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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 377

Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy in his capacity as Minister representing the Attorney-General and also in his capacity as the former Attorney-General. In view of the exceptional circumstances applying at the time of an alleged interception on the telephone of the editor of the National Times, Mr Brian Toohey-those circumstances being that the Commonwealth was at that time taking legal action against Mr Toohey-will the Minister now confirm or deny that an authorised telephone interception was in place and that details were obtained of a conversation between Mr Toohey and the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh? If so, did the former Attorney himself or anyone acting with his authority pass on to the Prime Minister or anyone else what was said during that conversation?

Senator GARETH EVANS —This matter was the subject of some public statements by me, and the Prime Minister, I recall, when allegations to this effect were made in November last year. The most I can say at this stage is as follows: The Government will continue to observe the practice of neither confirming nor denying claims about Australian Security Intelligence Organisation activity, and nothing in what any of us say, including what I will say now, should be taken as in any way confirming allegations that Mr Toohey's telephone or any other person's telephone was intercepted last year or that the Government has ever been in possession of any information about Mr Toohey's conversations at the time in question. While observing those traditional restraints, it does seem possible to set at rest a couple of matters which generated heat. One of these matters was set at rest in a particular way at the time. As to the other, perhaps what I will say now is a slight embellishment-but only very slight. I can say that there is no foundation whatsoever for any of the suggestions that the Government may have utilised information derived from conversations between Mr Toohey and his lawyers in its conduct of the injunction proceedings against the National Times last year; nor, as to the second point, is there any foundation whatsoever for the suggestions that continue to be made, and are made again by Senator Durack today, that material allegedly derived from an ASIO intercept but unrelated to security concerns may have been passed to me or to the Prime Minister. This Government has been and remains quite unwavering in its commitment to civil liberties principles, to conduct strictly in accordance with law and to the conduct of legal proceedings with strict propriety in every sense of that term. I believe that that should bury once and for all the particular set of canards to which Senator Durack refers.

Senator DURACK —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Is it not a fact that Senator Evans and the Prime Minister have on other occasions laid down an exception to the principle to which Senator Evans now retreats and uses as a reason not to answer the question? I refer to cases where there are exceptional circumstances. Twice during the Combe-Ivanov affair questions were answered confirming or denying that there was a telephone interception. Does he not agree that there could hardly be more exceptional circumstances than in the case of the allegations concerning Mr Toohey? In view of the precedent that he and the Prime Minister have set, why does he not now confirm or deny the allegations?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not think Senator Durack was listening closely to what I said. I repeat that in that respect there is no foundation whatsoever for the suggestion that any material allegedly derived from an Australian Security Intelligence Organisation intercept but unrelated to security concerns may have been passed to me or to the Prime Minister. I believe that that is an absolutely clear-cut response to the particular matter to which Senator Durack is adverting.

Senator Chaney —I ask the Minister to table the notes from which he quoted, including the bit he tore off.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister has tabled the paper sought by the Leader of the Opposition.