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ALP President comments on Opposition allegations linking New South Wales Right Wing of the ALP and the Mafia

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: And the uproar of Federal Parliament continued to reverberate, this morning, in the wake of the row over the Opposition's attack on the Speaker and references to the Prime Minister and the Mafia. When Parliament rose last night, at the end of a rowdy session, it left Paul Keating and John Hewson in an unresolved confrontation over the bitter slinging match. Dr Hewson has refused to withdraw his comments about Mafia tentacles reaching from the gaols to the Prime Minister's office, and Mr Keating has challenged the Opposition Leader to repeat the comments outside the privileged safety of Parliament. By attacking the Speaker, Dr Hewson may well have forced the Government to defend Mr McLeay even more stoutly.

This morning, Dr Hewson was not commenting further but, a short time ago, Senator Stephen Loosley, the Federal President of the ALP, spoke to our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew.

MAXINE McKEW: Senator Loosley, could one be forgiven for thinking that John Hewson has fallen into a carefully-laid trap?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: I think the trap is of the Opposition's own making. This kind of offensive remark is the manner of remark we might perhaps once have expected from someone like Wilson Tuckey. We ought not to expect this kind of remark from someone who pretends to be a political leader.

MAXINE McKEW: But surely, it's the case that Leo McLeay's perceived partiality as Speaker has provoked John Hewson?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: That's a separate issue entirely. That's a debate about the House of Representatives, the Speaker's role in the Westminster system.

MAXINE McKEW: But that's at the heart of this dispute, isn't it?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: I don't think we should see the Leader of the Opposition descending to this kind of political smear over a whole range of people, including the Prime Minister. I don't think Australians warm to that kind of political behaviour at all.

MAXINE McKEW: But the Prime Minister is, of course, a past master at the art of the political smear.

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: He stops well short of the kind of remark that Dr Hewson made yesterday, and I think the important point, Maxine, is this: that Billy Snedden and Andrew Peacock, as former Opposition Leaders, learned to their cost, that there is a very heavy electoral consequence from this kind of unacceptable behaviour. And when Dr Hewson arrives at the top of a sharp learning curve, I think you'll begin to appreciate that.

MAXINE McKEW: But would we have had a dispute, yesterday, if Leo McLeay had done his job properly on Wednesday when the Prime Minister accused Dr Hewson of being a cheat and a fraud? Everybody in the House heard that except Mr McLeay.

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: That's not at issue. I think what yesterday's ill behaviour by Dr Hewson and the Opposition demonstrates, beyond doubt, is the utter failure of the Fightback package. They're now looking consistently to diversions rather than debating economic policy. If the Fightback package was not in desperate trouble, the Opposition wouldn't have engaged in the kind of behaviour we saw on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday.

MAXINE McKEW: Can you really say that the issue of the Speaker, though, is not central to this? I mean, here we have Mr McLeay under threat, really, every day. He's facing a preselection battle in Grayndler.

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: That was an entirely separate issue, an entirely separate debate. That had nothing to do with Dr Hewson's ill behaviour and it's not the kind of behaviour Australians ought to anticipate seeing from someone who pretends to be a political leader. Dr Hewson has squandered political dignity, and once that is lost, it is irrecoverable.

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: All right. That point aside, what about Mr McLeay's position? Surely, the fact that he is under threat, politically, is affecting his confidence in that role.

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: The National Executive will resolve those matters - I'm absolutely confident of that.

MAXINE McKEW: How soon will that be resolved?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY: There's no doubt that's a political factor and it's got to be taken into consideration, but nothing - absolutely nothing - can be offered by way of apology for Dr Hewson's appalling behaviour, yesterday. The Prime Minister said he would become increasingly nasty and grow increasingly frustrated. The remarks of Dr Hewson bore the Prime Minister's remarks out absolutely, yesterday. It was a very accurate prediction of things to come.

MAXINE McKEW: All right. Senator Loosley, thank you very much, indeed.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: And the ALP Federal President, Stephen Loosley, was talking, there, to Maxine McKew in Canberra.