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Thursday, 5 April 1973
Page: 1166


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister) - The Government will oppose the motion. I speak on this matter because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) asserted, I gather - I was at a Cabinet meeting and it has been reported to me - that I have broken an undertaking. The situation today was this: When questions without notice commenced the right honourable gentleman was not in the House and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) asked a question, I gave a relevant, factual and temperate reply. When the Leader of the Opposition appeared he asked for a copy of my answer. I gave him my copy. Later he asked whether I would give him leave to make a statement on it. I said: T have to leave at 5 to 11 to farewell a visiting head of State and Government. Can you get it through before then?' It seemed at that stage that there would have been time for the Leader of the Opposition to make his statement. It will be remembered that due to the unruly conduct of 3 members of the Opposition proceedings were delayed to suspend them from the service of the House. Accordingly the time of the House was taken much beyond 5 to 11. As a matter of fact, I was back from farewelling the Head of State and in the House and the matter was still proceeding.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition then asked me whether I would give leave to the Leader of the Opposition to make his statement. I said: 'No'. There was, of course, an opportunity for the Leader to speak in the Grievance Day debate this morning, if he chose to displace the rights of private members in that respect. Alternatively, he can make his statement in the debate on the ministerial statement on Croatian terrorism when that debate resumes next week. In either case, therefore, the Leader of the Opposition could have spoken. He and his colleagues consumed the whole of the time for Grievance Day debate this morning, so he could not make the statement this morning. He can still make it when the debate on the ministerial statement on Croatian terrorism resumes next week. That will be after honourable members on both sides of the chamber have had time to absorb the apologia of the former AttorneyGeneral, as reported in yesterday's Hansard of the Senate.

The right honourable gentleman presumably has been able to say all that he feels he can effectively say on that subject. It will be remembered that he asked me whether I would table the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation report from which I quoted. I told him that I would show it to him. He asked me whether I would give the names of the public servants who had attended the interdepartmental meeting on 2nd March. I said that I would not give the names publicly but I would let him have them. Yesterday he wrote a letter to me asking for information on this and 2 other matters. I replied to the letter. He received my reply well before the House rose last night. He has not taken the matter up with me. It is fine for the right honourable gentleman to complain about not getting information, but I have offered to give him the information which he sought. He has had that opportunity for the better part of a day. He has not taken advantage of that opportunity. He knows that it will not suit him to know the facts.

I reiterate that on any matters concerning security I will make ali the information available to the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that whoever holds the position of Leader of the Opposition is entitled to know the basic facts concerning Australia's security. I do not believe in treating the present incumbent as the previous incumbent was treated. Of course, it would suit many curious people to know who attended the interdepartmental meeting. I do not propose to oblige those curious people. If this information were stated and later people found out what the people named were doing, conclusions could be drawn from the result of the inquiries which were made. In these matters concerning public employees the Heads of departments or organisations concerned have certain statutory responsibilities. These Heads have carried out those responsibilities. The right honourable gentleman pays tribute to them. I concur with his judgment of them.


Mr Snedden - If you agree with my judgment why did you vilify them?


Mr WHITLAM - I vilified no-one. No Permanent Heads or Heads of organisations attended this interdepartmental meeting.


Mr Snedden - This illustrates why I should have the opportunity to speak to your statement. You are now proving that you should give me leave to do so.


Mr WHITLAM - The right honourable gentleman mentioned various gentlemen, Heads of departments and Heads of organisations. None of them was at the interdepartmental meeting on 2nd March, as the Leader of the Opposition would know very well if he accepted the offer which I made to him orally and which I repeated in writing to him. This offer however, he will not accept. It is clear from the statement I made and the answer I gave to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the ASIO report from which 1 quoted was a wrong report. It is therefore quite clear that there was no conspiracy as the Leader of the Opposition suggested in a question to me. If it was a wrong report there could have been no conspiracy between the people mentioned in the report. On the face of the report there could have been a conspiracy. There might well have been conspiracy. The fact is that the inquiries conducted in the course of their statutory duties by the gentlemen to whom the Leader of the Opposition pays tribute have disclosed that the report was a wrong report.


Mr Staley - In what way?


Mr WHITLAM - I use words, particularly in writing, quite deliberately and quite carefully; it was a wrong report. The former Attorney-General, for instance, says that one of the gentlemen to whom the Leader of the Opposition has paid tribute was time serving. I am not going to make these aspersions. Because of my action it is clear now - it has been discovered, it has been reported, it has been reported to me and to other ministerial heads and it has been reported to the Parliament - that the ASIO report was wrong and therefore we now know that there was no conspiracy. There is only one head upon whom aspersions have been cast at all. They have been cast by the former Attorney-General who describes that person as time serving. I make no such aspersions on him or on any other head and I am not going to mention the names of the persons who attended the interdepartmental committee. If the Leader of the Opposition asks for their names he can have them whenever he wants them. He has been able to have them ever since I made the offer orally in answer to a question and ever since I confirmed the offer in writing. But I am not going to allow the procedures of the House to be used in this way to investigate individuals who cannot answer here or who cannot answer elsewhere. I have answered the questions. I have reported to the Parliament. The motion is frivolous in whatever whining and whinging terms it might have been moved and therefore my Government will vote against it.


Mr WENTWORTH (MACKELLAR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr Deputy Speaker-


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes

Order! The time allowed for the debate has expired.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Sneddon's) be agreed to.







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