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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1922
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Senator Gareth Evans —On 29 May 1984 (Hansard, page 2007), Senator Primmer asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:

My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is it a fact that in November 1975 correspondence from the Right Honourable Gough Whitlam, addressed to the Queen, was intercepted in the mail room of the Department of Foreign Affairs? If that is so, will the Minister provide full details? Is it a fact that Mr Peter Henderson was the First Assistant Secretary in charge of the mail room at that time?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Senator Primmer's question has been referred to the Hon. Gough Whitlam for comment. 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. It is evident that there was no delay in transmitting the letter from Canberra to London. In 1975 Mr Peter Henderson was the First Assistant Secretary in charge of the Management and Foreign Service Division of which the mail room formed a part.

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Senator Gareth Evans —On 7 June 1984 (Hansard, page 2755), Senator Primmer asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:

My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Why did the Department of Foreign Affairs not cable immediately to Ambassador Whitlam, the text of my question of 29 May, as is the usual procedure ? Is it a fact that Mr Whitlam learnt of that question relating to the interception of his mail by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Queen in November 1975 from the media? Can the Minister indicate at what stage are the investigations into this matter?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Following a search of bag schedules and other records for any evidence of a letter as referred to by Senator Primmer, the text of Senator Primmer's question was referred to Mr Whitlam by telegram on 30 May.

A reporter from the Melbourne Truth telephoned Mr Whitlam's Secretary on 30 May . Mr Whitlam's Secretary told the reporter that she would ask for a copy of the parliamentary proceedings and she thanked him for bringing them to notice.

Senator Primmer's question of 29 May has been replied to separately.

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Senator Gareth Evans —On 24 August 1984, (Hansard, page 361), Senator Crichton- Browne asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:

I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs to a question asked, I suspect two days ago (Hansard, 22 August 1984, page 128) by Senator Maguire in respect of whether or not the Australian Government had been invited to visit Nicaragua to observe the elections that are to take place there in November of this year, a question which is all the more relevant since in the last 24 hours all the Opposition coalition parties have been outlawed which of course means that they are denied access to the media. Inasmuch as those democratically elected Opposition parties have now been outlawed, their materials have been censored and they are no longer allowed to have political meetings or rallies, I ask: Was the Federal Australian Government invited to visit El Salvador to observe the elections there when President Buarte was elected? Did it accept that invitation? In the event that it did not accept that invitation, will it use the same guidelines and yardstick in making the determination and judgment as to whether it will participate in an observer capacity in the elections in Nicaragua?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The Australian Government was invited by the Government of El Salvador to send observers to the first round of Presidential elections on 25 March. Australia declined the invitation. The Government supports free elections and the development of democratic institutions in El Salvador on the basis of national reconciliation and reform. However, the process of national reconciliation and reform had not, in the Government's view, reached a point where the elections could be fully representative.

The Government welcomed the decision by the Nicaraguan Government to hold elections on 4 November for a President, a Vice-President and a constituent National Assembly. During the Foreign Minister's recent visit to Nicaragua he emphasised in all his discussions with the Sandinista Government that the provision of pluralism in the elections was a matter of central importance. He said that the Co-ordinadora Democratica, which includes the major opposition parties should be permitted to participate in the elections in order to provide for meaningful opposition.

As to the electoral process itself, the Foreign Minister said he believed that if all the arrangements were implemented as the Supreme Electoral Council outlined them to him, then the process would be as fair as could be expected.

There has been no approach to the Government by Nicaragua inviting Australia to send observers or to provide assistance for the elections.

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