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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6311

Senator COOK (10:52 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak about a fine Australian—a man who has put his life on the line in defence of this country in two wars, a man who rose to the most senior naval position in the country, a man knighted by the Queen and decorated for his service to Australia by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and a man who speaks in plain language, straight from the shoulder and tells it as it is. I wish to speak about Sir Richard Peek, and shortly I will quote his own words in a letter to me.

On 23 October, the report of the Senate Select Committee into A Certain Maritime Incident was tabled and debated in this chamber. I think that you will recall the debate, Mr President. In his contribution to the debate, among other things, Senator Ferguson said:

Indeed, as it says in our report, the only person with senior military experience that the Labor Party could wheel out to criticise the handling of the issue was Sir Richard Peek—a gentleman who may have had a distinguished military career; I do not know. It was so long ago, nobody would remember—because Sir Richard Peek began his career in the Royal Australian Navy in 1928 during the prime ministership of Stanley Melbourne Bruce. It was just a few years after the sinking of the Titanic. He retired some 30 years ago and could hardly be regarded as an authoritative commentator on contemporary military decisions or systems. This is the only person from the military—an armchair academic—that the Labor Party could wheel out to give evidence before this inquiry.

In the government members' report to the inquiry Sir Richard Peek was described as a vaguely `Gilbertian figure' and his evidence to the inquiry was belittled accordingly.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that government members were unhappy about Sir Richard's views and the evidence that he gave and decided to shoot the messenger. That is, if you do not like his views, attack the man—shoot the messenger rather than do the fair thing and deal with the message. I would now like to turn to the current edition of Who's Who in Australia. Under the entry for Sir Richard Peek it reads:

PEEK Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Innes; KBE cr. 1972, OBE 1945, CB 1971, DSC 1945; s. of J N Peek and Kate Ethel Doughty; b. July 30, 1914, West Tamworth NSW; ed. Penrith, RAN Coll.; career. Pastoralist (rtd), Chief Naval Staff 1970-73, Dep. Chief 1965-66, Second Naval Memb. Aust. Naval Bd 1968-70 Flag Off. Cmdg HMA Fleet 1967, Fourth Naval Memb. Aust. Naval Bd 1964, Cmdg HMAS Melbourne 1962, w. Admiralty Lon 1959, Dep. Chief Naval Personnel 1954-55, war svce HMS Revenge, HMAS Cerebus, Hobart, Australia, Korean War HMAS Tobruk, specialised in gunnery 1938, RAN 1928; US Legion of Merit ...

It lists his clubs as the Royal Commonwealth Society and the RACA. That is to say that his distinguished military career meant that he was awarded and knighted by the Queen in 1972; he became an Officer of the British Empire in 1945 and a Companion of the Order of Bath in 1971. He obtained a Distinguished Service Cross for service in defence of our country in 1945 and he was awarded the US Legion of Merit.

Senator Ferguson said that he did not know about Sir Richard's career, but it spans 45 years. He rose to the top of the Navy and he has been heavily decorated. He saw and distinguished himself in active service. He is a passionate Navy man, something of a Navy traditionalist. He is intellectually incisive and acute and is, I must say, remarkably knowledgeable about contemporary naval matters. That is the background against which I received this letter on 7 November in which he thanks me for defending his reputation in the debate that occurred at the time of the tabling of the report. He asks, if it is acceptable, for these words to be read into the Hansard to record his attitude to what was said about him. With those remarks, I now quote from his letter:

Ferguson's remarks about me seem to have nothing to do with the Debate on the Selective Committee's Report (the only reference to me is on para. 4.31 of the Report and is surely a matter which is only common sense). His remarks appear to be directed at what I said in evidence before the Inquiry and if he had been on the ball (and game!) he could have raised his views then.

I will only comment about one remark which Ferguson made i.e. “the only person ... that the Labor Party could wheel out ...” was me. The Senator is obviously proud of the phrase because he uses it twice in sixteen lines. The only reason that I comment on it is because it is inaccurate. I was not wheeled out by the Labor Party and the Senator could easily have checked how I became a witness.

Before the Election, it was obvious to me and many others that there was something putrid being cooked up politically. When the Inquiry heard Commander Banks and kept him in the witness stand for interminable hours I was shocked and asked that I might be allowed to give evidence. The committee allowed me to do so. Please do not mistake me. All my life, starting in the Navy I have been, necessarily, apolitical. But that does not prevent me from having tremendous respect for the ALP and minor parties who have forced the Senate to have this necessary Inquiry.

My Service career involved contact with senior members of Army and RAAF, Ministers and senior public Servants. Although we often disagreed I cannot remember anyone who did not merit the title Honourable. I wonder whether this is still the case?

Signed `Yours Sincerely, Richard Peek, Vice Admiral'. (Time expired)

Senate adjourned at 10.58 p.m.