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Tuesday, 13 December 1983
Page: 3649

Senator MISSEN —by leave-I claim to have been misrepresented and misreported. I make this statement because I have been publicly misrepresented in an article which appeared in the Age newspaper on 10 December 1983. I have made copies of it available to honourable senators so they will know what I am speaking about, and I seek leave to have a copy of this short Age article incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The article read as follows-

Use public cash for poll: MP


CANBERRA.-Public funding, an established part of campaigns in the United States, may be used for the first time in Australia in February.

A Victorian Liberal, Senator Missen, yesterday suggested that public funding could be the way to resolve a Senate confrontation that has paralysed Government plans for television and radio advertising for the Constitutional referendums.

Under the system of public funding at elections, political parties receive a sum of taxpayers' money in proportion with their support at the previous election.

Applied to the five Constitutional changes proposed on 25 February, the Liberal , Labor, National and Democrat parties and Independent Senator Harradine, would divide up an agreed amount. Each would be free to promote the ''Yes'' or ''No'' case or both on the air and through television.

Pressure of other business yesterday led to the deferment until next week of the bill which would have authorised TV and radio expenditure for the ''Yes'' case only, if the Government's original plan had passed through Parliament.

Earlier this week, the Opposition and the Democrats amended the bill to disallow this spending which they said was partisan.

The Missen proposal is believed to appeal to the Attorney-General, Senator Evans, although he has made no public response to it.

Parliament last week passed legislation guaranteeing that public funding of political parties will occur at the next Federal election.

Still the most likely solution for the referendum advertising appears to be the equal spending of a specified amount-probably not much more than $500,000-on electronic media promotion of all the arguments for and against the proposals. That compromise was worked out by the Democrats and the Government on Thursday.

It is not known whether the Liberal Party would back Senator Missen's suggestion but the Democrat Senator Macklin said in Brisbane last night it had the advantage of making public funding common to all Australian polls.

But he said he could not see how it would achieve equity. ''There could very well be a decisive lack of balance. It's difficult to know which way it would go but the 'No' case could be massively disadvantaged.''

Senator MISSEN —I thank the Senate. The article contains a number of misrepresentations that concern me. Even the heading of the article, 'Use public cash for poll: MP' is incorrect. I at no stage proposed the use of public moneys . This was a decision by the Government and any comment I have made is only as to the distribution which might be made of such money. The facts, Mr President, are as follows: Early on Friday morning I had a casual conversation, by chance, with Senator Macklin and Senator Mason of the Australian Democrats outside my door in a corridor of this building. It was at this time that Senator Macklin informed me that there had been negotiations the previous evening between the Australian Democrats and the Australian Labor Party involving, as I understood it, the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke , and that as a result of those negotiations, the amount of $1,250,000.00, which the Attorney had earlier disclosed was to be used for the promotion of the Yes case in the referendum campaigns in February 1984, was now to be divided equally between the Yes and No advocates. The precise amount of $1,250,000.00 was not mentioned in this conversation although I understood it to be the same amount that Senator Macklin was speaking about.

This was the first I had heard of this arrangement and the only comments I made to Senator Macklin then or in our later conversation were that it would no doubt reduce the controversy, but it would be a somewhat unfair division because surely some part of the moneys should go to the Opposition parties, who have taken a stand on the referendum questions and will be campaigning on the referendum, and also to the Australian Democrats. I emphasise that this was a casual private conversation in the corridors and at no time did I make any public statement on the matter. I informed my Senate leader, Senator Chaney, of the information which I had just heard. He made inquiries and I was informed later that the Prime Minister's office denied any knowledge of this arrangement and my leaders had therefore assumed it to be a furphy. A short time later I happened to meet with Senator Macklin again in the corridor and told him that I understood that there was no truth in this proposal. He strongly reaffirmed it and gave me some detail about it. He said that the Government was preparing documents to cover it.

It appears that, later in the day, he conveyed my remarks to some representative of the Age newspaper, giving a clear impression, as honourable senators will see from the article, that I had made some public statement on the subject. This was not true. Furthermore, I made no reference in my conversation to public funding or giving any consideration to the new law in respect of public funding, which applies to elections. I would not have considered that law as directly appropriate to referenda campaigns, because the public funding arrangements are based upon first preference votes of candidates and are not, therefore, easily transferrable to the referenda proposals. The statement in the Age indicates that the so-called 'Missen proposal', which was a casual remark made in private conversation in the corridors, was some reference to the public funding arrangements and apparently the article makes no reference to my suggestion that the other parties as well as the No advocates should receive some funding to assist in campaigning if this were to be done at all. I want to emphasise that at no stage did the Age newspaper or any of its representatives speak to me or apparently endeavour in any way to communicate with me to ascertain whether I had made any statement or what was the nature of it. It will further be observed that the article reports as follows:

The Missen proposal is believed to appeal to the Attorney-General, Senator Evans, although he has made no public response to it.

It should also have said that the so-called Missen proposal 'is believed to appeal to Senator Missen, although he has made no public comment on it'.

It will be further observed from the article that Senator Macklin, having not only misconceived my comment, goes on to claim that he could not see how it could achieve equity. He said:

It's difficult to know which way it would go but the 'No' case could be massively disadvantaged.

The proposal which he puts forward as the Missen proposal is one which apparently does not make any provision for financial assistance to No case advocates and is quite contrary to the comment which I made. I must say, Mr President, that I do deplore the misuse of private and casual conversation in this way by both Senator Macklin and the Age newspaper. I can conclude only that it was designed to cause mischief in the Opposition parties. I might say that I do think there could be sensible arrangements whereby moneys could be provided for all parties and groups in the Parliament that desire fully to inform the electors about referenda proposals, but the details of any such proposal have not been considered by me.