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Thursday, 10 March 1966

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- Mr. Speaker,it is quite a long time since I intruded on the patience of honorable members at this time of the evening. First, I apologise to honorable members for asking them to listen to me at this stage of the evening. But there is a matter on which I wish to speak for just a few moments. It is a matter of importance, I think, to members of this Parliament who may find themselves somewhat confused because of the attitude of the Press. The Press is a great instrument of public opinion in Australia. 1 regard the Australian Press very highly. It helps in the shaping of the opinions of our people. I believe that its powers should never be limited. But it has the responsibility to respect the integrity of individuals. It should endeavour to regard itself at all times as an instrument that is here to serve in the shaping of the opinions of the people along honest and genuine lines. So I consider that, while the Press should not be attacked in an irresponsible way by members who feel themselves hurt, it has a responsibility to see that individuals in public life are respected.

On Tuesday of this week the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) moved a motion in which the House recorded its regret at the death of the former Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Balewa. Mr. Speaker, you will permit me, I am sure, to quote the words of the Prime Minister regarding Sir Abubakar Balewa who met a tragic death in a massacre in Nigeria. The Prime Minister described this deceased statesman, one of the leading figures of the Commonwealth, as a man who was calm and dignified in his demeanour. He said that he was widely acknowledged as a man of integrity, fairness, courage and sound judgment. Further, the Prime Minister said his reputation had grown steadily since 1952 when he first entered politics in the Nigerian Federation. The Prime Minister went on to say that Sir Abubakar Balewa believed deeply in democratic standards, in fairness to all and in free speech. Our former revered Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, described him as a respected leader, clearminded, sagacious, tolerant and just. He said: "The world can ill afford to lose men of this quality." I was one who deeply regretted the butchering of this great Commonwealth statesman.

I was pained to read an article in one of Australia's leading journals, the Melbourne " Herald ", which controls the " Courier-Mail ", a leading journal in Brisbane. The article, which I read last night in the Melbourne " Herald ", tells of bribery that existed in th*e Nigerian Government according to the Press of that country. I think that the article was ill timed, particularly as this Parliament had so recently paid its respects to the late Prime Minister of Nigeria and had expressed such deep regard in the words spoken by the Prime Minister. I am sure that had other honorable members in this place read the article in last night's Melbourne " Herald " they would have been as upset as I am. Consequently I believe that honorable members will allow me the indulgence to make some reference to this article which, in my opinion is really shocking and does no justice to the Press.

The article in the " Herald " stated -

The military regime has opened a campaign to rid Nigeria of corruption which wasted many millions in the five years since independence.

The campaign ranges from a crackdown on those who try to bribe traffic policemen to a review of the tariff structure, which was rigged by crooked Cabinet Ministers to protect their own business interests.

Stories of official graft circulated before Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was killed and his government overthrown last month.

This was a reference to the gentleman we spoke about in such high terms on Tuesday last. The article continued -

Foreign businessmen planning investments here found they had to accommodate Cabinet Ministers and their friends with " dash " (bribes), jobs and special favors. " You can't buy a Nigerian Cabinet Minister," said one U.S. executive, " but you can rent them for the afternoon".

The article made reference to special cases of bribery. It referred to the Finance Minister who would be the equivalent of the Treasurer who sits in this place. The article stated that the Finance Minister who was killed in the revolt was known as the King of Bribes and that the evidence indicates that he deserved the title. It went on to say that import duties on plastic shoes increased steeply after he built a factory to make them in his home town. The article suggested that he sold the shoes back to the Government and it also suggested that he died while trying to bribe his executioners not to kill him.

Mr. Speaker,in view of this article and in view of the statement of the Prime Minister, my own leader (Mr. Calwell) and the leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr. McEwen) I am, I might say, bewitched, bothered and bewildered. I am confused because on the one hand we have the magnificent tributes paid to a leader of a Cornwealth Government and a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council, and on the o.'her hand we have the Press one day later writing in such derogatory terms of this gentleman who was the victim of a revolution in his country.

Mr L R Johnson - Is there any truth in the Press statement?

Mr COUTTS - That is what I am confused about. I thank the honorable member for throwing in that interjection. In his statement the Prime Minister said that this man was a man of integrity and honour but now I find the Press accusing him of everything that is base in public life, dishonesty, bribery and corruption. As I have said, I am bewildered about the whole thing.

I believe that a responsibility must be thrust upon the Press to ensure that before articles relating to prominent figures in the life of the Commonwealth of Nations are published, steps should be taken to ensure that they are honest, true and factual.

I am concerned about this matter. Only a few minutes ago we were discussing the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in New Zealand. Nigeria, like Australia, is a member of the Association. I am most upset about what has happened and, in view of the Prime Minister's statement, I must express my horror at the article which was published. I hope that the Press will exercise greater care in future in relation to these matters.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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