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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr KILLEN (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Defence) -This is the first question that I have been asked in this House concerning Major-General Stretton. As a consequence of that I would have thought it strange that the word 'inquiry' would be attributed to me. I have not used the word 'inquiry' in connection with Major-General Stretton at any time. The word inquiry' has not come from my lips. I hope there is no ambiguity about that. Yesterday my colleague, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, was asked a question on this matter. I will read to the House what the honourable senator said. He said:

The Minister for Defence advises me that he has read the book -

That is, Major-General Stretton 's book- and the official reports on the subject. It is the Minister's opinion that there are undeniable conflicts between the book and the reports. He has put to study all criticisms made by Major-General Stretton.

I repeat that for the benefit of honourable members:

He -

Killen- has put to study all criticisms made by Major-General Stretton.

The Minister went on to say:

The Minister has no intention of seeking to hide anything arising out of the book or the reports. It is undeniable that there are lessons to be learned arising out of cyclone Tracy. The Minister himself, when in Opposition, raised several matters in a question in another place in relation to the procedures adopted in Darwin following the cyclone.

I want to give to the House and to the country an example of the sort of conflicts I have in mind. I leave it to the quiet judgment of honourable gentlemen as to whether there are conflicts. Let me give 2 illustrations. On page 27 of the book Major-General Stretton says this:

I had no ministerial authority. My own Minister, Mr Barnard, was incommunicado at a holiday resort in Tasmania and I had to deal with his private secretary in Canberra.

Yet in his official report to the Parliament, tabled in this House, the General observes:

The national emergency operations centre was activated and the defence force alerted at the direction of the Minister for Defence.

If a man is incommunicado, how is he going to alert anything? That is one conflict. I will pass on to give another one. At page 158 of the book, after making allegations regarding one unit, the General concludes with this sentence:

I came close to being ashamed of the Service I love so much.

Yet in paragraph 13 of his report, the General observes:

The 3 branches of the defence force played a major role in the relief operation.

I would have thought that if he came to the state at which he was ashamed of the Service he loved, he would have said so in his official report. That was the place to state it. The General would know that if the Crown presents an indictment against a person charged with some offence and within the Crown case conflicts of that nature arise, any counsel worth his salt will be on his feet saying to the judge: 'I ask your Honour to take a certain course- to direct the Crown prosecutor to return the indictment and to enter a nolle prosequi'.

I confess to the fact that I am mildly prejudiced in this matter. I cannot say that I am disinterested because I placed 24 questions on the notice paper concerning cyclone Tracy at the time. Hindsight is the best of all sight, as we know. We learn from experience. But I tell the House this: I sought during the crisis to get a man into Darwin. I think that he was the manager at the time of Tickle Industries. It so happens that Tickle Industries provides 80 or 90 per cent of the food distributed in Darwin. I could not get a permit for that man. I reacted predictably, as all honourable gentlemen would know. I had a word with a person in the national emergency headquarters. Knowing the delicacy of the feelings of honourable gentlemen I will spare them the language that I used. However, I asked in these questions which appear at page 275 1 of the Hansard record dated 22 May 1975:

Did the Organisation . . . at about 1800 hours Eastern Standard Time . . . have the telephone number of the office of the officer in charge of the Department of the Northern Territory?

The reply recorded in Hansard is: 'No'. The next question goes on to ask: Did the organisation acquire the telephone number? If so, how did they get it?

The reply came back:

At 1800 hours EST on 31 December 1974 the then telephone number of the permit-control officer in Darwin was passed to the duty officer in the National Emergency Centre -

Mr Martin - I rise to order. My point of order concerns the length of the Minister's reply. I seek your indulgence, Mr Speaker, on this matter and your guidance. In view of previous rulings which you have made in regard to the length of replies and the amount of question time taken up by them, it would be preferable for the Minister to make a statement to the House about this matter so that it can be debated.

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