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Friday, 30 March 1984
Page: 968

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

We have been given, as the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) described it, a short statement, and that is a matter about which we might not complain, given the relatively short notice that the Attorney has had about this matter. But we certainly do complain about the statement of the Attorney-General that what he has said is as much as the Government proposes to say about this issue. I do not believe that the people of Australia, let alone the Parliament of Australia, are going to allow the Government to take the view that it can say as little as has just been said by the Attorney-General. This is a matter of very great seriousness which touches upon Australia's national security and some fundamental areas of policy which go to that national security.

We might be excused for regarding this as something which one would almost forgive a government, if it were the sort of mistake that was made about a minor issue of policy, if it were something that did not go to such substantial issues . We might be less condemnatory if it were the first example of this sort of leak from this Government. But, of course, it is not the first example of this sort of leak from this Government. Although the Government, we understand, told the United States of America that Mr Toohey's sources had been closed off, it is quite clear that Mr Toohey does have access to documents of a sort that certainly should not be falling off the backs of trucks in the way that it is clear documents are falling off the backs of trucks.

Senator Primmer —It happened under your Government. What are you talking about?

Senator CHANEY —Let me remind the Senate, and in particular those honourable senators opposite who are now interjecting, that less than a year ago we had the first serious security leak from this Government, by Mr Young. Let me remind the Senate that complaints about what Mr Young did are not matters of opposition carping about this Government. They are matters that have been dealt with by a judicial inquiry, a royal commission established by this Government, which has made it quite clear that Mr Young was seriously at fault when, as a Minister of this Government, he breached the security requirements that were placed on him. Let me remind the Senate of what was said by the judge who was appointed by this Government to examine those matters. I refer to the report of the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies, specifically to the report on terms of reference (c) of December 1983. The judge said in that case:

I am also of the view that the potential, rather than the actual, damage to the national security is what must be considered in determining impropriety.

In respect of Mr Young he said:

. . . there was, in my opinion, a real risk that significant damage could have resulted from the disclosures.

Later, talking about the potential consequences of the loose lips of Mr Young, he said:

In my opinion these potential consequences gave rise to a real danger of significant damage to national security.

He said it was relevant to consider the circumstances, but that whilst Mr Young was simply helping an old friend, that did not 'in my opinion, diminish what I regard as the impropriety of the disclosures'. I quote from a little later in the same paragraph:

I have concluded that, notwithstanding this short Ministerial experience, it should have been apparent to Mr Young that he should not make the disclosures.

A little later in the report he said:

. . . my conclusion is that the disclosures by Mr Young to Mr Walsh on 21 April 1983 were both unauthorised and improper.

Although Mr Young is now back in the Ministry and apparently now has the full approbation of this Government, I remind the Senate that on the findings of Mr Justice Hope there was a very significant breach of the security requirements placed on a Minister of this Government. Now we are being told by the Attorney- General that the statement that he gave us is as much as the Government proposes to say, on a matter which goes to our relations with the United States, on a matter which goes to our defence policy, a matter that goes to our attitude to nuclear arms and to possible breaches of obligations under the Treaty on the Non -Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. That is not a tenable position for the Government to adopt. It has greater responsibilities than that.

I suggest to the Government that it will be required by its own supporters and by the factions of the Left, Centre-Left and all the various groupings that make up the Government Party, to give some better explanations to the Caucus and to those factions than it has given to the Parliament today, and this Parliament is not going to be treated more cheaply than the Government will have to treat its own Caucus and its supporters. I give notice to the Government that we do not believe that the early and inadequate explanation which has been given by the Attorney-General is at all sufficient. In fact, the Attorney-General has followed the technique that he followed in respect of other issues that have been before this Parliament, with regard to the Age tapes. He said: 'Well, we do not authenticate this document'. He then went on to explain it in terms that make it quite clear that though the Government is not authenticating every word it is authenticating the fact that such a document exists, that such a document has been before the Cabinet, and most critically, that that document now represents the action plan on which officials of this Government are now required to work.

What the Attorney-General said was that the document that had been considered had been 'endorsed by way of guidance'. That is precisely the sort of suggestion that is made by the National Times:That this is a document which will provide a guidance for the officials who work on behalf of this Government in the development and the conduct of policies that are fundamental to the interests of this country. We cannot accept as satisfactory the very brief explanation given by the Attorney-General.

We sought, and the Australian Democrats agreed to include in their motion a reference to the fact that the Government should also advise us on the steps that have been taken to keep the document secure. As I have indicated already, this is not the first security breach by the Hawke Government.The fact is that the Hawke Government stands convicted by its own inquiry of a very significant breach of the requirements that are placed on the Government to defend national security. Now we are faced with some of what ought to be its most closely held documents being leaked to a national newspaper. I think the public is entitled to an explanation as to what security measures have been taken by the Government to try to protect this sort of material. We have had no explanation so far, but we do demand one.

The Opposition has had as little time as the Attorney-General had to examine the matters that have surfaced over the past few hours. Of course the Attorney- General had the advantage of having access to the documents at the time they were considered in Perth, and so on. We would say that the release of these documents indicates that there has been a serious national security leak of a kind that is, if anything, more serious than the leak that gave rise to the earlier royal commission. It is a matter that goes to our relationships with our nearest neighbours and our most powerful allies. It is an absolute absurdity to think that a few paragraphs is sufficient government response. This is a document which has the potential to damage Australia's relationships with its ANZUS allies and with the countries to our near north.

We would say that the actions of the Hawke Labor Government in foreign affairs have already damaged our relations internationally, and the fact that the document refers to the possible need for an independent nuclear deterrent is as good an example as one will get of the effects which Labor's foreign policy will have. We need to know the status of this document, though we have had some explanation of that from the Attorney-General; whether it has been endorsed by the Cabinet, as claimed by the National Times. It would appear to have been confirmed by the Attorney-General that it has been endorsed by way of guidance, and that it is in fact a relevant action document for senior public servants working for this Government. We need to know what action the Government is taking to investigate this very serious leak, and we need to know what action was taken before the leak occurred to prevent documents of this sort from being dealt with. It is quite clear many more copies of this document have been circulated than would be prudent. It would appear that the Government has been relatively cavalier in its handling of this material. This is further evidence of the Government's inability to keep secrets and shows its lack of proper concern for national security.

I am sure that the Senate will wish to have another opportunity to debate this matter when the Attorney-General reports back with the further details which have been sought by this motion and on which he has undertaken to make inquiries . On behalf of the Opposition, I express our profound concern at this latest example of Government incompetence, incompetence in dealing with national security and incompetence on the part of the Minister for Defence of this country, demonstrated as recently as yesterday when he did not even reply to the serious matters raised in the House of Representatives in a debate on a matter of public importance. I profess our profound dissatisfaction with the level of explanation given so far and say that we will demand a far better accounting in the national interest in the very near future.