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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 101

Mr GORTON (Higgins) - I have no doubt whatever as to the complete sincerity and straightforwardness of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) but I think it is unfortunate that this debate should become one concerning some individual because the importance of it extends far beyond that, important though that might be. It seems to me that what was being raised by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) was a matter of some public importance and I put it to the House this way. What he was saying is this: 'Is it not true that there are papers properly classified as secret or top secret - papers which deal with defence matters, foreign policy matters and matters of sensitivity of that kind? By that 1 mean properly classified because if the information contained in them was revealed to an unauthorised source it could cause damage to Australia's security. I suggest that that is a proposition which most people would agree was true. Is it not also true that such papers in Ministers' offices are handled by one or more officials or secretaries in such offices? It would be normal for that to happen. It would not be improper for that to happen. It would be the usual way of going about the handling of such papers.

Mr Bryant - Who checked you before they let you handle them?

Mr GORTON - I am trying to put a genuine case to this Parliament, not trying to talk to you.

Mr Bryant - You are just talking nonsense.

Mr GORTON - All right, you regard those 2 propositions as nonsense. If it is true that there are such documents and that making use of the information in them could damage Australia; if it is true, as would be normal and right, that officials or secretaries looked at them, ought it not also to be true that those who do look at them should be cleared by Security to see not that they are not communists - let us get away from that - or nazis or fascists but whether they are people generally who may wish to do some damage to Australia? In spite of what the honourable member said about rights, and I know what he feels about that matter, I put it to the House that no individual has a right to examine a secret and confidential document which is the property of a government. Nobody has that right. A normal government ought in the interests of Australia to take care that such information was seen and handled only by those who are thought safe to do so by the Security Service. It does not mean a Minister cannot employ somebody who is not checked in that way, but it does mean that they should not have access to such information unless such clearance is given.

There was one more point of importance raised in what the honourable member for Mackellar said and that is that if what I have advanced now is generally true, and I believe that most people of good sense would think it was, is it not also true that a Prime Minister ought to know whether his Ministers are following these practices and ought not be able to get up in the Parliament and say to it and the nation: T do not know what a Minister has done. I do not know whether the people handling these documents have been cleared. I wash my hands of it.' I think that this Parliament

Mr Hurford - He trusts his Ministers.

Mr GORTON - As far as I could understand the interjection - because the chamber is rather noisy and it was competing with others - it was that the present Prime Minister trusts his Ministers and therefore does not care to find out - he, the responsible head of a government - whether his Ministers are allowing secret documents to be seen by those who have not been cleared by Security. I say that this is not a proper attitude and not one to be excused by saying: 'Oh, he trusts them.' It is the responsibility of any Prime Minister to see that such documents are properly guarded.

Let me finish on this note: What I put before this House cannot be construed as an attack on any person, on any individual. It is not meant to be and it is not. But it is an attack upon a system of government. Members of the Opposition are entitled to point out where they see discrepancies or errors, as they think, in systems of government and to be able to do it without having such unjustified attacks made upon them as the Minister made upon the honourable member for Mackellar. It was not only unjustified but also untrue and it failed completely in its object of trying to stop the honourable member for Mackellar from raising these matters, as I am sure he will do again.

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