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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14857

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:15 PM) —by leave—Can I just say in response to that explanation to the House that you, Prime Minister, still do not get it, do you?

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —The Prime Minister does not get it, because whilst he says this is a difficult issue, the proposition itself is very simple indeed. It is as simple as this: you cannot have people in authority who have covered up for child sex abuse. It is as simple as that. There is nothing difficult about it. Don't try to give us this argument about the circumstances having changed; we are talking about a failure to act in the 1990s, Prime Minister. These were circumstances in which there were, on all the evidence before us, known allegations and a failure to act by the then Archbishop of Brisbane.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Hume!

Mr CREAN —Prime Minister, nothing I have heard from you in this presentation to the parliament says anything—

The SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar is warned!

Mr CREAN —that has changed the circumstances from those which we knew in February last year. Indeed, I think what is new is that for the first time you have admitted that the Governor-General made a serious mistake, and he acknowledged it a year ago. I ask the Prime Minister through you, Mr Speaker: if it was acknowledged more than 12 months ago, if it was acknowledged in February last year, why didn't he move to get the Governor-General to resign then? There has been nothing in the proceedings subsequent that has done anything to extenuate the circumstances of the Governor-General. Indeed, all we have seen is further confirmation that what the Governor-General did when he was Archbishop of Brisbane was fail to act when he knew evidence was before him, and he covered up for a known paedophile. That is not a person fit to hold the highest office in this land, and it is as simple as that, Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister's failure to act at that time involves him and his judgment. The Prime Minister should have acted in February last year and, more importantly, he should have told us what checks he had made of the Governor-General prior to the appointment. We have heard him make mention of some names here. What were the outcomes of those inquiries? That is what we are entitled to know—particularly, given the evidence from the Aspinall inquiry, as these allegations go back some time. What inquiries were made on your behalf, Prime Minister, to establish whether or not the person that you, and you alone, were appointing was a fit and proper person to hold this office?

The Prime Minister also makes the outrageous suggestion here today that no person has paid a higher price for the inaction than the Governor-General himself. I ask the Prime Minister to turn to the victims of the child sex abuse and to their parents and ask what price they have paid. This is a price which will never be expunged. These are people who have had to live with it time and time again. As we know from all of the evidence that is coming forward now, these are people who have had to live with it in silence. They have been too frightened or proud or ashamed—call it what you want; it varies depending upon the individual—to come forward and admit what happened to them. They know it is bad, and it is hurting them. They have paid a huge price, Prime Minister, so don't come into this place and say that the person who has paid the highest price is the Governor-General. He has paid a high price, but he has paid a high price for failing to act. These people paid the price because he did not act, and that is what makes their circumstances far worse, in terms of the impact, than those of the Governor-General. You say, Prime Minister—

The SPEAKER —Leader of the Opposition.

Mr CREAN —that there is no moral turpitude associated with what the Governor-General did. I put this simple proposition: isn't a person of authority who failed to act on issues of child sexual abuse guilty of moral turpitude? Of course he is. This was a person in authority. This was a person to whom the allegations were made, and he failed to act. He was guilty of moral turpitude, so do not keep repeating the mantra simply because you believe it. The fact of the matter is—and we knew it back in February last year—that the Governor-General failed to act. He has admitted it, and you have admitted it. The real question is: why didn't you act earlier?

The SPEAKER —Leader of the Opposition.

Mr CREAN —That is the real question that has to be answered today. The other question that has to be answered by the Prime Minister today is: what steps did he take to check the record and background associated with the Governor-General?

Bear in mind that these are the first words on this that we have heard from the Prime Minister in the 75 hours since the rape charges against the Governor-General were withdrawn, and bear in mind that that was the basis upon which the Prime Minister stood the Governor-General aside. We have heard nothing in 75 hours as to why the Prime Minister thinks he is still fit to hold the highest office in the land.

He wants Australia to believe that this was a decision for the Governor-General and the Governor-General alone. The Prime Minister is wrong on that count; this was a call for the Prime Minister. My charge is that he should have made the right call back in February last year because nothing new has come to the fore since then. But we have had confirmation as to why he should have acted in February last year to terminate the Governor-General's appointment—it is a failure of leadership, and the Prime Minister cannot hide from it. He has been in hiding for 75 hours, but he cannot hide from the fact that he should have acted. He should have acted in the best interests of this nation and, importantly, in the best interests of the victims of child sexual abuse. I again heard the Prime Minister in his statement today make the point that we should be doing something for the victims of child sexual abuse. I agree. But, Prime Minister, why won't you join in supporting Labor's bill?

Mr CREAN —He groans. He groans at the first positive suggestion as to what should be done to address the problems of the victims of child sexual abuse.

The SPEAKER —The member for Blair is warned!

Mr CREAN —There should be a children's commissioner, a code of conduct and a check on people working with the victims and their families. There are many questions that the Prime Minister has not answered, and we now look forward to the opportunity to ask him those questions. What we have had here is a serious failure of leadership on the Prime Minister's part. He should have acted in February 2002 to dismiss the Governor-General. He failed in that duty. He has failed the victims of child sexual abuse by continuing to condone, in the top office of the land, a person who covered up for a paedophile. That is what you have done, Prime Minister. That is the effect of your failing to act. You condoned a person, in the top office in the land, covering up for a known paedophile. The Prime Minister's statement today is inadequate.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask you again about standing order 74. We have had many rulings in the last week, but I put it to you that the Leader of the Opposition has gone beyond the pale, even on the liberal interpretation of standing order 74 that you gave before. I ask that you rule him out of order.

The SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar has made a valid point of order. The occupier of the office of the Governor-General is still the Governor-General, and standing order 74 still applies. As the Leader of the Opposition is aware, I was at the point of interrupting him when he moved away from the criticism that was implied in his remarks. I have been listening closely to his remarks. In recognising the Leader of the Opposition, and without constraining him in any sense, I would point out that the time that was allotted to the Prime Minister has already been allotted to the Leader of the Opposition. He has the call, and he may continue, but I invite him to wind up his remarks.

Mr CREAN —I will, because there are important questions that we have to ask of the Prime Minister. We were waiting today for an explanation as to why the Prime Minister did not act more quickly. We have not been given it. There is no point going back to the beginning. What the Prime Minister has to do is to justify why he continued to hang on to a person as Governor-General of this country for the past 15 months, when the whole country now knows that the person who held that office had been guilty of covering up for a known paedophile. The Prime Minister, in failing to act, condoned that. It is a shocking message to send to the totality of the community. Finally this position in terms of the Governor-General is concluded, but we need to bring the Prime Minister's complicity in it to the fore. The Prime Minister failed to show leadership and failed to act in the best interests of the victims of child sex abuse. In the process, he diminished the office of Governor-General in this nation.