Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3291


Mr SINCLAIR(5.42) —The standard of a government depends on the quality and the calibre of the people in it. There is no doubt that the standard of this Government is reflected in the findings of His Honour, Mr Justice Hope, the Royal Commissioner commissioned by this Government to look into Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies. He has damned this Government, damned its Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and damned the man who, at the moment, is the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) and who, we are told, is an imminent candidate for his own vacancy within Cabinet. We need to look at the character and quality of the Prime Minister's statement as well as the nature of the Royal Commissioner's findings.

The Prime Minister has come into the House and attempted to seek some solace in those parts of the Royal Commissioner's report which endorse his Government's actions. We certainly need to go back to the genesis of the report. The genesis was that in the newspapers on a Sunday a comment was made by Mr Laurie Oakes about the associations of a former senior officer of the Australian Labor Party which was being, in some way, dissociated from the members of the Government. Honourable members will recall that on the Monday morning Mr Paul Kelly in the Sydney Morning Herald again nominated a senior official of the Australian Labor Party as being in a position of being specifically dissociated by the members of the Government from any future dealings with him. They say he did not name him. He did not name him, but let us take a look at it. Anyone around this place knew who that man was; everybody around the Gallery knew who that man was and everybody within the Labor Party knew who that man was. This report is addressed to the core of that matter. But this report reflects the fact that the Prime Minister selectively advised two lobbyists as to who that man was. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford) and the then Special Minister of State nominated who that man was. How is it that Mr Michael McHugh, Queen's Counsel, in evidence given to the Royal Commissioner, justified the advice given by the Minister for Housing and Construction to Mr Farmer on 2 May about denying access to Mr Combe on the basis that it was no longer confidential? How is it that somehow between 2 May when information was not confidential according to Mr Michael McHugh in the hands of the Minister for Housing and Construction it suddenly became confidential when it was the subject of a question by me on 10 May, eight days later in this House? Let us have a look at the question I asked and at the genesis of the whole matter. I asked:

Has the Prime Minister instructed the members of his Government to dissociate themselves from the former Secretary to the Federal Australian Labor Party, Mr David Combe? If so, why?

If there is a fault in that question, it was not in the form of the question but in the manner of the response. The manner of response ensured that everybody, for the first time, identified the fact that an allegation was being made about Mr David Combe's involvement in matters that were, in some way, associated with national security. We have now elevated the whole of the involvement of this Government from being one where it was able to go and talk to its cronies, to use the phrase of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), or to talk to its particular friends and associates, to use the phrase of the Prime Minister, to one where, instead of it just being a matter of polite discussion, it was a matter of those cronies being in a position to be told that there was a person with whom they should not associate and that it was quite proper for that discussion to take place, but it was totally improper for the Federal Parliament to be told anything about it. Let us then look at the findings and see where the Prime Minister comes down. On the opening page of this statement he pretends to whitewash the whole of the allegation. He states:

The findings . . . are extensive, balanced and detailed. They amount to a complete endorsement of the actions my Government has taken . . .

A complete endorsement. I ask: How can a complete endorsement constitute that which appears in chapter 7 of the report by the Royal Commissioner? I think it is essential that we all realise something of the origins of the charges that led the Prime Minister, at the very beginning of the whole affair, to write to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and ask for his opinion as to whether the then Special Minister of State may have involved the Commission of an offence under the Crimes Act 1914. As we all know, this forum is no place to argue a point of law. I think everyone in this House needs to understand two things: First, that the Attorney-General responded to that request from the Prime Minister. He said that it may be that, on Mr Young's evidence, an offence may not have been committed. He then stated:

If, on the other hand, Mr Walsh's account were to prevail-

I use the exact words-

the question of the application of s. 79 (3) would be, in my view, much more finely balanved.

Let us look at the letter. Again, I do not want to go into the basis of it but I do think it is worth quoting what Senator Evans said. He stated:

This gives further weight-

He is talking about the degree to which some charge should be made against the Special Minister of State, the then Special Minister of State, the present member for Port Adelaide, as to whether or not he breached the Crimes Act. Let us make no mistake about it; this is a matter of national security. There could be nothing more serious in the responsibilities of government. The Attorney- General responded and said:

This gives futher weight-

having looked at the question of whether or not a charge should be laid-

to the argument that the traditional political sanctions are the appropriate ones for all but the most extraordinary and dangerous ministerial breaches of official secrecy.

Taking all these considerations into account (and also bearing in mind, in turn , their likely impact on a jury . . .), I have concluded that the case is not one in which criminal proceedings would be appropriate in the public interest.

He is saying that these offences are political offences. We then come to the conclusions of Mr Justice Hope. We need to remember that Mr Justice Hope has acknowledged that his own case and his own consideration of a breach of the Crimes Act was inhibited. In paragraph 7.31 on page 193 of the report-because of the nature of this forum it is hard to cover the matters in detail-Mr Justice Hope says that he agrees with the submission by the Attorney-General that in respect of the honourable member for Port Adelaide's possible breach of the Crimes Act the Attorney-General's consent must be obtained for any prosecution under section 79 of that Act. The Royal Commissioner must take account of the Attorney-General's opinion. He states:

During the course of the hearings . . . both the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General gave opinions to the Government on whether the evidence established that Mr Young had committed any offence under the section. The effect of the opinions was that Mr Young's liability would depend on what facts were established . . . since Mr Young is not required to defend himself in criminal proceedings against a charge that he committed an offence under the section, I should not express any view as to whether or not he has committed such an offence. I agree with this submission.

I put that to this chamber. The Royal Commissioner is saying that he has not specifically considered whether a criminal change should lie. The Attorney- General has said that one might lie and on one interpretation of the facts it should. Let us look at the circumstances which the Royal Commissioner has set down on pages 194 and 195, to which my colleague the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) has already referred and which establish point by point -there are four of them-that each of the offences committed by the honourable member for Port Adelaide was in transgression of section 79 (3) of the Crimes Act. It is that man who we are told today will be exonerated, yet the Royal Commissioner has found him guilty of improperly and without authorisation leaking information of the highest and most confidential committee of the Cabinet. This committee's advice goes right to the core of the business of government. The Royal Commissioner has said point by point that this man has breached the Crimes Act. The man has breached the Crimes Act and the Attorney- General has said that the political penalty, not the criminal law, should be applied.

Let us turn to the statement of the Prime Minister. What does he say? He says: 'Poor old Mick; he has been a member of the Labor Party for 30 years. Poor old Mick; he has been a mate'. Gosh, if I had mates like that I would hate to have enemies. That is what this debate is all about. Do honourable members remember what happened? The Prime Minister said in this House that poor old Mick was a man of propriety. Why did he say that? Did he do so because he had asked the then Special Minister of State into his study and said: 'Mick, what is this business all about? Tell me, whom did you advise about the proceedings of our National Security and Intelligence Committee?'


Mr Howard —It just slipped out in a shearing shed.


Mr SINCLAIR —It just slipped out, as my honourable friend said.


Mr Howard —Slipped out in the shearing shed.


Mr SINCLAIR —Yes, that is probably where it happened. There would have been a bit more blood on the floor. The point is that the Prime Minister did not question the then Special Minister of State sufficiently or, if he did, the then Special Minister of State misled the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said in this House that the then Special Minister of State was a man of propriety. Either the Prime Minister did not sufficiently diligently pursue his inquiries about this affair with Mr Young or, the Prime Minister having adequately pursued those inquiries, Mr Young deliberately misled him. In either event, Mr Young certainly did not inform the Prime Minister of these transgressions before the Prime Minister told the House that the honourable member was a man of propriety and that none of these things had happened. Not only has there been a breach of the Crimes Act but also, as one sees if one looks closely at the Royal Commissioner's report and the Attorney-General's letter, there has certainly been a misleading of the Parliament. That is what we are being asked this afternoon to condone. We are being told by the Prime Minister that Mr Young now has the green light; that the Prime Minister will support his return to the Ministry. The Prime Minister said: 'Poor old Mick has suffered. I think no-one in this place has been closer to him over the years than I have'. Of course, he said the same thing about Mr Combe.

We in Australia need to remember that this Royal Commission has inquired into the affairs of the senior office bearers of the Australian Labor Party. We have in the Prime Minister the former President of the Australian Labor Party. I do not want to go down the track of the present President of the Australian Labor Party, but we all know what a crook he is and what is happening in New South Wales which is an absolute condemnation of the system of democratic govenment in Australia. The Prime Minister is a former President of the Labor Party and Mr Mick Young is a former Secretary of the Federal Labor Party. Mr David Combe took over from Mr Young. They were all good mates.

I am concerned that people should realise that in the circumstances of the condemnation by the Royal Commissioner, the Prime Minister has said, all for the sake of mateship: 'I will damn David Combe', and justifiably, according to the Royal Commissioner, 'but I will exonerate Mick Young'. Yet the Attorney-General has said that the penalty for Mick Young's transgression is political. We need to count the measure of that political penalty. The measure of that political penalty is a few months out in the cold, a few months during which poor old Mick suffered. Dear me, didn't he suffer! When one reads this statement one almost cries and has to bring out a handkerchief. I think it is important that we realise that the Prime Minister has said: 'It is clear that these sins, these transgressions, were based on an error of personal judgment from which he has now learnt and which I am sure will not be repeated.' What were those sins? The honourable member for Port Adelaide has leaked a national security matter to a crony, misled his Prime Minister and the Parliament and he has now been out of the Ministry for a few months. There is absolutely no basis upon which this Government can hold its head high if, in going to the people on the readmission of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, it says that all this is washed under the table. This is not washed under the table and the Government stands condemned by the Royal Commissioner.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.