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Wednesday, 21 October 1964

Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia) . - Mr. President, I want to back up my colleagues in what they have said about the attack that has been made by Senator Gorton on Mr. Benson. Senator Gorton's remarks tonight were typical of the speech that he made when we discussed this matter in the first place. The Minister was very careful on that occasion to attack people and not to answer the charges that had been made by Senator McKenna. He was careful not to deal with the accident itself but to impute certain motives ' to various people, including a Queen's Counsel who was engaged in the inquiry, and Mr. Benson.

My thinking on this whole question has been similar to that of Senator Murphy. lt will be recalled that Senator Gorton, when discussing the qualification or the right of Mr. Benson to comment on this matter, said that Mr. Benson was in a position somewhat like that of Senator O'Byrne and himself who had been wartime airmen. He said: " Some 25 years ago we were pilots. Therefore we have some knowledge of flying". That was a false approach to make, and Senator Gorton knew it was. Senator Gorton and Senator O'Byrne have not been active pilots since the war and therefore their knowledge of flying, as Senator Gorton put it, is out of date. But Mr. Benson did not go to sca just at the start of the war. He was at sea in his very early teens. He has spent a lifetime at sea, part of it with the Navy. As I understand the situation, he was in charge of ships under wartime conditions and it is highly improbable that he did not take part in just about every manoeuvre in the book. In addition, he is still a professional pilot. Even though he is a member of the Parliament, he must still do six trips a year so that he may retain his ticket. Surely a man who has spent a life time in a job and is sti 1 a professional is in a vastly different position from a person who was a pilot with the Air Force during the war but who has not been in service with the Air Force since that time.

I listened to Mr. Benson when he delivered his speech in the other place. His speech has been blown up as though he set himself up as an expert on this subject and as though he tried to set himself above the technical advice that has been tendered to the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not exaggerating when I say that his was one of the greatest speeches that I have heard delivered from a public platform or in either House of this Parliament, lt was a great speech because, like all other great speeches, it was delivered with humility and modesty.

This man went to Senator Gorton during the long period for which he was

Minister for the Navy to suggest that the use of whaling boats in the open sea was dangerous. Would one not think that, after Mr. Benson had come to him in a decent and helpful manner to suggest that people's lives were being endangered and the Minister had checked on the matter, the Minister would have called him in and would have said: " I have had a look at this thing. I am satisfied that it is O.K."? But the Minister did not display to Mr. Benson the decency that he accorded to the Minister.

The whole point is that it does not matter very much about Mr. Benson. This has been a side issue. Never at any stage has he said: "1 tried to set myself up as an expert". But he quite rightly could have said: " I was naturally stunned when the Minister rose and devoted a large part of his speech to accusing me of certain things ". The captain of the " Australia " never accused him of those things. He has had this sort of thing thrown at him after he humbly went along to the Minister and tried to assist him because he was worried about the safety of men at sea.

Senator Gortonconcluded indelicately with the statement that Mr. Benson ought to put up or shut up. May I suggest, Mr. President, that Senator Gorton should use his influence with the Government and should not join the long whitewashed queue that has been formed from the time when the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) stepped into the picture right up to the present moment. When this matter was debated there were two speakers on behalf of the Government, Senator Gorton being the last. The debate has not been revived and no opportunity has been presented for his comments to be replied to. I suggest that if anybody should put up or shut up it is Senator Gorton and not Mr. Benson.

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