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Departmental Advice Does Not Help Mr Hawke

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119/91 8 May 1991


The Departmental advice which the Prime Minister tabled in the Parliament today at my request and on which he has relied so heavily over recent days, gives no support to the case which he has been making for not standing down Ambassador Burke


The Prime Minister has been justifying his inaction by hiding behind what he has portrayed to be the clear advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As the tabled advice shows, however, views within the Department on this issue are deeply divided and the conclusions reached are tentative and qualified.

. One of the major conclusions of the Department's advice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was that "questions about the propriety of the behaviour of Heads of Mission are ultimately matters for your judgement"

- that is, the Minister, not the Department, must make the decision about the issue of propriety and it is plainly untenable for the Prime Minister to hide behind the qualified advice which the Department has

given on the matter

. The Department's advice was written on 1 May 1991. The advice, therefore, does not take account of all of Mr Burke's recent evidence to the Royal Commission which he began to give on the day the advice was written

- the Department also gave a clear warning to the

Government. It said that

"Until the precise facts of any case are

established as clearly as possible, it would certainly be premature and unfair to come to definitive judgements about propriety or otherwise."

that is why the Department's advice on the question of whether Ambassador Burke had acted improperly was very carefully hedged

- many facts, not least among which are Mr Burke's own evidence and press interviews, have come to light since 1 May when the Department's advice was written. The onus is clearly on the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, not the Department, to make judgements about

propriety based on them.

The Prime Minister cannot use the Department's advice to hide behind any more.

He must give a direct answer to a central question. Since he has admitted that Mr Burke is guilty of improper behaviour, on what basis has he judged Mr Burke's impropriety as permissible so as to allow him to continue as Australia's Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See?

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