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Wednesday, 14 December 1983
Page: 3742

Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE — I direct a question to the Attorney-General, as Minister representing the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I again refer the Attorney to the statement on yesterday's AM program by the Minister for Defence, Mr Scholes:

But with regard to the Invincible, the British Government advised us that it would not be taking up the offer of docking in Sydney.

I ask: Has the Attorney-General checked with Mr Scholes that he used these words and, if he has confirmed them, is the Attorney still somewhat surprised, as he said yesterday he would be, to learn that such an offer had been made? When was the offer put to the British Royal Navy, at what level was it put, what were its terms and conditions, and when and why did the British High Commissioner intervene? Finally, in view of Mr Scholes's further statement on AM that the matter had been under constant discussion with officials at the Department of Defence and Navy, will he table all relevant signals, correspondence or records of conversations so that the confusion can be cleared up?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have discussed the matter in question with the Minister for Defence, Mr Scholes, since yesterday. He advises me that although he cannot disagree with the tape recording and transcript of the AM program yesterday, which does indicate that he used the word 'offer'-'offer of docking in Sydney'- that was not the word he meant to employ, because a more appropriate word, although he readily concedes that it is not one he used on the occasion, was ' option'. 'Would not be taking up the option of docking' is really what he meant to say. There is nothing elsewhere in the text of his answer which suggests that there was anything in the nature of an offer and certainly Mr Scholes has consistently denied that any such description would be appropriate to the exchanges and discussions which did take place between Australian and British authorities. I will refer to the Minister the question as to what, if anything, he might be prepared to table so far as documentation relating to those discussions is concerned. I would be doubtful, given the nature of it, that it would be appropriate for him to do so, consistent with the kinds of freedom of information principles that have been so vigorously and noisily espoused by honourable senators opposite.