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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2606

Senator CHANEY —My question is to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and follows the question asked by Senator Devlin and the answer that was just given. The Minister pointed out in his answer that he had material submitted by Mr Flemming which had been signed by him-I think this was submitted to the inquiry. The Minister made the point in his answer that this showed that Mr Flemming had had a chance to be heard. I ask the Minister: Does he acknowledge that, whilst Mr Flemming had an opportunity to make written submissions to the inquiry, what Mr Flemming sought was the right to be present where there were questions relating to him and the right to question witnesses, and that that was a formal request by Mr Flemming? Does the Minister also acknowledge that the solicitors for the War Memorial, Messrs Freehill, Hollingdale and Page, advised the solicitors for Mr Flemming and their client, the War Memorial, that Mr Flemming had the right under the terms of reference to be present and to question witnesses? I further ask the Minister: Does he accept that there are issues of fact which are disputed by Mr Flemming when he has not had the opportunity to attend in the presence of the witnesses and to question them as the solicitors to the War Memorial said he was entitled to do? I ask those questions of the Minister because they are fundamental to his understanding of the point of view that has been put by the Opposition, namely, that the Opposition should accept the finding of the inquiry by Mr Jones that Mr Flemming should not be dismissed, or was not dismissible, or that there should be a full inquiry in the form which has been sought by Air Vice-Marshal Flemming. I again ask the Minister: Will he in those circumstances either leave Mr Flemming alone or have a proper and full inquiry where Mr Flemming has the rights that the solicitors for the War Memorial said he should have?

Senator GIETZELT —The responsibility for appointing Mr Jones and for drawing up the terms of reference was under the jurisdiction of the Council of the Australian War Memorial. It is true that I was consulted in respect of both the appointment and the terms of reference. It was the intention of the Council, and it was certainly my intention, that a number of the items listed in the terms of reference were to be changed in order to ensure that natural justice was given to Mr Flemming. The matter was raised by the Council's legal representatives. When that point of natural justice was canvassed, Mr Jones sought the opinion of the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General's Department said that, in the nature of the inquiry and in the terms of reference that had been endorsed, every opportunity was available to Mr Flemming to have natural justice. In those circumstances, when it is asserted by the Opposition that there are some issues of fact that are disputed, I suggest that the assertion does not rest on firm ground. On each of these issues, Mr Flemming was asked to respond to those matters that had been referred to Mr Jones by me, that is, issues in respect of which there was some conflict between either the Department and myself or Mr Flemming.

The Government accepts unequivocally that in the circumstances the principles of natural justice should exist and did exist. I saw for the first time, just before I came into Question Time today-almost two days after I offered the Opposition an opportunity for the Government to study its point of view-a submission from Mr Fischer who, I assume, is speaking on behalf of the Opposition. There is absolutely no substance at all in the assertions that are being constantly made in an emotive way about natural justice, politicisation and a vendetta. They are emotive words which are not borne out by the facts of the case. For example, Air Vice-Marshal Flemming put a submission to the Minister with respect to the purchase of the warehouse. All the evidence is on the file-his letters to me, the approval by government, his failure to advise me that the building was not for sale, and his subsequent request to me, without drawing my attention to that fact, to construct the building. What witnesses exist in those circumstances? The files are there, and they are relied upon to come to a conclusion in respect of that issue. We can go down the track on each of the issues which became substantive in respect of the matters I placed before the inquiry.

I made the statement that I was misled. I believe that I was improperly informed. Air Vice-Marshal Flemming was asked to respond. He did. Based on that response and an examination of the files, Mr Jones came to a conclusion. I do not know who else one talks to in terms of witnesses. The inquiry was held in accordance with normal procedures as advised by the Attorney-General.