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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 112


Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

1.   Why was your normal press conference cancelled?

2.   Who were the pressmen allowed into your office for private unattributable press briefing?

3.   Why did you choose an unattributable press briefing instead of a direct statement?

4.   Were the pressmen in your office the same pressmen who carried the stories allegedly disclosing the nature of an organisation in Singapore?

5.   Which press reporters were denied the opportunity of attending?

6.   What was the purpose of the briefing?

7.   Do you still say that Dr Cairns' foreign policy and defence statements are acceptable to you?

8.   Do you believe that Australia is at risk of being branded as an unreliable ally and that traditional friendships will be broken?

9.   Will this enable the Labor Party's objective of a neutralist Australia to be more easily achieved?

10.   What were the factors which lead to your choice of this time to make fundamental disclosures concerning Australian security?

11.   Have you communicated with the Victorian executive of the ALP or Dr Cairns concerning last Sunday's Council resolution on troops in Singapore and will you implement their policy objectives?

12.   Did you give any undertaking to Lord Carrington, British Secretary of State for Defence, which would be negated by your actions?

Included in the number of questions was one in which I asked the honourable gentleman to tell me the criterion on which he had separated out the pressmen. He said that his relations with the Press were his own business. He had made this matter national business and it is no answer to say that it is personal to him. I asked him: 'Do you still say that

Or Cairns' foreign policy and defence statements are acceptable to you?' That question remains unanswered I asked him:

What were the factors which led to your choice of this time to make fundamental disclosures concerning Australian security?

It was not answered. I asked him:

Did you give any undertaking to 'Lord Carrington, British Secretary of State for Defence, which would be negated by your actions?

The same day, the Prime Minister issued the text of a letter he was sending me saying it was in reply to my questions, but it had no relation to them at all. In fact it was a total red-herring dragged across the public platform to defuse his appalling action. It talked about decisions of previous governments in relation to troop placements. It talked about D notices and his relations with the Press. It answered none of my questions. He has an obligation to answer them in this Parliament. Now, seriatim.

A paragraph he omitted to release but which was included in his letter of reply contained a veiled threat that if I pursue this line his course may involve referring to earlier Liberal Government disclosures. But we in the Opposition would not be silenced in our opposition to his behaviour by such threats or by diversionary tactics. The Prime Minister was so anxious to divert the issue, he claimed my questions to him were subsequent to and consequent upon the Brenchley story. They were not at all. They were subsequent to and consequent upon his briefing of his own selected group of journalists to whom he disclosed national security information. He shifted the whole blame to a journalist to escape the consequences of his own action, and it is not an honourable course of action to try to shift it to the journalist. He said that Mr Brenchley had breached a D notice and that he, the Prime Minister, therefore felt free to speak of it publicly. What nonsense that was. He should have stopped his tongue and refused to confirm or deny what Mr Brenchley had written.

Yesterday the Minister for Defence told the House that the Government will bring another 180 troops home by the end of this year, in addition to the battalion and the battery. He said that they could be described as having a combat role. It was no more precisely defined than that but it does appear to mean that there now, will be a continuing force in Singapore of between 320 and 420 troops. That is the deduction from the Prime Minister's own statement. The Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry could not agree to this decision of the Minister, for Defence. And if the decision has. . the authority of the Government it certainly does not yet have the authority of the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party. The Minister for Overseas Trade could not agree with the decision if he still endorses the Victorian State Council's motion, which he said he did, that any military co-operation with Singapore was contrary to the , principles of the Australian Labor Party.

The Australian Labor Party Conference is gradually getting its way. It seems to be only a matter of time until the Labor Conference will tell the Government that in spite of our treaty commitments, our national security or any other interests the Government is not permitted to keep any troops in Singapore. If this is what the Conference decides, the Government will have to comply. This has been made abundantly clear. On 18th February, the senior vice-president of the Labor Party, Mr Hawke, said:

My own view is that 1 think it's inappropriate for Australia to have troops stationed overseas.

He said he wanted to speak to the Prime Minister on this issue. Asked what happens if the Labor Party Conference decides that the SOO to 600 troops should not stay in Singapore, he, Mr Hawke, said the situation would be that if the Conference made a clear decision on an issue, the Prime Minister would abide by it. Asked further: 'What happens if the Federal Conference makes a decision and the Prime Minister does not like it?' Mr Hawke said:

.   . if he did in fact take a position which was different from that which constituted the majority decision of the conference, I have no doubt at all that he would abide by that decision.


Mr Jacobi - Why not?


Mr SNEDDEN - The interjection 'Why not?' demonstrates a total acceptance of subservience to other people outside. One week later the Deputy Prime Minister said:

.   . both Mr Whitlam and myself and other members of the Conference have the right to be able to express our attitude of what we believe to be the correct interpretation of the platform.

Not meet together to make a Cabinet decision, but meet at the Conference to argue as to what they believe is the interpretation of the platform. So the question was put to the Deputy Prime Minister:

But if your views are overruled at the Party conference you must give in. Do the people of Australia want that to happen?

To this question the Deputy Prime Minister, with great bravado and great confidence in his status as the Deputy Prime Minister of this great country, said:

I believe the people of Australia recognise that it is a democratic process-

A democratic process! The Commonwealth Electoral Officer has not called for nominations and the people of Australia - the 6i million voters - have no say in the constitution of that Conference. The Deputy Prime Minister went on to say: and that if there is an attitude expressed by Mr Whitlam and myself which the Conference of the Party, and therefore the members of the Party do not agree with, then we would be expected to abide by the decision of the Party as a whole . . .

These decisions are not made by the Cabinet, not by the Parliamentary Labor Party, but by the Conference.

Finally, yesterday, in answer to my question, the Prime Minister himself, after having been given numerous opportunities in the past which he consistently avoided, said publicly and unequivocally that he is bound by the Labor platform and by the Conference decisions. This confession makes quite clear why there has been such vacillation on the whole complex question of Singapore. The Labor Prime Minister of Australia has no control over the policy formulation even on matters of national security and he had to await instructions from the people who control the Labor Party. He is still awaiting final instructions. We do not know, and Australia's allies still do not know, whether the Australian Government is to be permitted to honour its treaty commitments. Australia has earned a reputation as a reliable and trusted ally. By virtue of that trust we have been given access to the security information of other governments. This is of great importance to us and our defence obligation.

We have been meticulous in meeting the clear obligations of our treaties and agreements. We have ensured that our allies know our intentions in the clearest terms and can plan on the basis of our given word. Now we have a Prime Minister providing information directly bearing on our defence intelligence system, but not on the basis of 'need to know', about which he was so pious yesterday in this House. The Prime Minister drew a distinction in relation to his Ministers yesterday. He said that his Ministers would be informed only on a 'need to know' basis. But he selected journalists to inform those Ministers who 'need to know'. He breached all conventions of security conduct because, and only because, he wanted to escape the pressure of domestic political discomfort. The other day we remembered 3 great international leaders - Truman, Johnson and Pearson. A great quality they possesed was their ability to act in ways they thought right in spite of temporary unpopularity and even, for some, vilification. What a contrast to this man, the Prime Minister of Australia. We have the situation in which our allies have to wait for the all-powerful Labor Conference to instruct the Prime Minister how this country will act in relation to defence policy. Will Australia be allowed to keep troops ia Singapore? Will Australia be allowed to maintain the American alliance? What will the Prime Minister's instructions be from this non-representative, non-parliamentary Conference which effectively governs Australia? The final exciting episode' will be on location at Surfers Paradise next July. The cable services will carry to our allies and interested governments the Prime Minister's instructions at the same time as he is receiving them.

The Conference can, of course, produce a note of ' certainty. It can decide whether or not the official view of 'the Australian Government will be that opinions of the Minister for Overseas Trade, the Minister for Labour and the Minister for the Environment and Conservation' about President Nixon are official views of the Labour Party and whether or not military co-operation with Singapore is consistent with the Government's principles. It can, for instance, decide whether or not; as is proposed, there is to be an end to the American alliance and it can end our uncertainty by victory for one side on this issue. The Prime Minister will be stalking the corridors and the rooms to drum up votes for his own view and he will either get the votes or he will face compromise on the issues. This is the basis on which our allies can plan in relation ' to Australia. Government is reduced to an undemocratic sham, international relations a mockery. They can plan, but only on the basis of which faction of the ALP they believe will win the bitter power struggle, and let there by no mistake - there is a power struggle going on in relation to this matter.

The Opposition condemns the position the Government is placing our allies In. We cannot tolerate the Prime Minister's behaviour in subjugating the national interest in the hope of less political discomfort. We cannot tolerate the fact that government is by the Federal Conference of the ALP - not elected, not responsible to the people of Australia - while the elected representatives are powerless against its dictates and must wait on its decisions. Their only role is to participate in the deliberations and hope to influence the Conference decisions. The Prime Minister ought to control his Ministers. He ought to abide by the Cabinet system. He ought to say: 'My Cabinet will decide the policies which will be pursued in Australia's national interests.' While he abdicates from that duty, while he allows Ministers te defy it and to announce

I policies contrary to his stated policies, while nobody can understand where the Government will come out, while our allies can have no trust and confidence in it, then this Government deserves the censure of this House.


Mr SPEAKER - Is the motion seconded?


Mr Anthony - I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.







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