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Thursday, 5 April 1973
Page: 1121

Mr LYNCH (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) - Will the Prime Minister now tell the House in precise terms why his Attorney-General undertook the raids on the Canberra office and Melbourne headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or does the Prime Minister intend in this House and elsewhere to continue to hide behind the evasion and prevarications of the Attorney-General, who is now so clearly discredited by this whole affair?

Mr WHITLAM - I shall give a serious reply to the question. I had proposed to make a statement after question time if a question was not asked on this subject. Last Tuesday in answer to a question by the Leader of the Opposition, I read to the House a passage from a report of an interdepartmental meeting that had been held on 2nd March. On 1st March the Attorney-General had said in answer to a question in the Senate that he would table a statement on Croatian terrorism. The report from which I read was dated 5th March and it was made to ASIO headquarters in Melbourne by an ASIO officer in Canberra who had been present at the interdepartmental meeting. I said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition last Tuesday, and again yesterday in answer to a further question from him, that I was having inquiries made into the matter. I now inform the House that the inquiries have been completed. I shall read the passage from the ASIO report again. It reads:

The Department of Foreign Affairs made 2 points on the proposed statement. The first was that the statement should not be at variance with the interim reply given to Yugoslavia in response to the aidememoire presented to Australia following the 'Bosnian Incident' in 1972. The second was that unless there were reasons to the contrary, they prefer the statement to be deferred until after the visit to Australia of the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia from the 20th-22nd March 1973. The Attorney-General's Department accepted the first point but argued on the second point that the Attorney-General might find it necessary to table the statement at an earlier date.

This passage gave the Attorney-General grave concern. It gave me and the whole Government great concern. It did so for the best and plainest of reasons. No Minister and no government could for one moment accept a position in which its departmental advisers were minded simply to ensure that the Government would follow the same line as the previous Government in regard to this most serious issue of terrorist activity in Australia. But this is precisely what the report on its face said that officers were planning to do. The AttorneyGeneral took the most serious view of the matter. Having seen the text, he felt it incumbent upon him to take quick and decisive action.

I add that his sighting of this particular document was only a further stage in a mounting chain of events. The mounting chain disclosed with ever greater certainty the fact that right wing organisations associated with certain Croatian migrants to Australia were actively involved in terrorist activities. Further, they had revealed intentions to disrupt the visit to Australia of the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, and possibly to make attempts on his life. It was against this background of mounting concern about Croatian terrorist activities that the interdepartmental meeting was held on 2nd March. It was plainly a meeting of much significance. The inquiries into the meeting and its outcome were made by the head of my own Department in conjunction with the heads of bodies represented at the meeting. They were: The Department of Foreign Affairs, the AttorneyGeneral's Department, the Department of Immigration, the Commonwealth Police and ASIO.

The inquiries show that the ASIO representative gave, in what was admittedly an internal minute, a wrong report of what was said by the officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs and that as a consequence he wrongly represented the remarks of officers of the AttorneyGeneral's Department. I do not suggest that this was done deliberately, but it is a matter for concern to the Attorney-General and to me that it should have happened. The whole matter has now been resolved after proper administrative inquiries. This is as it should be. In saying this I emphasise again the gravity of the position that the report on its face disclosed. It could only be viewed with alarm.

I conclude by observing that the practices revealed by these inquiries into the interdepartmental meeting on 2nd March show that there is a need for greater care in the conduct of such meetings. This is especially so when matters affecting Ministers and the political direction of government are involved. In such cases proper records of proceedings should be kept. It is, in addition, essential that officers keep their Ministers fully, frankly and accurately informed. It is only in this way that Ministers can be aware of developing thinking within their departments. It is only in this way also that the officers of the Public Service will be able to make sure that they translate into action the policy requirements of those elected to the responsible task of governing the country.

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