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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2600

Senator REID —Does the Minister for Veterans' Affairs recall that when he attended the 1984 Christmas party at the Australian War Memorial it was announced that a wedding would be held at the Memorial two or three days later? Does he recall that the bride and groom were both employees of the Memorial and that the groom, a Vietnam veteran, felt that being married in such surroundings was an appropriate way to remember friends who did not return from that war and who could not attend the wedding? Given that the Minister knew about the wedding, that he had time to stop it happening if he so wished, why did he feign such outrage during Question Time in the Senate yesterday when asked whether a wedding had been held at the Memorial?

Senator GIETZELT —Yesterday I was asked a question by Senator Tate. As I said on that occasion, and I repeat it now, I regard the use of the Hall of Remembrance for holding a civil ceremony as a decision of appallingly bad taste by the Director of the Australian War Memorial. It is true, as Senator Reid suggested, that several days after the War Memorial was transferred to my portfolio by the Prime Minister following the 1984 election I attended a Christmas party at the Australian War Memorial. I remind the Senate, and Senator Reid in particular, that there was some controversy, related not just to the staff, of which she was aware. It is very interesting to look at the Press comments at the time about some of the people who have been attacked viciously in the coward's castle of the House of Representatives by Mr Everingham. Those people expressed an opposite view to that of the Government. They did not support the transfer of the Australian War Memorial to my portfolio and neither did Air Vice-Marshal Flemming, who said that he hoped the decision would be overturned.

Honourable senators will appreciate that when I went to the Christmas party I was concerned about the matter and desired to build bridges and to allay any suspicions that transferring the Australian War Memorial to my portfolio would be detrimental to the future of that very important sacred shrine. A number of people spoke at the ceremony, and I have absolutely no recollection-I say that quite definitively-of any suggestion that there would be a civil marriage ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. Only a short time ago I checked the matter with the Secretary to my Department, Mr Derek Volker, who is now the head of the Department of Social Security. He said that he had no recollection of the matter. I also checked with my Senior Private Secretary, Mr Hansen, who has no recollection, and neither do I.

When Mr Fischer made the statement in the House of Representatives in the grievance debate today he very carefully used the words `I am advised'. Of course, honourable senators on both sides of the chamber know that those words are a very easy escape hatch. A member is able to say `Someone else told me', because he has no particular brief. He relies on somebody else's credibility. Even assuming I knew what the circumstances were-I did not-I had no power. As I have pointed out to the Opposition on several occasions, the only power the Minister has is to appoint members to the Australian War Memorial Council and to grant leave to the Director when he makes such applications. Outside that, under the present Australian War Memorial Act no power is given to the Minister. So even if I knew of the matter, which I did not, I would not have been able in the circumstances, either then or now, to issue a direction against it.

I ask the Opposition to make up its mind. It has sought on several occasions to suggest that it was improper to hold the proclamation ceremony, which extended a range of benefits to war widows and those who served in Vietnam who were not previously covered by legislation. The Opposition objected to that. Is it saying that it does not object to a civil ceremony being held, not in the War Memorial but in the Hall of Remembrance? Of course it must, as indeed the Government does, and, as I am sure the Council would, some of whose members were probably at the function. I did not know any of the persons at the first official function I went to. I went to allay suspicions, and I make no apology for the fact that I have built bridges with every person at the Australian War Memorial. It was only in the last year or so that I found I had difficulty with respect to Air Vice-Marshal Flemming.

Yesterday I gave an undertaking that I would seek official information in respect of these matters. I found that a civil marriage ceremony took place on 22 December 1984 in the Hall of Remembrance. Approval was given by the Director, Air Vice-Marshal Flemming. The Director was present at that civil ceremony. No records in the Australian War Memorial show whether approval was given.

Whilst I am on my feet I add that I was also asked to deal with the question of the use of the logo of the Australian War Memorial. I will table a letter which has been provided to me by the staff at the Australian War Memorial which indicates that Air Vice-Marshal Flemming gave the company that runs the kiosk the use of the official logo for advertising purposes. The letter goes on to say that it may be used without reservation at the discretion of the director of that company. With respect to both the marriage ceremony and the logo, there is no evidence of the matters ever being formally approved by the Council.

The PRESIDENT —Do I take it that the Minister is tabling a paper?

Senator GIETZELT —Yes.