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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2478


Senator CHANEY —I remind the Minister for Veterans' Affairs that yesterday, on behalf of the Opposition, I expressed concern about the Government's treatment of the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Air Vice-Marshal Flemming, and the need to resolve the present difficulties in a way that does not leave a cloud over the Memorial. Has the Minister noted today's strong criticism of his actions by a former Labor Premier of South Australia and former member of the War Memorial Council, Mr Des Corcoran? In particular, I refer to Mr Corcoran's charge that the Minister `has been constantly interfering in the Council for a long period of time and I guess that's had its effect and they've overlooked that the Director is entitled to a fair go and natural justice'. Does the Minister agree that he cannot dismiss Mr Corcoran's comments in the same contemptuous way as he has responded to the concerns of others who, like the former Premier, want to see this matter resolved in a fair and just way? Does the Minister agree that Mr Corcoran's suggestion that the Director is entitled to a fair go and natural justice is in accord with the options the Opposition has offered the Minister as a way to settle this matter? I ask the Minister: Has the Government yet decided on a course of action? If so, what does it propose to do?


Senator GIETZELT —I recall Senator Chaney's level-headed and generous statement yesterday with respect to the position the Opposition may take if the Government decides to proceed with legislation. I recall making the offer to the Opposition that if it can provide me with any evidence of natural justice being denied to Mr Flemming I will take it into consideration in my approaches to Cabinet. I have waited almost 23 hours for that offer to be taken up by the Opposition. It has not done so. One can only conclude from that that the Opposition is relying on rhetoric and is taking a one-sided approach to a very complex problem which I am sure its Ministers have had to live with in government in terms of statutory office holders outside the jurisdiction of the Public Service Board. My offer still stands. I wait with some degree of concern for that offer to be taken up.

In respect of Mr Corcoran, the Government notes with some pleasure the Opposition's concern about a former Labor Premier. I am not so sure that it expressed in parliamentary elections such favourable comments about him and the policies he has pursued. Having said that, I have to respond to the questions that have been asked of me by Senator Chaney. There is absolutely no truth in the statements Mr Corcoran has made about my motivation. I have pointed out to the media and maybe to the Senate that in respect of Mr Corcoran I was taking advantage of the vacancy that would be created by not reappointing him to appoint a senior officer from my Department to the position because of the shambles which the administration of the Australian War Memorial was in as a result of the leadership, or lack of leadership, by Mr Flemming.

Senator Chaney asked me a question concerning whether I had applied pressure to the Council. All I can say with respect to any criticism which Mr Corcoran has levelled against me is that I can understand his concern. Any person who was not appointed would be aggrieved. I accept that. He is entitled to his view, as I am entitled to mine. As far as Mr Corcoran's statement about my interference in the Council is concerned, on the last occasion I attended the Memorial for a function I recall Mr Corcoran congratulating me on the staff and financial resources I had provided for the Australian War Memorial. I think that was in May this year. He commented that the relationship between the Council and the Minister was highly valued. There is absolutely no substance in the suggestion that I have applied duress to the Council. Of course I have expressed a view, but it is an insult to the very distinguished people who make up the Australian War Memorial Council to suggest that they have succumbed to pressure by the Minister or, for that matter, any other person. It does not speak highly of their integrity or of their capacity finally to come to the conclusion they reached on Monday evening that not only did the Minister have no confidence in Mr Flemming but also that that was the view of the Council.


Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the Minister's reply but ask him: In light of Mr Corcoran's suggestion that the Director should have a fair go and natural justice, will the Minister either accept the finding of the Jones Inquiry into Allegations Concerning the Administration of the Australian War Memorial that Mr Flemming is not guilty of misconduct or appoint a full inquiry which will enable the disputed issues to be determined?


Senator GIETZELT —I recall that in the latter part off Senator Chaney's question he asked me about the views of the Government. The matter is currently before the Cabinet. All the options that are available to the Government are being considered by it. When the Government makes its decision it will advise the Australian War Memorial Council and the Parliament about the course of action that is open to it.