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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26003

Senator BRANDIS (3:10 PM) —It is not a question of age; it is a question of contemporaneity. It is a question of whether the 43 signatories to that document had the contemporary knowledge of a post September 11 environment. The relevant fact that Senator Faulkner did not condescend to tell us was that not one of them did. I do not doubt that each of those 43 gentlemen—I think they were all gentlemen—served Australia with distinction during their careers in the second half of the 20th century, but not one of them has had contemporary experience of the strategic situation in which Australia now lives after September 11. Senator Faulkner, we all believe in truth in government. I believe you believe in it, and you know that I believe in it, but I also believe in something else: I believe in truth in opposition.

Senator BRANDIS —Senator Faulkner, you are out of order. You should not be interjecting from out of your seat.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brandis, you are not in the chair, thank you. I am in the chair.

Senator BRANDIS —No, I am not, but I am drawing your attention to Senator Faulkner's disorderliness. I believe in truth in opposition. What Senator Faulkner did was misrepresent the character of the document. I am sorry to say that Senator Faulkner, for whom, as I think senators would know, I have a great deal of respect, wasted his time today. Of all the things that Senator Faulkner does well, the thing he does best, I think, is to engage in somewhat recondite essays into Labor Party history. When we hear Senator Faulkner talk about the arcane corners of Australian Labor Party history, it is an intellectual delight. If Senator Faulkner had used his time more wisely than to give the speech he has just given, he could have told us about one of the signatories among the 43: Dr John Burton. I pick on Dr John Burton because he is perhaps the least contemporary of those signatories, having retired from the service of the Commonwealth of Australia in, I think, 1954. Dr John Burton was the protege of Dr Evatt. I think he was Dr Evatt's private secretary when Dr Evatt was the Minister for External Affairs in the 1940s.

Senator Faulkner, if he had used his time more usefully, could have told us that Dr John Burton was the golden boy of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party in the 1940s and the early 1950s—as you would know, Senator Forshaw. He could have told us that Dr John Burton, when he was a young man in the early 1950s, was seen by some as a future Labor Prime Minister of Australia. There were attempts made to get Dr John Burton preselected for a safe Labor seat somewhere in Sydney—my memory escapes me as to where it was, but no doubt Senator Faulkner could have told us if he had used his time more usefully. Dr Burton failed in his attempt to be preselected when he was the golden, young rising star of the Labor Party in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His political career was snuffed out by factional intrigue before it had an opportunity to get off the ground. I believe Dr Burton left Australia in about 1954. I do not know when he returned, but most of this man's career, more than 50 years ago, was enjoyed in the United Kingdom. So, if we are talking about contemporaneity, that is the sort of signatory that has been attracted to this letter. It is an extreme case, I will agree, but it is typical of the document. The signatories have these two things in common. First of all, most of them—not all of them, I will concede—are known Labor Party partisans who are interested in pursuing a political agenda and, secondly, none of them have contemporary information.

Another of the signatories was my old friend Sir Richard Peek, the very model of a modern major general or perhaps the model of a modern admiral of the fleet, who we saw during the `children overboard' inquiry. He was the gentleman who said that I should be taken out and shot—something with which perhaps Labor senators would agree. Sir Richard Peek began his career in the Royal Australian Navy in 1928 during the prime ministership of Stanley Melbourne Bruce and retired in, I think, 1976. That was the degree of contemporaneity of that eminent gentleman's knowledge. So it is not about age, but it is about contemporaneity and about who has a political agenda.