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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1381


Senator ALSTON(12.55) —I wish very briefly to make reference to a matter which I think should be of concern to the Parliament. It relates to a recent trip overseas by the Attorney-General of the State of Tasmania, Mr John Bennett, in relation to a visit to Geneva and other places. It was necessary for him to leave Australia on the week ending 22 February last. In the course of so doing it was necessary for him to make certain arrangements and to advise certain people of his departure. As a result, the matter became known to the media. But the aspect that is of particular concern to me and, I believe, the Parliament is that according to Mr Bennett, whose remarks are recorded in Tasmanian Hansard of 26 March of this year, as he was leaving on the Friday to go home to collect his wife prior to attending a function at Government House which started at 5 p.m. that day, a reporter from the Hobart Mercury rang his office to advise that the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra had rung the newspaper to inform it that Mr Bennett and a Mr Julian Green, who I understand is a legal counsel, were travelling to Switzerland and possibly Paris.

A matter of very great concern, I believe, is the allegation that the Department of Foreign Affairs took it upon itself to inform the media of the trip on official business of a Minister of State. It would seem to me that on the face of it there can be no explanation other than that the Department was being partisan in its actions. There would not appear to be justification for any official of a Commonwealth department keeping the media advised of such matters and I would certainly urge that inquiries be made into it; that Senator Gareth Evans, who represents the Minister for Foreign Affairs in this place, should in particular investigate it and report back to the Senate. On the face of it I believe that such an occurrence would constitute a very serious breach of the responsibilities of a Federal Government department.

I am not aware that any refutation or statement has been made on the matter. That may well be because the remarks of Mr Bennett have not been reported in the media, either in Tasmania or on the mainland. But I serve notice now that it is a matter for concern; that it does warrant investigation and that the department certainly should put its position on the record. I would have thought that the most appropriate way of doing that would be for the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs in this place to conduct inquiries and advise the Senate as to the accuracy of Mr Bennett's complaints on the subject.

Sitting suspended from 12.59 to 2 p.m.