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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3274

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.48) —The Opposition welcomes the report of the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies . I should like to congratulate Mr Justice Hope and his staff on completing what must have been a very onerous task indeed. Mr Speaker, you may recall that it was the Opposition which first called for the establishment of a judicial inquiry so that the facts surrounding the expulsion of Ivanov and the involvement of David Combe could be established. We now have the Commissioner's findings on those facts. We must bear in mind that, at root, it was the incompetence of this Government which brought about the call for this judicial inquiry and, at root, there are essentially three findings: Firstly, that Ivanov should have been expelled-an action with which we have always concurred; secondly, that Mr Combe compromised himself in his dealings with Mr Ivanov; and, thirdly, that the former Special Minister of State acted not only in an unauthorised manner but in an improper manner in a matter of national security.

The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has read to this Parliament a 25-page statement. Pages 22 to 24 nail this Government for what it is-unprincipled, irresponsible, delinquent and negligent. The Royal Commission has found-

Mr Keating —Can't you read a report?

Mr PEACOCK —I can read a report. Let me remind the Minister that the Royal Commission has found that a Minister of this Government acted improperly. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) may mislead this Parliament in relation to projections of his Department. worse than that, however, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) has been found to have acted improperly on a matter of national security-not some projection, not some mere forecast, as honourable members opposite would put it, but on a matter relating to the very security of this country. The Prime Minister has said that the issues that arose were 'of the utmost seriousness' and the Royal Commissioner has found that a Minister of the Hawke Government was unauthorised in his behaviour and acted improperly in regard to national security. As a consequence, the whole Government is affected by this finding, and no amount of whitewash can cover that. It is a finding that goes to the security of Australia. Yet despite this finding, the Prime Minister has indicated his support for the return of the honourable member for Port Adelaide to the Ministry.

Let us look at the very serious findings against the former Special Minister of State by Mr Justice Hope. As a member of the National and International Security Committee of Cabinet, probably the most important and sensitive group of Ministers in the land, the honourable member for Port Adelaide deliberately sought out an old friend, Eric Walsh, and told him what Ministers had discussed and decided in the utmost secrecy. He told him, firstly, that Mr Walsh should be careful in dealing with Mr Matheson; secondly, the Government had had an important meeting that day and that a Russian was going to be expelled the followintg day; thirdly, Mr Combe appeared to have an association with the Russian who was going to be expelled; fourthly, there had been Australian Security Intelligence Organisation tapes at the meeting; and, fifthly, at the meeting Mr Bowen, the Deputy Prime Minsiter, had been antagonistic to Mr Matheson. These were no idle remarks. They were a calculated action, as the Prime Minister puts it, to help a mate; that is, to protect his mate's business interests and those of his clients. It was made before the decision to expel Ivanov was announced and while David Combe was under surveillance.

Mr Justice Hope found these disclosures to be both unauthorised and improper. He found that both convention and the law required Ministers to protect the confidentiality of Cabinet's deliberations, especially where matters of the nation's security are involved. Mr Justice Hope accepted the submission by counsel for the honourable member for Port Adeliade that it might prejudice subsequent proceedings against the honourable member were he to express an opinion whether the honourable member breached section 79 (3) of the crimes Act. Nevertheless, in considering the questions whether the honourable member for Port Adeliade made improper and unathorised disclosures of confidential matters, he addressed his mind to each of the elements of section 79 (3) of the Crimes Act and concluded that each of those elements was breached. I repeat: His Honour concluded that each of those elements of the Crimes Act was breached-no idle finding.

The Government, however, is now attempting to whitewash the Minister's remarks by saying that he did not intend to damage national security and that he in fact had not damaged national security. At least two things can be said about this. First, the Minister was a member of the security committee of Cabinet and he knew his obligations and his duty of secrecy. He may not have intended to damage national security-and Mr Justice Hope addresses that very point-but he clearly did intend to breach Cabinet confidentiality on matters relating to national security. He deliberately took Mr Walsh aside and deliberately told him what had been disclosed. He knew the risks; yet he took the chance allegedly for the sake of a mate. He thereby disqualified and continues to disqualify himself from office. Secondly, as His Honour so plainly points out, potential not actual damage is the criteria for judging breaches of national security. Let me go to pages 195 and 196 of His Honour's report, where His Honour says:

I am also of the view that the potential, rather than the actual, damage to the national security is what must be considered in determining impropriety. If an unauthorised disclosure by a Cabinet Minister gives rise to a real risk of damage to national security, then the fact that little or no damage results does not diminish any impropriety in the disclosure. In the present case there is no evidence that national security was damaged by what Mr Young said to Mr Walsh. However, there was, in my opinion a real risk that significant damage could have resulted from the disclosures. Although given in confidence, there was clearly a risk that the information might be repeated, as it was in fact repeated. It is a common fact of life that many people regard information given to them in confidence as something which they are entitled to pass on in confidence. As with all such disclosures, once the confidence had been broken, the information could have reached members of the Soviet Mission, including Mr Ivanov. It could also have made public the involvement of Mr Combe and Mr Matheson in the circumstances leading to the explulsion, and have revealed the existence of ASIO tapes as part of the material relied upon for the expulsion. In my opinion, these potential consequences gave rise to a real danger of significant damage to national security. Furthermore, having regard to the content of the disclosures, I do not think it is relevant for this purpose that the expulsion of Mr Ivanov was to be announced the next day, or that, in the event, speculation, and Mr Combe's own statements, associated him with the expulsion.

The Prime Minister's action in welcoming back the honourable member for Port Adelaide as a Minister for the future continues his persistent efforts since May to protect the position of the former Special Minister of State in this Parliament. Since May the Prime Minister has known about the disclosures to Mr Cameron and others at lunch. Since July he has known of the even more serious disclosures-serious in the extreme, as described by his Honour-to Eric Walsh and the fact that the Minister had misled him and caused him, the Prime Minister, to mislead the Parliament. Since August he has had the opinions of the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) on the appropriate course of action in such circumstances. Yet he has done nothing. He has kept the former Minister's seat warm. He has defended the former Minister. He continues to defend him. I remind the House that the Attorney-General, in recommending to the Prime Minister that the honourable member for Port Adelaide not be prosecuted under the Crimes Act, had in mind:

Sanctions that have been traditionally regarded as applicable and appropriate to Ministers are not those of the criminal law but the political sanctions of resignation, of dismissal.

The Attorney-General examined the matter and concluded that these traditional political sanctions should apply rather than a gaol term, which he regarded as too severe. The Attorney-General was not drawing a distincition between some resignation and some suspension. He was drawing a distinction between a resignation and a two-year gaol term and, thereby, disqualification from the Parliament. The Prime Minister's refusal to recommend that Caucus fill the ministerial vacancy, and his whitewashing of the former Minister's actions, deserve the strongest censure of this Parliament. There is no excuse which the Prime Minister might invent which can be a defence for the behaviour of the former Minister. The Prime Minister clearly knows the correct course of action but he is not prepared to take it. He is prepared to sacrifice national security . He is prepared to sacrifice the integrity of his Government rather than risk losing face before the Caucus.

Let me go back to a couple of other statements of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said today that the former Special Minister of State had been a Minister for only six weeks. He also said that he was simply telling a mate. He adduced those as reasons for his support for the Minister to return to the Cabinet. It is interesting that he should mention that he was a Minister for only six weeks and he was only telling a mate. I have already informed the House what His Honour thought about telling any person of the elements determined by the Cabinet and what the potential damage to the national security was. The Prime Minister raised these two points which His Honour dealt with at page 196 of his report. His Honour said, at page 196, paragraph 7.37:

It is relevant to consider the circumstances under which Mr Young made the disclosures. However, while those circumstances justify his view that he was simply helping an old friend, they do not, in my opinion, diminish what I regard as the impropriety of the disclosures.

His Honour says that telling an old friend is, nevertheless, improper. The Prime Minister says that telling an old mate is a reason to bring him back into the Ministry. His Honour then goes on and says:

It is also relevant that Mr Young had been a Minister for a period of less than six weeks and that this was his first experience of such a case. I have concluded that, notwithstanding this short Ministerial experience, it should have been apparent to Mr Young that he should not make the disclosures.

The Prime Minister comes into this Parliament today, presents a report and adduces argument, of course in the face of overwhelming numbers, that Mr Young should return to the Ministry. Notwithstanding what His Honour has said on both grounds, this Prime Minister puts forward as arguments for a return of the former Minister, that that ought not only not be contemplated but also that there was no justification for taking those elements into account. In fact he found that they did not in any way move him from his finding that what was done by the Minister was improper.

Honourable members should bear in mind that His Honour was not applying some mild test. I ask honourable members to look at page 186 of the report that has been tabled. There His Honour addresses himself to a very stringent test before he goes on to make his finding of an unauthorised and improper action relating to national security. At page 186 paragraph 7.16 he says:

In coming to my findings I have borne in mind the submission of Counsel for Mr Young that the serious consequences of a finding adverse to Mr Young require me to be satisfied considerably beyond the bare balance of probabilities.

He was, therefore, applying a far more stringent test in the determination of his findings than the mere balance of probabilities. He unquestionably found, beyond reasonable doubt, that this man acted in an unauthorised manner, that he acted improperly and with potential damage to national security. He applied such a stringent test with the very though in mind that this Prime Minister has sought to avert-namely, the serious consequences of an adverse finding against Mr Young. He has applied the stringent test. He has made adverse findings. He would therefore expect there to be, in his own words, 'serious consequences'. In fact, the consequences of the finding led the Prime Minister to conclude that he should bring Mick back as soon as possible. Some following of a royal commission report! Some application of principle! Some conduct in circumstances where the most stringent test can be applied!

Before I leave this point I direct honourable members to page 194 of the report . There His Honour looks, in paragraph 7.33, at the alleged minimal breaches. Honourable members have heard for some time, and have read statements abounding from members of the Caucus, that what Mick did was a pretty minimal thing, that nothing much happened. In conjunction with the very severe test that His Honour applied, let us have a look at addressing this question of minimal breaches. It is important to recognise how assiduous His Honour was in making the finding of impropriety. He says, at page 194:

It follows from what I have said that disclosures made by Mr Young were unauthorised.

Then he goes on:

Were they, or any of them, improper? It is clear that, although an act may involve a breach of duty, the breach may be so minimal that the act could not be regarded as improper. On the other hand, it is equally clear that the breach may have a seriousness that brings it within the concept of impropriety. The difficulty is in drawing the line between these two positions.

Firstly, there was a minimal breach and, secondly, a serious breach. His Honour goes on:

As often happens, when a line of this kind has to be drawn, there is a grey area between what, by general agreement, falls short of impropriety and what, on any reasonsable view, is clearly improper.

He then goes on to say:

I approach the matter on the basis that I will not characterise as improper a disclosure which I consider to be within that grey area.

In other words, His Honour has said: 'Minimal disclosures are to be put to one side. Grey areas between minimal and serious disclosures are to be put to one side'. I am looking at serious disclosures, serious breaches, breaches that could affect the national security, the security of this nation, matters way beyond the alleged minimal matters about which the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) was interjecting a moment ago. With the allegiances that he has shown to outside powers it is not surprising that he should interject in this way. With the purchase and the leverage that he would seek to bring to bear on bringing back a man who has breached national security again it is not surprising that he would interject in this manner. In the view of every member of the Opposition and I am sure in the view of any objective observer, if pressed, because it is the only natural reading of the findings of His Honour, there can be no entertainment of the return of the former Minister to the Ministry of the Hawke Government. The fact is that the former Minister's actions were found to be improper and were found to prejudice the national security. Let us remember that the former Minister's disclosures to Mr Walsh were not inadvertent or mistaken, they were deliberate. His concealment of what he had done was not casual, it was design. His deception of the Prime Minister, his colleagues, this Parliament and the Australian people was not by chance, it was calculated. His ultimate resignation was not the act of a man facing up to the consequences of his actions, it was an admission of guilt forced out of him after it was manifest to him that he had been discovered and was about to be exposed.

The findings of the Royal Commission, and they are important in themselves, related to the impropriety and the breaches of national security. Implicit in those last remarks I have just made is something perhaps even more fundamental to this Parliament: There is no greater dereliction of duty by a Minister than misleading this Parliament, or so misleading his Prime Minister that he, in turn , misleads the Parliament. Beyond the findings of the Royal Commission is a wider setting. That is, the former Minister did not disclose his actions to the House and, as a consequence, this Parliament was misled by the Prime Minister in particular on 17 May, when the Prime Minister stated that the Special Minister of State acted 'with honour and propriety'. For all that I criticise the Prime Minister, he would not have said that had the former Special Minister of State told him the truth. The fact was that there was non-disclosure and it led the Prime Minister-I say inadvertently on this issue-to describe the Special Minister of State as a man of honour and propriety when that Special Minister of State knew of the actions that have been brought out through our actions here and, more particularly, by the findings of the Royal Commission. There can be no greater transgression than for a Minister to mislead the Parliament or cause it to be misled.

The Prime Minister's lack of parliamentary experience is no excuse for ignoring the fundamental principles and ethics of the Westminster system. By his actions the honourable member for Port Adelaide has disqualified himself from holding the trust of the Parliament and the people of Australia and those who entertain the notion of return to the Ministry treat the Parliament with absolute contempt . We can lend no support whatsoever to the viewpoint that he was inexperienced, not can Mr Justice Hope lend any support to that. We can lend no support to the view that it was a minimal action, nor does Mr Justice Hope lend any support to that. We can lend no support to the view that there was no damage to national security, nor does Mr Justice Hope. When all this information is put together- the finding that a Minister acted improperly, that a Minister acted in an unauthorised way relating to the security of this nation, the fact that there is no more fundamental duty on a government than ensuring the security of the people of this nation and that that duty has been breached-for the Prime Minister comes into this Parliament with a 25-page written statement and concludes that his poor, inexperienced mate, who has worked for the Labor movement for 30 years, ought to be allowed back into the Ministry is nothing less than delinquency and an absolute disgrace. No amount of argument will override the fact that if the Government concludes in that way there is no doubt it is putting the count of numbers for Mick ahead of its own propriety. No wonder the Government is running scared.

We listened for 38 minutes to an apologia from this Prime Minister. He tries to interject repeatedly now because each point is coming home. They are going to drive home day after day, and the only person he can get to sit beside him is the most descredited Minister in his Government, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), who was partly responsible for the virtual destruction of the Australian Labor Party on Saturday. He has but one responsibility and that is for Aboriginal affairs. What did the electorate think of him in the Northern Territory on Saturday? Poor Clyde is the only one who will sit beside this Prime Minister in the defence of his actions. Another Minister has come in to assist the Prime Minister. This is interesting. The Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley) the other Minister who has come to sit beside him, is the fellow who has assisted in keeping Mick's ministerial seat warm. The fact is that the Prime Minister would never fill that vacancy because he knew the Caucus would roll him .

The final point is that the Prime Minister has been fulminating and blustering as to how this report would damage the Opposition. He was looking forward with great relish to the day when he could table this report which would be so embarrassing to the Opposition. Yet all he could do was refer to a statement of mine in the Parliament, evidently on 22 September. I have made many more statements than that. On one occasion he sought to muzzle me, as he sought to muzzle the Gallery in reporting his mendacious cover-up. He referred in conclusion to my statement of 22 September. On 22 September I brought on a matter of public importance in this Parliament. It dealt with matters that related to uranium, the double standards and the deception of the Prime Minister and his Government. It dealt with a whole range of matters from uranium to taxation. I also indicated the duplicity and the double standards of a man getting on the phone and ringing Mr Farmer and Mr Butler because he knew they were associated with Mr Combe or about to enter into an association.

Mr Howard —They were his mates.

Mr PEACOCK —They were his mates, and I put it that they were his cronies. But he did not ring Mr Barnett or Mr Drysdale. Such was the application of principle that this man held that he would ring those associated with the Labor Party. I am expected to apologise. Indeed, he says: 'I await his apology'. He will be waiting until hell freezes over because, wittingly or unwittingly, the occupant of the office of Prime Minister misled this Parliament. Wittingly or unwittingly , he kept the former Minister's seat warm. Wittingly or unwittingly, he has shown more attention for the former Minister's alleged cleverness than his honesty. Clearly, the Prime Minister attaches greater importance to bowing to the numbers in Caucus than abiding by the law. Clearly, the Prime Minister attaches greater importance to appeasing his Party than to protecting the integrity of his Government or the security of this nation.

Today is not the last the Parliament will hear of this matter. It goes to the heart of Australia's security. It goes to the heart, indeed the propriety, of government, and it goes to the heart of the proper discharge of government. The cavalier disregard for convention, the law, security and propriety cannot and will not be condoned by this Opposition. The Prime Minister has tabled in this Parliament a report and indicated that he will work for one of the three transgressors-first, Ivanov, expelled from the country; secondly, Combe, crucified, and justifiably, according to this report; and, thirdly, a man who has the potential to damage the security of this nation, whom the Prime Minister proposes to resurrect. It is an act of delinquency as I said, but, worse than that, is it is an act of mendacity to say in this Parliament that poor Mick should be excused because he had worked for the Labor movement for 30 years, was an inexperienced fellow and had been in the ministry for only six weeks. Mr Justice Hope deals with every argument.

Mr Hawke —Look at the faces behind you.

Mr PEACOCK —I would rather look at the Prime Minister's face. It is the face of a man who has been associated with five electoral defeats since he came to that position. He can be reminded of it today, as we will remind him of the fact that he is pushing water uphill to try to convince the Australian people that Mick Young is nothing more than a Minister who breached national security. The Prime Minister, in seeking to bring back the honourable member, reflects on the integrity of the Parliament, destroys the conventions of the Parliament and disregards the security of the nation. He has not at any time directed his attention to the propriety of Government itself. The mere fact that he is inexperienced in leading the nation in this Parliament is no more an excuse than was inexperience to the former Special Minister of State.

I conclude with the following remarks: There can be no condoning of the request of this Parliament by the Prime Minister for support for the proposition that a man who not only acted in an unauthorised way but also breached improperly the national security should return within a matter of weeks to his Cabinet. If he does, the nation will properly assert that the Prime Minister is transgressing principle, transgressing propriety and putting at risk again the security of this nation. This man was found, not by members who sit opposite the Prime Minister and who are political enemies but by a royal commission, to have been acting improperly and in breach of national security. There can be no stronger argument than that used by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and counsel assisting the Royal Commission. They submitted to the Royal Commission that the honourable member for Port Adelaide had breached the Crimes Act. The fact is that His Honour went through each element of that submission and concluded in the manner that I adduced earlier. No amount of argument can lead us to the viewpoint that the honourable member for Port Adelaide ought to be permitted to return to the Ministry. Quite to the contrary; the Prime Minister is transgressing propriety and the proper conduct of government and qualifying the proper standards of government. He will be condemned for his statement to Parliament today and, beyond that, for the support he is rendering for those who wish to bring the honourable member for Port Adelaide back into the Government.