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Thursday, 8 December 1983
Page: 3502


Senator JESSOP(1.26) —Madam Acting Deputy President, I did defer to my colleagues earlier because of the nature of the debate. I regret very much that it has become a little controversial. It is not the first time that I have risen in my place to defend people outside who have been accused under privilege of certain things, not only with respect to Senator Primmer's attacks on Mr Peter Henderson, but also other matters which have been raised. It has been my feeling for a long time that the Senate should do something about this in order to give redress to people who have been accused without the opportunity of reply. It seems to me that the Senate ought to give consideration perhaps to referring some matters of the Senate Standing Committee on Privileges with the object of giving the people outside, who regard something that is said in here as being damaging to their reputations or their business credibility, the opportunity to make a submission to the President and then for that submission, if the President warrants it, to be referred to the Privileges Committee to be dealt with. I think that would be fair. It would give the people outside the opportunity to present their cases or defences in an appropriate manner. I suggest we think about that seriously. Perhaps I will bring in a motion to that effect next year.

I originally rose to reply to something that Senator Colston raised on the adjournment on, I think, 8 November. I rise only to read to the Senate a letter that was written to me by Brigadier Greville. I mentioned this matter to Senator Colston and I thought that it was fair for me to read the letter I have received into the Hansard. It states:

Dear Senator,

I have read carefully pages 2138 and 9 of Hansard covering the proceeds of the Senate on November 8, 1983.

The statement made by Senator Colston (Queensland) about me upset my aged mother which I find quite offensive. I seek from you someway of redressing the wrong done me.

I think the particular matter he refers to was broadcast over the radio and this is the reason for this letter. He continued:

Should the Senator have made these statements outside of the Senate, I would not need to call upon you to redress this wrong.

I would like to make it quite clear to you, what it is that both my mother and I find offensive in the . . . statement.

In the first instance, I do not object to the Senator's accusations about my lack of taste in commenting adversely about the dead.

He is referring there to the late Wilfrid Burchett. He continued:

Taste is a matter of judgment, and depends on one's attitude in this instance towards the Soviet Union and the spread of communism.

I would suggest too, that I believe myself qualified to speak on behalf of other Australians who suffered the indignity of being prisoners in the hands of the Chinese Communists, some of whom did not survive the unpleasant experience.

Senator Colston's good friend Senator Georges complained bitterly a few years ago about the unhumanity of being in solitary confinement for twenty-four hours; I like many other Allied Prisoners in North Korea spent one hundred days, in solitary confinement, not in the friendly hands of the Queensland Police in a comfortable watch house, but in utter degradation and under constant threat.

My objection is to the statement 'If Greville felt so strongly about Mr Burchett, he should have said these things while Burchett was alive. It seems uncharacteristically cowardly for Greville to wait until a person has died to launch a vitriolic attack on him. Both the Brigadier and the Pacific Defence Reporter should be aware that often there is dignity in silence'.

There is dignity in the silence of the dead in Korea, especially in those whom Burchett may have saved if he possessed one spark of humanity for his fellow Australians and their Allies. Those of us who survived have our duty to ensure that they did not die in vain.

The facts are that I have been consistently vocal about Burchett ever since he tried to return to the country that he foresook, many of my efforts to expose him have been thwarted, but not for lack of effort on my part.

I attach, Sir, a deposition which I lodged as a witness in the case Burchett re Kane. I do not possess a copy of my evidence at the trial, but it is a matter of public property.

As that deposition makes clear, I had on two occasions written letters to the editors of papers stating clearly that in my opinion Burchett's conduct in Korea had been traitorous. Because Burchett had laid charges against Mr Denis Warner and the Melbourne Herald, the Editors of all the papers contacted considered the matter sub-judice and would not print the letters.

On his return to Australia I was given a chance to confront Burchett when I was invited to appear as part of a panel interviewing Burchett on a Four Corner's programme of the ABC. Although a serving officer, I risked offical censure to appear on the programme, and travelled to Sydney to do so.

When Burchett learned from the Director of the Programme that one of the panel was an ex-POW, he refused to take part. The ABC dropped me from the panel, but I was given an interview immediately afterwards in which I made it quite clear that in my opinion Burchett's conduct in Korea was indefensible.

As Defence Correspondent of the Advertiser under great provocation from certain sectors of the media, I retaliated by publishing three articles about Burchett, each of them making it clear that I believed him to be a traitor.

I have too, written the chapter on Australian POWs in the Korean War for Volume 2 of the Official History of that war edited by Dr Robert O'Neill.

In that chapter, I made it quite clear that as a soldier I was most disturbed by the fact that successive Governments of both political persuasions had ignored, or failed to comprehend the enormity of Burchett's crime towards Australian POWs.

It may be that this chapter is the cause of the volume being some eighteen months overdue.

When Burchett arrived in Australia on February 27, 1970, Mr Eric Donnelly, Chief Photographer of the Sunday Truth met Burchett in the course of his duties at Brisbane Airport. He publically accused Burchett of being a liar-see Sunday Mail, Adelaide February 28, 1970.

Donnelly had been severely wounded before capture and suffered greatly in those crude conditions; he was fortunate to be evacuated in 'Little Switch' but unfortunate to meet Burchett before being repatriated. He knew the facts.

Donnelly was so incensed about the treatment he was dealt by this fellow journalists that he had to remind the District Committee of the Australian Journalists Association that he had been a financial member of the organisation for twenty-two years, and was surely due some consideration over Burchett of whom he declared 'the word objectivity, impartiality and accuracy are strangers' .

Because citizens of Australia can be libelled with such impunity by their elected representatives I can only appeal to you, to have the record set right. I am not sure of the mechanics, but if the words cannot be expunged from Hansard , I would ask you to have included sufficient of the above and the attachments to ensure that it clearly established that at no time have I been afraid to say to the world at large, that Burchett was a traitor.

He made the point that he did this, of course, well before Mr Burchett unfortunately died. I know Brigadier Greville personally. As a prisoner of war he was in solitary confinement on a number of occasions. On one occasion he was thrown into a packing case left by the Americans. It was a wooden box arrangement measuring about 4 1/2 feet by 3 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet. He told me that he was reasonably happy there because he could see out through the cracks in the wood. However, the North Koreans threw into this confined space with him a South Korean soldier who had had an arm shot off and who had abdominal wounds. Even worse, later on a wounded civilian Korean also had to be accommodated in that small space. Brigadier Greville spent 21 days in that sort of situation so I think he can be excused for feeling very strongly about the fact that Wilfred Burchett during those years went behind enemy lines and tried to coerce Australian prisoners of war into saying that they were being treated very well, the Americans were the aggressors and so on, on the promise that they would be taken out of these degrading prisons and given better accommodation and better food. I think it would be fair to suggest that the feelings of Brigadier Greville plus those of a lot of other POWs would be quite strong against Mr Wilfred Burchett. I thought it a fair thing that I take this opportunity to present Brigadier Greville's case so that the Senate could study its contents. I apologise for delaying the Senate.