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Tuesday, 17 September 1974
Page: 1119

Senator SIM (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is it correct, as claimed by Mr Tonkin the Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia, that he suggested to the Minister that Ermolenko should go down and stay with Dr Leigh Cook and that the Minister replied: 'I am in no hurry to get him out of the country and there is no reason why he should not stay here for a week*? Is it also correct that the Minister told Mr Tonkin- these are Mr Tonkin's words- that he very definitely would not use Royal Australian Air Force aircraft and that Ermolenko would leave Australia on a commercial flight? Did Mr Tonkin tell the MinisterI quote from a transcript of a conversation between Mr Tonkin and an interviewer- 'Well now, I was not completely satisfied in my mind as to the reason why this young fellow changed his mind'?

Senator WILLESEE -I received a letter from Mr Tonkin. This was the first time I knew that he had any worries about the subject. He wrote to me and I replied to him a few days ago. He said in the letter that he wanted to explain an article which had appeared. He seemed aggrieved in that he had been misrepresented very badly. Regarding his conversation with Ermolenko, he made the point that one can never be absolutely certain when talking to anyone, particularly under these circumstances, whether what the person is saying is completely genuine. However, there is no doubt that at the time Mr Tonkin spoke to me, and also to the officers of my Department, he told me quite unequivocally that Ermolenko had said that he wanted to return. He was quite certain that this was what Ermolenko genuinely wanted. Mr Tonkin says that when one is talking to anybody it is difficult to know exactly what that person is thinking. Of course, as I have mentioned in my statement, this was one, and only one, of the pieces of evidence I took into consideration in making my decision.

It is suggested that Mr Tonkin said to me: 'I hear that you will be using RAAF aircraft'. I do not remember the words exactly- either he raised the matter or I raised it- but at that stage I had no such intention and I was not going to be hurried. Had I wanted to hurry I could have sent Ermolenko out on the Monday night. The whole purpose of giving Ermolenko time was to make clear to myself and to other people who were interested that he was not going to suffer a relapse and go back to his original idea. At that stage, as I told Mr Tonkin in my letter, I had no intention whatever of hurrying this matter or of sending Ermolenko out of Australia. On the Thursday morning, although I had positioned the plane on the Wednesday night, I still had not given any instructions that the plane was to be used. I was informed in the morning, from the best industrial advice that I could get- I assure the Senate that it was the best in Western Australiathat there seemed to be no chance of the Federated Clerks Union lifting its ban. It seemed impossible to get the people involved in the Federated Clerks Union to hold a meeting. The secretary was refusing to hold a meeting. As honourable senators know, when a meeting finally was held they lifted the ban. At the time of the lifting of the ban I already had Ermolenko at Pearce, the RAAF aerodrome, and the others were about to leave or were on their way. I decided to go on with that course because, as honourable senators well know, the mobs that were gathering each night at the airport did constitute a danger. The airline people themselves were worried about the situation because of threats. At that stage, the matter having gone so far- I was clear in my mind that Mr Ermolenko should be allowed to leave Australia and that he was being unlawfully held up- I decided to use the RAAF aircraft. Had I been assured in the morning or the night before that the ban would be lifted the result might have been different. That is how far along the line I was at that stage and that is why I proceeded.

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