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, 23 August 1983
Page: 16


Mr HAWKE (Prime Minister)(3.04) —I had prepared a few notes on the basis that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) and those behind him would have had the courage to use the forms of this House to move censure against this Government if they had reason to believe that any actions that I or the Government had taken in respect of the matters to which they have now alluded warranted such action. As, Mr Speaker, they have not had that courage I will make use of some of the material that I have briefly prepared in this respect. I commence my remarks by saying something about the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). The House has just listened to this confected indignation of the Leader of the Opposition. In the course of that confected indignation, a very considerable disservice has been done to the honourable member for Port Adelaide. I will have a good deal to say-

Honourable members interjecting-


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House has unanimously passed a motion that the Prime Minister make a statement. I would have thought that the House, having passed that motion, would wish to hear it; otherwise I will have to take action against offending honourable members.


Mr HAWKE —As will become clear, certain actions of the honourable member for Port Adelaide were improper and unauthorised, a fact recognised by the honourable member for Port Adelaide, and certain consequences have flowed from those facts. I am not going to listen to the Leader of the Opposition refer to the honourable member for Port Adelaide as though, in speaking about those matters, he has exhausted all that need properly be said in these circumstances about that honourable member. From the time when this Government was commissioned on 11 March, the honourable member for Port Adelaide assumed the position of Special Minister of State and, during the period when he occupied that portfolio responsibility, he was an excellent Minister. He has in respect of the Australian Labor Party, this Government and this country done many fine things in his very short period of tenure of that office, things which have been carried on by his successor and which will move to bring about, after so many years of neglect by the conservative forces of this country, an electoral system which will be worthy of a democracy. If in these circumstances we will be dealing, as we must to some extent, with the honourable member for Port Adelaide , let fairness be done and let it be acknowledged that, in his brief period in office, he has done many excellent things.

It is true that, in respect of certain issues that arose following the meetings of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on National and International Security on 20 and 21 April, the honourable member for Port Adelaide did certain things which, as I say, were improper, but I will come to those in a moment. However, I want it clearly established at the outset that I and those people behind me are not going to allow these proceedings to go apace in terms of a total denigration of this man.

Let me come to the circumstances of the matter in my way. But, before I do, let me say this: The Leader of the Opposition, at one point in his parade of, as I say, confected indignation, said: 'Let me go back to the Royal Commission'. Let me at the outset of my remarks warn the Leader of the Opposition that, in the period since 21 April, he has trod a very dangerous path in terms of how he deals with a royal commission. I do not want to go into those details because I and the members of my Government will proceed on the path that we have followed consistently since the time when, with the support of the Opposition, we established the Royal Commission on Australia's security and Intelligence Agencies. In respect of the matters properly before the Royal Commission, we have said that we will deal with them within the Royal Commission and not use the processes outside it to try, in any way, to put an improper pressure upon the Royal Commissioner who has under the letters patent the obligation to deal with those matters. However, to some extent obviously in dealing with this matter in these circumstances I will have to go in some way to some of those issues. I want to make the point-and I ask every honourable member of the Opposition to remember it-that every honourable member on this side of the House is looking forward to the day when the report of the Royal Commission is brought down and this Parliament in this House and in the other place will have a full and unfettered opportunity to deal with every matter that went before the Royal Commission, including the actions of the Leader of the Opposition and other people around him.

Having made those preliminary observations, I make the first point-it ought not to have escaped the attention of honourable members opposite but in some way it seems to have escaped them-that as from 14 July the honourable member for Port Adelaide ceased to be a Minister in this Cabinet. He is not now a Minister. Why is he not a Minister? The reason is that he came to me on the morning of 14 July and he resigned.


Mr Ruddock —Why did he come to you?


Mr HAWKE —The honourable member should wait his time and he will get his answer. The Minister came to me because he recognised that he had breached Cabinet confidentiality and that he had not informed me of that fact. I did not have to seek his resignation; he gave it to me and he gave it to me for those reasons. It is quite clear why the Minister resigned. He came to me and he pointed out that he had breached confidentiality and he had not informed me of it. On the basis of what he put to me, of course the resignation was accepted.

It is true-in no way do I try to hide the fact-that there can be legitimate divisions of opinion as to whether, that having happened, there should have been an immediate recourse to fill that vacancy, whether in fact it was an appropriate course of action not to fill the vacancy at that point or whether, as the actions of the Minister were very much an issue before the Royal Commission, it was not inappropriate to allow that vacancy to remain unfilled until such time as the Royal Commissioner dealt with that matter in his report under terms of reference (c).


Mr Newman —Bob! He misled you.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I have already given one general warning with regard to conduct during this statement. I repeat that warning. If there are further abuses of the House, I will act.


Mr HAWKE —I concede that there are differences of opinion and that there have been and can be legitimate differences of opinion as to the appropriate course of action.


Mr Howard —And you did not have the numbers. That is the difference.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Bennelong.


Mr HAWKE —Mr Speaker, in terms of those differences of view, the position that was adopted after considerable discussion was that it would not be inappropriate -the position in respect of the Special Minister of State having been filled and the responsibilities of government having been carried out by the allocation of responsibilities- to allow the full matter to be considered by the Royal Commissioner and in the light of that report appropriate action would be taken. I repeat that when the Minister came to me and pointed out what he had done action was taken at that point to deal with the matter and it remains in that position. It is entirely inappropriate to suggest and there is no evidence to sustain the proposition, in the language of the Leader of the Opposition, that the ministerial seat is being kept warm. There is nothing whatsoever to sustain that proposition.

As distinct from the attitude of the Opposition, it has been decided that all members of this Government will await the report of the Royal Commissioner. In considering the report of the royal commissioner we will attach what weight has to be attached to it in regard to this issue. There is no guarantee at all, nor does the honourable member for Port Adelaide understand that there is any guarantee, that through our delaying the filling of this vacancy until such time as the report of the Royal Commissioner is available he will be returned to the Ministry. Neither I, nor the Cabinet, nor any member of the Caucus nor the honourable member for Port Adelaide believe that there is any such guarantee in the course of action that has been adopted.

It is a reasonable course of action in a debate such as this to consider what is the right and the authority of those opposite to deal with these matters. Do they come with clean hands? Mr Speaker, I want to take the House with me through a consideration of the entitlements of those opposite, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, to speak on this matter in any way which will allow members of this House to place any credence at all on the Leader of the Opposition coming into this House and addressing himself to questions of resignation in general and questions of resignation in particular related to the co-existence of royal commissions. Let me address myself to this question of the resignations of Ministers. When the honourable member for Port Adelaide came into my office on 14 July, I did not have to look into his eyes, those misty Irish eyes; nor did I have to examine his visage to see whether he was serious in the proffering of his resignation. When he came to me, he gave me his resignation and said: ' Here it is'. That is quite distinct from what happens when people from the other side of the chamber and their associated parties engage in this question of the submission of resignations. Look not only at what happened in respect of their colleagues but also at the way in which the Leader of the Opposition got involved in this question of resignations. When members of the Leader of the Opposition's own Party went along to the Leader of the National Party in Queensland the other day and said: 'We submit our resignations', what did the Leader of the National Party, the Premier, in that State do? He said: 'I looked into their eyes; I examined their countenances. When I looked into their eyes and I examined their countenances I formed the opinion that they were not really serious about submitting their resignations'. So off he went to the Governor of Queensland and said: 'Your Excellency, some Ministers submitted resignations to me but I looked into their eyes and I examined their countenances and they were not serious. So do not take these resignations of these Liberal Ministers seriously, Your Excellency'. Of course, we were not privy to what happened in the private studies of the Governor, but presumably the Governor smiled back at Mr Bjelke-Petersen, the Leader of the National Party, and he said: 'Of course, yes, we have these resignations. But I accept your word, Mr Premier, that they are not serious resignations. So let us forget those resignations'.

Of course, that was not the end of the story. I have been asked a number of questions; I will return the compliment. I ask whether the resignations of those Liberal Ministers were proper. Were they contrived? More importantly as regards the Leader of the Opposition in this House, was any improper pressure put on those Liberal Ministers to get them to withdraw their resignations and, subsequently, was any improper pressure applied by the Leader of the Opposition in this House? Did the Leader of the Opposition in this House seek to exert any improper pressure upon those Ministers to make them resubmit their resignations? If one addresses that set of questions about whether they were real resignations , whether any improper pressure was put upon those Ministers and whether those resignations were contrived, the answers one gets will depend on the side of the House to which one puts the questions. If one were to ask the Leader of the Opposition one would get one set of answers. However, if one asked the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) one would get another set of answers. With what authority does the Leader of the Opposition come in here and talk about resignations when, in the recent past, in Queensland, he has been involved, as has the Leader of the National Party in this House, in a series of sordid machinations to try to conjure up reality, or rather unreality, in regard to the resignations of seven Liberal Party Ministers.

Let me be even more direct in regard to the people opposite and the question of resignations associated with royal commissions. We can see what sort of seriousness should be attached to these people who purport to come in here and talk in terms of principle. I remind honourable members that just under 12 months ago we witnessed in this House an exhibition of principle on the part of these people in relation to resignations and royal commissions. Honourable members will remember that on 12 September 1981 letters patent were issued by the previous Government to Mr Justice Woodward. I remind the House that those letters required Mr Justice Woodward to inquire into:

(a) Whether administrative arrangements and procedures for the supervision of the handling of meat for export are adequate to ensure that all meat exported from Australia meets the requirements prescribed by law;

(b) Whether malpractices are occurring, or have occurred, in the handling of meat for export or the exportation of meat;

(c) Allegations made, whether in public or to a Minister, department or authority of the Commonwealth, of malpractices alleged to have occurred during the past ten years, in the handling of meat for export or in the exportation of meat;

(d) Whether such allegations were dealt with in a manner that was adequate and effective;

(e) Whether in response to such allegations, any illegality or corruption occurred.

Those letters patent were issued on 12 September 1981. The matter came on for debate after the handing down of the report of the Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry in this House on 21 September 1982. We will see just what were the principles and commitments of honourable members opposite in regard to what should happen with resignations and the relationship of those resignations to a royal commission when they had to deal with such a matter 12 months ago. When honourable members analyse just what they did on 21 September of last year they will see, for what it is worth, that the statement by the Leader of the Opposition is hypocrisy at its worst. When the report of the Royal Commission was tabled in this House the then Minister for Primary Industry, on the basis of the report, offered his resignation to the Prime Minister of the time. But the Prime Minister refused to accept the resignation of the Minister for Primary Industry.

The previous Government appointed a royal commissioner to investigate those matters. On the basis of the report of the Royal Commission the Minister for Primary Industry felt compelled to proffer his resignation to the then Prime Minister. All Opposition members who served under that Prime Minister-some, of course, with self-imposed interruptions which were conveniently brought to an end-accepted that the proper course of action and adherence to principle required certain things to happen. Firstly, a royal commission was appointed to examine those matters, secondly, on the basis of the report of the Royal Commission, the Minister who was under investigation felt impelled to tender his resignation, thirdly, the previous Government refused to accept his resignation and the then Prime Minister, with the total support of members of the previous government in this House, set about traducing the Royal Commissioner whom he had appointed.

I remind honourable members opposite what the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), felt properly impelled to say, in terms of the totally unprincipled action followed by the previous Government. Having heard the despicable performance of the then Prime Minister, who was backed entirely by members of his government, the then Leader of the Opposition stated:

The behaviour of the Prime Minister today destroys the tradition of independent service on royal commissions.

Anyone in this House who had any respect for proper procedures was absolutely appalled by the lack of principle demonstrated by the previous Government. It appointed a royal commissioner who brought down his report. The Minister tendered his resignation, but it was not accepted and the Prime Minister of the day--


Mr Katter —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. I refer you to Standing Order 401, which states:

The suspension of standing orders is limited in its operation to the particular purpose for which such suspension has been sought.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. The suspension of Standing Orders was for the purpose of carrying a certain motion, which requested the Prime Minister to make a statement. That motion was carried and the Prime Minister is making his statement.


Mr HAWKE —Mr Speaker, I can understand the concern of honourable members opposite at the exposure of the hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition and all Opposition members who supported him. The present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), in his capacity as the then shadow Minister for Primary Industry, made a very proper observation on 21 September last year, which appears at page 1675 of Hansard. In respect of the proceedings of that day he stated:

It shows that the offered resignation of the Minister for Primary Industry was a sham. Obviously when he went to the Prime Minister or discussions were held they said: 'Here is the problem; what is the best way to get out of it?

Mr Speaker, let us put interjections to one side and examine how clean are the hands of the Leader of the Opposition and every honourable member opposite in respect of the question of resignations being offered in the context of a royal commission. We can judge the principles which were applied by them less than 12 months ago. In September 1982, they followed principles which were totally unacceptable. I repeat what they said: 'We will appoint a royal commissioner'. Having appointed him, they got a report. In the light of the actions which he had undertaken and which were investigated and reported upon by the Royal Commission, the then Minister for Primary Industry said: 'I must tender my resignation'. He tendered it. And what did members opposite do? They rejected the resignation of the Minister. Not content with rejecting the resignation, they then embarked in this House on a course of action which had never before been embarked upon in the history of this Parliament. The then Prime Minister, supported by each and every honourable member sitting still behind him, attacked the Royal Commissioner whom they had appointed. They appointed him; they established the letters patent. They told him what to investigate. He brought down his report and the report was such a damning indictment that the then Minister for Primary Industry felt impelled to submit his resignation. Members opposite did not accept the resignation which flowed from the report of their own Royal Commission. Not content with that, they then took to Mr Justice Woodward, the Royal Commissioner whom they had appointed, and traduced him and accused him of being selective in regard to the evidence with which he had dealt . They said that he had used half the Kelly report to sustain the conclusions of the Royal Commission. They said that he deliberately left out the other half of the Kelly report. That is what members opposite do in respect of royal commissions. Those are their standards in respect of resignations. Less than 12 months ago they followed a course of action unprecedented in the history of this Parliament by which they made a mockery of the concept of ministerial responsibility. Their own Minister felt impelled to resign as a result of their own Royal Commission. They would not accept that and they then set about attacking the Royal Commissioner. Mr Speaker, I ask you to contrast what happened then with what happened on this occasion. On this occasion the Royal Commission was not finished. The honourable member for Port Adelaide did not say : 'I am going to wait now until the report of the Royal Commission'. He came to me and he submitted his resignation; and it was accepted.


Mr Groom —What if he had not come to you?


Mr HAWKE —There is no point in honourable members opposite, in their desperation , asking: 'What if he had not come to you?' The fact is that the honourable member for Port Adelaide did come to me. He came to me and submitted his resignation, and it was accepted.


Mr Lusher —He misled you! He misled the House!


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Hume. I call the Prime Minister.


Mr HAWKE —It obviously hurts because the contrast is absolutely stark. As distinct from the then Government's miserable performance in September 1982, this Minister did not go to his Prime Minister and say: 'Let us see how we can get out of this. I will put in a sham resignation'. He did not do anything of the sort. Without even waiting until the Royal Commission finished, he said: 'I put my resignation in now'; and it was accepted. In that context, and because his action is involved in the consideration of the Royal Commission, it was regarded as reasonable for this Party and this Government to decide that no further action would be taken in regard to filling that vacancy until the report of the Royal Commission came down. But I tell honourable members opposite this: The course of action followed by this Government and by the honourable member for Port Adelaide is the opposite of what they did less than 12 months ago when they concocted a sham resignation, accepted the rejection of that resignation by the Prime Minister and then embarked upon a totally unprincipled attack upon the Royal Commissioner whom they had appointed. Our course of action was principled. The honourable member for Adelaide had acted improperly. He had acted without authorisation. He recognised that and he came to the Prime Minister. We did not confect some sham resignation. The resignation was put clearly and it was accepted. He is not a Minister now.

As distinct from what honourable members opposite did less than 12 months ago, we will wait until the report of the Royal Commission comes down. This matter will then be dealt with in the light of that report. But honourable members opposite will not find this Prime Minister acting as their Prime Minister acted less than 12 months ago when he attacked in this House the royal commissioner that his Government had appointed. That has never happened before in the history of this country. That instance was the exception. It happened under the previous Prime Minister whom the Leader of the Opposition does not now exactly regard as a helpmate in his present crisis. Nevertheless, the course of action that was followed by the honourable member for Port Adelaide can be distinctly contrasted with the action of the previous Minister for Primary Industry. My action as Prime Minister can be contrasted with the action of the previous Prime Minister when, with the total support of honourable members opposite, he rejected the resignation of the then Minister for Primary Industry, submitted on the basis of the Royal Commissioner's report about the matters involving whether that Minister should retain his portfolio.

I repeat that the honourable member for Port Adelaide has made no attempt to disguise the fact that he acted improperly in this matter. He told me that and he has given evidence on oath to the Royal Commission in respect of what happened. He recognised on 14 July that the action he had taken in April warranted his resignation and, manfully, he submitted that resignation. It was accepted and he does not now occupy a position in the Ministry. The position that he occupied is now being filled by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley). Honourable members opposite know that under the requirements of the relevant legislation there do not have to be more than 27 Ministers. When they were in office they had a Minister occupying and discharging the duties of more than one portfolio. There is not the beginning of a suggestion that the responsibilities of government are not being properly discharged by the Minister for Aviation in his dual capacity of Minister for Aviation and Special Minister of State. The needs of this country and the responsibility of government are being properly discharged. The actions of the honourable member for Port Adelaide are a subject of investigation by the Royal Commissioner. We understand that he will be reporting within a relatively short time. When the report of the Royal Commissioner is brought down it will be examined by me, by members of the Cabinet and by all members of Caucus.

The former Minister has clearly indicated that he acted improperly. He is already serving punishment by not being a Minister. He is serving his punishment . The question of how long that has to go on, particularly in the light of what the Royal Commissioner has to say, will be properly considered by the Government and by all members of Caucus. I ask you, Mr Speaker, and all honourable members to contrast the action of this Minister with that of the Minister in the previous Government, the action of this Prime Minister with the action of the previous Prime Minister, and the treatment of the present Royal Commissioner by this Government with the treatment of the Royal Commissioner appointed by the previous Government. Honourable members opposite traduced him in this House. On all bases of comparison the honourable member for Port Adelaide has acted infinitely more honourably than did the other Minister concerned. I as Prime Minister have acted infinitely more properly than did the previous Prime Minister who refused, with the support of all honourable members opposite, to accept his Minister's resignation and who then attacked the Royal Commissioner. At each point of comparison the actions of the ex-Minister, of me as Prime Minister and of this Government show out in stark contrast against the total impropriety of what was done by the previous Government.

I conclude my remarks in respect of this temporary Leader of the Opposition by suggesting that what happened yesterday was indicative of the sort of thing that will happen to him. So desperate is he to get some recognition that he and the Leader of the National Party were observed bobbing around on camels opposite Parliament House. The Leader of the Opposition is really battling when he needs publicity so badly that he is seen bobbing on the back of a camel. I understand that when he descended from the back of the camel the lovely Gucci shoes descended into something less salubrious.

What we have witnessed today from the Leader of the Opposition and those who sit behind him in this House demonstrates why they are destined to sit for such a long period on that side of the House. For the last decade they have debased the coinage of Australian politics. They have mouthed piously their adherence to the concepts of law and order and of principle. Every action they have undertaken in the last decade has made a mockery of standards of decency and of principle. On every occasion they have been hypocritical in respect of this so- called adherence to law and order. They were hypocritical during the period from 1972 to 1975 and when they were in office from 1976 to 1983. While they mouthed adherence to law and order, every relevant action made a mockery of it. As I have said, they were in respect of the situation with the Royal Commission last year. They were in respect of the so-called resignation of their Minister. They were in respect of the so-called independent Royal Commission they established.

When this matter comes to its finality when the report of the Royal Commissioner is brought down, including his recommendation on the matter of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, for the first time this House will have a full opportunity of examining every aspect of this whole issue of the Royal Commission, including the actions of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, the actions of the Leader of the Opposition and the actions of the Leader of the National Party. I indicate to this House that at that time-when that report is considered-the fullest opportunity will be provided to the House for the fullest debate on every aspect of this matter. In the light of that report this Government will also take final action in respect of the matters concerning the honourable member for Port Adelaide.

I conclude, as I began, by saying that I will not stand idly by and see the honourable member for Port Adelaide traduced in this debate as though he has not made a fine contribution to the Government of this country, the business of this country and the welfare of the people of Australia. He has made such a contribution. He made a grievous mistake for which he resigned and for which I accepted his resignation. I believe that it is the hope not only of the people on this side of the House but the majority of the people of Australia that when he has served an appropriate period of penance-or whatever one wants to call it- for the inappropriate action that he followed, at some later appropriate stage the people of Australia will once again be able to have the value of his services in government.