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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19719


Mr RUDD (4:22 PM) —I have got to say that I find it gutless that neither the Prime Minister nor the foreign minister have dared present themselves in this debate, because it is their credibility which is on the line as far as this matter of public importance debate is concerned. Instead, what we have had is them send in the Attorney-General. I listened carefully to what the Attorney-General had to say, and not in a single phrase has he dealt with any of the substantive matters we have raised through this question time on this most important matter about how you treat a top-secret, AUSTEO, code language document. You have not addressed it at all. You have gone off on your own frolic of no relevance whatsoever to the matter which is the subject of the MPI today.

The question for us all, however, is this: why has the Wilkie affair become a matter of public importance? The answer is this: because the Wilkie affair has become the latest episode in that long-playing John Howard miniseries, still screening at a cinema near you, entitled `How honest John got loose with the truth'.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Griffith is flirting close to the line.


Mr RUDD —But there is also a second reason for this ongoing viewer fascination. It is not just to do with the quality of the acting—it is not just John Howard, best actor; John `how did those kids actually get into the water' Howard and best supporting actor, Alexander `I've never met Mr Andrew Bolt in my life' Downer. It has got nothing to do with the quality of the production facilities over there in the prime ministerial and advisers dispatch box—all the spinmeisters are watching it on the screen but they are not in here with their ministers, because they do not actually front at the dispatch box to answer these questions; no, they are not here. The real reason for the ongoing viewer satisfaction with the Howard government miniseries is simply the screenplay, it is the script, the searing thematic continuity of the script—same theme, different stories. `Honest John loose with the truth'—loose with the truth on Tampa, loose with the truth on `kids overboard', loose with the truth on Iraq, loose with the truth on Manildra mates and now loose with the truth on Andrew Wilkie. It is not a bad little quintet when you put it all together, because, as the Leader of the Opposition has said repeatedly in this place and beyond, it demonstrates a pattern of behaviour: `Honest John loose with the truth'.

But the Wilkie saga has a further disturbing element to it, because when it comes to the deliberate leaking of national security documents of the highest classification to destroy a political opponent it is not just politics; it is treachery. It is treachery to play fast and loose with classified national security documents—treachery because we live in an age of terrorism where national security is at the core, not at the margins, of the Australian national interest. You will not see that this document is regarded by anybody in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as an average piece of literature. It is not up there in the Foreign Affairs common room, the staff room, next to the old copies of the New Idea and the Women's Weekly—`Oh, there's an ONA AUSTEO, code language, top-secret document lying on the table!' It is not like that at all. This is a highly classified document with limited circulation.

I contrast this matter with the matter referred to earlier by the Leader of the Opposition—that is, the matter which arose six months ago, a record of conversation involving the foreign minister and the New Zealand High Commissioner, called the Lackey record of conversation. I am advised that the classification attached to it was `confidential'. What happened when it went missing and ended up in the press? Within 24 hours we had the storm-troopers dispatched. We had a Spanish Inquisition on the road. We had everything being turned over, from high heaven to low earth, in order to find out how this had finally got into the public domain. Contrast that, I say, with what we have seen on this matter: precious little, the occasional frolic with the local Girl Guides brigade—that is how this has been attended to; that is the level of seriousness that has been addressed as far as the handling of this document is concerned. Storm-troopers within 24 hours if it is an opposition leak, and virtually nothing at all if it is a government leak destined to destroy or damage a political opponent. That is the appalling double standard alive in this entire debate.

This matter reeks of those double standards. When it comes to doing something about it we have a Prime Minister who has gone missing in action. Let us go to the text of the Prime Minister's defence yesterday. What he said in the parliament was:

... the Office of National Assessments has stated that the Bolt article ... does not contain any specific comment on any intelligence material.

I repeat this for the benefit of honourable members. He says that it did not `contain' any specific comment on any intelligence matters. I draw honourable members' attention to what the member for Bennelong had to say today in the parliament. It is very interesting when we contrast it with what he said yesterday. We know how forensic the member for Bennelong can be with his language—the solicitor, the literalist, the person who is always finding a linguistic device through which to escape responsibility for his political behaviour. What did he say today? Yesterday he was saying that the report did not `contain' any intelligence material, and here is what the Prime Minister says today:

... the point I made yesterday ... was that the Office of National Assessments ... had expressed a view that the newspaper report did not specifically quote any intelligence ...

The Prime Minister goes on to say:

I also repeat two points I made yesterday. The ONA expressed the view to the AFP that the Melbourne newspaper article did not specifically quote any intelligence material.

In case you missed it, the Prime Minister goes on to say—and I think the cock did crow three times—for the third time:

... Office of National Assessments had made the judgment that the report quoted by Bolt did not specifically quote any intelligence material ...

We all know the Prime Minister very well. We have seen him perform up hill and down dale in terms of weaselling in and weaselling out of responsibility when it comes to things like `kids overboard', when it comes to things like the Tampa, when it comes to things like prewar intelligence on Iraq—`That's the intelligence community's fault; it's not mine.' Why is it that this has happened? `Contain' becomes `quote' on three specific occasions. For the Prime Minister's advisers watching the broadcast through the closed-circuit television in the chamber, can I simply say this: come and tell us why you have changed that. Could it be that you, knowing this matter a little more closely than the Prime Minister does, have discovered a little problem—that is—


Mr Crean —Another mislead.


Mr RUDD —that it may be that we have a little mislead on our hands here? It may be that Bolt's material does contain classified information and that, lo and behold, the Federal Police may find that it does contain classified information. It may be that what Bolt was given—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Griffith will address his remarks through the chair.


Mr RUDD —enables the Prime Minister to weasel out of the situation when it comes to a direct quotation from an original national security document. Perhaps he was provided with a copy or a summation or something like that. But I place here on record in the parliament today that this Prime Minister on three occasions today deliberately changed what he said yesterday in parliament. The question we will not know the answer to until the AFP have been through this matter is why he did so. It was classic John Howard: not doing it directly, not coming to the dispatch box and owning it directly, but sliding it in at the end of an answer to something else. That is the standard device that he used: not owning what he said yesterday about the observations of the intelligence agencies and not actually disowning it either. That continues the unique John Howard tradition of saying it is out there somewhere.

John Howard's definition of the third way when it comes to ministerial responsibility is to say: `There's the intelligence agency out there. It's actually mine. I am the Prime Minister; it is in my portfolio. They've got a view on this, but I'm not actually going to own it. It is there; it might be right or it might be wrong.' Of course, if it turns out to be right, he is delighted because he bathes in the afterglow of it. But if it turns out to be wrong then that is a problem down the track. That is the way that he operates. There is a further problem with the Bolt defence, which is that Bolt himself asserts that he had the document and quoted from it extensively. So what are the options that we face? Is it that the Prime Minister has lied or is it that Mr Bolt is a liar? The other option is that Mr Bolt has gone mad. Either Andrew Bolt has gone mad, Andrew Bolt is a liar or there is a third alternative.

We are confronted with the same thing in Sandy Macdonald's about-face. Sandy Macdonald has done the bolt to Mexico. Sandy is over in Mexico, sunning himself on the beach and saying, `Thank God I'm not there.' But Sandy has a problem, because his first defence when he came to the question was that he got all his material on Mr Wilkie from the British parliamentary inquiry. Of course he did not. His second defence was where the killer line came in. Before the prime ministerial spin doctors watching the broadcast moved in, according to the Financial Review Sandy said that, yes, the contents of the Wilkie report `had been provided to me'. Whoops, Sandy! You really let the cat out of the bag at that point. Then the spin meisters moved in and tried to clear it up. That was when we heard his third defence, which was that Laura Tingle did not know what she was talking about.

Where did the government defence end up in this whole saga? It rests on three propositions: (1) Andrew Bolt is a liar, (2) Laura Tingle is a liar, or (3) someone else is a liar. But I am advised that, according to the standing orders, we could not possibly advance that proposition here in the absence of a substantive motion. This entire saga reeks to high heaven. It reeks of double standards. It reeks of a breach of trust between the government and the Australian people. In breaching that trust, the Prime Minister corrodes the office of the Prime Minister and the trust we have in what the Prime Minister says on national security. (Time expired)