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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3085

Senator PRIMMER(10.30) —I wish to make some further remarks on the subject of the corruption and mismanagement in the Department of Foreign Affairs . In my speeches on 8 March and 9 May I indicated that I would be pursuing the question of the conduct of Mr John Ryan, ex-head of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and former Deputy Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs. But first let me say again that I was satisfied, and remain so, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, did have new information concerning Mr Ryan and other foreign affairs wrongdoers before him when I made my speech of 8 December and that he chose to turn a blind eye to that information both in his ministerial statement on 29 February 'clearing' Mr Ryan and in his sharp rejoinder to my speech of 8 March. As Mr Hayden knows full well, the 'new' information concerning financial corruption-I doubt that much of it would have been new to the Secretary to the Department, Mr Henderson-was submitted in the course of a Public Service Board inquiry involving Mr Witheford and Mr Henne last year despite strenuous efforts by the disemployed mandarin in charge of that inquiry, a man called Pryor, who seems set to continue on the public payroll beyond maximum retiring age, to frighten off those giving unpalatable evidence. This was done in collaboration with Messrs Henderson and Ryan. I may need to return to that particular subject in the Budget session.

I note that Mr Ryan has resigned from the Public Service and I have no great desire to pursue him in his retirement. But I want to make it clear that I have been continuing my own inquiries into his activities and, in the light of these, I wish to confirm the oft-quoted assessment I made of him in my speech of 8 December. I would add that it is generally known around Canberra that a recent attempt to give Mr Ryan an ambassadorial appointment overseas was rejected by the receiving country. Furthermore, most believe that, had Mr Ryan not resigned, he would inevitably have faced charges over the Sheraton Hotel fiasco and his abortive efforts to cover it up. I would remind honourable senators that the Sydney Morning Herald, the National Times and the Bulletin have all made allegations of dishonesty against Mr Ryan to which there has been no response, as has Mr Justice Hope in his recent report on the Sheraton raid. Mr Ryan's incompetence shines through Mr Justice Hope's report. Clearly promotion to high office in the Department of Foreign Affairs is based on factors other than efficiency.

I welcome the news release on 8 May that Mr Peter Henderson will be resigning from his position as head of Foreign Affairs on 5 September. In this connection it occurs to me that some honourable senators may have overlooked an interesting exchange which took place between Senator Tate and Mr Henderson in Estimates Committee E on 3 May. When Senator Tate showed his concern about the Witheford prosecution, Mr Henderson, in the course of a lot of ducking and weaving, sought to leave the impression that the prosecution was the work of the police. That was contrary to the facts as determined by the Acting Chief Magistrate, Mr Kevin Dobson, who on 16 March said in part that the 'prosecution was conceived in prejudice and born in bias on the part of some officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs', and not-I stress not-by the police officers concerned in the case. This was not the first time that Mr Henderson had wilfully misled an Estimates committee. I draw to the attention of honourable senators, and to that of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) in particular, Mr Justice Murphy' s recent remarks on the Professor Harry Messel case:

Legal proceedings, especially criminal ones, can be an instrument of oppression by governments against their citizens: They can ruin an individual despite the fact that he or she is ultimately acquitted. Even a relatively minor charge can have this effect.

The mind boggles at the injustice of Mr Witheford's prosecution when one contemplates the sustained range of criminal activities undertaken by those, such as Mr Henderson, who conceived and pressed these charges against him. But thanks to the support of the unions, the honesty and competence of the Australian Capital Territory magistracy, the anger of the people of Canberra and elsewhere, thousands of whom have signed petitions about the case, the sympathy of the media, not to mention the interest expressed by a number of honourable senators and those in another place, I am confident that Mr Witheford will not be ruined. The remaining charge is being used as a pretext to keep him out of his job from which he was suspended almost five months ago.

A further disgraceful aspect of the affair has been the interception by Mr Henderson of personal mail from Mr Witheford and two of his sympathisers to other departmental colleagues. That constitutes a further violation of civil liberties which I believe not a single honourable senator would condone. I suggest that not even Senator Jessop would condone that.

So far as Mr Ivor Bowden is concerned, and Mr Bowden is in a sense the man who started it all, I have not yet received a reply to my message to President Zia of Pakistan concerning Mr Bowden's obvious unsuitability to serve as an Australian Ambassador there. Senators Georges, McIntosh, Sibraa and perhaps other honourable senators will not have forgotten the debate on 16 November 1982 about the Senate Estimates D Committee report. It emerged, without a shadow of doubt, that Mr Henderson had lied to that Committee in maligning Mr Don Witheford and Mr Karl Henne, thereby seeking to cover up the Teheran affair. In his confrontation with the Senate, Mr Henderson may have lied just once too often. He certainly abused parliamentary privilege on those two occasions. It is an open secret that many Government parliamentarians now regret that people so indelibly linked with the coalition parties, as is Mr Henderson, were not moved from sensitive positions without delay.

The information that has only recently reached me concerning Mr Henderson's apparent role in tampering with Prime Minister Whitlam's correspondence with the Palace in November 1975 more than proves my point. I add that I continue to be determined to pursue Mrs Van Dartel's allegations about Mr Henderson's blatant breach of Customs and quarantine regulations in importing Sri Lankan jewellery, expensive perfume, a riding saddle and the like through the diplomatic bag. Sooner or later, Mr Hayden's office will have to answer for its disgraceful attempt to dissuade Mrs Van Dartel from exposing corruption and incompetence within the Department.

Concerning the prosecution of Don Witheford-persecution would perhaps be a more accurate term-I note that a second charge has now been dropped but the third and final one which directly relates to the Teheran Embassy affair is to proceed on 16 July. In my opinion Mr Bowden should not have been allowed out of Australia while charges remained pending against Mr Witheford.

Mr President, as you know, I have made strenuous efforts to expose a range of malpractices in the Department of Foreign Affairs, including a variety of frauds , tax evasion, perjury, nepotism and the misleading of Parliament. I have put a further series of questions on notice designed to elicit further information on these matters. With particular reference to the Sunday program in which I appeared on 3 July, I believe I used the privilege I enjoy as a senator in an entirely proper manner. My only regret is that sanction has rarely followed exposure. I am glad to note that my parliamentary critics in this respect have modified their attitude, or even withdrawn from the conflict, presumably in reaction to the Acting Chief Magistrate's stinging judgment on 16 March. Perhaps they had also drawn the obvious conclusion from their failure to answer the scores of questions asked with and without notice on these issues.

My offer remains open to provide copies of the transcripts of that trial to any honourable senator inclined to look deeper into this affair. I have been involved in these matters for too long to expect that the departure from the scene of two of the major operators, in the form of Mr Ryan and Mr Henderson, will solve matters overnight, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.