House debates

Monday, 30 November 2020

Private Members' Business

7:19 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) prior to the passage of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 the houses of the Australian Parliament had the power to expel a senator, or member of the House of Representatives;

(b) the expulsion of a member of this House is the most drastic of sanctions;

(c) on 11 November 1920, the Honourable Member for Kalgoorlie, Hugh Mahon, was expelled from this House; and

(d) that the Honourable Member for Kalgoorlie is the only member to have ever been expelled from this House;

(2) acknowledges that the Honourable Member for Kalgoorlie, Hugh Mahon, was expelled:

(a) by a motion brought on hastily and with limited time for debate;

(b) by a vote of the House on party lines; and

(c) without the due process and procedural fairness that such an important issue deserves; and

(3) further recognises that:

(a) it was unjust on the limited evidence for the institution to which Hugh Mahon had been democratically elected to reverse the decision of his constituents;

(b) the expulsion of the Honourable Member for Kalgoorlie, Hugh Mahon, was therefore a misuse of the power then invested in the House; and

(c) for a century the Mahon family has endured this injustice and it is time that the Parliament revisit the matter of the Honourable Member for Kalgoorlie, Hugh Mahon's, expulsion.

I move this motion, recognising the unjust expulsion of a member of this House and a century of injustice endured by his family and descendants.

Hugh Mahon was a founding member of federal parliament, back in 1901. He is the only member ever to have been expelled from federal parliament. He represented the federal seat of Coolgardie, and then Kalgoorlie, for the mighty Australian Labor Party. Hugh Mahon was born in Ireland and came to Australia in 1882, having been a journalist and political activist in his mother country. Hugh Mahon was expelled from this parliament on 11 November 1920, Remembrance Day, the day Ned Kelly was hanged. Although Ned was of Irish descent, he wasn't quite as innocent as Hugh Mahon! Mahon attended an Ireland league meeting in Melbourne on 7 November 1920, where he savagely attacked British policy and the Empire. Two days after that meeting, Prime Minister Billy Hughes read a portion of Mahon's speech in parliament and asked Mahon if it was correct. Hughes had already decided on his course of action in his party room beforehand.

The Hansard reflects that Mahon protested that he had never been disobedient to the rules of the House or shown disrespect to the Speaker of the House. When Prime Minister Hughes asked whether the House could take it that the report of his statement was correct, Mahon responded, 'You are not to take anything of the kind.' A letter was sent to Mahon advising him that a motion was to be moved in parliament calling for his expulsion. Mahon informed the Prime Minister in writing that his speech was not seditious or disloyal and that the reported extracts were incomplete and taken out of context. Hughes wanted Mahon to trample the Shamrock and Mahon would never do that.

Unfortunately, Mahon was unable to be present in the House when the motion was moved due to an accident and, in his absence, the motion that Mahon be expelled from the House, 'having by seditious and disloyal utterances been guilty of conduct unfitting to remain a member of this House,' was moved. Prime Minister Hughes summed up the government's case against Mahon by saying what he has done 'amounts to treason to Australia and makes him unfit to sit here as a member of the Australian parliament'. The motion was passed with only 25 of Mahon's colleagues dissenting. That ended the parliamentary career of Hugh Mahon, a member democratically elected by his constituents. The motion moved to expel Hugh Mahon did not accuse him of treason; it actually accused him of seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting, which amounted to conduct unfitting and inconsistent with the oath of allegiance. Hugh Mahon was never charged with nor tried for treason.

The Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege reviewed Mahon's expulsion back in 1984 and concluded that the government majority in the House of Representatives had demonstrably misused its powers. The Mahon family have lived with this injustice for 100 years. I first spoke about Hugh Mahon's expulsion in 2016 in this House. I asked at the time that the House recognise it was unjust and a misuse of power. Not only has there been no recognition of this injustice but, in 2018, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, once a Republican, publicly referred to Mahon having been 'convicted of treason'. Now two prime ministers have wrongly stated that Hugh Mahon was guilty of treason—Hughes and Turnbull.

Hugh Mahon's living descendants are understandably upset that not only has this injustice not been redressed by parliament by way of a motion but that it has been exacerbated by our 29th Prime Minister. Hugh Mahon's great grandson Andrew Wilson lives in my electorate of Moreton. I met with Andrew last week and he told me how this continuing injustice has impacted on the Mahon family—Hugh's relatives. They are a proud family, the Mahons, and so they should be. Hugh Mahon was a founding member of the Australian parliament, and two of Mahon's three sons volunteered in the First World War, one as a medical officer and a second as a Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion artillery. He was awarded the Military Cross for heroism near Villiers in France in 1918. Hugh Mahon has three grandchildren who are living, one of them now 94 years old.

Hugh Mahon was not disloyal to Australia. He served this nation for 17 years as a member of this House. He was proud of his Irish ancestry, as am I and as are many serving members of this House right now. Hugh Mahon's expulsion was a bare-faced political manoeuvre and injustice writ large. I believe it is important this House recognises, although belatedly, that the expulsion of Hugh Mahon was unjust and a misuse of the power the House possessed at the time of the 8th parliament. I fervently hope that members of the 46th Parliament can recognise this injustice and make amends to correct the legacy of one of this parliament's founding members. The Mahon family deserves this.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

7:24 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion is seconded by the member for Werriwa. There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of date for the next sitting.

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Federation Chamber do now adjourn.

Question agreed to.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:24