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Thursday, 5 March 1970

Mr UREN (Reid) - This week I have been deeply concerned by an action that has occurred in this House on more than one occasion. During this week accusations and charges have been made, firstly, by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in reply to a question asked by the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) and in reply to a follow up question asked by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and, secondly, by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr McMahon) in reply to a question asked today by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns). Both the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs made serious allegations under privilege against an individual. 1 do not propose to argue the facts, for or against, in regard to the individual. But these serious charges were made under privilege. The law of this land is such that every man is presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty. So that this matter might be treated seriously this evening I saw the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) early this afternoon. I told him that I intended to raise this matter as one of principle. It is not a matter of mud slinging. It is not a matter of name calling. As far as I am concerned the allegation involved is a very serious one. I believe the charges that have been made against this man are so serious that if he did, in fact, commit these crimes he has committed probably the most serious crimes that any Australian could commit against his nation. The allegation is that in a time of war he permitted himself to be used by the enemy against Australia. I know there are technicalities - that official war was not declared in Korea. It seems that the allegations stem from incidents in Korea.

If these allegations are true action should be taken against this man because what he has done amounts to the crime of treason. This gentleman who has arrived in this country has stated clearly that he wishes to have an inquiry. He is prepared to face charges in order to clear his name. I think an inquiry could do this. He says he is a loyal Australian. So as to get at the facts the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), following upon the reply of the Prime Minister, asked the Attorney-General:

Is it thought that Mr Burchett has broken any law of the Commonwealth? Alternatively, now that he is in Australia, is any investigation being undertaken to ascertain whether he has broken any law of the Commonwealth?

The Attorney-General replied:

I do not propose to give any opinion as to whether Mr Burchett has broken any law of the Commonwealth. What I will say, however, is that I, as the principal law officer of the Crown do not propose, as at present advised, to bring any charges against him in respect of-

There was an interjection and further discussion. The Attorney-General went on:

I do not propose to bring any charges. It is proper that I should say that in answer to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition.

This is the statement made by the AttorneyGeneral who is responsible for the laws of this land. He says he will not bring any charges. Following that statement a further question was asked today by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns). In reply, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr McMahon) went further than the Prime Minister. He made more serious allegations. I do not need to read out what these allegations are.

I ask the Attorney-General, with his understanding of law, whether one can state as evidence in a court of law: 'It is a wellknown fact, etc.'? Can the phrase 'it is a well-known fact' be given as evidence in a court of law? Can we in this Parliament say: 'It is a well-known fact, etc.', and then convict this man in this Parliament which creates the laws under which men are tried. It is this Parliament which determines the law of the land. I do not even want to raise my voice. I am deeply concerned that people in this Parliament can continue day after day to make these serious allegations when the man says: 'Look, I am prepared to face an inquiry. I am prepared to be charged. You lay the charges and I will face them.' This is the Government of the country. This is the Parliament of the country. I believe that we have to fight for the freedom of everybody in this land irrespective of his politics. It does not matter what he may be.

I have heard it said by a wonderful friend of mine that if a Communist is not free in this country then we are not free. I could use the words of Martin Luther King when he said: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'. We in this Parliament have to live up to this ideal. I ask the Attorney-General, who is responsible for the laws of the land, not to use this Parliament to say: 'It is a well known fact' and to go on to make further allegations. Is it evidence merely to say: 'It is well-known fact'? Is that sufficient to convict a man? I could get up and say that something is a well known fact about certain people on the other side but the Attorney-General knows and I know that that is not the right thing to do. 1 was incensed about certain well known facts concerning the Prime Minister being brought forward in this place. I walked out of the place because I did not agree with the accusation. While I am in this Parliament I will stand up for every individual, whether he is big or small and whether his politics are to the left or to the right. I hope that the Government faces up to its responsibility and stops these wild charges and allegations unless they can be proved. The man has said: 'Look, I am prepared to go before an inquiry. I am prepared to be charged'. All that I say is: 'Put up or shut up'.

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