Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3286

Mr STEELE HALL —by leave-I take a heightened interest in this matter because two of the principal players in what could be termed a black, political drama now have their bases in South Australia, as does the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), or have been South Australian residents, as has been Mr Combe, who has been pilloried in this circumstance because of his association with a now expelled Russian diplomat. This report of the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies is available simply because of the work of the Opposition in this House in exposing the corrupt attitude the Government had adopted to the Westminster system, as has been referred to by the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) in this House, and the failure of the honourable member for Port Adelaide as the Special Minister of State to observe the proprieties of his office.

This report cuts at the very heart of the Government in the sense that a Minister has been found to have betrayed the secrets and the confidentiality of the National and International Security Committee. We have now found that the deception which was practiced then has not ceased. Today the honourable member for Port Adelaide, selectively quoting from Mr Justice Hope's report, has continued to further a deception in which this Government is now involved. The honourable member for Port Adelaide said that the Royal Commissioner accepts that this is the end of the matter. I hotly dispute that Mr Justice Hope's report accepts that this is the end of the matter. The honourable member for Port Adelaide also went on to say that there was no evidence that national security was damaged by what he had said. Both of those statements are intended to circumvent the impact of the justice's report and to minimise the extremely serious factor of which the honourable member for Port Adelaide has been found guilty.

The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), through his actions, has mortally wounded a man who brought him to power, Mr David Combe. No one in the Australian Labor Party did more to place the Prime Minister where he is now than Mr David Combe when he served as an officer of the Australian Labor Party. Today the Prime Minister has adopted as one of his closest friends, in giving every reason he could find and devise at the end of his report to this House, the man who betrayed the National and International Security Committee and, through that Committee, the people of Australia.

Mr Holding —Rubbish!

Mr STEELE HALL —The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), who protests, has only to read the report of the Commission to find that that is the case. The Government is now saying that it is all the fault of the Opposition and of lobbyists. What does it intend to do? It has brought into this House a description of what it is determined to do about lobbyists-to register them. In so registering them it is pointing the finger at lobbyists as one of the prime causes for the betrayal of the secrets of the NISC. Mr Deputy Speaker, I can say to you that that is a false trail the Government is deliberately laying to take the heat off one of its Ministers who has had to resign for misleading the House and betraying the Committee and whom the Prime Minister now must bring back into his Government because the numbers in Caucus dictate it. The Prime Minister has no strength within his party to withstand the numbers the honourable member for Port Adelaide has been able to gain in his fight for resurrection after his indiscretion.

What are we discussing? Why are we discussing this matter? What is the basic question? That is to be found on page 180 of the Royal Commissioner's report where he states:

The evidence indicates that on three separate occasions he disclosed-

referring to the honourable member for Port Adelaide, the former Special Minister of State-

to persons who were not members of NISC, the Ministry or his staff, certain information which had come into his possession at one or more of the meetings of NISC on 20 and 21 April.

The report goes on to state:

Mr Young has admitted that, at some time during the evening and while they were still at the home of Dr and Mrs Fitzgerald, he took Mr Walsh aside and told him . . . that the Government had that day been looking at a problem concerning Mr Matheson and Mr Combe.

The evidence goes on to state:

Later that same evening, in the carpark of the motel at which Mr and Mrs Young were staying, Mr Young again spoke to Mr Walsh about the matters which he had mentioned earlier.

If nothing, the Special Minister of State was persistent. The report states:

I was told in evidence by Mr Young that 'I reiterated what I had told him earlier, about being careful, so I also added that in quite some unrelated way at the morning's discussions, Mr Bowen seemed to be enormously antagonistic to Mr Matheson.

The leak went on, as Mr Young sought out a lobbyist-he was not sought by that lobbyist-to divulge some of the most secret matters Cabinet could ever deal with . I want to make this point: He sought out that lobbyist. For whatever reason he may have said he did so, the fact was that the initiative was the Minister's.

Mr Holding —At a dinner party.

Mr STEELE HALL —And in the carpark of the motel, if the Minister wants a second occasion. In fact, the report gives him plenty of occasions. If we are talking about the responsibility of lobbyists in this matter and who sought out lobbyists we could turn to the Prime Minister, could we not? We could turn to page 201 of Mr Justice Hope's report where he states:

On the morning of Sunday 24 April 1983, the Prime Minister telephoned from Melbourne to Mr William Butler in Canberra. He told Mr Butler that he had a difficult matter to raise with him.

Mr Cadman —Another mate.

Mr STEELE HALL —Another mate, no doubt. If the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs wants more indication of whose responsibility it was and whether it was lobbyists or Ministers who took the initiative, he will find that the Prime Minister also telephoned Mr Farmer. How amazing! These damn lobbyists kept on bothering the Ministers by having their telephone numbers in the book. Ministers could ring them up and say: 'I have some national security secrets to tell you'. For that responsibility of Ministers the Government wants to put the lobbyists in this country in a shackle, to tie them hand and foot, and say to the community of Australia: 'There are the culprits. It is not the Minister who had to resign because he misled the Parliament and betrayed the public's and the National and International Security Committee's secrets. It is not him; it is those lobbyists who had their telephone numbers in the book. They are the ones we want to get at.' Of course, the matter does not end there. The report goes on to talk of the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) who, in a conversation with Mr Farmer, also had something to say about the same matter.

Mr Holding —What did the Commission say about all this? Tell us the findings.

Mr STEELE HALL —I will tell the Minister in a minute what the Commission had to say about them and it is much more serious than what has been alluded to so far. I would say that what is required is not a register of lobbyists: It is a register of trustworthy Ministers. That is what we need in this Parliament. That is what we want a register for. Let us not have a special list. Let us have an ordinary list and put an asterisk against the names of those who leak or those who do not leak-those who have loose lips or those who do not have loose lips. That is what we need to know. There has been more than one instance than the one we are discussing today. But this is the one we are discussing and it is time to go in some more detail if honourable members want to read what the Commissioner has said-to the Commissioner's report. One can quote, as I have done before, the obvious beginning when the Commissioner found that evidence indicated that on three separate occasions the Special Minister of State leaked classified information from the National and International Security Committee. The Commissioner goes on very interestingly. I advise anyone who regards this matter with any severity to read this. The Commissioner deals on page 193 with section 79 of the Crimes Act. He said:

. . . it would be oppressive for me to record a finding (if that were the conclusion to which I came) that Mr Young had committed an offence under the section.

I take that to mean that he would not want to prejudge any other action which might normally be taken in a court of law.

Mr Cadman —The Attorney-General protected him.

Mr STEELE HALL —I will come to that in a minute. The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) has protected him, but the Commissioner did not want to be oppressive or to prejudge any further action. This I find the most interesting part of the whole report. Having said that he did not want to be oppressive, he laid out what the Minister must have transgressed, all the issues he must have been involved in, to be subject to section 79 of the Crimes Act. Interestingly he starts his reference to this in this way:

Notwithstanding the view which I have just expressed, the provisions of section 79 are relevant in considering the type of duty which a Minister may have in relation to confidential information. Sub-section 79 (3) makes it an offence for a person to communicate prescribed information . . .

That is established; it is an offence to communicate prescribed information. In the next portion he goes on:

. . . as far as relevant for present circumstances, to a person other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate it.

That is quite simple. One cannot communicate prescribed information. Then he defined prescribed information:

. . . to include information which a person has obtained owing to his position as a person who holds office under the Queen . . .

That is a description of it. Then in the next but one paragraph he says that the Minister holds office under the Queen. All these three things have dropped into place: It is prescribed information; it cannot be leaked; and the Minister holds office under the Queen. He then goes to perhaps the heart of it by referring to the duty to keep it secret. He says further on:

However, sub-section 79 (1) provides its own criteria for determining whether the duty exists. Those criteria are the nature of the information and the circumstances under which it was obtained. In my opinion, that duty may be a legal duty but it may also be a duty not otherwise imposed by the law. On this construction of the provision, there has been a recognition by the legislature of a non-legal duty to which Ministers may be subject.

I submit to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that all four major circumstances apply and that the former Minister was guilty of contravening section 79 of the Crimes Act under the descriptions given by Commissioner Hope. I find it most illuminating that the Commissioner said that he did not want to be oppressive by making a finding and then set out for all to read provisions which indicate that the former Special Minister for State was guilty and ought to have been charged. It is simply the Attorney-General who, on the most specious of arguments, so far has prevented the normal course of the law. We should again remind ourselves that one of the reasons given by the Attorney-General as to why his colleague should not stand trial for his action and his indiscretion was that, if found guilty, he might lose his seat. Could there be a more self-interested reason why one would not apply the law without fear or favour than that concern for a colleague?

In this last couple of minutes I will refer to the deception which the Government is trying to practise in referring to lobbyists. This ought not to proceed through this House without longer debate than that which can be given to it here and now. The Government is to proceed with the worst form of registration of lobbyists. It will not require registration of firms lobbying on their own behalf but will require registration only of those who lobby the Government for reward on behalf of third parties. Registration will be voluntary but a lobbyist will not get any business and cannot see a Minister unless he is registered, which makes a mockery of the determination to register lobbyists at all. The Government has fallen for the worst of all forms of lobbying registration in that it will be ineffective because it will encompass only selected people and will be an offer which those who come within its ambit cannot afford to refuse. This is the greatest standover tactic I have ever seen used against a group of free individuals in this community. I reiterate: It is a deceptive move to try to take the heat off a government, the members of which today saw their Leader go against his better judgment and say that he will reinstate a Minister who, by this report, has been proven to be unsuitable to serve this country in that field.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr Beazley)-by leave-agreed to:

That so much of Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent continuation of the debate.