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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 772

Senator RICHARDSON(10.26) —I rise to confront certain matters raised in an article in the Age newspaper on Saturday, 23 March 1985. The article, headed 'Secret letter names Labor pair', suggests that a Federal Labor politician and a senior New South Wales Australian Labor Party figure have been 'caught out' by illegal police telephone taps. The article quotes a letter written to Mr Justice Stewart in January this year as saying that the two men had discussed 'matters which they were now very embarrassed about'. The letter to which the Age refers and on which the article is based was written apparently anonymously by a person claiming to be a New South Wales police officer. I hasten to add that the quotes which I have just read out are from the notes I took from a telephone conversation with a journalist on Friday night. I am apparently one of the few people in the building yet to see the letter.

Today in Question Time in another place a number of questions were asked of the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) concerning this letter. It was further referred to in the matter of public importance debate which followed Question Time. I was not aware of the existence of the letter until last Friday evening when I got home from Canberra and received a message to ring a reporter at the Age. After I had spoken to that reporter I rang the Attorney-General at his home and asked whether such a letter did exist. He told me that the letter had been sent to Mr Justice Stewart as far back as January and that it had also been sent to Mr Nick Greiner, the Opposition Leader in New South Wales, to Mr John Hatton, an independent member of the New South Wales Parliament, and also to Mr Neville Wran, the Premier of New South Wales.

After watching the events as they unfolded today it is clear that the Opposition was wrestling with its ever-shrinking conscience about naming the Federal Labor politician concerned. I rise tonight to ease its burden. It is surprising that it has taken so long for this matter to be raised, given that those members of the New South Wales Parliament whom I have just mentioned had possession of this letter since January. To raise this sort of smear in any parliament, devoid as it is of any specifics and contained in an anonymous letter, requires a lack of scruples that knows no limits. It is worth noting that neither Mr Greiner nor Mr Hatton has raised the matter over the last few months.

I am the Federal Labor politician whose name appears in that anonymous letter. I know of no reason to be embarrassed about any matter referred to on the so-called Age tapes. I am not aware of being mentioned in despatches anywhere else that would be likely to cause me embarrassment. Perhaps all honourable senators could agree on one point: If I were mentioned in the Age tapes, I am sure that by now we would all know about it. This latest smear is most difficult to erase. It comes only a few days after yet another set of scurrilous accusations about me was rejected by Mr Justice Stewart when I was cleared in his report only last week. Again I find myself endeavouring to protect my reputation against shadows and clouds which I find very difficult to pin down. McCarthyist innuendo and the hope that the 'where there is smoke there is fire' principle will act to damage me obviously spur on my political opponents.

There can be no doubt that some harm springs from this reprehensible practice. Distress is caused to myself and my family as expectations build up that something big is about to drop. When nothing drops, it does not really matter because the damage is done by the media hype that engulfs these episodes.

This time I am accused of no crime, no wrongdoing; in that sense I am answering a non-allegation. I can only inform the Senate that I have no knowledge whatsoever of any wrongdoing on my part. If anyone else in this Parliament or outside it has such knowledge that he or she wishes to bring forward to any forum in the land, I will welcome it. I know that this will not happen; I rest secure in that knowledge.