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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1974

Senator PETER RAE —By way of introduction to my question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, may I say, Mr President, that at the close of Question Time I shall be seeking an opportunity to make a personal explanation in relation to the total misrepresentation in the Canberra Times. My question concerns the implications for the Australian Customs Service flowing from the false declaration submitted by the Special Minister of State, Mr Young. Has the Customs Service completed its review of the design of baggage declaration forms which the Minister said on 21 August was underway? If so, have any changes been made to the forms, and, if so, what changes? Has the Minister yet checked, as he said on the seventh of last month that he would, as to apparent inconsistencies between the submission to the Black Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration by the Comptroller-General of Customs and the evidence given to the inquiry by Mrs Young? Further, have any new instructions been issued to Customs officers as to revision of procedures following the Minister's admission on the tenth of last month that Mr Young had been treated differently from other people making false Customs declarations and the Minister's apparent agreement with the proposition that the onus no longer rests on those making declarations to be aware of the contents of the baggage?

Senator BUTTON —This is a grab-bag Question Time. Senator Peter Rae asked me a number of questions about Customs procedures. The review to which I referred is taking place. But I must say that Customs officers have made a number of inquiries and have really found very few complaints about the matters which Senator Rae raises in his question and to which I have adverted in answer to a question. The matter is being examined by the Customs Service. Insofar as the other questions are concerned, Senator Rae says, for example, that I said that Mr Young was treated differently from an ordinary citizen. I just go back over that and make the point that on 5 July, when Mr Young returned to Australia, I instructed the Comptroller-General of Customs that he was to be treated, in terms of Customs procedures, like any other citizen.

Senator Chaney —But he wasn't.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney interjects, with perspicacity-surprising though it may be-that he was not treated in the same way as other citizens. Mr Young was not treated in the same way as other citizens because of one fact only: He immediately put out a public statement about what had happened, and he was then subject to the full glare of publicity and examination, for God's sake, by a committee of the Liberal Party to see what he had done. That was the respect in which he was not treated in the same way.

Senator Peter Rae chides me, in some respects in terms of his question, for delay. I make one very important point. After the so-called Paddington Bear affair occurred, the Liberal Party, with great publicity, set up a committee to look into the whole matter, consisting of Mr John Spender, Senator Durack, Senator Withers, Mr Steele Hall, and Mr McGauran. They met on 31 July in Townsville. There, looking over Cleveland Bay, they considered what they would do in terms of their inquiry. They finally decided that they did not have sufficient information to conduct an inquiry. They then made some 15 to 20 requests under the Freedom of Information Act to find out all the information that was available. All of that information was made available to them seven weeks ago. There has been no report from that committee of inquiry set up by the Liberal Party, much vaunted as it was at the time.

I do not know why that committee has not bothered to report on that issue, which they saw as being tremendously important at the time. Perhaps their performance on that committee is as lacklustre as it has been here in the Senate . Perhaps Senator Withers is too busy, or something like that. I see that he has gone on to greater things. He has been appointed Mr Peacock's minder for the duration of the campaign. Those who have seen the television show will know who the minder had to look after in that show. I hope that Senator Withers does not find himself in the same role as that.

Senator PETER RAE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Apart from the fact that the Minister did not even attempt to answer most of the questions that I asked, does the answer to the small part that the Minister gave, which was about the fact that Customs inquiries show that not many other people had any trouble with the form, mean that Mr Young is about the only person who has had any trouble with the form and that the Government will not change it after all?

Senator BUTTON —No, it does not mean that at all. Numerous people have had trouble with the form.

Senator Peter Rae —Well, what did you mean?

Senator BUTTON —What I said.