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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 695


Senator CHANEY —Mr President, as a matter of novelty, I shall ask a Minister a question relating to his portfolio. I refer the Minister for Industry and Commerce to the Government's claim that the Special Minister of State, following his making a false Customs declaration, was treated in an identical manner to the way in which any other defaulter would be treated. I refer also to the papers on the Young affair which were tabled by the Prime Minister last week and by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and in particular to the file note of the Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce, Mr Hayes, dated 6 July 1984. In this minute did Mr Hayes advise the Minister that if the duty exceeded $500 'seizure and prosecution action would be the only avenue of process'? I ask whether Mr Hayes's file note contains the following comment:

The Minister explored with me whether there was room for honest mistakes by Mr Young.

I ask the Minister: Does he normally ask his departmental Secretary whether Customs defaulters have made honest mistakes and, if not, how can he still maintain that the Special Minister of State was treated in an identical manner to the way in which any other Customs defaulter would be treated?


Senator BUTTON —I have certainly not made any claim that Mr Young was treated in an exactly identical way with the way in which any other person who found himself making a misleading Customs declaration would be treated. Mr Young was the subject of a whole range of special treatment. Even the Opposition sitting at a Townsville hotel set up a special committee to inquire into Mr Young. So, of course, he was not treated like everybody else. He had the full glare of the Opposition's intelligentsia shining on his problem. Senator Chaney confuses what the Government subsequently said with what I said when this matter was drawn to my attention first on 5 July. On that occasion I said that Mr Young is to be treated by Customs like any other passenger. That was the comment which I made to the Collector of Customs on that date.

If I might say so, Senator Chaney tends to turn Question Time in this Senate into a sort of embryonic law moot for a meeting of Young Liberals in some provincial town in Western Australia with the sort of questions that are asked about this matter. I might just remind Senator Chaney of the questions which he has asked me about this matter. The first question suggested that in some way I tried to 'verbal', to use an expression which Senator Chaney might remember from his law student days, out of which he never seems to have grown--


Senator Chaney —Why did you dictate the statement?


Senator BUTTON —I did not dictate the statement, and that was the answer to the question.


Senator Chaney —You did dictate the statement. It says so in the papers.


Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator says that it says in the papers that I dictated the statement? Senator Chaney asked me a question about it and I gave him an answer and that is my answer as to what happened.

When asking the next question in this place about this issue Senator Chaney held up a couple of documents and said: 'Document A is inconsistent with document B'. 'What are you going to do about that?', he asked. I said, as a matter of courtesy which I extended to Senator Chaney because he cannot understand the documents himself, that I would have a look at those documents and see whether I thought there were inconsistencies in them. I have not done that yet because I had better things to do over the weekend. I went to the football match on Sunday. In the course of time I will answer that silly question I was asked last week, because that is all it was. If there were any inconsistencies in the documents they were addressed by Mr Black, QC, in the course of his inquiry. If the honourable senator wants to come in here and attack Mr Black, he can do that.


Senator Chaney —I am attacking you.


Senator BUTTON —You are not doing very well; you are attacking Mr Black. The fact of the matter is that all these documents were before Mr Black and they are now before the Parliament. I suppose this Committee which was established in Townsville is still poring over them with microscopes, trying to find some inconsistencies. If there were inconsistencies in them, those inconsistencies came before Mr Black and he dealt with them. If the honourable senator wants to come in here and attack Mr Black he can do that, but he should not trundle it up like some pathetic Trojan horse in the guise of questioning me about what took place. The fact of the matter is, as I have said, that we have never said subsequently that Mr Young was treated in exactly the same way as any ordinary citizen. No ordinary citizen gets the benefit of an inquiry by the Liberal Party into how he filled in a Customs declaration.


Senator Chaney —You told us that on 5 July that is what you said.


Senator BUTTON —I will say it again for Senator Chaney's benefit: I said on 5 July to the Comptroller-General of Customs that, as far as I was concerned, Mr Young was to be treated like any ordinary passenger. That is what I said on 5 July, the first date on which this matter came to light. Senator Chaney does not seem to have got past that first date in any of the questions he has asked in this Parliament. That is what I said on 5 July, and I now say that in the light of what developed Mr Young was not so treated, and I have said why today. I just go back to the question I was asked on Friday, that is, is there an inconsistency between what the Comptroller-General of Customs said and what Mrs Young said in her evidence before Mr Black? If there is an inconsistency, so what? The issues have been pronounced on by Mr Black in his inquiry and he has said in his report what he regarded as relevant and what he regarded as not relevant. What he did not regard as relevant is preoccupying the Opposition, with its puerile questions on this issue.


Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. The Minister has just told us that on 5 July he said that Mr Young would be treated as any ordinary passenger. Does he agree that, in accordance with this note signed by Mr Hayes, on 6 July he discussed the matter with the Secretary to his Department and explored with the Secretary to his Department whether there was room for honest mistakes by Mr Young? Is that normal?


Senator BUTTON —I will have to go through it again, Mr President, because again Senator Chaney has sought to misrepresent what I said. What I said in the telephone conversation with the Comptroller-General of Customs on 5 July was that Mr Young was to be treated like any ordinary passenger. As I said in the Senate a few weeks ago, members of the Opposition find it very difficult to imagine that I might have behaved in that way when they have an appalling record of behaving in exactly the opposite way when in government. When they were in government they tried to conceal things for seven months, and they expect us to behave in exactly the same way as they did in government. Well, we are not as shonky as that lot. On 5 July I said precisely that to the Comptroller-General of Customs. I do not remember whether on 6 July I had a discussion with Mr Hayes , the Comptroller-General of Customs, about value for duty and the way the matter should be dealt with. I probably did; certainly I would have at one time. The point is whether I conveyed that information to Mr Young when I found it out . That is what the honourable senator should be asking me about if he wants to show an intelligent interest in this debate. That is the relevant question which I ought to be asked, but he has not asked that at any stage.


Senator Chaney —It has been answered already.


Senator BUTTON —Who by?


Senator Chaney —It was done.


Senator BUTTON —There is no doubt whatsoever, according to the evidence given to the Black inquiry, that Mr Young was told about the significance of the $500 in respect of value for duty. There is no doubt about that at all. The relevant question, if Senator Chaney wants to go on with this line of questioning in the Senate, is whether I told him that. That would be the significant question, but I have not been asked that. The relevant question is whether I told him. The answer, for the honourable senator's benefit, is no, I did not tell him that. I had no discussion with Mr Young about that. The fact of the matter is that yes, he was told that. Many people who make a mistake in a Customs declaration are told that by Customs officers. They are told whether they are likely to attract the method of penalty under section 209 of the Customs Act or not.