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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4007


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.17 p.m.) —I think that we have had a further example in today's question time of the incompetence of the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator Herron. More importantly, we have had a number of examples over the past 48 hours of this minister deliberately misleading the public.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, would you like to be careful with your use of `deliberately misleading' please.


Senator FAULKNER —Yes, I will be careful, Madam Deputy President. Last night on the 7.30 Report , Senator Herron, amongst a lot of gobbledygook and incomprehensible language, made a couple of statements that were clear. One related to the timing of his receiving the report. He made it quite clear today in question time, having in my view misled the community last night on the 7.30 Report , that he received not the final report but a photocopy of the report some time before receiving the final report a week or so ago. It is not clear to us, and it needs to be made clear by this minister, when a photocopied or draft report was received.

I am also very concerned about this developing as a pattern on the part of the minister for Aboriginal affairs. Yesterday in question time, Senator Cook asked Senator Herron whether he was aware of a Western Australian politician's view that Aborigines are the bottom colour of the civilised spectrum and whether he would take the opportunity to dissociate himself and his party from that obnoxious view. It was a clear question.

He was asked about it last night on the 7.30 Report by the presenter, Kerry O'Brien. Senator Herron, in response, said:

But when I was questioned about it I didn't know the context that they were given in, nor when they were said, nor had I seen it on television or heard him say those things.

That was a clear statement from Senator Herron in relation to the comments of Senator Lightfoot.

He was asked again because the presenter, Mr Kerry O'Brien, obviously could not quite understand this response from Senator Herron. He had pointed out that they had been very widely reported and that the senator had made them in 1993. Senator Herron went on to say this:

It might surprise you, Kerry—

I quote him directly from the transcript—

to know that I don't accept that everything that's said on the Opposition side is the truth, but in politics you've got to know what the truth is before you respond. And many times I've seen the truth a bit elastic from the other side, and I'm not going to reply to something that I have not evidence of nor have I seen.

Let me return to what happened in the parliament yesterday. Senator Cook asked a direct question. He did not identify Senator Lightfoot; he talked about a Western Australian politician. Senator Herron, in answering that question, said this:

Poor old Senator Cook hasn't the guts to stand up and say it is Senator Lightfoot.

Senator Herron himself identified Senator Lightfoot yesterday in question time. Yet, yesterday evening on national television, the same minister said to Kerry O'Brien and the audience of the 7.30 Report :

. . . I'm not going to reply to something that I have not evidence of nor have I seen.

And he said:

. . . But when I was questioned about it I didn't know the context that they were given in, nor when they were said, nor had I seen it on television or heard him say those things.

This minister said that that identified Senator Lightfoot himself. He stands condemned for misleading. (Time expired)