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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 678

Senator McKIERNAN —My question is directed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs. I ask the minister whether he is aware of the views of the League of Rights on issues such as ethnic affairs and race relations. What is the government's position on the desirability of political leaders associating with extremist organisations such as this?

Senator BOLKUS —It is a real pity that Senator Boswell is not here—actually, he has just walked in—because the government's starting point on this particular organisation is one that we share very much with Senator Boswell, and that is that it is a matter of extreme importance to us to make good, honest and decent Australians aware of the dangers of associating with the Australian League of Rights.  It is our firm view that it is of fundamental importance that such organisations should not be dignified by association with any political figure.

  Let us appreciate what organisation we are dealing with. The League of Rights has been described by the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission as `undoubtedly the most influential and effective as well as the best organised and most substantially financed racist organisation in Australia'. Former Senator Peter Baume described it `as malevolent, malignant and destructive to people and their values'.

  Let us remember where the League of Rights started from. It was established by Eric Butler, the author of the infamous anti-semitic tract The International Jew, in which he gave this amazingly extreme and outrageous viewpoint:

The Jews controlled national socialism, the Russian revolution and world capitalism, founded the Jesuit order and controlled the US Federal Reserve Bank and the Nazi Luftwaffe.

He went on to say:

Hitler's policy was a Jewish policy that furthered the aims of international Jewry.

In more recent days, it is the publishing arm of the League of Rights, Veritas Publishing, which has been behind the push for David Irving to come to Australia, a person who has claimed that it makes him physically ill to see black people walking down the street with white Britons.

  In Australia, fortunately the response has been healthy. The vast majority of Australians see the League of Rights for what it is: a fringe body of racial hatred. Fortunately, the vast majority of political leaders in this country have not contributed to the standing of the League of Rights by their direct association with it. So all Australians, and particularly some people on the other side, must be appalled to learn that on 7 August 1987 Alexander Downer addressed the League of Rights. He shared the podium with Eric Butler and did so knowingly. No degree of—

Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Firstly, I cannot see that the direction in which the minister is now heading is within his portfolio responsibilities at all and, therefore, this part of his answer is out of order. Furthermore, if he is going to make allegations of that type dressed up in the way he has dressed them up, perhaps he had better be sure of his facts; and I suspect that in this instance he has his facts wrong. The League of Rights often dresses itself up in all sorts of fronts, and he might explain that to the Senate if he wants to give a fair answer on the subject.

Senator Bolkus —Mr President, on the point of order: the question was asked of me by Senator McKiernan in my capacity as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, in my capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs and also in my capacity representing the Attorney-General. All those portfolios have relevance to race relations. The question asked of me was about the desirability, in a race relations context, of political leaders in this country associating with extremist racist organisations such as this. That falls squarely within my portfolio. I think the whole question of giving succour to organisations like this, of political leaders giving them sustenance, has a very deep and fundamental reflection on the question of race relations in this country. This is squarely within my portfolio. Senator Hill is a bit embarrassed by it. I can understand why he raised the point of order, but, Mr President, I ask you to rule him out of order.

The PRESIDENT —In terms of Senator McKiernan's question and the responsibilities of the minister, he is clearly in order. So I would ask Senator Bolkus to resume his answer, but I would ask him not to debate the issue as far as he can keep away from that.

Senator BOLKUS —Thank you, Mr President. The point I am making is that it is not a matter of accident; when people wittingly have contact with and accommodate the League of Rights, then I think it is something of concern for race relations in this country. No degree of political amnesia or not remembering can help. Eric Butler himself said—and it was quoted in the Melbourne Herald Sun this morning:

Oh there's absolutely no argument about it because I took the opportunity to point out that I knew his late father extremely well.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. By association, the minister is clearly reflecting upon a member of the other place. He has quoted a whole lot of appalling statements from a particular individual and then sought by association to attach that image to a member of the other place. That can only be interpreted as reflecting adversely upon the member of the other place, really in quite a disgraceful way. On that ground alone, Mr President, you should rule it out of order. In any event, I still put the previous argument to you, Mr President: that what the minister is now saying has nothing to do with his responsibility to administer his portfolio at all. So on both counts I would put to you that you should rule him out of order.

Senator Bolkus —Mr President, the second part of the point of order I think we addressed earlier; in fact, this matter falls squarely within my portfolio. With respect to the first leg of his point of order, when he says that we cannot ask about or make comments about members of the other House, Mr President, if you are taking that position, there would not have been any questions asked by Senator Baume in this place for the last three years. Let us get that particular point straight. Senator Hill is asking you to rule on a point of order which would, in fact, render question time meaningless.

Senator McMullan —Mr President, on the point of order: if Senator Hill thinks that those views are views that it is a reflection on a member to be associated with, then he should also think that nobody should go to a meeting of a group that has those views.

Senator Alston —Mr President, on the point of order: I presume that what government members are saying is that Graeme Campbell is in the same boat. Mr President, standing order 193(3) makes it perfectly clear that senators are not entitled to make imputations of improper motives or personal reflections on members of this or the other House. What is being sought here is clearly a smear campaign designed to associate the Leader of the Opposition with an organisation with which he holds no truck. It is simply completely out of order in terms of the question; it has been gratuitously introduced by Senator Bolkus purely to try to cast some guilt by association. I would have thought, for all those on the other side who profess to be interested in human rights, that guilt by association is not something they ought to be very proud of. Mr President, you ought to enforce that standing order and rule the minister completely out of order.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, on the point of order: the matter at issue is not the particular behaviour of Alexander Downer, disgraceful and indefensible as that in fact was. The matter at issue is the propriety of any mainstream political party leader in this country ever overtly associating himself or herself with organisations that are committed to the destruction of multiculturalism and the principles of race relations that are absolutely central to this country's current national identity and social cohesion. For any political leaders, for any potential political leaders, to have the misjudgment to associate themselves with organisations and occasions of this kind is a grotesque error of judgment and profoundly reflects not so much only on their good sense, although of course it does that, but it is a profoundly important policy question and it goes profoundly to Senator Bolkus's policy responsibilities as minister. That is the matter at issue. That is why these questions are perfectly appropriately asked.

The PRESIDENT —I have no reason to change the original ruling that I gave that, in terms of the question and in terms of the responsibilities of the minister, the answer was in order. I have no reason to change that position. I did, however, ask the minister not to debate the issue. I retain that position.

  I must say, I find it very difficult when people expect standards of one side that they do not practice themselves. I heard one name being bandied on my left at the same time as that side was accusing people on my right of using names. If the facts that are being presented here need to be challenged, there are other avenues in this chamber by which you can challenge them.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I seek a clarification of your ruling. Are you ruling that the minister was not reflecting adversely on Mr Downer in his answer, within the terms of standing order 193?

  Senator Faulkner interjecting

Senator Knowles —You reflected on—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Order on both sides!

Senator Crane —It's time you shut that guy up over there.

The PRESIDENT —It's time you sat down, Senator Crane. It is a question of how you judge the facts that are being adduced. I am not in a position to do that. I do not know whether that is a reflection or not.

Senator Vanstone —Mr President, on the point of order: you may not like it, but that is the job you are charged with doing. When someone on this side gets up and says that an imputation is being made, you cannot, to use your Prime Minister's words, use weasel words to get out of that responsibility. When an allegation is made, your responsibility under standing order 184 is to make a ruling as to whether the words you have heard constitute an imputation against a member of another place, and you cannot get out of that responsibility. If you do not want to do it, give up the position and let someone else to do it.

The PRESIDENT —I am in no position to judge any more than you are and you are challenging the facts. I am in no better position to judge the facts that are being presented. If those facts indicate that Mr Downer did in fact address those people, then certain inferences can be drawn, but I am not in a position to make a judgment about those facts. I call Senator Bolkus.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, it is pleasing to me in terms of race relations in this country that serious political leaders here find the League of Rights as anathema to them and in fact abhorrent. It is also pleasing in terms of those relations that those political leaders respond savagely to the League of Rights and its representatives. On the other hand, by accepting such an invitation and appearing on the same platform with Mr Eric Butler, Mr Downer distinguishes himself from the mantle of a serious political leader.

  I think he acted quite rashly, stupidly and insensitively. But his excuse now is that he would talk to anyone, anywhere—loony right to left—to spread the Liberal message. That is not the approach of a serious political leader in this country. These are not the qualities of a responsible political leader in this country.(Time expired)

Senator McKIERNAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister whether he, as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, or in his capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs, would attend a meeting of the League of Rights or any other such extremist organisation, were he invited to do so.

Senator BOLKUS —No, I would not, and I do not believe that any serious political leader in this country would do so. In fact, I do not believe that any serious person in this country would do so.

  Senator Kemp interjecting

Senator BOLKUS —Even Senator Kemp, who has interjected, on 28 September 1993, less than 12 months ago, said of the League of Rights, `I have nothing but contempt for the League of Rights.' That was said by Senator Kemp. A serious political leader in this country, even including Senator Kemp, would not be seen dead anywhere near the League of Rights. On reflection, Mr Downer would see that action some seven years ago as being one of gross political stupidity. The reality, though, is that no matter how many back doors he goes through now, how often he tries to run away from the media on this, he can run but he cannot hide.