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Tapes must not cloud real issues

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Deputy Leader of the Opposition




The publication at the Government's request of tapes of Mr David Combe's telephone conversations, must not

divert public attention away from the central issues

of this whole matter. '

This is not withstanding the fact that the tapes throw an embarrassing spotlight on aspects of the Hawke

Government's conduct.

The publication of these tapes certainly constitutes a major violation of the privacy not only of Mr David Combe, but of a number of other people. Such publication can only

be justified in very exceptional circumstances.

during private telephone conversations may make lively news copy, they have thus far added little to the store of public knowledge and information about the major issues at stake in this whole affair.

They certainly add no weight to the claim that Mr Combe

was a security risk.

They divert public attention from the possible involvement

of other senior Ministers in serious wrong doing.

They certainly divert attention from the central role

played by the Prime Minister from the very outset.

It was the Prime Minister who refused to give Parliament

a full explanation.

Whilst colourful exchanges between Mr Combe and others

Parliament H ouse, Canberra, A.C.T. 2 6 0 0

It was from the Prime Minister's own office that it is

alleged that Mr Butler was 1 tipped-off1 about Mr Combe -

and the Prime Minister has failed to deny that public allegation.

It has been the Prime Minister who has been prepared to

sacrifice the careers and the privacy of many people in the processΓ It is even claimed that he used his influence * to secure the dismissal of a journalist.

One may well ask how many more private and irrelevant telephone conversations are,to be made public before the Prime Minister gives a full account of his own role in this matter?

The publication of the tapes at least confirms what is widely known already that, under Labor, 'tip-offs for the mates' has become as notorious as 'jobs for the boys'.

The widespread publication of these tapes could also have

the unfortunate effect of encouraging public hostility to both ASIO and lobbyists as a group.

It is one thing for a phone to be tapped to determine whether or not a security breach has occurred. It is entirely another thing to violate the privacy of those involved by wholesale publication of largely irrelevant conversations.

Lobbyists do not need to be registered and regulated. They have done nothing wrong in this affair. It is the conduct

of Ministers, potentially as high as the Prime Minister, which is at issue.

Talk of controlling lobbyists is yet another diversion.

Mr Young was guilty not just of saying too much to a mate. He selectively provided information to a Labor associate which was of enormous commercial value as well as having potential national security implications.

The great unanswered question in this whole affair is whether some other Minister has been guilty of a similar offence. -

CANBERRA 20 July 1983