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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 767

Mr KILLEN (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - I address a question to the Prime Minister. Does he accept the convention of government that correspondence passing between Ministers is not revealed until such time as is appointed by law for the consideration of historians, archivists and so forth? If the honourable gentleman does accept that convention, can he give an assurance to the House that henceforth that convention will be observed no matter how tempting it may be to breach it?

Mr WHITLAM - Except in quite exceptional circumstances I accept the convention and I assure the honourable gentleman that I will observe it. However, there were completely exceptional circumstances in the last few weeks. I must confess that it has taken a regrettably long time for the Commonwealth Police Force and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to adjust themselves from such momentous activities as the pursuit of draft dodgers and Vietnam demonstrators to the new situation where we ought to revive our interest in terrorist activities in our midst. The position came to a head when, in the course of a wide tour throughout southern Asia and, he hoped, to Australia and New Zealand it appeared that the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia would be no safer in Australia than he would have been when the previous Government was in office. It is a matter of shame to us that the President of Yugoslavia, Tito, can go with complete safety to the United States of America, while, on the other hand, we have the advice that the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia is not safe in Australia.

Furthermore, the Department of Foreign Affairs had unfinished business to pursue in the light of a protest note received in about August last year from the Government of Yugoslavia. The Australian Government at the time had given an interim reply. It obviously fell to me to consider this matter because the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia intended to call on Australia and would see me. Obviously he would be interested in what I had to say as Foreign Minister as well as in my capacity as Prime Minister. I examined the files. I saw that despite the protests of several preceding Foreign Ministers, and incidentally Ministers for Immigration, the then Attorney-General had not accepted their advice or pursued the inquiries which they had raised with him. Therefore there were thoroughly exceptional circumstances. It was essential that our guest should be as safe in Australia as he was in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore on the way to Australia, and as he was to be in New Zealand and Bangladesh on the way back. The matter obviously was urgent, and therefore the conventions were not observed in this case.

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