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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3349

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(10.37) —I move:

That this House censures the Prime Minister for his failure to set proper standards of ministerial behaviour, in particular, by his support for the return to Cabinet of the Member for Port Adelaide in spite of the findings by Royal Commissioner Hope against the Member and in spite of the Member's misleading of the Parliament.

The Opposition moves this censure of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) because yesterday we witnessed the twisted contortions of logic, the twisted contortions of argument, the twisted contortions of principle and the twisted contortions of the truth. Mr Speaker, the curtain is now being raised to reveal the true substance of the Prime Minister as a man with no genuine concern for the public, no understanding of public propriety and no understanding of leadership. The Prime Minister is like a weather vane which twists and turns as the winds of political expediency change. When the prima facie evidence against the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) showed he had acted with gross impropriety this weather vane, the Prime Minister, sensed the wind of public opinion and forced the resignation of the honourable member for Port Adelaide.

Of course the weather vane has changed again. Now the wind is not blowing so much from the public; it is blowing from the Caucus room. Members of the Caucus are not concerned about propriety. They are not concerned about the maintenance of the highest standards of public office. They want their crony of 30 years to enjoy the fruits of office. Without a squeak of protest and without a twinge of conscience the Prime Minister suddenly changed. For months he told us and the public that the future of the honourable member for Port Adelaide depended on the findings of the Hope Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Agencies. The Royal Commission found that the former Minister breached national security. The Prime Minister said: 'I will put him back into the Ministry despite the unequivocal condemnation by His Honour Mr Justice Hope' That leads us to the conclusion that he has neither the strength of character nor the power of leadership to convince his parliamentary colleagues of the proper course of action. The Prime Minister knows that the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen ) was right when on 30 May 1978 he said:

Anybody who misleads Parliament should not remain in Cabinet and should not remain in ministerial office.

That is spot on. The Prime Minister knows that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) was right when on 21 September 1982 he said:

If the Government sets up an independent judicial inquiry then, very properly, if impropriety is established . . . the Government has no choice in the matter. There must be a dismissal of the person who is identified as being guilty.

That is spot on.

Mr Porter —Who said that?

Mr PEACOCK —The former Leader of the Opposition, the Foreign Minister. He knows only too well that no lesser person than the honourable member for Port Adelaide was right when the honourable member, on 27 April 1982, said:

Nothing is more important than the way in which these people who are called Ministers behave themselves and set an example to other people in Australia.

Let us come to the words of the Prime Minister. On 27 May 1983 he said:

The question of friendship and popularity can't work to influence a Prime Minister to make decisions which are contrary to the protection of the public interests of the country and the requirements of the law.

Here he sits in this House. What a twist and what a change in a period of a matter of months. Cast aside the arguments because he will not stand up to the Caucus. The curtain has risen and there stands a Prime Minister not prepared to implement the principles or the matters of public propriety which he and his colleagues have alleged in the past ought to be the guiding light. Let us put it bluntly: Nothing can justify the return of the honourable member for Port Adelaide to the Ministry. Let us look at what the Prime Minister is trying to defend, what he is trying to excuse and what he is trying to twist out of so that there can be no mistake about the gravity of the former Minister's impropriety.

Until the report of Mr Justice Hope it had been clearly established that the former Minister had deliberately misled the Prime Minister and that he had caused the Prime Minister to mislead this Parliament. It was only when he had been found out that he admitted to these major breaches of standards of public life. As I said yesterday, his disclosures to Walsh were not inadvertent or mistaken; they were deliberate. His concealment of what he had done was not casual; it was designed. His deception of the Prime Minister, his parliamentary colleagues, this House 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. For this he was forced to resign.

During this period the Prime Minister was forced by Caucus numbers to keep the former Minister's seat warm, although he would deny it day after day. When we said the seat was being kept warm he told us that was not true. He said: 'Wait until the Hope Royal Commission reports; I will be able to take action then'. The Royal Commission reported. It found that the former Minister had acted in an unauthorised and improper manner. But the Prime Minister tells us that he wants to put the honourable member for Port Adelaide back into the Ministry. His Honour concluded, after all, that the former Minister's disclosures were both unauthorised and improper and, most important, that the disclosures satisfied all the requirements of an offence against the Crimes Act. But Mr Justice Hope's observations on the application of the Crimes Act to the former Minister's disclosures have been widely supported by other legal opinion. Let us look at what counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Mr Ryan, had to say:

The facts which we submit can be found by this Commission whether or not they could be proved at a criminal trial, establish that Mr Young, on 21 April, committed an offence against Section 79 (3) of the Crimes Act.

The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) found that if Mr Walsh's account of events were to prevail, and it did, 'as a matter of law, it is possible that an offence may have been committed'. What about the Solicitor-General? What did he have to say? He said:

Should Mr Walsh's evidence be accepted, it would be open to a jury to find that Mr Young had committed a breach of Section 79 (3) of the Crimes Act.

Perhaps the most damning of all is what was said by the Government's counsel to the Commission. He was acting under instructions from the Government, confirmed in this Parliament by the Prime Minister. Honourable members should remember that the Prime Minister said he gave the instructions to counsel. Counsel clearly stated that if one believed Mr Walsh's account, as the Royal Commission did, 'it would be a very serious matter'. So, some of the best legal opinions in the country found against Mr Young that he breached national security, that he breached Cabinet secrecy and that he told his mate information in a manner which was both unauthorised and improper. For such conduct any other citizen of this country would have been put before the courts and could well have gone to gaol.

A member of this Parliament is not only being regarded as above the law because it would allegedly be too punitive to charge him but also is going to be promoted. No wonder the Canberra Times this morning contained a cartoon of the Prime Minister embracing the honourable member for Port Adelaide over the grave of David Combe and saying: 'Mick, Mick, you've suffered enough'. What is going to happen? He is going to be promoted. This Prime Minister, through the Attorney -General, perhaps always intended that, if the numbers were against him. What does one have to do-breach national security, leak from the Cabinet, mislead the Parliament and get promoted-to be sacked by this Prime Minister? That question was put to him yesterday. He would not answer it because he could not answer it. We can draw no other conclusion than that under this Prime Minister Labor's standards have not just slipped but have been blown apart.

What reasons could the Prime Minister have possibly given to promote the honourable member for Port Adelaide, to place him above the law and again to give him full access to the secrets of Cabinet? Let me list the reasons that the Prime Minister placed before the House yesterday. Let me prove how pathetic, how unjustified and how inaccurate those reasons are when measured against the findings of Mr Justice Hope. Let me just relist the Prime Minister's four reasons for overruling and ignoring the findings of Mr Justice Hope on the former Minister. The list of excuses was: First, he did not mean any harm. Secondly, he was helping a mate. Thirdly, he was inexperienced. Fourthly, he served Labor for 30 years.

Let us look at each of these excuses. First, the Prime Minister says that the honourable member for Port Adelaide 'never intended to place national security at risk, and the national security was not in fact damaged by his disclosures'. What did Mr Justice Hope say about that? He said:

. . . 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.

Excuse No. 1 is destroyed. Let us turn to excuse No. 2. This is the mateship excuse. The Prime Minister even quoted Mr Justice Hope's observation that the honourable member for Port Adelaide wanted to protect his friend. But he did not quote the rest of it, did he? Mr Justice Hope explicitly rejected that excuse. He said that these circumstances 'do not, in my opinion, diminish what I regard as the impropriety of the disclosures'. Excuse No. 2 is destroyed. Let us go to excuse No. 3. That is the inexperience excuse. The Government's excuse is that the honourable member had been a Minister for only six weeks. His Honour's assessment of that is:

I have concluded that, notwithstanding this short Ministerial experience, it should have been apparent to Mr Young that he should not make the disclosures.

Excuse No. 3 is destroyed. In the fourth excuse the Prime Minister told Australians to forgive the honourable member for Port Adelaide after only six months out of the Cabinet because he 'spent 30 years working in and for the Labor movement' and because 'so many of those latter years have been specifically directed at helping to achieve a Federal Labor government, with the totally legitimate expectation of being an important member of that government.' Let us just examine that line of reasoning for a moment. Is the Prime Minister intending to suggest that Labor Party workers are above the law and above normal civilised standards?

Mr Porter —Yes.

Mr PEACOCK —Indeed, the answer has to be yes. What about another question? Is he suggesting--

Honourable members interjecting-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. In a debate such as this there is allowance for a reasonable degree of interjection. That allowance I think has been passed. I warn honourable members that if interjections continue in this manner I will have to take action against honourable members.

Mr PEACOCK —Let me ask the next question: Is the Prime Minister suggesting that because someone expects a senior position as a reward for faithful service he cannot be denied even if his behaviour is totally unacceptable? The answer again is yes. The Australian people would be interested in that sort of principle because it gives a very clear indication of the basis of ministerial appointment . David Combe would also be interested in the more general application of that sort of principle. Nobody could ever accept excuse No. 4 as being plausible, and it too is destroyed. It is almost beyond belief that these four excuses can be put forward: He did not mean any harm; he was trying to help a mate; he was a bit inexperienced; he has put in a lot of years of faithful service. On that basis he is to be excused for putting our national security at risk and all his sins are to become 'inoperative'. Just remember, if those four excuses were to be the test, those responsible for the Watergate break-in would never have been prosecuted. They would have come through all four tests with flying colours, because those four excuses are essentially reduced to saying: He means well and is trying to help the cause.

What does this all mean for ordinary Australians, the ordinary Australians who elected this Government? First, they see the national secrets reduced to mere common gossip and pub talk by the former Special Minister of State. Secondly, they see the Prime Minister refusing to fulfil his responsibilities by filling the ministerial vacancy. Instead, he has bowed to Caucus pressure and kept the seat warm for the honourable member for Port Adelaide. Thirdly, the Australian public sees that Mr Justice Hope has found that the former Minister's actions breached the provisions of the Crimes Act, that a wide range of legal opinion supports that view and that he will be penalised with a six-month suspension. He is to be promoted back into the Cabinet. These are breaches for which any ordinary Australian could have gone to gaol. The fact is that the Prime Minister has placed his former Special Minister of State above the law. The fact is that not only has be been contemptuous of the findings of Mr Justice Hope, but also he has been contemptuous of the proper standards of justice and, in every way, he has been completely contemptuous of the Australian people.

Never let it be forgotten that just as this Prime Minister has severe cases of selective amnesisa he is also blatantly selective in his cronyism. He has chosen to defend his former Minister to the end, yet he pursued another crony, another mate, a well-travelled companion, Mr David Combe, with a pathological pursuit of a person probably unprecedented in government in this country. Instead of leading this country this Prime Minister has, by these actions, been revealed to be a mere puppet of his Caucus. The so-called populist Prime Minister is now the unprincipled man of straw, placing his own pride before every standard of Australian public life.

The fact is that this former Special Minister of State stands condemned by the Hope report. He stands condemned for an unauthorised and improper disclosure. He stands condemned for leaking Cabinet confidentiality. He stands condemned for not only misleading the Parliament but also ensuring that the Prime Minister himself misled the Parliament by his non-disclosure back in May to the Prime Minister of what had transpired. The report we received yesterday was to be the basis for the Prime Minister to decide the future of the honourable member for Port Adelaide. Now he comes before the Parliament, the Prime Minister deserting the responsibility of leadership of Australia, and he stands condemned by every meaningful principle of public life.

The twisted contortions of logic I referred to at the commencement of my remarks, the twisted contortions of argument, the twisted contortions of principle, the twisted contortions of truth, have forced us to move this censure motion. Merely looking at the twisted contortions of the aging face of this duplicitous and mendacious Prime Minister, we are confirmed in our judgment today. Is it not well summed up? Let us look at the headlines of just one newspaper today. The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald reads: 'PM's early release for Young'. It has overtones of another headline in the Sydney Morning Herald: 'The early release of Rex Jackson'. We know of the early release scandal in New South Wales. Now we have the early release scandal of Mick Young. After months of alleging that the Royal Commission would be the determinant, to come before this Parliament, and throw the determinations of the Royal Commission aside to ensure that Mick Young will return to the Ministry is an abrogation of duty by the Prime Minister. It is an abrogation of every element of the principles of Cabinet government in this country. There will be no endorsement by this Opposition of a man who has breached national security coming back into the Cabinet.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Is the motion seconded?