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Tuesday, 9 March 1971


Mr SPEAKER


Mr GORTON - Well, 1 was. 1 pointed out to Mr Baudino that the Army had not acted in these ways. The Minister himself had stated in the House only the week before that the Army in fact was working on planning papers, contingency papers, in relation to civic aid and the Minister has indicated just now quite clearly that there was no question of the Joint Intelligence Organisation being brought in to spy upon the Army, lt is not a fact gathering organisation. So those 3 statements were false. I also told Mr Baudino that in placing these statements in the mouth of Mr Fraser he was by his own admission to me acting on second or third-hand information because he slated he had never spoken to Mr Fraser himself; he had never got these briefings from .Mr Fraser; he was acting on what was gossip of other journalists and he, therefore, was acting on second or third-hand information. Mr Baudino left my office indicating that he was not sure whether he would or would not publish the story. I think the words were: 'I do not quite know what I will do with it.'

But 1 felt that nevertheless he might because, in spite of what has been said, nobody can allow or disallow a journalist to publish a story. 1 did not want the Chief of the General Staff to wake up the next morning and read in the newspaper an accusation against him by name of what would have been a dereliction of duty and to find that the 'Telegraph' was accusing him of this action. Nor did I want the military for whose actions be is responsible to the Government to believe that the Government was accusing them for things they had not done, as the article suggested was the case. I think that in adopting that attitude 1 was adopting the proper reverse duty of a government to its armed Services. I therefore rang him and asked if he had heard the stories which Mr Baudino had told me were circulating about the Army and what it had wrongly done. He said to me that he had not so I asked him to come and see me, and the purpose of that was to forewarn him of what he might see in the Press the next morning, so that he would not be too disturbed - in which he featured by name - and to let him know my own views as head of the Government, and these are my views. These were all said to him.

The first point I made was that there was nothing to go on alleging that these accusations had come from the Department of Defence or Mr Fraser since they were based purely on rumours in the Press gallery. The second was to make it clear that 1 knew the allegations against the Army were false - as 1 think it is admitted those 3 allegations were false - and that I had the utmost confidence in the Army and its commanders and that I wished Sir Thomas Daly and the Army to know this. In this, of course, I was in no way, I gather, departing from the views of the former Minister for Defence who has just told this House that he had confidence in the Army and its commanders. The third point I wished to make was that if these false allegations against the Army did appear and were publicly given space in the newspapers they would be denied at the highest level. We did not propose to allow servicemen to be subjected to unjustified, unbased criticism without fully defending them. That, Sir, was the reason why I spoke to the Chief of the General Staff whose own integrity had been impugned by this story, and the military under his command had also been so impugned, and that was that. I attempted, incidentally, to ring Mr Fraser, not for him to take action on this matter but again to warn him that he might see something of this kind in the paper the next day but he was not available at the time.

Next morning Mr Fraser, who had been in Melbourne the evening before and the afternoon before, had an appointment to come and see me to discuss matters in connection with this concern. He appeared with a denial of the story in his hand. It was basically a denial of the JIO story. It was originally intended that it would be put out departmentally. But as we looked at the article we saw the allegations that the Army had acted beyond the area where its directives permitted, that it had acted independently of Government policy in civil action. There were two other charges beside the JIO charge and we thought that since they were false - I believed they were, I knew they were, Mr Fraser told me they were false - they should be refuted and denied in whole and that since the article had put these words into the mouth of Mr Fraser, quite wrongly, they should be denied from the mouth of Mr Fraser rather than departmentally. There was no dissension, no discussion, no disagreement about this and Mr Fraser issued such a statement. So much for the allegation that Mr Fraser was ordered or instructed or in some other way forced to issue the statement which he did on this matter.

The next point as far as I was concerned is that once Mr Fraser had issued this denial of what the Army was alleged to have done, had issued the denial that he had told anybody that they had done these things, and he assured me that he had not, that was the finish of the matter. But the next day an article by Mr Samuel appeared in the 'Bulletin'. It was alleged to be based on a background briefing by Mr Fraser on a matter of civil aid in Vietnam. I did not myself pay much attention to it. It made various kinds of allegations against the Army of a similar kind but different in degree from those in the article by Mr

Baudino but it did not attribute these criticisms directly to Mr Fraser as Mr Baudino had done and the suggestions against the Army had already been refuted by the Minister for Defence, so 1 therefore paid little attention to it. I did not speak to Mr Fraser about it on any occasion. I did not have any conversation with him relating to it. But the Minister for Defence refuted the article point by point entirely on his own initiative. I thought the statement he made, which I saw for the first time when it was distributed to the Press gallery, was a good and forthright statement and, if I may interpolate a little, I am quite mystified by Mr Baudino's claim on television that 1 was furious when it was issued. But these are the bases of allegations so freely made that in these affairs I ordered or instructed or pressured Mr Fraser to reply to this article.

At this point, Mr Speaker, let me divert a little because I think one should be fair to the former Minister for Defence. Let me comment on the allegation that has been made that both these articles were submitted to Mr Fraser prior to publication. The facts are, as Mr Fraser has related them to me, that the Baudino article was never seen by Mr Fraser before publication and indeed it could not have been. But the former Minister for Defence was disturbed by the allegations in it, and on checking with Mr Baudino he was told that Mr Baudino had used as a basis for his story the article which was subsequently going to be published by Mr Samuel. So the former Minister for Defence, being disturbed at the allegations in Mr Baudino's story, asked to see Mr Samuel's story in order to see whether it followed the same lines. This story was shown to him on Tuesday evening, when it was too late for him to take any action since the presses for the 'Bulletin' were already rolling, but he has informed me that it is a gross distortion of the briefing which he in fact gave to Mr Samuel.

So as to the allegation that Mr Samuel's article and Mr Baudino's article, which was obviously based on it. are correct versions of this background briefing, the House might in considering this matter put this into its mind: Mr Fraser briefed other journalists on civil aid in Vietnam, including, I am told, Mr Barnes, Mr Ramsey and perhaps Mr Solomon. These journalists wrote stories, or two of them did, but none of them wrote what Mr Samuel wrote or referred to the matters to which Mr Samuel referred and this, I think, in looking at part of this affair is quite relevant.

On the day after Mr Fraser's refutation of the 'Bulletin' article appeared, that is, on Thursday of last week, Mr Ramsey came to see me with a statement starting off T have been told' that the Chief of the General Staff, Genera) Daly, had said certain things in conversation with me, and appended to that were 5 questions. Had General Daly come to my office to discuss alleged Army versus Defence matters? I told him I had asked General Daly to come to my office. After all, it was not, as has been reported in the newspapers, a secret meeting. General Daly drove up to the front of Parliament House in his own car and, in the way everybody else does, walked up the front steps and came to my office. If that is a secret meeting then 1 must have SO secret meetings a day. I told him I had asked General Daly to come to my office but that the purpose was to make the points to him which I have already stated earlier in this speech, and these points were told to Mr Ramsey.

Had I called Mr Fraser in the next day and told him to sort the matter out? I told him that Mr Fraser had come in the next day to discuss the Baudino article, that he had had a denial in his hand when he came in and that we both agreed as I have told the House, that that denial should cover all the allegations and should be in his own name. I think it fair to say that at that time when Mr Fraser came in - though I do not like breaching a principle - he said to me: 'Why were you trying to ring me up last night?' I said: 'To warn you that you might see in the paper the sort of story that is coming out' He said: 'Well, I am glad you did not get me because it might have stopped me sleeping', or words to that effect. As far as I know, there was never any ill feeling in any of the discussions we had - the Minister for Defence and 1 - on this matter.

Next I was asked: Had I discussed the matter with Mr Peacock? I told him I had not, that Mr Peacock had gone straight from the House .on the last day it sat when he was obviously fairly unwell, and the honourable member third from the right on the front Opposition bench was sitting at the table and he will remember he made some remark about the Minister because he was finding it so difficult to speak. He had left and gone straight into hospital to have an operation, and had been there ever since So I had not.

The matter on which I would not comment at all was Mr Ramsey's suggestions as to what General Daly might or might not have said. I believe it wrong to do this, to make comments or affirmations or denials in cases like this. I think this is so whether the person who is a third party is a General, an Admiral, a politician, a civil servant or a businessman. 1 therefore replied to that question: 'Had General Daly said what it was claimed he did say?' by saying that I thought it wrong to discuss or comment with Mr Ramsey on what a third party had said and Mr Ramsey replied: 'Fair enough'.

A voice - You liar.


Mr SPEAKER


Mr Calwell - Why don't you deal with the animal?


Mr GORTON - That was the sole conversation on that particular part of the statement. That was all that was said. There is no question that I wish now very much that I had abandoned the normal practice and said: This is nonsense' or This is untrue' or 'I will deny this' or something of this kind because so much has been built on that. In hindsight I have no doubt that was an error and that should have happened. But that was in fact the course of that interview. I am told now that if I had taken some such action the story would not have been printed. That might or might not be true. Who knows; who can tell? ft is quite possible that it might well have been printed under the heading: 'This is the story the Prime Minister tried to kill.' But that is by the way. I would still have been more pleased had I taken that action. There has been an enormous amount built on that particular point. That is the sequence of events.

I had, I thought, a perfectly amicable, constructive discussion with the former Minister for Defence on the Tuesday on which he came to see me. We had, I thought, a perfectly amicable, constructive discussion on the Friday when he came to see me. He came up to the Lodge on Sunday so that we could get the facts as to what he was accused of, what I was accused of and what the refutation of that would be. I thought that that was amicable. 1 rang him on Sunday when I heard that there was going to be a command performance on television by Mr Samuel, Mr Baudino and Mr Alan Reid and I felt he should know about that and should have a chance to see it. I rang him up after it and made comments which I thought were suitable to the programme itself. Up to that point of time I did not have knowledge that there was resentment and a feeling in the mind of the former Minister for Defence on this matter. I can fully understand that there would be such a feeling. I think it is based in this case, as far as I can tell, on refusing to deny the Ramsey article. I cannot see any other basis, but I can understand it. I can only say I believe that that in itself was a mistake and had it not taken place probably none of this would have happened.

I now have to come to make some comments on some of the matters which the former Minister for Defence raised and which I did not know were going to be raised. I will not therefore be able to deal with them as completely and in as detailed a way as I would tike. But 1 would make this as a statement: The Minister has not in my view at any time not had support from, the Prime .Minister in the running of his Department. If that is not true - which I think it is - then the Minister has not at any time complained, that he has not had support from me in the running of his Department. He did hot claim in his speech that this was so, but he did mention the necessity for support in these circumstances.

The question was raised on a matter which took place a long time ago on the matter of the riots amongst the Mataungans on the Gazelle Peninsula. I do not have this as clearly in my mind, Sir, as I would like or as 1 would have had. a chance to have in my mind had there been more notice. But the circumstances as I remember them were that there were riots and threats of riots in the. Gazelle Peninsula and police had been moved about to prevent squatters from taking up government kind, to prevent rights between rival groups of Mataungans, to prevent civil disorder generally. But the Administrator - and to my recollection the Minister, but certainly the Administrator and the authorities up there - felt that the situation could arise when the police themselves would be outnumbered and might not be able to maintain that civil quietude which is required. It was therefore asked that the PIR-- not Australian troops but the PIR - could be placed on readiness to be able to go at a moment's notice to the Gazelle Peninsula should the situation there deteriorate to such a degree when it was felt that this should happen.

The note on this which has been given to me is that on Tuesday, 14th July 1970, the Minister for External Territories approached the Prime Minister and the Ministers for Defence, External Affairs and Army for their concurrence on the call out of the Pacific Islands Regiment, see teleprinter message. On Wednesday, 15th July, the Defence Committee considered the possible call out of the Pacific Islands Regiment and concluded that, on the information available, and having regard to the legal requirements, it did not appear that the Minister for Defence would be justified in seeking to move the Governor-General to authorise the call out. On Friday, 17th July, Mr Hewitt reported to me that Mr Fraser believed a group of Ministers, including the Attorney-General, should be convened to look at these facts and to assess them. On Saturday, 18th July, Ministers met at the Lodge. Those present were the Minister for External Territories,, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Defence, the then Minister for Primary Industry and, to my recollection, a number of others.

On that occasion - we were then discussing both the legal position and what should be done - it was indicated by the Minister for Defence that the decision should have the backing of more Cabinet Ministers. Later, the former Minister for Defence said that the Defence Committee could review its advice and then its advice. should be considered if not by Cabinet by the Ministers concerned, including the then Minister for External Affairs who was absent from the previous meeting; and it was decided at that discussion that the Attorney-General should go to Port Moresby al once to discover just what the legal position was, to assess what legal arguments should be put to the GovernorGeneral as they should have been put. Ministers were telephoned on Saturday afternoon and Saturday night, on 18th July, and they met on Sunday, 19th July and a formal Cabinet decision was recorded. According to the list of Ministers present at Cabinet, it was virtually a full Cabinet. There may have been one or two absent. This is the basis for this charge that has been made in the House here today.

The matter started on 14th July, going through a series of time including a visit to New Guinea by the Attorney-General to discover the situation and concluding on 19th July. 1 would not deny that when the former Minister for Defence was talking to me on this matter I was doubtful whether the group of Ministers concerned was sufficient to do this or whether there needed to be a full Cabinet meeting. The Minister for Defence pressed his view that there should be a full Cabinet meeting. He certainly argued with me for a while - I think, quite cogently - and there was a full Cabinet meeting.

I do not think there are other specific points which I can make, except that there were a number of statements of opinion made about me by the former Minister which I had never thought he entertained. For myself, I think he has been a good Minister for Defence. I think that it is a tragedy that he should have felt compelled to resign on the circumstances of the case as far as I have been able to put them to the House.







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