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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2913


Mr FOX (Henty) - On 29 February last year the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), moved a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister of that time. The words of his motion included an accusation that the Prime Minister in answering questions without notice had deliberately misled the House. During the course of the debate the then Leader of the Opposition stated that he had directed to the Prime Minister a simple enough question requiring a straightforward answer. He complained that instead of giving a straightforward answer the Prime Minister had chosen to give a tortuous and smart-aleck reply. I share his dislike for smart-aleck replies. For that reason I do not appreciate the smart-aleck reply the Prime Minister gave me in answer to a question which I directed to him on 15 May. It was surely a simple enough question requiring a straightforward and simple answer. I asked:

Is the Prime Minister aware that last Wednesday's issue of the 'Canberra Times' carried a report of the Press conference which he held on the preceeding day? Is he aware that the report stated that, in answer to a question directed to him about whether he had received any response from the Chinese Government to his protest note on the nuclear tests, he said that the protest to China was oral so there would be no written response? Is the Prime Minister aware that on last Wednesday's 'A.M.' program Dr Fitzgerald, Australia's Ambassador to China, stated that his predecessor, Mr Cotterill, lodged a protest note with the Chinese Assistant Minister? Is this another instance of the Prime Minister not being informed of actions taken by his Ministers or his departmental officers on matters which are under his direct control?

That was a simple enough question requiring a straightforward answer, but the smart-aleck reply given to me by the Prime Minister was as follows:

I did not read the newspaper account. I did not hear 'A.M.'.

The reply certainly was not tortuous but undoubtedly it was a smart-aleck reply.

The Prime Minister knew perfectly well what he had said at a Press conference on 8 May in answer to a question directed to him by a pressman. It was not necessary for him to read the report of the conference in the daily Press to know that he had stated unequivocally that the protest to China was oral and that for that reason he did not expect a written response. I say that he did not need to read the newspaper report of what he said because he later issued a transcript of the entire Press conference. The relevant question and answer are stated in the transcript issued by the Prime Minister's Department. The transcript states quite clearly that the protest to China was oral so that there would be no written response. The conference was held on Tuesday, 8 May, so that the Prime Minister no doubt would issue the transcript a little later that day. As Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs he should have been aware that the Ambassador to China whom he appointed had stated in a radio interview that a protest note had been lodged with the Chinese Assistant Minister. If he were not aware that a note has been lodged he should have been so aware and that is the whole point of the question which I directed to him.

Later in the day on 15 May during question time in the Senate Senator Marriott addressed a question to Senator Willesee who represents the Prime Minister in the Senate. He asked whether the Australian Government had made a protest to the Chinese Government about that country's nuclear atmospheric testing, whether there had been a protest and whether it had been verbal or written. Senator Willesee replied that a protest had been lodged and that it had taken the form of a letter from the Foreign Minister to the Chinese Foreign Minister. The Prime Minister, who is also Foreign Minister, must have written the letter of protest himself. Yet, he chose to give me the smart aleck reply that he did. This might be good enough for the honourable member for Werriwa but it is a long way from being good enough for the Prime Minister. However, it is in line with the misleading answers which he gave to a series of questions which had been directed to him and the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) by the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) - questions regarding the proposed visit to Australia of Mr K. T. Li of Taiwan. On 3 May 1973 the honourable member for New England asked the Prime Minister: . . on what terms and conditions will Mr K. T. Li be allowed to enter Australia in order to participate in this regional conference? The conference referred to was of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. The Prime Minister replied:

He would undoubtedly be able to come to Australia under the same conditions as any other person from Taiwan, that is, in any unofficial capacity.

Mr Lisubsequently applied for a visa but his request was refused. On 10 May 1973, during question time, the honourable member for New England directed a question to the Minister for Immigration asking why Mr Li's request had been refused in view of the Prime Minister's assurance that provided he applied in an unofficial capacity Mr Li would be issued with a visa. The Minister promised to make inquiries. On IS May 1973 the honourable member for New England again directed a question to the Prime Minister asking him how he reconciled his change of attitude with respect to the refusal to grant a visa to Mr Li. The Prime Minister's firm reply on 3 May was that Mr Li would be issued with a visa provided he came to Australia in an unofficial capacity. The Prime Minister, of course, by that time had received his orders from Peking and he sought to blame the honourable member for New England for, as the Prime Minister said, blowing Mr Li's cover. He must have known that the honourable member for New England blew Mr Li's cover - I am using the Prime Minister's words - in his original question. The Prime Minister's assurance that a visa would be issued to Mr Li, provided he came to Australia in an unofficial capacity, was given with the full knowledge that Mr Li was at that time Minister for Finance in Taiwan, because the honourable member for New England said so, and also with the knowledge that a reception had been given in this Parliament on the previous day to representatives from North Vietnam. As I said earlier this conduct might be good enough for the honourable member for Werriwa but it is far from good enough for the Prime Minister of Australia.







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