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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 3375

Mr KELLY (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does the Prime Minister recall his assurance to this House that his Government should, and indeed would, take decisions on Tariff Board reports without referring them first to either Caucus or a Caucus committee? Does the Prime Minister realise inc immediate commercial opportunity that any Caucus committee member would receive if he were to know in advance whether a particular company was to receive a particular tariff advantage? Does the Prime Minister know that today's Press carries a story that the previously announced policy on this matter is to be changed and that Caucus or a committee of Caucus is now to have prior knowledge of tariff alterations? Does the Prime Minister think that this is a proper procedure?

Mr WHITLAM - I have not seen all the Press reports on this matter. It would not be a proper procedure, and it will not be the procedure followed by any government of which I am the leader. I made this matter quite plain in an earlier answer, I believe, to the honourable member for Berowra. Every Minister has a copy of a Tariff Board report before Cabinet makes a decision on any such report. No other person in the Parliament should have a copy of any such report. If I learnt that any Minister showed his copy of a report to any other member of the Parliament I would relieve him of his post.

Mr Sinclair - Can you do so under your rules?

Mr WHITLAM - If the position arises we will see what would happen. If my Party were to purport to rule that Tariff Board reports were to be seen before the Cabinet decision was made or announced I would surrender the commission that I have to form a govern* ment. The consequences of persons against whom there are not sanctions to keep matters confidential gaining information of such matters are as the honourable gentleman says.

Mr Sinclair - What about the gold subsidy?

Mr WHITLAM - The honourable gentleman makes an interjection. There is far too much confusion, much of it maliciously fomented as to the processes of the Australian Labor Party. Every member of the Australian Labor Party in every Parliament in Australia makes a collective decision, usually after proper discussion, very often after preliminary consideration by committees, on any matter which comes to a vote in his Parliament. It is, therefore, quite possible for a decision which Labor Ministers make to be reversed or altered by a full meeting of the Parliamentary Party. This happened yesterday in respect to the gold subsidy. Of course, it could happen in regard to any decision on, say, a Tariff Board matter, because any decision that a government has to make on tariffs has to be validated in the Parliament. It comes to a vote in each House of the Parliament.

Every member of the Australian Labor Party in the Parliament joins in coming to a collective decision as to how the Party will vote on such validating legislation. Nevertheless, the Party chooses who will be Ministers. I decide what portfolios those Ministers will have. I have no reason to believe that the Ministers who have been elected by the full Party have betrayed any trust. I do not have any reason to believe that any Minister to whom I have assigned a portfolio has not been worthy of my judgment in that respect.

The Australian Government, at present composed totally of Labor Party members, will come to a decision on the colour television matter. I imagine that, when the decision is made, it will become public knowledge, as happened under all preceding governments. I might even announce it myself, but at least it will become public knowledge whether or not I announce it, as has been the experience of every Prime Minister, or whether the Minister concerned in protection matters announces it. The decision will be made by the Government. Ministers are sworn to secrecy in these matters and it would be completely irresponsible as well as illegal for any Minister to reveal what comes to him under such conditions of confidence. I thank the honourable gentleman, whose interest in tariff matters I have admired for at least a decade, for giving me the opportunity to make this matter clear promptly and, I trust, beyond any doubt inside or outside the Parliament.

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