The Browne–Fitzpatrick privilege case, 1955 – Fact sheet 204

On 3 May 1955 Charles Albert Aaron Morgan, member of the House of Representatives for the electorate of Reid, New South Wales, informed Parliament that an article appearing in the Bankstown Observer for 28 April 1955 had impugned his personal honour and challenged his fitness to be a Member of Parliament.

In an article headed 'MHR and Immigration Racket', it was alleged that Morgan, a lawyer before entering Parliament, had engaged in corrupt schemes involving refugee migration from Europe to Australia before World War II. The Bankstown Observer, a free weekly newspaper distributed throughout areas of suburban Sydney that included the Reid electorate, was owned by Raymond Edward Fitzpatrick, a Bankstown businessman and political rival of Morgan. Morgan ended his speech by moving that the newspaper article be referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee of Privileges (the 'Privileges Committee') for investigation. The House approved the motion.

Over the ensuing weeks, the Privileges Committee met on a number of occasions to deal with the matter. Morgan, Fitzpatrick and Frank Courtney Browne (the editor of the Bankstown Observer at the time) appeared before the Committee and were questioned by its members. The Committee report, presented to the House of Representatives on 8 June 1955, concluded that a breach of privilege had occurred and recommended that the House take appropriate action.

The House determined that Browne and Fitzpatrick be required to appear before the Bar of the Chamber on 10 June 1955 to answer the charges brought against them. Having heard statements from both men, the House, on a motion from Prime Minister Robert Menzies, voted that Browne and Fitzpatrick be committed to 90 days in gaol. Subsequent appeals to the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council were unsuccessful and the sentences were served in the Canberra police lock-up (while appeals were pending) and Goulburn Gaol.

Records relating to the Browne–Fitzpatrick case

Records relating to the Browne–Fitzpatrick case held by the National Archives are listed below. In addition to records of the Privileges Committee inquiry (including transcripts of evidence given by Morgan, Fitzpatrick and Browne) released by resolution of the House of Representatives on 7 December 2000, they include records from agencies such as the Prime Minister's Department, the Cabinet Secretariat, the Attorney-General's Department and the Solicitor-General of Australia.

Unless otherwise indicated, all records are held by the Archives in Canberra.

House of Representatives Standing Committee of Privileges (CA 724)

Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemR Fitzpatrick and F Browne – breaches of parliamentary privilege1944–60A463, 1957/158
ItemInvestigation of RE Fitzpatrick's haulage contracts by the War Expenditure Committee1944–56A1209, 1957/4799

Secretary to Cabinet/Cabinet Secretariat (CA 3)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemBrowne–Fitzpatrick – privilege case1955A4940, C1372

Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)

Papers of Sir Kenneth Hamilton Bailey (Solicitor-General) (CP 71)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemBrowne and Fitzpatrick – removal to New South Wales1955M1505, 456
ItemBankstown affair1955M1505, 111
ItemBrowne and Fitzpatrick – habeas corpus1955M1505, 455

Collection references

* Item held in Sydney

 

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