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Monday, 16 November 1964

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) . - by leave - Mr. President, I was reluctant to comment at all upon the announcement made earlier in the Senate by Senator Branson in view of the unqualified withdrawal by him when he said: "I withdraw unreservedly and apologise to the Senate." He added an apology to Dr. Evatt and to the relatives of Mr. Ward. Had that been done alone, I should have been quite content not to have uttered one more word regarding the matter, having regard to the deeply humiliating position in which that places the honorable senator. I thought that that was an adequate enough apology for that for which he now apologises. But, Mr. President, his withdrawal was preceded by two lots of statements that I feel I cannot allow to pass.

I have not a copy of the statement before me, and I made a rapid note as he spoke. What the honorable senator said, according to my note, is that the information that he gave to the Senate on Friday came to him from a reliable source, that he had no reason to disbelieve the information, and that he gave the information to the Senate in good faith. He went on to say: "I find now I am not in a position to quote my source of information." I must comment upon those two aspects of what he said. On his claim that he gave the information to the Senate in good faith, I must make the comment that his information was obviously wrong. The question of good faith arises in whether he checked it or not. The information that Mr. Ward was a member of War Cabinet and at a meeting of War Cabinet had joined in saying certain things was completely and absolutely untrue. The honorable senator in one minute, by reference to the Commonwealth "Year Book" of the year, or by reference to the Parliamentary Handbook, would have known that the information given to him was untrue. It has been denied by people who were present at War Cabinet meetings - Mr. Makin and Mr. Dedman. Dr. Evatt is not in a position to comment. Mr. Forde was not available for me to speak to him, but I have no doubt about what he would say about it.

The honorable senator, in what he has said, has presented himself as a person who acted in good faith and I say that that cannot be accepted when he did not take the simplest and most obvious precaution to verify what he was told. The statement was obviously and demonstrably, and must be known to him now to be, untrue, and he has presented his informant as a reliable witness; he could have ascertained in a minute that he was not.

The Opposition is most reluctant to be obliged to comment at all when the terms of the honorable senator's withdrawal and apology are so complete and in such complete terms. I do so in justice to the people who have been hurt in this matter. The honorable senator quite obviously did not have a thought for them when he accepted the reliability of his informant and came in with the most disastrous consequences and hurt to him. The honorable senator now finds that he is not in a position to quote his source. He has held up his source to us as being a reliable one and he has not acknowledged the falsity of the information that was given to him. So far as the Opposition is concerned, until that is done the matter is not complete. The falsity of the information that was given to him must be acknowledged by the honorable senator. Quite' frankly, I feel sorry for what the honorable senator has done to himself. He has got himself into a position where he has had to abase himself not only before the Senate but before the nation. I do not want to make it any worse for him. He ought to make complete amends and not leave the matter where it is merely by saying that he has had reliable information and by putting almost as the ground for making his withdrawal the fact that he is not free to quote the source of his information. Mr. President, the Opposition cannot leave the matter there. I hope the Senator Branson will see the fairness and justice of acknowledging that the information that was given to him was false, and that he will do so before the Senate. It is so clear to him that the information was false. If he does as I have suggested, he will have made an amende honorable for what he has already said, and the Opposition will not pursue the matter further. But it will not have been done in the situation that I had hoped, when the honorable senator rose, would exist.

I have only one other thing to say. When this incident is closed - I hope it will be closed satisfactorily - I hope that the Press of the country, the radio stations and the television stations will recognise the moral responsibility that rests upon them to give to the withdrawal the same degree of publicity that they accorded to the allegation made by the honorable senator on Friday last.

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