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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21726

Mr EDWARDS (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to what he described as an oversight in not inviting the widow of Sergeant Russell to the wreath-laying service at the War Memorial where a wreath was laid in Sergeant Russell's honour. How does the Prime Minister respond to the statement made by Mrs Russell in referring to his action, when she said:

... I hope he can live with himself after denying me and my daughter an opportunity to be a part of something we would have remembered forever.

Has this oversight been investigated and can he advise the people of Australia how such an oversight could possibly occur?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I say to the member for Cowan and to the House that I am indeed very upset that the oversight did occur. I want to renew to this House the apology that I have extended in writing to Mrs Russell. I want to take the opportunity of saying that, whatever the circumstances of it, as the head of government, I accept responsibility as inevitably in these things the head of government must. I also take the opportunity of saying to the honourable gentleman that suggestions made in some newspaper articles—and, indeed, contained in a letter that he wrote to me—that the failure to invite her might have been in some way due to the fact that she had been critical of government policy in relation to benefits for the families of deceased Defence personnel have no substance of any kind—no substance at all. I can only say that I am profoundly sorry that it occurred. I apologise to the lady concerned. It was an inexcusable oversight, and I can assure the honourable member that, whatever the lead-up to it was, it was not malicious. It was a mistake and, as the head of government, I accept responsibility.