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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1530

Mr BURR(7.20) —This afternoon at Question Time I raised with the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) an article that was published in the February edition of the Journalist magazine, the Australian Journalist Association's own magazine. That article made very serious allegations about negotiations between the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Treasurer (Mr Keating) and Mr Rupert Murdoch concerning the editorial content in the Murdoch Press in return for favours that would be given by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer using their influence with the Government.

I was hoping in raising that matter with the Minister for Communications that he would give me an assurance that the matters raised in that article were quite spurious and in fact did not occur and that the Government had not entered into any type of arrangement with Mr Murdoch. Unfortunately, the Minister treated with contempt the matter that I had raised. He gave me no assurance and he gave the House no assurance.

The matter raised in this article, I believe, is one of the most serious issues to have been posed before this Parliament. It is not a matter that can be taken lightly by the Government or by any member of this Parliament. I quote from the article:

It has now emerged that the appearance of the November 13 editorial in Murdoch's Australian followed several meetings with Federal Treasurer Keating and Prime Minister Hawke.

In October, Keating discussed the new media ownership rules with Murdoch while visiting the United States. In early November, Murdoch appeared in Australia for News Corp's annual general meeting and entertained the Treasurer and Prime Minister at his Sydney headquarters at 2 Holt Street, Surrey Hills.

The Prime Minister told Murdoch that he would carry his Labor Party colleagues in the Herald and Weekly Times takeover and the controversy concerning foreign ownership of Australian television licences provided there was some `written proof' that News Corp could be presented as `the friend of Labor'.

That is the accusation contained in the article. It is a most serious accusation. It has been publicly circulated. I would have thought it was in the Government's own interests that it dismiss this allegation and prove that it is not correct. I hope that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will be able to give evidence to this House and to the people of Australia that there has been no secret deal between the Government and Mr Rupert Murdoch concerning both the editorial content of his publications and a secret deal involving the way in which this Government will put through its media legislation. That is the guts of what is contained in this article, and the Minister for Communications has done nothing to refute that allegation. The matter goes further. Government members believe that they have won Mr Murdoch and have the support of his Press, but I quote further:

But while Hawke and Keating manage to convince Cabinet and the Caucus that Murdoch's HWT-

that is, the Herald and Weekly Times-

takeover was in Labor's interests, Murdoch was playing both ends against the middle.

Following the takeover bid on December 3 and press reports playing up Murdoch's cosy relationship with Hawke and Labor, the Murdoch camp quietly moved to reassure the Liberals.

Ken Cowley, the Managing Director of News Ltd, telephoned John Howard.

He told the Liberal Leader he was calling at the express command of his boss. The purpose, he said, was to tell Howard that the Murdoch papers were not really swinging behind the Labor cause.

Murdoch had been very upset, he said, at suggestions that he was accommodating the line of his papers to suit Labor and he wanted to reassure Howard at once.

These are most serious allegations against the Government. I believe that if they are correct a reassurance must be given to this House. If they are incorrect, I believe that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have cause to sue for defamation. If they are not prepared to take that action, I can only come to the conclusion that the accusations in this article are correct. If they are correct, this Government must be condemned.