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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1596

Senator ELSTOB —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Minister able to comment on an allegation made by Senator Alston during the debate on matters of public interest on 26 March that the Department of Foreign Affairs had improperly informed the media in Hobart of a visit by the Tasmanian Attorney-General to Europe?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Alston raised this matter in the Senate on 26 March and specifically requested me to make inquiries and to report back to the Senate. I take the opportunity of Senator Elstob's question to do so. Senator Alston alleged that the Department of Foreign Affairs had improperly telephoned the media in Hobart on 20 February to inform it that the Tasmanian Attorney-General, Mr John Bennett, intended travelling to Europe. Senator Alston said that this was a serious breach of the responsibilities of a Federal Department. In his statement in the matters of public interest debate the Senator failed to mention that, according to media sources in Tasmania, the media became aware of Mr Bennett's travel plans as a result of a journalist overhearing a phone call that Mr Bennett made to a Hobart camera shop on 20 February seeking advice on camera purchases in Europe.

Also, in the Tasmanian Parliament on 10 March-not 26 March as Senator Alston claimed-Mr Bennett revealed that the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment volunteered information on 20 February that it knew Mr Bennett's travel plans. Nevertheless, this allegation made by Senator Alston has been investigated and the Minister for Foreign Affairs advises me that he rejects it as having no foundation. So far as can be established, no officer from the Department of Foreign Affairs advised the Press about Mr Bennett's travel plans. Honourable senators will know that the Department, on request, conveys by telegram to Australian missions requests for assistance from State and Federal members of parliament. Such matters are certainly not discussed with the Press. Routine advice was sent to missions about Mr Bennett's travel by the Department on 20 February. It would appear that in all the circumstances Senator Alston has made, perhaps through misinformation, an unwarranted slur on the Department's professional integrity. I note finally, on behalf of Mr Hayden, that Mr Bennett has not complained to the Department of Foreign Affairs about the alleged incident.