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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 117

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(11.43) —The Senate is debating the report by a Melbourne Queen's Counsel, Mr Black, into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration on 5 July 1984 by a senior Minister of the Hawke Government, Mr Young. Senator Jack Evans suggested that this matter was of no significance. I put it to the House that the questions of standards of behaviour of Ministers of the Crown are of great significance. I reject the kind of rhetoric that suggests that we should be looking at crime in Australia, especially when it is uttered by a man who speaks for a party that rejected a number of amendments that would have strengthened the National Crime Authority. Let us not hear that kind of rhetoric from Senator Jack Evans. I make the clear point that there should have been no inquiry at all on this matter. The question of the standard of conduct of a Minister is a matter for the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) had indicated that he believed in high standards. There was a debate in this Parliament not more than a few years ago on the questions of Customs forms, declarations and errors therein. Every Minister and every member of this Parliament was acquainted with all the details and nuances of this subject.

This was not an accidental case. We are not dealing with an ordinary citizen who might have been confused. Indeed, we are dealing with a Minister who several years ago set himself up as an expert on the subject of standards. There is no question that he did not know all the wording, the meanings and nuances in the Customs form. He himself in this Parliament had indicated the standards. Indeed, the Prime Minister had said that such a standard should be enforced. The fact is that the Prime Minister should have looked at this matter and said to himself: ' What do I expect as a standard from my Minister? Do I expect him to behave in a way above the ordinary conduct of an ordinary citizen? Do I expect him to know more than the ordinary citizen about the Customs regulations?' The Prime Minister could have answered that question clearly because debate on this matter had already take place in this Parliament. The Special Minister of State (Mr Young) had set himself up as an expert.

The question that arose was simple enough-namely, what was the standard of conduct of a Minister who signed a form and said that to the best of his knowledge the answer he gave was true and correct in every particular? The evidence was that the Minister had indicated to Mr Jennings that he had no knowledge at all. The Democrats appear to suggest that it was a trivial matter that a Minister signed a form indicating that he had knowledge; in other words, that the information was given to the best of his knowledge and belief and was a true statement. But the Minister said to Mr Jennings: 'I had no knowledge'. The Minister knew that it would be wrong to bring in anything on which there was not a true declaration. He knew on his own admission that he had no knowledge at all of what was in the luggage. What he should have done was to say: 'I have no knowledge of this matter. Let us stand over the luggage until I find out'. Clearly, either the Minister said to his wife: 'What is in the luggage? Is there anything to declare--

Senator Button —Clearly he didn't say that to his wife.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I am grateful to the Leader of the Government in the Senate because he has changed his mind on this matter. At first when the matter arose, he said that there was nothing to it, but then he said that, in view of certain information that had come before him, there ought to be an inquiry. But the Minister needed no such information. He knew that a Customs form had been signed in which a person had said that, to the best of his knowledge, the statement was correct. He knew that the person had said he had no knowledge at all of the matter. What kind of a standard is it when a Minister does something like that? The Special Minister of State knew when he was at that Customs point that his statement was false. It was not an incorrect statement by inadvertence, but a false statement. The Minister knew, as he said afterwards, that he had no such knowledge at all. Therefore, he knew that inside that luggage there might have been dutiable articles.

What more did the Prime Minister need? The fact is that the Prime Minister has shown himself again and again to be weak in handling his Ministers and Cabinet. The Prime Minister is the captive of his Cabinet, his Caucus and his national conference. As has been shown recently, he is incapable of acting. Prime Minister Hawke knew what it was right to do and he did what was wrong. In setting up the inquiry into this matter, the Government deliberately narrowed the terms of reference, and invited the Queen's Counsel to inquire into impropriety, whereas the question was: What is the standard of conduct expected of a Minister? That is not a matter for a Queen's counsel at all. It is a matter for a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister also knew that he could not use his authority; he had failed in his authority on other occasions.

This was not the first case involving this Minister. There was the Combe affair and a royal commissioner, Mr Justice Hope, made stringent findings about the Minister and his conduct. In other words, the principle governing the standard of conduct expected of a Minister in the past had been clearly shown to be seriously breached. The Prime Minister knew, as we know from his statements, that the Minister should be judged according to the standards set in past debate in the Parliament. The Prime Minister knew that he had one job to do-stand the Minister down permanently. However, the Prime Minister did not do that. He used the inquiry to defend himself from his Caucus, his Party and his national conference.

The Prime Minister was the man who said publicly that there is one action that is right-if we are to keep to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, observe its terms and not have trade sanctions imposed on us, it is right for Australia to export uranium to those countries that are signatories to the Treaty and not be selective in our exports. However, pressure came from his Caucus and his national conference. Before the conference, the Prime Minister reduced his policy to an emasculated compromise and then claimed a victory. That is what he does all the time. The Prime Minister, who poses as a strong man, is, in fact, the complete captive of his national conference and his Party. Senator Jack Evans of the Australian Democrats says that this is not an important matter ; it is a trivial matter. We are dealing with the whole question of the standards not just of Mr Young but also of Mr Hawke. The report stands as an indictment of Mr Hawke's standards and value judgments.

For the reasons I have given, I do not want to canvass the report. The report is irrelevant to the issue. The issue is not whether there was impropriety or a breach of the law-that matter is for other times and other decisions. It is necessary to clear up this issue. The Leader of the Government in the Senate ( Senator Button) has a grave responsibility in this regard and will, no doubt, act on it. The real question is the standard of Ministers. I cannot help but say that it is outrageous to read in the report that the Special Minister of State was compelled to answer yes or no-of course, he was not. Only four for five days ago while coming through Customs I had a query about some foodstuffs, so I wrote 'query' on the form. I asked whether the goods were admissible and dutiable. The Customs officer had discussions with me on the matter, because I could not say to the best of my knowledge-

Senator Button —Because you knew about the Young thing; that is why you did it.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —That is very interesting. Senator Button said that I did that because I knew about the Young thing. Mick Young knew about the colour television set incident, did he not?

Senator Button —We all did.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Senator Button has hooked himself with his own expediency. There could not have been a more opportunist and expedient interjection. If it is right to say-and it is not-that what happened to me the other day and previously was an expedient action because of the Young thing, how much more so is it right to say that the Minister should have known because of the colour television incident? I invite the public to note that what the Leader of the Government in the Senate just said has condemned Mr Young on his own values. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Button, just said that Mr Young should have known, and should have been more cautious and should have written on the form that he did not know because he was aware of the colour television incident. One cannot buy a more opportunist situation than the one just put by Senator Button.

Senator Button —Admirable interjection though, Senator. It worked like a charm.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —It worked to show the Government's standards and values.

Senator Robertson —Watch your halo; it is starting to choke you.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I welcome interjections.

Senator Robertson —You thrive on them.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Yes. Why should I not do so? Interjections disclose the Hawke Government's soft underbelly, particularly those of its senior Ministers, the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

Senator Gietzelt —You had nine Ministers tarnished in your Government.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I love to hear these interjections. Honourable senators opposite should keep going. The more interjections there are, the more opportunities there are to show the Labor Party's fragility, it captivity to its Caucus and conferences and the opportunism and shallowness of its principles. I thank honourable senators opposite, through you, Mr Deputy President, for their interjections.

The Prime Minister should never have called for a report. The report was designed by him and his Government as a cover-up and a defence for the Prime Minister's inaction. The test was not the standard of an ordinary individual but the standard of a senior Minister. The test was: Is this the standard of conduct of a person whom Australia would want to have as a Minister making very serious judgments all day, one who is understood to know of these matters? Is this the standard of conduct of a man who in the House of Representatives had debated the question of Customs forms, admissibility and Customs avoidance and who had set himself up as judge and jury on that matter? Is this the standard of conduct of a man who cannot claim that there was some confusion about the form? We heard all that nonsense about the form's ambiguity, but that has been discussed before . No wonder we are discussing the Black report. The Special Minister of State could not claim any of those alibis because he had asserted that he knew all the nuances of the form.

The Minister said that what he had stated was to the best of his knowledge and belief but he admitted afterwards that he had no knowledge of the cases' contents. The Minister had, therefore, made a culpably false statement. It was culpably false for him to say that he made that statement with knowledge of the contents and then to say that he had no such knowledge. That action should have been sufficient for the Prime Minister to act; but the Prime Minister did not do so because he is a weak man. The Prime Minister hides behind his massive narcissus complex as a weak man who is the absolute captive of his Caucus and his Party. The Prime Minister did nothing.

The Black report is the weakest of reports because its terms of reference were deliberately narrowed and designed to reach a certain conclusion. The Black report is irrelevant, but the Prime Minister's action in this matter is very relevant. He showed that he was unwilling to assert that his Ministers should have certain standards such as those he demanded of the coalition when it was in government. The Prime Minister has run from that demand. There are now poor standards of conduct for Ministers.

I understand that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has said to Senator Peter Rae that there will be an opportunity to continue this debate. I understand also that the Leader of the Government in the Senate now wishes to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks.