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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3140


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General) —Mr President, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a two-page letter which I received just a few minutes ago from Mr P.G.F. Henderson, the Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which represents a response-perhaps only in the nature of a preliminary response -by him to at least some of the allegations that were made last night during the adjournment debate by Senator Primmer relating to events which were alleged to have occurred within the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Department of Foreign Affairs

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

15 June 1984

Senator The Hon. Gareth Evans,

Attorney-General,

Parliament House,

CANBERRA.

I have the following comments to make on points made by Senator Primmer:

(a) Mr Pryor was appointed by the Public Service Board to conduct an enquiry into a complaint by Mr Witheford that he had been unfairly disadvantaged in his career as a result of his early withdrawal from the Embassy in Tehran. The decision to appoint Mr Pryor was a Board decision. The question of '' collaboration'' with me and Mr Ryan does not arise.

(b) Appointment of Mr Ryan to an Ambassadorial post overseas was at the planning stage when the Sheraton Hotel incident took place. Mr Ryan's name was never submitted to the Governor-General or to a foreign Government as a prospective Head of mission. It follows that there is no substance whatsoever for asserting that he was ''rejected'' by a receiving country.

(c) I am not aware of any allegations of dishonesty against Mr Ryan by any newspapers other than in their reporting of those made by Senator Primmer himself under Parliamentary privilege.

(d) I have never undertaken a ''sustained range of criminal activities'' as alleged by Senator Primmer, nor indeed any criminal activities.

(e) Senator Primmer claims that the remaining charge against Mr Witheford under the Crimes Act is being used as a pretext to keep him out of his job from which he was suspended in January. The decision to proceed with one of the two remaining charges was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Temby, QC, after a close examination of the evidence, Mr Witheford's suspension is in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Act.

(f) Mr Witheford attempted to use diplomatic bags to disseminate in bulk pamphlets and printed material. This was not in accordance with the rules governing officers' use of diplomatic bags for personal mail.

(g) In the November 1982 Senate Estimates hearing, I was asked how many people had complained to the Ombudsman. I replied there had only been one, Mr Witheford . The correctness of my response at that time was subsequently confirmed by the Ombudsman in his letter to Mr Hayden which was subsequently tabled in the Senate .

(h) I have not lied on any occasion to the Senate and I certainly have not abused Parliamentary privilege on any occasion.

(i) Mr Whitlam can recall sending only one letter to the Queen in the period October/November 1975. That letter related to the revocation of Sir Colin Hannah 's dormant commission as Administrator of the Commonwealth. Mr Whitlam signed the letter in Canberra on 20 October. It reached the Queen in time for her to act on it on 24 October and a public announcement was made on 26 October. I did not tamper with any mail.

(j) I deny absolutely that I am guilty of any breach of Customs and Quarantine Regulations in importing Sri Lankan jewellery, expensive perfume, and a riding saddle through the diplomatic bag. I have never brought in jewellery through the diplomatic bag. I did buy my wife a not very expensive garnet when I was in Colombo in the early seventies. I brought it back myself and it formed part of my own duty free allowance. The only item of jewellery that I had brought in as a passenger which exceeded the duty free allowance was our diamond engagement ring that I had remodelled in Bangkok in May 1980. I declared that to the Customs and paid $141.20 in duty. As a passenger I have never brought in more than small items of perfume. I have never brought in a riding saddle either as a passenger or through the diplomatic bag.

P. G. F. HENDERSON