscurity should not be an excuse for its publication. If obscurity of origin is to be regarded as an excuse in one case, why not in all? To adopt such a theory would be to let a trickle grow into a stream, and the stream grow into a flood which later on could not be dammed. . If I understand the argument of some honorable senators correctly, it is then and then only that we should proceed to take action, but it would then be too late to take action. The Government should deal with a matter of this kind at its inception, in the way indicated by the Minister of Defence. That is why I think Senator Chataway was justified in directing attention to the question. Let us suppose, for instance, that some newspaper, published from any centre of the Commonwealth, large or small, were _ to incite traders to. evade the obligations imposed upon them by the Customs Tariff Act in importing goods, would it be any excuse to say that that incitement was- given only through the medium of a newspaper with a small circulation published in a remote or obscure centre of the Commonwealth? If, again, a newspaper were to preach the doctrine that traders should flagrantly disregard the provisions of the Commerce Act, and pass off adulterated goods upon the people, would it be any excuse to- point to the obscurity of the source of such a doctrine? I think not. Every member of this: Legislature would be justified in taking action, no matter from what political, party side, if it could be said to be from a political party side, such doctrines were preached. If the debate, has no. other effect than that all concerned in the publication of newspapers, leaflets, or other means .of distributing information, criticism, or advice, are brought to realize that the Defence Act is the established policy of this country, and that while they may criticise it as much as they please, and in season and out of season may urge the electors to repeal or modify that policy, if they go beyond that, and preach that the provisions of the Act must be violated, and that objection to it must be exemplified by sedition and mutiny, they bring themselves within the pale of the law, the motion will have been amply justified. With regard to the Minister's expressed intention to consult his colleague the Postmaster-General, 1 should like to say that, after a hurried reference to the Post and Telegraph Act, I do not see that there is any provision in that Act that would enable the Postmaster-General to take summary action in such a case as this. There is provision in the Act to enable him to prevent the transmission through the post of blasphemous, obscene, or indecent matter. He has also the power, which has been freely exercised, and very often mischievously exercised perhaps, to prohibit the transmission of postal matter in relation to consultations; also postal matter in connexion with bookmakers, where, I believe, it has never been exercised.; and in relation to others who live upon racing, where also, I believe, it has never been exercised. But so far as seditious matter is concerned, from a hurried glance at the Act I have been unable to discover any provision dealing with it. Senator Chataway has expressed a wish which I echo, that, if this be so, before the session closes the Government will see fit to introduce a short amending Bill to remedy that defect. Such a measure would, I believe, receive the unanimous approval of the Senate.

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