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Friday, 2 December 1983
Page: 3264

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(4.21) —Mr President, I thank you for the protection which you afforded me in my absence against the unparliamentary remarks of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). The Attorney-General seems to have had second and what he now thinks are no doubt wiser thoughts about the words that he uttered in the Senate earlier today. This is not the first time, of course, that we have seen the Attorney regret his impetuous behaviour. The words he used earlier this year-'It seemed like a good idea at the time'-have gone into the political history of Australia and will no doubt always be a noteworthy part of the Attorney-General's contribution to Australian political life.

But to return to the matter that has been raised during the adjournment debate by the Attorney, all I have done, Mr President, is to quote the Attorney-General . I am sorry that it causes him such pain to have his words reproduced, words which are taken from Hansard and which he may choose to say do not represent his true position. But he is in the business of putting the position of the Government through his mouth, both in response to answers to questions and during debate in this place. What I have quoted is that the Attorney-General, a little earlier today, said:

It is a question of course of interpretation in all the circumstances of a particular case what is a major blunder of real importance to Australia, and no doubt some anxious consideration will be given to the proper application of that criterion by the Ministers concerned.

Senator Gareth Evans —'Ministers' plural, referring to the situations as they may occur.

Senator CHANEY —'Ministers concerned', and as I have just said publicly outside this place, perhaps the Attorney is picking up the hapless Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) as well in his comments. The fact of the matter is that the Attorney's words clearly indicate that in his view this is a situation to which some anxious consideration will be given. I think we have just heard some very illuminating additional words from the Attorney tonight. This shows what the priorities of the Attorney-General are-the loss of money through the tax system is a far more significant thing for Australia than a threat to Australia's security according to him. That is the sort of priority that this Government represents. I say that when there is a threat to the security of this country, through some threat being caused to the existence of the security forces which are important to this country, that is a matter which goes beyond mere money and goes to much more important issues which ought to be the concern of this Parliament. I believe that we are dealing with far more serious matters now than the question of mere revenue.

So I make no apology for repeating the Attorney-General's words. It was important, I think, that the Attorney be reminded of the standards which he purported to set for others years ago, standards which he purported to endorse today. When he was questioned further he indicated that he thought those standards required anxious consideration by the Ministers concerned. I believe that that is an entirely appropriate response. I hope that his colleagues heed his words.