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Tuesday, 18 November 1986
Page: 2378

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) —by leave-I think there would be common ground that nobody in the Parliament, either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate, would want in any way to be involved in actions which would disturb or destroy the important place the Australian War Memorial has in the hearts and minds not only of veterans but also of other citizens throughout Australia. It is a very important institution and one that we cherish greatly for its very innovative and commemorative work. However, having said that, it is also the responsibility of the Government-and, in my case, of the Minister-to ensure that the War Memorial functions in accordance with the Act. To that extent, there have been numerous inquiries which have all found serious problems of maladministration. I do not want to go too far down that track. I ask the Opposition: In what way is it relying upon a statement that Air Vice-Marshal Flemming has been denied natural justice?

Opposition senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Chaney was heard in silence. I ask that the same consideration be given to the Minister.

Senator GIETZELT —The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney)-I respect his view and his position-has raised the question of denial of natural justice. I see no evidence of this. Until the Opposition can present such evidence, other than the say-so of the Director himself, all the advice that is available to me, and certainly all the evidence I have, is that in respect of the matters I raised with the investigation and its agent, Mr Jones, there was no question that it required witnesses to canvass correspondence and communications between the Director and me.

As I understand the issue, the Council did give both Mr Jones and Air Vice-Marshal Flemming every opportunity to explain their views and conclusions on the evidence that was collected. I think that one of the great misnomers in the current difficulties is the repetitive suggestion that there has been a denial of natural justice. I urge the Opposition to test that with members of the Council to see whether they failed in their responsibilities to inquire, in an acceptable form, and consistent with natural justice, in regard to Mr Jones's report and the Council's response thereto. The only advice I can give is what is told to me. In those circumstances I am satisfied that there has been no denial of natural justice.

I am certainly satisfied in respect of the issues I raised-the six issues involving public accountability-and in respect of my responsibilities to this Parliament to avoid giving misleading information, that the files of the Memorial, my Department and my office speak for themselves insofar as a whole range of issues in dispute. It is not a question of whether I or Air Vice-Marshal Flemming would be cross-examined on those substantive issues. However, if the Opposition is in possession of information that there is, and has been, a denial of natural justice, that is certainly not available to me, it is certainly not available to the Government, and it is certainly not available to the Council.

As that report indicates, the Council has been a very fine representative body. I believe that the members of the Council are all veterans. There might be one exception to that, a member who was not nominated by me. They are people who in their own right have made contributions to the community generally as well as to the defence of their country. I do not believe that those persons would be associated with any attempt to deny natural justice to anyone on their staff or more particularly to the head of a statutory organisation.

Unless the Opposition can come up with evidence and not rhetoric, the Government is in no position to respond to what I believe is a fairly open approach that Senator Chaney has taken. I would prefer the matter not to be canvassed any further and for members of the Opposition, if they genuinely want to protect the War Memorial and the Director, to discuss with me what evidence they have that natural justice has been denied to Air Vice-Marshal Flemming.