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Tuesday, 23 August 1983
Page: 12

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(2.43) —I move--

Mr Scholes —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I want to return to the original motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. The original motion in fact included the terms of the motion which the Leader of the Opposition is about to move. Rulings have been given in the past that one motion--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order. The Minister for Defence is raising a point of order with the Chair. There is so much noise that I am having difficulty in hearing.

Mr Scholes —The point of order is that the motion to suspend Standing Orders included the substantive motion. Therefore, both should be carried by the same vote.

Mr SPEAKER —No, the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders has been carried. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to move his motion.

Mr PEACOCK —In the time remaining to me, I move:

That either the Prime Minister or the honourable member for Port Adelaide make a statement to this House immediately on the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the honourable member for Port Adelaide as Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council and the Prime Minister's subsequent recommendation to the parliamentary Labor Party that the honourable member's ministerial vacancy remain open.

That motion is seconded by the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony) . I refer to my remarks on the earlier motion I moved for the suspension of Standing Orders.

Mr Lionel Bowen —Mr Speaker, I again raise a point of order to help the Leader of the Opposition. The motion states that he wants the Prime Minister to make a statement. The Prime Minister is prepared to make a statement now.

Mr PEACOCK —We are delighted that at last the Prime Minister intends to get on his feet before the Australian people on this issue. It has taken a tortuous course to bring it about.

Mr Lionel Bowen —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. We have accepted the motion. There is no need to debate it further.

Mr SPEAKER —I remind the honourable member for Denison, who is trying to interject, that the Speaker is in charge of the House, not him. The Leader of the Opposition has moved a motion and, despite the plea of the Leader of the House, he is entitled to speak to that motion.

Mr Lionel Bowen —But it is only wasting the time of the House if we debate it.

Mr SPEAKER —That is the decision of the Leader of the Opposition; it is not for the Chair. I call the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr PEACOCK —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me go back to the Royal Commission. I was indicating why the House was entitled to an explanation why the Prime Minister is anxious to ignore the behaviour of the former Special Minister of State. On being asked at the Royal Commission whether he thought the honourable member's disclosure to Mr Walsh was 'very serious' and 'bore on matters of national security', the Prime Minister replied-yet again I quote-'Yes'. In other words, he did believe that what the former Special Minister of State had done was very serious and that it also bore on matters of national security. If that is the case, why has the Prime Minister moved in the Caucus that the ministerial position not be declared vacant in circumstances in which somebody could take the stead, the place of, the honourable member for Port Adelaide? The actions of the honourable member for Port Adelaide deserve the strongest censure. Unquestionably he--

Dr Theophanous —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order--

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I invite honourable members on my left to allow me to hear the point of order. Their Leader can continue after the point of order has been ruled on.

Dr Theophanous —The Opposition Leader's last remark clearly pre-empts the determinations of the Royal Commission. In that sense it is in contempt of the Royal Commission. He is not entitled to pre-empt the determinations of the Commission in this way.

Mr SPEAKER —The question of sub judice is a matter for the discretion of the Chair. If that were offended against I would rule so.

Mr PEACOCK —This comes to why we are having this debate. Mr Speaker, I accept your ruling on the point of order but I remind the House that honourable members opposite, through their actions, are accountable to this institution. They cannot hide behind another body in circumstances in which they are answerable to this Parliament. Frankly, the actions of the honourable member for Port Adelaide deserve the strongest censure. By keeping his ministerial seat warm the Prime Minister compounds the disgrace of the actions committed by him. We look forward to the Prime Minister telling us why on 13 May the honourable member for Port Adelaide issued a statement revealing that on 22 April he had told a Mr Cameron that the Government 'was about to kick out a Russian'. In the letter that he wrote to the Prime Minister he said:

My brief comment in my office was, during that time, the only reference to the expulsion of Mr Ivanov.

As honourable members will recall, at that time the Opposition quite properly demanded the resignation of the honourable member. It was clear that he had breached national security by revealing a matter of the greatest sensitivity. Undoubtedly, by the subsequent actions of the Prime Minister, particularly yesterday, a naive and cavalier approach has been taken to the honourable member 's impropriety.

But let us go back further, beyond the Caucus meeting of yesterday. All that the Prime Minister did was tell the honourable member for Port Adelaide that his leak was 'not an appropriate thing for him to say'. The Prime Minister added in Parliament that he accepted the assurances of his Minister about his conduct during that luncheon. Indeed, there were words used to the effect, 'I am not going to question the matter any further'. That relates to the conduct of the Prime Minister himself in not adequately probing, in not adequately questioning, in not adequately analysing what transpired. As I shall develop, as a consequence of the way in which this House was misled by the former Minister, the Prime Minister was associated with misleading this House. The fabrications of his colleague caused the Prime Minister also to mislead the Parliament. I shall be looking forward to the reasons why the Prime Minister does not regard those facts that to date I have briefly outlined as serious enough to keep the honourable member out of the Ministry. Clearly, he wants him back.

Let us contemplate the Prime Minister's words to this House on 17 May:

While it was not appropriate for the Minister to have made the statement that he did, he has in all other respects acted as we, that is the honourable member and me, would expect him to do-with honour and propriety.

The true value of the honour and propriety of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, to use the Prime Minister's own words, was soon to be revealed. But why was it not revealed in this House? Why had it not been probed, and why was the House misled? Of course, on 14 July the Prime Minister announced the honourable member's resignation from the Ministry. There was a four-day interlude before we were told why. We were not told by the Prime Minister, though-by the head of this Government. We were told by the Government's counsel to the Hope Royal Commission. As we know, there was nothing in that statement by counsel on that day that could not have been stated by the man who is answerable to this Parliament and the people. There was no need for him to brief counsel to make that statement. It was sufficient to call a Press conference and cast aspersions on elements of matters before the Royal Commission, but it was not sufficient to call a Press conference or to come before this Parliament, without the urging of the Opposition, to indicate why a Minister had resigned.

The man of honour, the man of propriety-again, to use the Prime Minister's words-had evidently, we later discover, told another of his friends-dare I say ' cronies'-this time his old mate Eric Walsh, that Mr Combe was involved with Mr Ivanov, to quote the honourable member, 'in a fairly messy scenario' which the Government had been looking at that day. Was this deliberate premeditated tip- off, this leak which amounted to a breach of national security, to the commercial advantage of Mr Walsh and his client, the reason for the honourable member's resignation? I assume that the Prime Minister will tell us. Was the commercial advantage to Mr Walsh the reason? I trust that the Prime Minister will tell us. Or was it the fact that the leak took place while Mr Combe was still under surveillance and, on the Prime Minister's own admission, was a potential security risk? Was that the reason? Will the Prime Minister tell us? Or was the reason this breach of national security which brought with it the risk that Mr Ivanov could be tipped off well before he was officially informed of his expulsion? I trust that we shall be told.

In listening carefully to the first two elements that I have raised, as to whether there was a commercial advantage to Mr Walsh, I ask honourable members to bear in mind that others who were telephoned on a given weekend received a commercial advantage, and to bear in mind that when these others were tipped off , the leak, the tipping off, the leak of the call to Mr Butler and Mr Farmer, took place while Mr Combe was still under surveillance. I trust that we shall be told how the Prime Minister distances himself from the actions of the former Special Minister of State and that he will come clean. We shall be interested in facts, in details, in reasons and, if you like, in the propriety of a mea culpa. So seriously did the Prime Minister view the misdemeanor of the Special Minister of State that the asked the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) to advise whether the member had breached the Crime Act. Of course, that investigation is still underway. Are any others to have their actions referred to the Attorney- General for investigation? Are any other telephone calls, cases of wilful or unwilful commercial gain, leaks while people are under surveillance, also to be referred to the Attorney-General? If they are not, I will listen with interest as to why not.

The fact is that these matters have to be fully explained to this Parliament by the Prime Minister and, indeed, by the honourable member for Port Adelaide. Observers of the Hope Royal Commission were stunned to learn that the indiscretion of the honourable member for Port Adelaide extended still further. He revealed recently that he had told all the lucky participants at the now famous 22 April luncheon of the expulsion of Mr Ivanov at least half an hour before it was announced. I regret to say again-no one gets any pleasure in these matters-that the honourable member misled the Prime Minister and the Australian people about his actions on 22 April. Honourable members cannot escape from that harsh reality. After all that and after revelations which have shown that the honourable member has behaved regrettably, with a degree of impropriety which to date is unprecedented, the Prime Minister still wants to leave the way open for the return of the honourable member for Port Adelaide to the Ministry. Why? I trust he will tell us why, because the motion he has accepted relates not only, bear in mind, to the Prime Minister's acceptance of the Minister's resignation but also to the reasons for his leaving that position open. We wish to know why the Prime Minister is not filling that vacancy at this moment. Has the Prime Minister warmly embraced, we may ask, the arguments of those members of Caucus who have urged him to forget about 'Westminster purities' and take account 'of political realities' by not filling the portfolio of the honourable member for Port Adelaide with a full time successor?

There is one further serious question. Will the honourable member for Port Adelaide not only return to the Cabinet but also very shortly regain his place on the National and International Security Committee? That is a reasonable question to pose when one bears in mind that the Prime Minister said only recently that the disclosure by the honourable member of matters from that Committee was both very serious and bore on matters of national security. How, then, can he return to these positions? Of all the improprieties of the Labor Government-and there have been enough of those in less than six months; it seems interminably longer than that-the decision to leave open the vacancy of a man who is now discredited must be one of the worst. The House looks forward to the reasons why both the resignation occurred and, more particularly, the position is being kept vacant. I hope that honourable members will remember for a lengthy period the words of the honourable member for Port Adelaide to this House on 17 May. The House will remember that on that day he was asked by the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) whether he recalled taking his ministerial oath of office and swearing that he would not 'directly or indirectly reveal such matters as shall be debated in Council and committed to his secrecy'. The honourable member for Port Adelaide replied to that question as follows:

I was so excited-I had just been shown the salaries of Ministers-that I forgot what really the commitment was when I was sworn in.

That pretty slick approach to ministerial responsibility comes home to roost in circumstances such as these. At least we can say on that occasion the honourable member told the truth, and I trust that in that spirit we will get a truthful explanation from the Prime Minister himself, because this matter goes to the heart of ministerial conduct and government in this country.

When one bears in mind the remarks that I made earlier, when you, Mr Speaker, properly informed us of the actions that you had taken, that this Prime Minister had not only refused to give an explanation-not only for the Parliament but also for the people-but also had sought to traduce, bludgeon and muzzle members of this Parliament and members of the media should they choose to interpret his action and his words in a manner with which he did not concur, it is now opportune to hear the fullest possible explanation. I have never, in the history of my participation in this Parliament, seen any occupant of the prime ministership seek to take action which could lead to the Leader of the Opposition in this country being thrown in gaol for political comment. If I have to keep referring outside to the actions of this Prime Minister I will, but at least today, by our persistence, we have forced this Prime Minister to his feet and we have forced him to indicate to the Parliament what he has run away from until today; an explanation to the Australian people as to why the Minister resigned and particularly an explanation as to why, in all the circumstances which amount to a gross breach of national security, the honourable member should be considered proper to return to the Ministry in the shortest space of time. At the end of a speech, after this matter was first raised by way of a statement in this House back in May, I said that a judicious Prime Minister would not have handled this matter in this manner and that a judicious Prime Minister would not have embarked on this course of action but would have thought through the consequences of it from the breach of civil liberties to the breaches of national security right from the start. One was forced to say then that the current occupant is not a judicious man.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Mr Anthony —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Question resolved in the affirmative.