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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1452

Senator CROWLEY —Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to an article by Sir James Killen in the Melbourne Herald of 8 October 1984? In this article Sir James makes clear his disapproval of the way in which the Opposition is behaving on a number of matters, with particular regard to the Age tapes and the setting up of the Costigan Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union by the Fraser Government and the provision of an early report from that Commission to a selective, small group of the previous Government's Cabinet. Finally, he gives his reasons for leaving the parliamentary Liberal Party as partly, amongst other reasons, his profound disagreement with its style of management and the bestowal of ersatz patronage. Can the Attorney-General comment on this article, particularly in light of the Opposition's behaviour in debate on these matters in this place?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I did see the article in the Melbourne Herald and it was in fact a fine piece of praiseworthy prose.

Senator Chaney —I take a point of order, Mr President. Given the usual inability of the Attorney-General to remain on the subject, I thought I would get in early . I ask you, Mr President, to keep the Attorney-General on those aspects of the question which relate to his ministerial responsibility.

The PRESIDENT —I draw the attention of the Attorney-General to standing order 99 which says that questions shall not ask for an expression of opinion. I hope the opinion will not be too long.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am deeply conscious of my parliamentary responsibilities and I will accordingly refer the Senate only to matters which are unequivocally not my opinions but those of Sir James.

Senator Peter Rae —Or those which come within your responsibility.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Indeed. I do not comment though on any part of Sir James's article which relates to the Costigan Commission because I think, in all the circumstances of an impending report and public controversy about the Commission , it would be inappropriate to do so. What is pertinent is that part of Sir James's article refers to the Government's handling of the Age tapes affair which I think even Senator Chaney and Senator Rae would acknowledge to be squarely within my previous and present representative ministerial responsibilities. What Sir James has to say in this respect is in fact very pertinent indeed. Referring to the parliamentary Liberal Party, he said:

The ambition of office seemed paramount to an observance of fundamental philosophic principles. The Opposition's conduct of the 'tapes affair' was a polished piece of ineptitude and blunder.

When preference is given to the glow of political advantage over integrity and proper process of inquiry then let there be no complaint from those who are left to warm their hands at the dying embers.

That strikes me as a splendid epitaph for the Opposition's performance on this matter and could very nicely grace its tombstone at the forthcoming election.