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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1961


Mr HOLLIS(12.55) —I wish to raise two matters in this grievance debate. The first is the misuse of Commonwealth cars by the Chairman of the Opposition Waste Watch Committee, Senator Michael Baume. This person, who set himself up to oversee Government wastes and extravagances, has been found out. In today's Illawarra Mercury he accuses me of smear tactics. If I ever want a lesson in political smearing, being a successful candidate at one time against this person, I know where to go for lessons. I note also in today's Press that he is calling me a liar and a cheat and challenging me to sue him for this. This is not my style, and I will leave any suing to him, as he has a lot more experience of the courts and of suing in this country than I have.

I did not raise the issue of the misuse of Commonwealth cars to smear Senator Baume, but I believe that someone who lectures the Government on the so-called waste and extravagance of Government funds should have his own house in order. His emotive outburst indicates that he has not. When I first raised the matter last Thursday evening I claimed that a Commonwealth car waited for Senator Baume for an hour and a half. I stand by that claim. Senator Baume at first said I was wrong in that it was an hour and 20 minutes, not an hour and 30 minutes. By yesterday it was down to an hour and today, according to the Illawarra Mercury, it was 40 minutes. By tomorrow it will be 20 minutes and by the weekend Senator Baume, going on his past record, will be calling me names and claiming that he did not use a Commonwealth car at all and threatening to sue anyone who claims he did.

As all honourable members know, there are rules for the use of Commonwealth cars. One goes to one's appointment and, if there is a long wait, arranges for a car to collect one later or telephones the transport office. The driver returns to Parliament House to be allocated other duties. I believe that, instead of abusing me and trying to divert attention from himself, Senator Baume should apologise to the Commonwealth drivers. Senator Baume said to the media:

If there are people employed in the Commonwealth car service who are prepared to break this confidentiality for political purposes, I believe there is a need to establish what redress senators have in general and in particular against the use of such deliberately false accusations based on breaches of confidentiality.

Senator Baume is doing the usual Liberal thing-when found out, blame the workers. He has slurred all the drivers in the Commonwealth car service and should apologise. As I said yesterday, my information came not from the transport office, nor from anyone in the Commonwealth car service, but from a member of the public who saw the car arrive, not at 10.15 a.m., as the senator has claimed, but earlier. This person passed the car several times while it was waiting and then waited to see who came out. She was a member of the public who happens to be a constituent. She had worked in Canberra that day and passed the information on to me. The point was not that Senator Baume was at the dentist but that the car had waited for so long.

Name calling, abuse and threats of legal action will not silence me on the issue. The Chairman of the Opposition Waste Watch Committee has been found to be wasting taxpayers' money, and to claim that it is an inconsequential matter, as he has done, will not wash with the Australian taxpayer, whose taxes Senator Baume thought so little of wasting.

I turn to the other matter I wish to raise. As honourable members will be aware, the President of the African National Congress, Oliver Tambo, is currently visiting Australia as a guest of the Government. It is generally accepted that the ANC is the principal agent for change in South Africa and will play a decisive role in the formation of that country's first democratic government. This point is acknowledged by the international community, by most church leaders in South Africa, by major South African business people and, most importantly, by a majority of South Africa's black and coloured population.

Meanwhile, here in Australia the right wing is in full cry. Its self-appointed spokesperson is Bruce Ruxton, who discredits himself every time he opens his mouth. Then there is that motley collection of former white citizens of South Africa and some, but not all, Young Liberals, such as Mark Heyward, ex-researcher of a New Right think-tank organisation, Centre 2000, who is chairman of the New South Wales Liberal Party's defence and foreign policy committee and an economics student at Sydney University. Mr Heyward has claimed in the Press that most of the protesters at Tambo functions are Liberal sympathisers.

Behind all such protests lies an innate racism. But racism is not the preserve of the rednecks and of some Young Liberals in this country. Last Monday night I attended a function at the residence of the Ambassador of the United States to celebrate the Boeing company's commitment to the Australian Bicentenary. In a group of Americans and Australians, including one other member of this House, an Australian air commodore made derogatory comments about the visit of Oliver Tambo. Warming to his topic, he said that in Sydney during that last weekend he had seen a Commonwealth car with an ANC flag flying from its bonnet, and expressed to the group his outrage that his tax money was being spent in this way.

I was concerned about this and checked this matter out. It simply is not true. Why, one might ask, would a senior serving officer of the Australian armed forces make such an outrageously false statement? I have been informed by the Department of Foreign Affairs that no flag has been flown at any time on any Commonwealth car carrying Mr Tambo or any other member of his party. There is a very strict etiquette regarding the flying of flags on Commonwealth vehicles. This etiquette has been, and will continue to be, observed scrupulously throughout Mr Tambo's visit.

I exchanged words on the matter of Mr Tambo's visit with the air commodore which, as honourable members might imagine, went much further than the use of Commonwealth cars for official visitors. I have no argument with individuals holding racist views. I do not support such views, but it takes all types to make up a pluralistic society. I suggest, however, that an official function where, in varying degrees, we are all representing the Government of Australia is hardly the appropriate place to air such views, especially if one is a senior serving officer in the armed forces of Australia and there are many diplomatic guests present.

It is important that visits to Australia of persons such as Mr Oliver Tambo continue. This program enables prominent opponents of apartheid to put their points of view to the Australian public and thus restore a semblance of balance to debate on the South African question. For far too long, the Australian public has been subject to a well-organised propaganda campaign supporting the South African minority regime. This campaign has quite effectively played on and reinforced racist attitudes within our own society which, sadly, are far from dead. It is therefore most important that authentic spokespersons for the oppressed black and coloured majority of South Africa continue to visit Australia and help us understand the true nature of the struggle for democracy of the people of South Africa and how we can best support them in that struggle with a minimum of bloodshed and violence, which has always-I repeat, always-been the goal of the ANC and remains so today.