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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3088

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(10.46) —Mr President , I wished to hear the response of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) before making any comment on what Senator Primmer has had to say tonight. I note the Attorney-General's continuing charity towards Senator Primmer, albeit confessing to growing doubts. I want to make a couple of comments and would ask the Attorney-General to consider them. Tonight we have had, on the part of Senator Primmer, a series of allegations, many of which are simply repeats but some of which may be fresh, against a series of individuals-Mr Ryan, Mr Henderson and Mr Bowden. There can be no doubting the seriousness of the charges which are made by Senator Primmer. He has described Mr Henderson, I think I recall him correctly, as having indulged in a sustained range of criminal activities-a pretty serious thing to say about a very senior public servant who has given Australia very long service.

I do not wish in any sense to repeat the range of allegations which have been made, but I remind Senator Primmer and the Senate that some time ago Mr Ryan wrote to newspapers around Australia and made the point that he was in a poor position to defend himself against charges made in this place, and asked Senator Primmer to make those charges outside this place. As I recall, I read that letter into the record here, and I am sure it has come to Senator Primmer's attention. It can be of little consolation to the individuals who have been named that the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, of which the Attorney-General is Deputy Chairman, is doing what is undoubtedly valuable work in getting into what is a vexed and difficult area, because I suppose any changes that are effected by the Parliament following the work of that Committee are unlikely to be retrospective. We are in a situation where it is, I suppose, the duty of all of us to try to see whether there is anything we should do with respect to the allegations which have been raised by Senator Primmer and what can be done to bring some fairness into the position from the point of view of those individuals. I know none of them well. I know Mr Henderson, not well, but I know him. I can only say that everything Senator Primmer says seems highly unlikely to me on what I know of Mr Henderson.

There is a further aspect to this which I think gives a different colour to the remarks which have been made tonight by Senator Primmer, because tonight he has extended his attack beyond public servants and has really implicated the Government of which he is a supporter, in a very serious way. Again I do not have an exact transcript of Senator Primmer's remarks. We will all have that available to us when the Hansard comes out tomorrow. But early in his remarks and before I came into the chamber I heard on the speaker a suggestion that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, had in his possession information which was relevant to his response. I think the meaning of Senator Primmer's words was that he had not taken that information into account when he made the response to Parliament. I would need to examine those words more carefully, but it seems to me that Senator Primmer has made an allegation of recklessness or carelessness on the part of Mr Hayden, if not an allegation that he has misled the Parliament . Later in his speech it was quite clear that Senator Primmer is alleging quite significant wrongdoing on the part of Mr Hayden's office. Senator Primmer used words to the effect that Mr Hayden's office will have to answer for its disgraceful attempt to prevent some individual, whom he named, from exposing some wrongdoing.

I believe that the comments which have been made about Mr Hayden's role in this affair really do throw up an entirely new aspect of the matter. We have now a back bench supporter of this Government alleging conduct on behalf of the Government itself, which I would have thought was most serious and which, if true, would be a basis for the resignation of the Minister.

Senator Gareth Evans —Oh!

Senator CHANEY —I can understand the Attorney-General, late in the third week of sitting, being very easily irritated. I suggest to him that the sorts of allegations which have been made by Senator Primmer against Mr Hayden are allegations which are extremely serious and which go to My Hayden's conduct of office and, indeed, to the integrity of his office.

On that basis I ask the Attorney-General to give consideration to that aspect of what Senator Primmer has said and advise the Senate, not now but after giving the matter reflection, how the Government proposes to deal with this matter. I earlier made the comment that Senator Primmer has access to the Government, I would assume, as a supporter and member of it, and it ought to be incumbent on the Government to deal with Senator Primmer-by deal with him I mean to talk with him and find some way of satisfactorily laying this matter to rest.

Senator Primmer raises more and more murk and more and more dirt. It seems to me the Government either has to satisfy Senator Primmer and silence him through satisfying him or has to take some firm action which will indicate, once and for all, that these men are cleared or, if they are not, that they are being properly dealt with. I think it is entirely unsatisfactory that, for well over a year now, these allegations have been made. The Attorney-General pointed out that each attempt makes it harder to say that Senator Primmer is acting in good faith. I ask the Attorney-General to give consideration to this additional element of the matter which has been raised by Senator Primmer tonight and for the Government to let the Parliament get a considered reply to the serious allegations which have now been made against one of the senior Ministers of this Government.

Let me say, on behalf of the Opposition, that what I say in no way endorses any reflection on the Foreign Minister. I do not wish to be heard or interpreted as suggesting that Mr Hayden or his office have behaved improperly. I simply responded to what I think are significant statements to that effect by Senator Primmer by saying that I do not believe that they can simply be let rest. I believe that the Government must respond firmly and clearly. If it is unable to do so it has to put some mechanism in place which will enable the matter to be cleared up once and for all.