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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1043


Mr HAYDEN (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —by leave-The matter I wish to raise is one that causes me some disappointment because it involves my referring to comments made in the Senate last night by my Australian Labor Party colleague Senator Primmer. It also involves my referring to a series of questions which he has put on the Senate Notice Paper, and generally to the course of conduct upon which he has embarked over some time. I do not in any way impugn the character, nor indeed the motivation, of Senator Primmer. I am sure that his motivation, as is his character, is the best, but I do deplore his actions and his persistence with those actions in the light of an extensive explanation I have given to him about investigations which have been made into his complaints and the findings of those investigations.

In summary, his actions refer to the head of my Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Henderson, and a First Assistant Secretary of the Department, Mr R. J. Smith. A number of other names have also been raised; however, it is Mr Henderson and Mr Smith about whom I am particularly concerned at this stage. They are both responsible officers and, from my dealings with them, honourable men. They have always conducted themselves in an upright and proper way; they have discharged their responsibilities to the government of the day faithfully and well. I have no room for complaint about them either as public servants or, to the extent that I know them privately-that is very limited-as private persons.

In relation to the complaints raised by Senator Primmer, I want to remind him that his persistence with this course of conduct is potentially seriously damaging to the character of the people to whom he is referring. It is causing them great social embarrassment and it interferes with the self respect and confidence of the family and social lives of members of the families of the men I have mentioned. The situation has arisen where we are witnessing, effectively, trial by Hansard, conviction by innuendo and I believe, an inexcusable smudging of the character of the people to whom I have referred. It may well have been that Senator Primmer felt justified in initiating action on these matters. Certain information was conveyed to him. I think there was a way in which those matters could have been raised in this Parliament if it was his conclusion that they had to be raised. I say that allowing for the fact that when we deal with people from outside this Parliament the standards are a little different in that they are not here to protect themselves.

I say also that Senator Primmer should have exercised more restraint, at least more recently, because only this week I had a discussion with him to explain the results of investigations into these matters, which he has raised largely on behalf of a member of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Witheford. The allegations concern other members of the Foreign Affairs Department as well as Mr Henderson and Mr Smith. There are allegations of corruption, of misuse of office, of cash, or resources, of privilege for relations and of conspiracy to cover up these matters involving senior officials of the Department. These matters are well known to the records of this Parliament. My predecessor, the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street), reported to this Parliament that investigations available to him had found no evidence to support the allegations . I want to state that, and I want to state something further.

There have been two police reports into the allegations made by Mr Witheford which are the basis of Sentor Primmer's complaints. The first of those police reports concerns charges against a Mr Bowden, the former Australian Ambassador to Tehran, of embezzlement and related matters. I have read the police report but am not in a position to divulge its contents. The report has been provided on a strictly confidential basis. However, I find the police report professional and convincing. It seems to have investigated exhaustively all the matters which were raised. It finds that in no case is there evidence to support a charge of a criminal offence. In fact, in a number of instances Mr Witheford was unable to produce any evidence to substantiate his charges. In other cases where he referred to other persons as sources of information in relation to the charges he had made, those other persons were not prepared to support his allegations. That information has been conveyed to Senator Primmer. In those circumstances, I regret very much that in spite of that the honourable senator proceeded with the statement he made to the Parliament last night, as well as listing a wide range of questions on the Senate Notice Paper.

The second report from the police concerned allegations raised by Senator Primmer about Mr Max Loveday, a former Ambassador to Bonn, relating to the misuse of transport. The report covered also allegations about the handling of Sir Nicholas Parkinson's retirement on invalidity grounds and allegations that some impropriety was attached to the return to Australia of a piano owned by Mr Bowden. I have a letter dated 15 April 1983 from the Special Minister of State ( Mr Young) which states:

On 1 and 20 December 1982, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs asked that certain allegations by Senator Primmer in the Parliament be investigated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

These allegations principally involved the former Australian Ambassador to Tehran, Mr I. G. Bowden, the former Australian Ambassador to Bonn, Mr H. M. Loveday, the former Australian Ambassador to Washington, Sir Nicholas Parkinson and the Permanent Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr P. G. F. Henderson.

I am informed that the AFP has now completed its investigation and has found no evidence-

I repeat, no evidence-

that would substantiate any criminal offence against any person named in the allegations.

So there have been two substantial police investigations into Mr Witheford's claims, which he has either made directly or apparently had transmitted one way or another to Senator Primmer. In each case the police found conclusively that there was no evidence of any criminal offence against any of the persons named in the complaints. Additionally, an exhaustive investigation was conducted by the Department of Finance. Its report is headed 'Report of Investigation into Allegations of Improper Financial Dealings at the Australian Embassy, Teheran'. I can quote the last paragraph of that report with some sense of repetition because my predecessor, the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street), tabled this report in the Parliament. The report is dated 15 July 1982. This is the conclusion:

The investigating officers are satisfied that, on the evidence available, there is no basis for action against Bowden by the Commonwealth in respect of the financial matters examined.

Again, a thorough report by professional people whose impartiality, and sense of propriety and justice in these matters, I believe, would be beyond impugning. They, like the police, found no evidence to support these matters. One wonders how many more investigations must be undertaken before either Senator Primmer or Mr Witheford will be satisfied that these complaints have been properly attended to. For my part, I know nothing personally of any of the matters which have been raised. I have relied entirely on the investigations conducted properly by the properly established and experienced bodies to conduct those investigations. I find myself persuaded on the face of the material which has been produced by those reports that the complaints of Mr Witheford, and those of Senator Primmer on behalf of Mr Witheford, are without foundation. Therefore, I regret very much the persistence with this types of campaign against officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Witheford has currently an exhaustive-I say quite advisedly exhaustive- investigation being conducted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into complaints made by Mr Witheford as to the conduct of the police in their interviews of Mr and Mrs Witheford arising from his other complaints about officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs. That is moving, albeit very slowly, towards completion. The laggardliness of progress is no fault of the Ombudsman. It is a matter of providing, as I understand it, maximum opportunity to Mr Witheford to participate in the processes of analysis and investigation. Mr Witheford also has under way a Public Service Board inquiry. In fact, the Board appointed especially a very senior officer full time to exercise the Board's power under the Public Service Act to investigate whether Mr Witheford has been unfairly disadvantaged in his career by officers of the Department. That investigation is in progress at present. Additionally, Mr Witheford, who is a class 11 officer appealed against all provisional departmental promotions to level 1 gazetted in August 1982. The report on those appeals has been recently received. But in the meantime, promotions within the Department to level 1 had been frozen because of the action which Mr Witheford took, and obviously took, for the purpose of impeding the proper processes of the Department's promotions and disrupting the Department.

I mention that range of matters which have been undertaken because of the complaints raised by Mr Witheford. A little, quick, simple, arithmetic would suggest that the cost so far of responding to this range of complaints which is constantly being trotted out by Mr Witheford must be somewhere near a six figure amount. This is being borne by the Australian taxpayer. An extraordinarily large amount of money is being spent on these inquiries. I repeat: How much longer does this sort of prosecution have to continue? How many more inquiries will have to be completed before Mr Witheford and Senator Primmer are satisfied? In the meantime, great damage has been done to the morale and confidence of the administration of the Department of Foreign Affairs. A great deal of personal damage is being done to the self-respect and community regard not just for the people from the Department of Foreign Affairs who are directly involved but also to their wives and children. That I find more embarrassing in a sense of projecting my own feelings on the situation they find themselves in than the experiences the party principals are suffering as a result of this.

I make two further comments about these matters. Senator Primmer has placed on the Notice Paper of the Senate a long list of questions on notice-I understand as many as 90. They are loaded with quite damaging innuendo. But I think the flavour, the quality and the reliability of these questions can be gauged by just two instances which I draw upon. There is strong innuendo of unfair advantage being provided for a person named Adam Smith who was appointed to the Australian Public Service at first in the Fourth Division and subsequently in the Third Division, working as a clerk in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Adam Smith is the son of Mr R. J. Smith, whom I mentioned earlier, who is a First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Adam Smith was appointed to the Public Service after contesting the normal entry examination. His appointment was made by the Public Service Board. I am told by his father and members of the Department of Foreign Affairs that it was to the surprise of the father that the lad was appointed to the Department of Foreign Affairs. However, put that to one side should there be any doubts about that-I have none and I do not see why I should. I should not have thought that a Fourth Division cum Third Division clerical position is exactly snapping the grand prize of the Public Service from the hands of more worthy or more meritorious applicants.

The case of Douglas L. Sparkes is raised in circumstances with a strong implication that Sparkes has been given preferential treatment in obtaining his appointment to the Foreign Affairs Department. Sparkes is the son of Sir Robert Sparkes, President of the Queensland Branch of the National Party of Australia. The implication is clear: People with party affiliations of a particular type, by the nature of those party affiliations or those of their parents, are ineligible for appointment to the Foreign Affairs Department or, perhaps, the very fact that they are there is evidence of privilege. If that is the principle by which these things are to proceed, it is going to be extraordinarily discomfiting for the Whitlam family. Mr Stephen Whitlam is a diplomat in the Australian Foreign Affairs Department and serves this nation well. He served the previous conservative Government well and impartially. As far as I am aware his appointment was never criticised by that previous Government. That is the standard I would aim at maintaining in my administration of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I find the implications, the innuendo of the proposition clearly contained in that question nonsense and disreputable like so much else of what has taken place. I repeat: I know nothing personally of these matters. Like any reasonable and fair minded person, I make certain conclusions when I am presented with a range of reports from inquiries which, as far as I can see, have been properly conducted. I presume that I can make some judgment in relation to Australian Federal Police reports. I believe they are very professionally done. They have been prepared with a very high level of competence. They have ranged over the issues which have been presented as complaints. I believe that they convincingly arrived at conclusion. In every case the conclusions were that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations made.

There are two such reports. There is the report of the Finance Department. The Ombudsman's report is currently under way. There is the investigation currently under way by the Public Service Board to which a special investigator has been appointed. How much more money of the taxpayers has to be provided to meet the whims and the obsessions of the people who are central to all of these problems? I suggest that the best course of action for both Mr Witheford and Senator Primmer is to cease the initiatives with which they have been proceeding, allow these remaining inquiries to be concluded and concluded properly and allow a balanced and sensible judgment to be made on the basis of those reports. I ask them to take a deep mental breath, allow themselves to relax and recognise that already the reports available seem to be quite conclusive-certainly they are conclusive to a dispassionate outsider like me-as to the substance or otherwise of these allegations. It is a matter of great melancholy for me that people who are reputable servants of this community, who in my dealings have discharged their responsibilities to the community and government regardless of its political colour in a very proper and competent way, have been subjected to this unrelenting campaign. I repeat: I trust it will cease.