House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Statements on Indulgence

Expulsion of a Member of Parliament: 100th Anniversary

3:15 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | Hansard source

I appreciate the indulgence of the House. It is very important for the parliament to recognise the 100th anniversary that occurs today, which is 100 years since the House of Representatives took the action it has taken only once in the history of Federation, which was to expel one of its own members. It's been the case for some time under the Parliamentary Privileges Act that that's no longer allowed, but it was an extraordinary event, an event that does not reflect well on the parliament at the time at all. It was an attack on democracy.

Hugh Mahon, the one who was expelled, was the member for Kalgoorlie. A motion was moved on 11 November to expel him from the parliament. He got notification from Billy Hughes that it was going to happen while he was in his electorate on the 10th. So it was impossible for him to make it to the parliament. They started the debate. Effectively, he was too pro-Irish and not pro-English enough for the day. Having been democratically elected, he was expelled from the House of Representatives on a vote along party lines, on the basis of what he was said to have said in documents that were never disclosed but which Billy Hughes claimed to have—documents that he referred to as affidavits that were written by journalists who alleged to have heard what had been said. In noting it now, we should just note how wrong it was.

Similarly, what happened at the end of the debate is that the government of the day moved a gag motion and gagged the debate. For those of us who actually support freedom of speech, it's an important 100th anniversary to acknowledge that part of that means, when the public vote for someone, they should be able to serve their term here. And, when something is being debated, people should be allowed to speak.

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