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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) - I wish to grieve about the activities of the honourable member for Phillip, Mr Birney. I refer particularly to an article in yesterday's Sydney Sun under the heading 'Fee For Our "Paris Palace". $2.2m to Architect'. Mr Birney raised this matter during the adjournment debate on Tuesday night. The House always knows when he is to have a major story in the Sydney Press because he always speaks in the adjournment debate late at night and reads a prepared script from a mini lectern which he brings into the House and places before him just like in a high school debate. In fact, he is typical of an amateurish oncer. Joe Riordan, who lost the seat of Phillip at the last election and who will regain it at the next election, is fully aware of that. Mr Birney 's wife is a journalist with the Sydney Press and it is well known that she uses her position to obtain publicity for her husband and to have her stories printed. Surely this is a case of collusion for their own private interests.

Mr Uren - Who is that?

Mr ARMITAGE - I refer to the wife of the honourable member for Phillip. For example, I refer to the story about the Russian submarine which turned out to be a whale. She had heard the story but she did not have any proof. So she got her husband to use the 'coward's castle' of parliamentary privilege so that her story could be printed and her husband could have publicity without a writ for defamation being issued. Without a doubt, if that story had been related outside this Parliament, a writ would have been issued.

On Tuesday night they used the coward's castle once again to blacken the name of Australia's most distinguished architect. I quote the Sun which states:

Mr Seidleris Australia's best known contemporary architect and has won dozens of awards for his designs both at home and abroad.

Without a doubt, he is Australia's most famous, best known and most respected contemporary architect. I will state a few facts concerning this incorrect allegation against Mr Harry Seidler. The brief for a building in Paris for our Embassy was prepared by an interdepartmental committee in 1969 on the direction of the Gorton Government- not, as suggested by Mr Birney, by the Whitlam Government. Approval to purchase the land was given by the McMahon Government in 1 972. It cost $ 1 8m. Of that $ 1 8m the cost of the land was $7.4m. It was a good buy, by the way, because at the present rate of inflation in France, which is less than it has been for some years, the land would now be worth at least $14m. The architect was commissioned by the Whitlam Government. As I said, he is Australia 's most distinguished architect. The article in the Sun states:

He designed the Australia Square tower and the MLC complex in Martin Place.

Mr Uren - And the Trade Group Buildings here in Canberra.

Mr ARMITAGE - That is correct. He is presently lecturing at Harvard University in America where he is serving a 4-month appointment as visiting Professor of Architecture. It should also be remembered that Paris is among the top five of our diplomatic posts, and, in fact, contains 3 Missions in one. For example, the building will house the Australian Embassy to France, which is a permanent member of the Security Council and a major world power. It will also house the Australian Mission to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development and the Australian Mission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, a most prestigious branch of the United Nations. As I said, it will be 3 Missions in one.

Mr Charles Jones - It will also house the ECMT- the European Conference of Ministers of Transport

Mr ARMITAGE - I stand corrected by the honourable member for Newcastle. Further, the building replaces rented accommodation for offices and residential accommodation which costs approximately $ 1 m per annum. These costs are rising steadily and, therefore, it is not a bad deal for Australia. Mr Birney said that over $2.Sm would go 'straight into Seidler's pocket'. I challenge Mr Birney to say this outside the House. If he does so he can be assured that he will cop a writ. In fact, he needs to do his homework better. If he had done so, he would have found out -

Mr Les McMahon (SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Where is he?

Mr ARMITAGE - I do not know where he is. I made sure he was to be advised that I intended to raise this matter. If he had done his homework he would have found out that the fee of 1 1 per cent, which Mr Birney has libellously declared -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!I point out to the honourable member for Chifley that he should not refer to the honourable member for Phillip by name.

Mr ARMITAGE - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the honourable member had done his homework better he would have discovered that the fee of 1 1 per cent, which he has libellously declared goes into Mr Seidler's pocket is, in fact, for the payment of fees of a host of consultant firms involved in the construction of the building. These firms are mechanical engineers, structural engineers, electrical engineers, insurance assessors, etc. In fact, Mr Seidler's own firm received only 3 per cent of the fee of 1 1 per cent. Consultants of French origin received 6 per cent ofthe fees.

Is it any wonder that people are saying today that not only does the honourable member for Phillip not know the difference between a submarine and a whale but also that he does not even know which government made decisionswhether it was the Gorton Government, the McMahon Government or the Whitlam Government. He thought that his attack on Tuesday night was upon Australia's most distinguished architect and upon the Whitlam Government, but he also attacked the Gorton Government and the McMahon Government. In view of this, is it any wonder that people are now saying: 'It is Joe Riordan to win in 1978'? I want to make a challenge in addition to challenging the honourable member for Phillip to make these allegations against Australia s greatest architect outside this House and to take his chance of copping a writ for defamation. I also call upon the Sydney Sun newspaper, the honourable member for Phillip and his wife to ensure that this reply given today to these libellous accusations against one of Australia's greatest people are printed fully in the Sydney Sun.

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