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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 501

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (3.43 p.m.) —On the same issue, I got a bit of a mention while Senator Tambling was engaging in what has now become a fairly sorry practice for him. He has a well established reputation for it. Who could forget—and I certainly will not—the response of Senator Tambling to criticisms of his accusations a number of years ago that there was a black Mafia in existence in Australia? He accused the then head—I am sure Senator Cooney will recall this—of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Charles Perkins, of being the head of it.

Senator Tambling —Get your facts right.

Senator COLLINS —It is on the record. He got himself the headline that he was looking for. I have waited in here for an hour for nothing—as I should have expected—for proof of a conspiracy that Senator Tambling breathlessly told us all he was going to lay on the table during this five minutes, but he has not done so. What was Senator Tambling's response then when it was proved that those accusations were nothing more than cheap headline hunting in an election context and that there was no proof? He said on the public record, `Yes, it's true. I concede I have no evidence that a black Mafia exists in Australia, but I had to say that to attract the attention of the press gallery.' Who could forget that? We do not often have politicians who convict themselves out of their own mouths, but on that occasion Senator Tambling—

Senator Tambling —Get your Hansard out.

Senator COLLINS —I would be happy to drag it out for Senator Tambling, and his public statement that he knew it was wrong when he said it. Today he made a shallow accusation, one absolutely without foundation, purely in the context of trying to pick up the traditional grubby points that people try to pick up in here when there is a state or territory election running. As I have observed in here on previous occasions, and it is a fact, honourable senators cannot successfully fight territory and state election campaigns in the Senate. It is not actually worth a vote. I do not know why senators keep bothering to do it, but that is what it is all about.

  Senator Tambling made an accusation, protected by privilege of course—the good old coward's castle—here in the Senate that senior figures in the Labor Party in the Northern Territory had been engaged in a conspiracy to stop this investigation and impede the work of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in the Northern Territory. Let me put the facts on the record. These concerns have been brought to my office. I have personally met with Lucio Matarazzo who, apart from being a factional colleague, also happens to be a friend of mine, and with the person who made the complaint. I gave them an hour of my time. I will be happy to repeat that if it is of any assistance to them. My office has been active in continuing to assist the people who have made these complaints—which have not yet been substantiated, I stress—to use the avenues that are available to them to press the complaints to a conclusion.

  Senator Tambling knows perfectly well that there is no evidence whatsoever of any improper pressure being placed on the Human Rights Commission, as the minister has made abundantly clear today. Senator Tambling's disgraceful allegations in question time today made under the protection of parliamentary privilege—an abuse, might I say, in my view, of that privilege which should not be abused as it has been by Senator Tambling—are without any foundation whatsoever.

  The minister has made it clear in here today and put it on the public record that there has been no interference with the Human Rights Commission operations in the Northern Territory with the investigation of this matter, and they are proceeding. But I want to make it absolutely clear that, in terms of these baseless allegations from this senator who has a proven track record of doing it in here again and again, my office and I personally have been involved in ensuring that the complainant, Mr Matarazzo, and the union will be given every assistance that can be given in using all of the avenues that are available to those people.

Senator Tambling —What about the women and kids?

Senator COLLINS —The concerns about the women and kids that Senator Tambling is raising once again have been made by the people concerned, but I stress again, not disparaging those claims, that there is no evidence offered at this stage that any of that is correct. The evidence that Senator Tambling so bravely stated would be laid on the table in here has not been laid on the table, and he has an obligation, as Senator Bolkus said, to apologise to the Senate and to the people that he has defamed in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Darwin in the Northern Territory.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The time for consideration of this item has expired.