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Thursday, 5 December 1974

Mr WHITLAM -Early last year quite a number of questions were asked about security clearances of ministerial staff. It was made plain at that time that any person on a ministerial staff who had access to classified information had to be cleared. This was made clear well over a year ago. There has never been an allegation in the Parliament or in any of the media, so far as I have ever seen, that there has been any breach of security by any member of the staff of any of my Ministers. If there are any allegations about any of my Ministers the proper way to deal with the allegations, of course, is to move a motion against the Minister concerned and to give him an opportunity to reply. For decades now in this place I have objected to the general aspersion about any group of people, whether it is a minis*try or members of a party. If people have an allegation to make they should specify that allegation and thus give an opportunity for the person concerned to reply. Again, if people are making allegations about any members of staff they should have the decency and courage to specify which members.

It is true that it is improper, indecent and disorderly to mention the names of persons in questions without notice. But there are other methods of raising these matters at other times in the House. The etiquette of the House is that if any person for whom any member of Parliament is responsible is to be mentioned, that member is given notice that the matter will be raised. The honourable gentleman professes to be concerned about the reputation of ministerial staff. His question casts aspersions on all members of ministerial staff. I know quite well the distress which can be caused by this practice. For instance, this morning one of the newspapers mentioned a member of my staff in the general context of the allegations which the honourable gentleman is titillating. There was no truth whatever in the allegation against the member of my staff. What am I to do about it? Am I to mention him? Am I to make a personal explanation afterwards? Am I to issue a public statement? Is he to resort to the courts?

People in this House are far too free in referring to the conduct of persons who are not members of this House. A member of this House can be called to account for the conduct of his staff but it is a particularly miserable and cowardly practice to cast aspersions on the ministry in general and ministerial staffs in general. I will answer for the integrity, the propriety and the capacity of any member of my staff. Each of my Ministers Will do the same. I have no reason whatever to doubt the wisdom or the propriety of the appointments which my Ministers have made. At the present moment a campaign is being conducted about an appointment by my Deputy. In a long acquaintance with my Deputy, sometimes in circumstances of confrontation in years past and, of course, for many years more recently in circumstances of the closest collaboration, I have never had the least reason to doubt. I have never had any insinuations put to me about the honourable gentleman's, honesty, candour and propriety.

Dr Forbes - There is always a first time.

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