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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1567

Senator LOOSLEY (10.13 a.m.) —I was keen to see this morning the finished product of this report entitled Percentage Players, keen to speak to it and keen to see Senator Alston's handiwork. The report has been delivered. I have it here and I hope that everyone can see that it is a complete and utter blank! That is a metaphor for this committee. The amount of $150,000 of public money has been absolutely and utterly wasted—it is a complete blank. This is as empty as the Liberal Party is of ideas—absolutely blank.

  The circumstances of the committee were these: loaded terms of reference and a stacked deck from the word go. The Select Committee on Certain Aspects of Foreign Ownership Decisions in Relation to the Print Media was a self-fulfilling prophecy from the word go. When we have a self-fulfilling prophecy no-one should be in any way surprised at the result—a political committee arrives at a political judgement.

  Let no-one be under any illusions about the finished product of this committee. It is a farrago of mixed motives and unsubstantiated smears and it will be seen, in the cold light of history, as that. This committee came as close as any parliamentary committee in the history of the country to being a house un-American committee. That was the case in terms of the threats to Australian citizens of gaol, in terms of the hectoring of witnesses, in terms of the intimidation of witnesses and the way in which fundamental Australian civil liberties were treated with contempt. Richard Nixon may be interred in California but we have our own political version of Tricky Dicky, and he is walking right over there.

  The simple fact of the matter is that in the coalition we have the classic grouping of the four unwise monkeys. We had hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil and evil. There he is. You could read in the newspapers, a day or two ahead of the committee meeting, what we were designed to discuss, what we were going to consider. It was impossible for the Labor Party to have been responsible for those leaks because we did not know what was happening. From the start we were shut out of the loop of information. The only deal that this chamber should be examining this morning is the private deal between the coalition and the Democrats which has resulted in this report—the private deal, the private agendas coming to the fore, the private arrangements and the private negotiations.

  Senator Kernot talked of a transparent process. She should tell the chamber what was agreed behind closed doors between her and Senator Alston while she was `standing by your man', to quote her words. The simple fact of the matter is that all the evidence before the committee points in precisely the opposite way to the conclusions that have been drawn. I will cite evidence before the committee. Was there a deal between the Prime Minister and Conrad Black? We say, without fear of contradiction, no. All the evidence before the committee actually points the other way. To quote Mr David Hickey, the former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald:

All the Fairfax papers, except for the Sun-Herald in Sydney, advocated a vote for the federal opposition. The Sun-Herald in Sydney advocated no vote for either party. Nobody advocated a vote for the Labor Party.

Nobody advocated a vote for the Labor Party; they all canvassed anti-Labor votes. Matthew Moore, President of the Fairfax house committee, said this to the committee at page 345:

There was no such instruction to any journalist as far as any of us were aware of political interference.

Mr Stephen Mulholland at submission No. 14:

At no stage did Mr Conrad Black or anyone else associated with him ask me to try to influence our editors in their approach to political issues.

All this is on the record. There is a tonne of material before the committee to demonstrate beyond doubt that there was no deal and no arrangement. The Fairfax newspapers, as a matter of historical fact in 1993, all canvassed an anti-Labor vote.

  It was not only a case of editorial comment. We found editorials consistently went to an anti-Labor vote. We also found headlines that were so anti-Labor that even by the judgment of the editors they had to be changed. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald produced the `Keating pork barrel republic.' That was so tough, even by the Fairfax newspapers, that they changed it; they changed to another anti-Labor headline, but they did change it. That was not with interference, but they were going overboard for the coalition.

  Speaking of the coalition, let me give another example of how the committee worked in practice, with Labor being shut out of the loop of information. This arrived in my office with about 10 days to go:

Chapter 11 on Dr Hewson to be distributed by hand asap.

This is the way Senator Alston was working. He was writing a chapter on Dr Hewson at the time, was he not? He was telling him to go to a ballot—`Go on, John, you will win this one. I'm safe but you'll win this one.' As usual, Senator Alston was torn between a conflict of disloyalties in the leadership. He was saying, `Go to the ballot, John.' Talk about public duty:

Chapter 11 on Dr Hewson to be distributed by hand asap.

This committee was an absolute farce, but a dangerous farce. By the way, I say categorically that Mr Hawke, Mr Kerin and Mr Dawkins told the truth. They subjected themselves to examination and they told the truth.

  What they said on public interest immunity was very important, in my view, in terms of guaranteeing that professional advice given privately remains private. I thought that was a very important point to make. I dismiss out of hand any of the claims made by Parnell Thomas over there, by Senator Alston, about any of my activity relating to the Senate print media committee.

  Let me make this point, because Senator Carr knows this, too. On the committee, Senator Alston behaved like J. Parnell Thomas—an arrogant blowhard. But when you came around privately to our offices to ask us for a break, you behaved like Uriah Heep—snivelling, whining and asking us for a break. Am I telling the truth, Senator Carr?

Senator Carr —Absolutely.

Senator LOOSLEY —Absolutely right—Uriah Heep.

Senator Alston —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I know Senator Loosley cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, but if he is going to talk about any visit I made to his room, could he please refer to the fact that in the committee I had promised to show him a letter from Mr Kohler, which I did, and discussed nothing else. You ought to come clean on that.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Zakharov)—There is no point of order. Before we proceed, I remind everybody to address their remarks through the chair.

Senator LOOSLEY —Madam Acting Deputy President, it will be a pleasure. The circumstances of this committee are that it is the most dangerous committee ever created by the Australian Senate.

Senator Campbell —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. With regard to addressing his remarks through the chair, should Senator Loosley, when he asked Senator Carr if he was telling the truth, address that through the chair as well? If so, should Senator Loosley ask you, because it is very hard to tell when Senator Loosley is telling the truth.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator LOOSLEY —This committee could not have existed in the United States Congress, with its benchmark on civil liberties. This committee routinely trampled upon rights that Americans hold dear and which we hold dear. Unfortunately, as you are aware, Madam Acting Deputy President, and as people on this side of the chamber are aware, we do not have a bill of rights to guarantee fundamental liberties. I think, from my experience, and from the experience of Labor senators—I compliment Senator Carr, Senator Sherry and Senator Murphy on their performance; and I put on record my thanks to the secretariat for their cooperation—in terms of simple matters of principle, this committee trampled routinely on the first, fifth, sixth, seventh and fourteenth amendments to the US constitution in terms of guaranteeing fundamental liberties. The consequence of this is that I am absolutely reinforced in my view which I have long held—that we should have a bill of rights in this country. That should be the conclusion which is drawn. There is no question in my mind about that. We have had a political exercise, a political argument and political judgments have been made.

  In terms of the evidence to the committee, we are supposed to be examining a situation in which Fairfax shifted monumentally to a pro-Labor position. I refer to evidence at page 361. Mr Claude Forell, vice-chairman of the Age independence committee—this is on the Age; Senator Carr has pursued these matters more effectively—said that, as a result of the changes, `We have become more conservative, harder line in economic policy.' This is the consequence—torn between a conflict of disloyalties, always. There is no question about that. In terms of the result, we have seen from this exercise that certain lessons ought to be learnt. There ought to be greater care and greater deliberation in the framing of the terms of reference. There ought to be greater care in the selection of the chair. This is the worst chair I have ever seen in public life—an absolutely appalling individual. In terms of public interest immunity, it has consolidated my view that we ought to protect that. (Time expired)