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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) . - In giving a general support to the Bill, I regret that I cannot express very much sympathy with those who have, in a very vague manner, passed criticisms on the Bill, because I believe that if it has one fault it is that it is not strong enough to cope with many of the evils in connexion with elections. Senator Millen and his colleagues went to great pains to show that, while we on this side were very anxious to extend the fullest facilities to that portion of the press which advocates our claims, but is directly subsidized by many trade unions, and not attempting to limit its power, either to represent our cause, to misrepresent our opponents, or, may I say, to even go so far as to indulge in personal slander, we were very desirous of restraining that respectable section of the press from which they receive support. I was glad to hear from the Opposition that this is a non-party measure. Whether it is liked or not by honorable senators or' the members of different political organizations, Australia has declared for a Democracy, and it is too late in the day to endeavour to restrict, either directly or indirectly, the power of the people to bring their will to bear on this Parliament.

Senator Walker - How about the defeat of the' referenda proposals?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am quite satisfied. Our policy was submitted to a Democratic vote, and defeated, and I offer no complaint. I fully accept the decision given, at the referendum. ' . . .

Senator Walker - Why do you not retire from office?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am not in office, unfortunately, and, what is more, if I were, I should not feel inclined to resign, because I believe that if the electors had thoroughly understood the questions referred to them, they would have carried them. Despite the comments from the other side, I have never quibbled at the decision of the people, which I fully accepted at that stage. At the same time, I believe, I might almost say that I pray, that the day is not far distant when they will recognise their mistake, and, under an improved electoral law, give a decision which will shock the Opposition. Senator Millen went to great pains to point out that we on this side were supported by a party press. I plead guilty. I admit that, generally, on the face of every journal which is supported by the Labour party, there appears, in bold letters, these words, " The official organ of the Labour party," so that when Senator Millen or Senator Walker reads the Worker or the Labour Call he is not deceived, but knows that he is reading a party organ. If it slanders a member of the Opposition, it has to take the responsibility of its action in a Law Court. Whilst honorable senators on the other side claim that we are granting a special exemption to Labour newspapers, they seem to think that the daily press should be exempted. We ought to protect the daily press because, in my opinion, they are not free agents in the face of the political pressure which is brought to bear. Not only that, but from time to time, the daily press, particularly the Melbourne Argus has been guilty of slandering members of Parliament, misrepresenting actions in Parliament and the finances of this country, and trying to the best of its skilled ability, which is of a very high standard, to misrepresent the issues before the people, and to misrepresent methods of voting with the deliberate object of deceiving its readers as to how they should vote. It is nothing new that to-day we should have to deal with the daily press, particularly with newspapers like the Melbourne Argus, because, throughout the history of Australia, particularly of Victoria, the newspapers have tried to dominate political parties and political associations, to declare who should be returned to Parliament, and who should be in a Ministry, and, last but not least, to dominate the thoughts and very actions of members of Parliament.

I have been interested in looking up the record of this respectable journal - which is only one of a type, and which it is claimed should have the unrestricted right of slandering politicians, not only in connexion with public issues, but also in connexion with their private affairs. Let us have a look at the history of this newspaper in respect of its treatment of public men. The late Sir Bryan O'Loghlen was at one time Premier of Victoria. On the 21st February, 1879, the following notice to the citizens of Victoria appeared in the Government Gazette - not in a Labour journal -

In consequence of the fabrication by, and the publication in, the Argus journal of false news, purporting to be genuine and authoritative, concerning the proceedings and discussions of the Cabinet, being continuously persevered in for several weeks last past, the public are hereby cautioned against giving any credence to either those statements, or any similar kind of news, for the future in that journal. The Argus journal has been refused any official information of the kind by the Acting-Chief Secretary, who feels justified in taking this course, as that journal has for several months unpatriotically attempted to depreciate the financial credit of Victoria.

The Government of the State, therefore, through the means of the Government Gazette, had to warn the public against malicious and lying statements published by the Argus to the injury not only of members of the then Administration, but of the finances of the State in which the newspaper circulates. Since then the Argus has developed a much more scientific system of misrepresenting members of Parliament who are opposed to it. The present Leader of the. Opposition party, Mr. Deakin, is reported in the Victorian Hansard, 23rd July, 1895, to have spoken of the Argus in the following terms -

It was a column of slander and scandal directed against the Assembly.

His was the only name mentioned in this column of slander, scandal, and insinuation, and as he supposed his experience to be no different from that of his brother members, he felt called on to state that, so far as he knew, every other assertion in the article was untrue.

Surely some members of the Opposition will cheer that statement of their leader concerning this highly respectable organ of the press.

Senator Walker - He only became our leader last year.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I wonder whether he has changed his opinion of the Argus. Perhaps he has. Perhaps that is the reason why he now enjoys the slobber of that newspaper.

Senator Walker - I have not changed my opinions; I do not know whether he has.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - As Senator Walker has favoured us with a confession, may I ask him whether he can tell us in confidence whether his worthy leader has changed his views?

Senator Walker - The honorable senator can ask Mr. Deakin himself.

Senator Findley - He never had any opinions to change.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - We will give him the advantage of supposing that at one time he held political opinions of his own.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator followed Mr. Deakin at one time.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Unfortunately we could not help it. But I never followed the tail of the Deakin Government without protesting against the humiliation.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator was always a restless follower.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Certainly ; but the alternative, if the Deakin Government had been thrown out of office at that time, was a Government representing the honorable senator and his party. I will give another instance. The Honorable John Murray, now Premier of Victoria - who is, by the way, at present supported both by the Argus and the Age - at one time spoke strongly in the Victorian Legislative Assembly concerning an attack made by the Argus upon the late Mr. Albert Harris, then a member of the Victorian Parliament. Senator McColl was in the State Parliament at the time. A charge having been made against Mr. Harris by the A,gus, a motion was submitted by Mr. Murray in the following terms -

That, in the opinion of this House, the charges made against Mr. Albert Harris, a member of this House, in the issue of the Argus of the nth inst, are wanton and profligate untruths.

Not one of the ninety-five members of the Victorian Legislative Assembly voted against that motion. Senator McColl did not raise his voice against it. He therefore supported the condemnation of the newspaper to which he is now attached. It may be his turn some other time unless he is willing to be the newspaper's obedient slave in this Parliament, and its humble instrument outside. Senator McColl voted distinctly on this occasion to say that the Argus in its attack upon a fellow-member had been guilty of wanton and profligate untruths. It would be interesting to knowwhy he accepts the support of such a clean, moral, political journal to-day. Mr. Justice Higgins, now of the High Court Bench, in the course of the debate on Mr. Murray's motion, said -

What stronger case of lying could there be than this?

Senator Walker - He was not '' Mr. Justice " Higgins then.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Certainly not, but I do not know that he has changed his opinion of the Argus. On the same occasion Mr. Trenwith said -

It is a notorious fact that the average Argus writer does not write his own opinions, but has. to write what he is paid to write, so that he. may be fairly described as a literary prostitute.

That is the true position. Here we have the Leader of the Fusion, the Leader ot the anti-Socialist party in the State of Victoria, Mr. Justice Higgins, and Mr. Trenwith, all denouncing this newspaper, and their denunciation was backed up by the vote, if not by the voice, of Senator McColl. Let me come to a more recent date. The Fusion party elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives, a man very well known in this country. I refer to Dr. Carty Salmon. Let me quote what Dr. Salmon said about this same newspaper in the House of Representatives on 30th November, 1905 -

In case my silence may be taken as consent I desire by way of personal explanation, to say that at the proper time, and at the proper place, I shall deal with the statements contained in the leading article published in this morning's Argus. In an article which extends over nineteen inches, there are sixteen lies, five misleading statements, some half-truths - which an eminent authority has declared to be worse than actual lies, - one illogical conclusion, and one grammatical error. In this analysis, which has been somewhat hurriedly made, I have not taken into account the usual headline, which precedes the leading article, " I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth," &c.

Senator Millen - How many centuries ago was that?

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