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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 666

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (1.16 p.m.) —I rise today to raise the question of media manipulation and the `big lie', the latest experience of which we have seen in this chamber over the question of Cathy Freeman. She is an outstanding young Australian athlete of Aboriginal descent who—as I said the other day—has done herself, her community and her nation proud at the Commonwealth Games. That has been recognised and supported by the opposition. I want that to be understood right at the beginning.

  As a result of deliberate media manipulation, and deliberate dishonesty, a clear impression has been created in the media that somehow the opposition is opposed to that recognition, is opposed to that support. I am particularly distressed about this because when I spoke about Cathy in this chamber I commended her, not only for her outstanding efforts, but also for carrying both the Australian flag and the Aboriginal flag.

  Yet we now have a situation where AAP, and I complained about it yesterday, mistakenly—I heard that it was simply a mistake—referred to the coalition's opposition to a procedural motion relating to the suspension of standing orders. It related that to a non-existent opposition to the motion itself. The coalition did not oppose the motion. I am glad to say that AAP did in fact put out a report yesterday which accurately reflected what had happened.

  However, I note that AAP at no stage said, `We were wrong.' It was, says I, looking up at the gallery. AAP was wrong, but it did not have the capacity to admit it. It simply ran the story again and quoted me saying what really happened. It is about time the media recognised that when they are wrong they should say so. All around Australia, media outlets repeated that false statement: that we had opposed this resolution supporting Cathy Freeman—we did not.

  AAP kindly put out an article which, one could say, corrected its mistake without ever saying that it made a mistake and that it was correcting it. However, I guess it did not surprise me that not one of those media outlets ran the correction—not one. With all the false publicity and the mendacious attacks on us in the media—it was the subject of late night ABC talk shows and that sort of stuff—not one of the outlets corrected the false statements that were made and then spread around Australia.

  It is a matter of regret, not simply that AAP was wrong, but that members of this chamber should have participated in creating that false impression. I put out yesterday a press release outlining what the facts really are. I notice that the Australian newspaper which, I understand, had been briefed by an adviser of an anonymous cabinet minister here—and briefed falsely, on the basis that we had opposed the motion—ran at least what I had to say about it yesterday. But then it referred it back to the anonymous briefer. I will actually read exactly what the anonymous briefer said, in the extract from the column. It states:

It was that anonymous Labor Cabinet minister's staff who gave us the story. Had we been duped? Back on the phone to ask them, using the "more disappointed than angry" voice.

  "Absolutely not," said the minister's adviser. "The Coalition senators voted against the motion `on the voices', but they refused to call a division because that would have meant their names would have been recorded. It was gutless."

That was the sort of stuff coming from a Labor minister's senior adviser. Either he did not know the facts or was deliberately and disgracefully doing his master's bidding in an attempt to blackguard us. It is simply a disgrace.

  The fact is, as I outlined in a notice of motion today, had there been any opposition voices opposing that resolution, then the chair would have asked a very simple question, `Is a division required?' But there were no voices and, as a result, there was no request as to whether a division was required. Anyone who disputes it can listen to the tape—the tape of what actually happened in this parliament. There were no voices.

  Yet I have got a letter. I received this letter last night from Senator Meg Lees, and I must say that Senator Meg Lees has an interesting version of the truth. Senator Lees has put on an incredible performance in this matter, and I will deal with that in a minute, because she was the person who set out to misuse Cathy Freeman's outstanding performance for a sordid political point scoring exercise. Anyway, she has written to me expressing her concern and disgust at my notice of motion calling on her to tell the truth. She states:

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of your Motion is the suggestion that I should "tell the truth"—in other words, you are implying that I am a liar.

I say `amen' to all that. Then she goes on:

When the final vote was taken on my Notice of Motion,—

that is Senator Lees's notice of motion—

there was a definite "No" from your side of the chamber.

I have asked every member of the Senate on our side who was in this chamber at the time whether they heard anyone say `no' and whether they said `no'. There was no `no', unless I am getting deafer than I expect, and all my colleagues are afflicted with the same problem. There was no `no'. Senator Lees knows that. She knows it, and I believe it is an absolute disgrace that she would pretend in a letter to me, and presumably has extended the same pretence to the media, that there was. Then she goes on:

In fact, I remember seeing Senator Campbell shaking his head.

That is right, because the whip looked at him wondering, `Are we going to do anything?' and he was saying, `No, we are not doing anything. We are not opposing it.' Then Senator Lees goes on with this brilliant conclusion:

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the Coalition opposed my Motion.

Now the only way people can come to that conclusion is either if they are are stupid or dishonest, because there are so many other conclusions one can and must come to. In fact, I will deal with that in a minute when I deal with the question of Alan Ramsey today. She then goes on:

Do you seriously expect people to believe that after spending more than an hour debating my Motion, during which your colleagues constantly declared their opposition for a variety of reasons, that the Coalition suddenly decided to support my Motion?

Senator Less has been here long enough to know what parliament is all about. She has been here long enough to know that often oppositions seek to amend things and, if they fail to amend them, they are nevertheless prepared to support them. It happens all the time. All through the debate, we continually supported the thrust of the motion. Every speaker on this side of the chamber in that debate supported the thrust of the motion. We simply sought, in our view, to improve it. We failed to improve it. Senator Lees is pretending that, because we sought to amend the motion, we opposed the thrust of the motion. It is absolute nonsense; it is malevolent nonsense. It is nonsense and I believe it meets an agenda which I find absolutely disgusting. That agenda is to misuse Cathy Freeman for a political purpose. Of course, Senator Lees was seeking to do that when she put out another press release where she described people like me who supported Cathy Freeman's carrying of the flag. She said:

Will this group of red-necks also over-ride Coalition Senators who support the Government's proposed Aboriginal Land Fund?

It goes on about `arch-conservative Liberal Senators'. The fact is that we sought to improve—not oppose—her motion. Whether or not we succeeded, the fact is that we did not oppose the motion that was presented to this chamber. There were no voices against it. That did not prevent Alan Ramsey today from writing a mischievous and malevolent piece which fitted his agenda. He says:

What followed was an unpleasant little episode—

This refers to what happened in the chamber when we discussed this matter. The article continues:

Nobody from the Opposition spoke in favour of the Lees motion; and, after rejecting the Opposition's attempt to amend it, the Senate approved it on the voices, with the Opposition declining to force a formal vote. It didn't want to be seen as voting against Cathy Freeman; it just didn't want to vote for her.

It continues:

That's how rigid the Opposition still is on . . . anything smacking of Aboriginal rights, even if it's only the uninhibited delight of a young athlete flaunting her black heritage after winning a footrace.

He obviously did not know or did not care what actually was said in this chamber. He did not care that he was blackguarding people like me. In fact, that probably encouraged him to do so; it might have given him a special extra thrill. The fact is that we supported the thrust of the motion and I commend Mr Ramsey to read the Hansard before he writes any more dishonest, disgraceful tripe like this. I have written a letter to the editor of the Herald. I hope it gets printed. In case it does not, I think I should put it on the record now. My article says:

Alan Ramsey is just plain wrong . . . His grotesque distortion of the Coalition's strong support for Cathy Freeman into a concocted claim of opposition to her is intolerable.

In fact large parts of the Democrat motion supporting Cathy Freeman were drafted by the Coalition, particularly the clause which `commends Cathy for her pride in her Aboriginal heritage and the inspiration and encouragement she provides to young Australians and particularly young Aboriginal Australians'.

That was framed by the coalition. We consistently supported it. Yet Ramsey has the `integrity' to say nobody from the opposition spoke in favour of the motion. My article goes on:

While Alan Ramsey falsely asserts that nobody from the Opposition spoke in favour of the Lees' motion, the fact is that—

I am continuing to read from my letter to the editor—

all supported the thrust of it but wanted one word changed to make it clearly non-controversial, and I added: "I commend Cathy Freeman for carrying the Aboriginal flag with the Australian flag . . . as a great young Australian woman athlete who has done her community, her nation and herself so proud at these Commonwealth Games", with other Coalition speakers expressing similar sentiments.

The Opposition not only clearly indicated its support for the thrust of the Motion, it never at any stage expressed any intention of voting against the Motion if its amendment failed.

As a result, the Motion passed unanimously; no voices said "no", otherwise the Chair would have asked whether a Division was required—and the record shows no such request.

If Mr Ramsey did not know these facts when he wrote his malevolent article, he should have; I issued the attached Media Release yesterday afternoon—

I might add there that it went to his box; I am assured of that by my staff—

Its a shame that Mr Ramsey has now decided to join the over-long list of people seeking to use Cathy Freeman for their own fairly sordid purposes.

I put Senator Meg Lees, whose behaviour in this matter is intolerable, at the head of that list. I stress: the coalition at no time voted against any recognition of Cathy Freeman. We sought to amend the motion to make it better and, when we failed to do so, from the text of what we said we clearly evidenced support for Cathy Freeman. (Time expired)