Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1063

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) (AttorneyGeneral) - A number of matters have been raised tonight - 3 of them concerning portfolios that I administer or represent. I propose to deal with each of the matters in turn. Senator Cant raised the question of certain statements which I made in Western Australia. I understood him to say that the making of the statements was disgraceful. 1 fail to see where there is any disgrace when, in exercising a public office, one makes statements which one believes to be true and which in the public interest should be made. When I was in Perth 1 said nothing more in regard to Mr Cook's leave of absence, which was given to him while he was in prison, than 1 had said in the Senate when the question had been raised some time before I went over there. If it is thought that this was a matter initiated by me, I can say only that from the moment I stepped off the plane in Perth until I virtually left Western Australia this was an issue about which so many people in the media sought an opinion. I can say only that it obviously is a matter of considerable interest in Western Australia and that my statements were made in response to questions and invitations given to me to state the viewpoint which I held. It was in those circumstances that the matters relating to Mr Cook were raised.

Insofar as Senator Cant's remarks contained the imputation that I had sought an occasion voluntarily to make statements after I had written a letter to the Chief Secretary seeking bis explanation I can say that this is confounded by the account I have given of how the statements came to be made. It is a fact that I have written to the Chief Secretary for Western Australia seeking answers to a number of questions as to the circumstances in which Mr Cook has been granted leave of absence from prison. I sent that letter on 24th March. As I have said on numerous occasions since, I am expecting that I will receive a reply. The questions naturally relate to the full circumstances of the basis upon which Mr Cook was granted study leave, of whether it was considered by the classification committee and whether any moneys are being paid to the university to enable Mr Cook to study there. I imagine that these matters will be the subject of the answers which in due course I expect to receive.

Unquestionably, this is a matter of political interest and no-one should deny this. We know that the Australian Labor Party has a policy which involves giving support to those persons who are prepared to resist the National Service Act. It is interesting to see the various manifestations in which this support displays itself. We have seen in Victoria the endorsement as a candidate on behalf of the Australian Labor Party of a person who has been convicted for 2 offences under the National Service Act and who has refused to appear in court to answer a charge that he had failed to obey his call-up notice. This person has been supported by the Australian Labor Party in Victoria by being given a forum behind locked doors to address a Labor Party meeting and in other ways his cause has been espoused by leading officials of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria. We have seen the incident in South Australia where another person who has refused to appear in court to answer a charge connected with the National Service Act has again been supported by a group of Young Labor Association members who have abused the police who are merely doing their job seeing if they can detect any of the persons for whom warrants had been issued.

We have heard numerous statements in this chamber from spokesmen of the Australian Labor Party and we have the famous dictum of Mr Whitlam that, after all, draft dodging is not a crime. We know, too, that in Western Australia circumstances exist which, on the face of them, clearly warrant inquiry. One wonders whether what has occurred in Western Australia is simply the western manifestation of this same policy which characterises the Australian Labor Party throughout the Commonwealth. As I have said, I am awaiting a full reply to the letter which I sent. In view of Senator Cant's remarks I do not think I ought to say anything until I receive a reply. But I do say this: The statements which I have made have been based on information which is available to me and which is verifiable. In the first place I have examined through my Department and obtained through my Department not only a copy of the regulations upon which I expressed an opinion but also legal advice as to their effect. As to the second question of whether the classification committee considered this matter, I have seen Mr Campbell's statement as reported in the 'West Australian'. I also have received advice which came to mc through my Department of a conversation which occurred early in March, before Mr Cook had been released, in which Mr Campbell, as the Director of Prisons, advised a police officer in Western Australia that he was under some strong political pressure to allow Mr Cook to undertake a couple of part time university units in philosophy.

Also, 1 have been informed - again this is on the record - on the basis of material which came to me that members of the classification committee had said, again to a police officer in Western Australia, that they had not considered the matter of Mr Cook's release. This is material which is available to me. 1 did not give that information publicly at any stage. 1 do so tonight only because I have been challenged to give some basis as to why I made these statements. I was prepared, having given the indication that it was my understanding that this classification committee had not met, to await Mr Stubbs' reply. 1 still await Mr Stubbs' reply with a great deal of interest. Senator Cant suggested that I was in some way reprehensible in going to Western Australia and making statements without knowing all the facts. I think I have given some indication of the factual basis which was available to me and upon which I made the statements. The Premier of Western Australia suggested that I was prepared to make statements recklessly without belief in their truth. He did not inquire of me as to the basis upon which .1. made my statements. 1 can only say that there was basis for them. What statements have been made were made with a belief in their truth.

The second matter which was raised in this adjournment debate was raised by Senator Hannan. It related to the problems which I hope will not develop in this country of disputes among members of the Yugoslav community which certainly resulted in 2 bomb explosions in Melbourne last Friday morning. It was not specifically those incidents to which Senator Hannan referred, but they are part of the problem which I know to exist. We all must be apprehensive about the developments which could occur if this sort of conduct is in any way encouraged, condoned or provoked. What Senator Hannan related was a particularly slanted, biased and clearly untrue article which appeared in the 'Sunday Review' last weekend. 1 say it is untrue because my general information was that there are aspects of truth in the article but that it was highly slanted and highly biased. The particular instance to which Senator Hannan referred is one which, from his personal recollection and knowledge of the circumstances, is clearly untrue. In those circumstances, one can only wonder what credence can be placed upon that article.

I said in answer to a question earlier today that suggestions that the Croatian movements are Ustashi movements or that groups within the Croatian movements are Ustashi movements is completely erroneous. The Ustashi ceased to exist with the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945. After the defeat of the Axis powers the Croatians were subjected to a great deal of travail in Yugoslavia. I do not want to suggest that it has been a one-sided exercise. I understand that during the war number of Croatians were guilty of crimes and activities which no society would expect or tolerate. But after the war, when the Croatians were on the losing side and the communists took over, there was a decimation of the Croatian people which is a source of great concern to those Croatians who have left Yugoslavia and who feel for their own country in the way that so many of them do and identify the problems and the troubles that they have experienced in terms of the communist regime in Yugoslavia. This is part of the problem. I think I can properly use the expression Senator Mulvihill used: We in Australia do not want to see these vendettas pursued in this country. If they are to be pursued in the forms of violence of which we have seen instances, this strikes at something which undermines what we all regard as being most precious in our community. This, I believe, is an attitude, as I hope I have expressed it, that would have the support generally of the vast majority of Australians.

I can only deplore what appears to me to be provocative statements which seek to lump together the whole of the Croatian movement into a so-called Ustashi group. I feel that the statements which have been made from quite a number of persons, including Mr Jurjevic and Dr Cairns, suggest that a number of leading identities in the Croatian movement are war criminals and, in other respects, have been guilty of crimes or ought to be subjected to some penally. All that one can say is that if these people are war criminals there must be evidence of this. They can be extradieted to Yugoslavia if the Yugoslavian Government believes that they have been guilty of war crimes. If that is not established, surely it is provocative to allege these things against Croatian people and to expect them to sit back and not to feel furious and indignant at the way in which they arc being treated. We know that words ought not to hurt the person against whom they are said, but words do hurt a number of people. We see this in the Senate from time to time. If it is part of the pattern of activity in which these groups engage, I must say it does create problems about which we are so concerned.

I think that Senator Mulvihill did not do justice to the broad plea which he is making. There have been instances in which persons who have not been Croatians have been engaged in activities which we would regard as reprehensible. At Footscray in Melbourne in 1968 a Mr Barun who is alleged to be an Ustashi man was stabbed to death. Senator Mulvihill referred to the case of Mr Lesic who, unquestionably, was injured most seriously by a bomb explosion resulting from a bomb being in a suitcase that he was carrying. I think that Senator Mulvihill accepted that Mr Lesic had put the bomb in that suitcase and that what happened was something of his own manufacture and that Mr Lesic caused his own wrong. I do not know whether that is so, but I gather from the police records that this allegation is denied by Mr Lesic and that he was unaware that there was a bomb in the suitcase. 1 do not know where the truth lie.s in these matters. This is part of the problem which the police experience when they seek to detect the. wrongdoers and bring them to book. It is not an easy matter and we would not want to facilitate police activities by giving them powers which we would regard as unwarranted in this country. We hope that no situation will ever arise in this country in which more extensive powers which impinge upon or infringe in some way the traditional rights of individuals will be given to police. I have heard that point of view expressed by some members of the Australian Labor Party and 1 imagine that they would wish to be consistent in the way in which they approach such matters. 1 think that the Senate ought to be indebted to Senator Hannan for what he said. He has given chapter and verse of a defamatory allegation which is being used as part of a political campaign by some with the, purpose of smearing the Croatian community simply because the Croatian community in this country is a vigorous anti-communist community. Against the background of what I have said it must be recognised that those who would use politics to inflame a volatile situation not only are doing a disservice to the people amongst whom they move but also are doing a disservice to Australia because their actions create a situation which, I think, is full of potential danger to the whole nation.

The third matter with which I deal is the remarks made by Senator Keeffe. I find that Senator Keeffe is remarkably inconsistent. That is putting my feeling about him mildly. He rose to speak tonight and said that he was not a man who engaged in personal attacks. There was some mirth throughout the chamber at that remark. I thought that the exhibition we received from Senator Keeffe tonight was essentially a personal attack on Senator Bonner and then a particularly vicious personal attack upon the Premier of Queensland. I should have thought there could be a no more slanderous statement about a person of the Aboriginal race than to call him an Uncle Tom in the context in which that term has been used among Aboriginal people. I am not suggesting that Senator Keeffe used that expression tonight, but he did use it on an earlier occasion when attacking Senator Bonner. To say in those circumstances that he does not indulge in personal attacks is hard to believe, or it indicates that he does not know the meaning of 'personal attacks'.

I am sure that Senator Bonner, who has been actively associated over many years with the improvement of Aboriginal welfare and with the One People of Australia League, can adequately answer whatever might be the allegations sought to be made against him or that organisation. It is a matter upon which we all ought to have some shame, that the sort of attacks which are being made against the first person of his race who has won a seat in the Australian Parliament should have been made in this chamber by a person Who was once the President of one of the major political parties in this country.

The other matter which was raised related to the Premier of Queensland. I am nol here to defend a man who has proved by his courage and integrity that he can adequately defend himself. But we ought to recognise that, throughout this country, Commonwealth and State Governments are currently spending at the rate of $44m a year on various ways and means of improving the lot of Aborigines in Australia. 1 appreciate that the mere expenditure of money is not the only thing which Australians ought to be doing or the only test by which what is being done should be judged and assessed, but it is an indication of our intention, an earnest, to do the very best we can. 1 do not think the sneers which have come from Senator Keeffe are worthy of a parliament which is genuinely si riving to achieve the best for the Aboriginal community. I would be prepared to give some credence to some of the things which Senator Keeffe said but for his record, which in this area is one of many statements wildly made and subsequently proved to be untrue, and particularly when the statements are made late at night without any prior indication of what is to be said and without any opportunity for anyone at the time the statement is made to put a rebutting case. The effect of this is that headlines have appeared in the newspapers referring to allegations made by Senator Keeffe. They make their mark and when, some 2 or 3 weeks later, the truth is out it is not given the same publicity and, of course, the original slander or defamation goes through the land.

I can only say in conclusion that the lactic used by Senator Keeffe is a tactic which ought to be disowned by his colleagues because they have made some play from time to time on the claim that they believe in certain standards of justice. Senator Keeffe sought to accuse the Premier of Queensland of guilt by accusation. What he said was that if Mr BjelkePetersen could produce his records and his wages sheets then we would be able to see whether he has paid his workers less than the award rates. The imputation behind that is that the man is guilty and that it is up to him to prove that he is not guilty. That I believe is the most vicious sort of attack that can be made. It is a reflection on this chamber that a Senator should make an attack of this nature.

Suggest corrections