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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3358


Mr HOWARD(11.37) —Without doubt the most significant thing to emerge from the events of the last 24 hours is not what the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies said and what has been said in the aftermath about Mr Combe, not what the Royal Commission has had to say about the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) and not what it has had to say about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation or Mr Ivanov; the most important thing to emerge over the last 24 hours is what this whole event has revealed about the character and the conduct of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke ). This report, the events and the response of the Prime Minister and of the Government have revealed beyond doubt that this country is now led by a very vulnerable Prime Minister whose authority on matters of duty as distinct from matters of loyalty and mateship is very weak indeed. This demonstrates that faced with a choice between mateship and duty the Prime Minister will forsake duty and prefer mateship.

Not one of us in this House would denigrate the Prime Minister's affection for his friends. Not one of us in this House would deny to the Prime Minister that very admirable Australian quality of mateship and fraternity towards one's friends. But one of the prices one pays for high political office, and supremely in the case of the Prime Ministership of this country, is that when it comes to the crunch duty to one's country and to one's Government is more important than loyalty and mateship. That is the overwhelming failure and weakness of this Prime Minister and this Government. That ultimately is what will condemn him not only in this Parliament but also in the eyes of the Australian people.

This event and the circumstances of the last 24 hours have demonstrated that this country is led by a craven populist who puts loyalty, mateship and popularity in the short term above long term considerations. He has done that with the Government of the country as far as the economy is concerned. He is waxing fat in a political sense through the fortunate circumstances of Australia 's economy at present. He is caring not about the problems that his wages policy is storing up for the future of the Australian economy. He cares not about the erosion of our competitive position. Equally with the circumstances of this event, instead of having the courage to take on his Caucus and saying 'Look comrades, there is no way in the face of the finding of this Royal Commission report that we can possibly have Mick Young back' what does he do? He cuts and he runs. One can only wonder whether, in fact, some kind of deal was not done between the left wing and the Prime Minister on this issue. One can only wonder- -


Mr Steedman —No deal.


Mr HOWARD —Of course, the honourable member says there were no deals but one can only wonder whether, in fact, there were. Everybody around this building knows, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) pointed out yesterday, that the Prime Minister has been backgrounding for weeks that the honourable member for Port Adelaide would be out in the cold. He has been going around this place saying to the journalists: 'Forget about it; Mick has had it. Mick is on the way out. We are not going to bring him back'. But when it comes to the crunch the Prime Minister is not prepared to confront the Caucus. He is not prepared to tell the Party that he leads that its duty lies in rejecting the honourable member for Port Adelaide and not returning him to the Ministry.

But the political crime of the honourable member for Port Adelaide-it is a political crime-runs far deeper than the finding of the Royal Commissioner. It goes far deeper than the fact that the Royal Commissioner found that the honourable member had made an unauthorised disclosure and that that disclosure was improper. More importantly than that-this is a political arena; this is a parliamentary arena-the former Special Minister of State lied to this Parliament . That is the great political crime the honourable member for Port Adelaide has committed. Not only did the former Special Minister of State lie to the Parliament but also, indeed, did the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) and the Treasurer (Mr Keating). The Treasurer will no doubt wax on about telephone calls and unspecified memoranda. Honourable members opposite can all get very worked up about that. They now have a trifecta of ministerial liars sitting in the ranks of the Hawke Government. The presence of the former Special Minister of State, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance is sanctioned, condoned and encouraged by the Prime Minister of Australia who, when it really comes to the crunch, will always put loyalty, political survival and political popularity above everything else. He has failed the most essential test of any great political leader and that is that when the crunch really comes--


Mr Cunningham —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order.


Mr HOWARD —It is starting to hurt a bit, is it?


Mr Cunningham —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the Ministers as liars. I think that is unparliamentary and should be withdrawn.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is some substance in the point of order, but the term has been used on both sides of the House. I remind honourable members that although this is a debate on a censure motion unparliamentary language is not allowed to be used.


Mr HOWARD —If the Government wants the language moderated, Mr Speaker, I will do so.


Mr SPEAKER —I would prefer it to be moderated.


Mr HOWARD —Not only was the former Special Minister of State found guilty of an unauthorised and improper disclosure; not only did he mislead the Parliament but also if one carefully reads the evidence one sees that he is placed in the invidious position of being told by the Royal Commissioner that, to put it very mildly and euphemistically, he was guilty of a great amount of selective amnesia . On page 185 of the Royal Commissioner's report the Royal Commissioner states:

Mr Walsh's account of his conversation with Mr Young contains three matters additional to those contained in Mr Young's version of the same conversation . . .

He goes on to list what those three matters were. Elsewhere in the Royal Commissioner's report one finds evidence that, to put it mildly once again, the honourable member for Port Adelaide was less than fulsome in the disclosures he made to the Royal Commission. On three counts one has the finding of an unauthorised and improper disclosure, the misleading of the Parliament and also this conflict between the evidence of Walsh and the honourable member for Port Adelaide. Probably the greatest illustration of the vulnerability of the Prime Minister's position on this issue is the fact that he made a 17 1/2 minute speech, was granted an extension of time and mentioned everybody in the Parliament, past and present, except the former Special Minister of State. He spends all his time talking about other people but does not mention the former Special Minister of State. The Prime Minister has demonstrated during this debate and by his response to this report that his standards of propriety, his standards of political leadership and his view of parliamentary and ministerial responsibility are infinitely inferior to those of former Labor Leader, Gough Whitlam. At least Whitlam had the courage to dismiss Connor when Connor was found guilty of misleading the Parliament in 1975. At least the then Prime Minister, Whitlam, had the courage to fight it out in the Caucus and to say: ' Look, you cannot maintain in your Government somebody who has been guilty of misleading the Parliament'. Whitlam-from a position of political vulnerability compared with the present Prime Minister's very different position in the present situation-was willing to confront his Caucus, to show leadership and to demonstrate a standard of propriety that this present Prime Minister is simply unwilling to do.

Once again the Prime Minister of this country is indulging in and sanctioning double standards on the part of his Ministers. He was prepared to tolerate the double standards of the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins), the great character assassin of this Parliament and the person who more than anybody else under the cover of parliamentary privilege last year was prepared to malign and traduce the reputations of honest and respectable Australian people. He was prepared to tolerate it then. He was prepared to remain silent then. He asks us to have some sympathy for the honourable member for Port Adelaide in his family predicament. Of course, all of us do. We might well have asked him to speak out against the despicable attack made by the the Leader of the Opposition on the former Attorney-General when he blamed the former Attorney-General's heart attack on that gentleman's handling of his ministerial portfolio. As far as I am concerned , the Prime Minister's totally artificial outrage would be a little more convincing had he dissociated himself from what the then Leader of the Opposition had been prepared to say on that occasion.

Whilst we naturally extend personal condolences to the honourable member for Port Adelaide for any family loss, let us not be diverted from what this Prime Minister is really about today. This Prime Minister is in a predicament. He knows what his duty is. He knows darn well that the former Special Minister of State should not go back into the Ministry. He knows well that he is breaching proper standards of parliamentary and ministerial propriety. But he cannot do anything about it. The reason he cannot do anything about it is that the honourable member for Port Adelaide has the numbers in the Caucus, and he is such a craven populist that he is not willing to take his Caucus on. He had the audacity in this Parliament to invite the Australian people to believe that the former Government's standards of ministerial propriety were inferior to those of the present Government. Any objective political scientist would concede that the standards of the former Government and of the former Prime Minister of this country, who displayed twice the strength that this Prime Minister displayed on this occasion in dealing with ministerial propriety, were infinitely superior to those being displayed by the Prime Minister in the present circumstances.

The double standards of this Government and of this Prime Minister do not stop when it comes to the way in which he totally ignores the fact that the present Treasurer misled the Parliament last week about the response of the Economic Planning Advisory Council to some economic projection. The double standards of this Prime Minister do not stop there. In the tabling statement that he made to the Parliament yesterday he correctly recorded many of the findings of the Royal Commission. Perhaps to the disappointment and chagrin of some members of the left wing of his Party, the Royal Commissioner said that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation did not do a bad job in the affair. We on this side of the House are very pleased that the opportunity has not been given to those in the Labor Party who would wish to do so to make ASIO a scapegoat in this whole affair. But the Prime Minister, lighting upon the fact that there were some circumstances in which ASIO fell short of an absolute standard of perfection, thumped the table and said: 'We are going to demand a high standard of performance from ASIO'. Apparently it is all right to demand high standards of performance from the Public Service. It is all right to demand high standards of performance from ASIO. It is all right to demand high standards of performance from Mr Combe. But for heaven's sake, do not demand high standards of performance from the honourable member for Port Adelaide because, after all, he is one of their mates and he has been in the Labor Party for 30 years. The poor, old, selectively amnesic honourable member for Port Adelaide has been in the Labor Party for 30 years, has worked very hard and, of course, deserves a break! He is a very inexperienced politician! He was only the campaign director for the Labor Party in 1972. He only knows every trick in the book, beyond the capacity of most other people. Yet we are invited to accept this and to pass it over.

This debate and the events of the last 24 hours have demonstrated that, when it really comes to the crunch, this Prime Minister is not prepared to do his duty. This Prime Minister does not have the strength that many people in the Australian community believed he had. This Prime Minister will also fail the test on future occasions when he has to choose between popularity and duty. That , I put to the House, is an absolutely fatal flaw for any Prime Minister of Australia.