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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1991

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(6.38) —Jeremy Bentham used to say that there are two different kinds of nonsense: There is plain, ordinary, common and garden nonsense and there is nonsense on stilts. We have had a classic exposition tonight of nonsense on stilts- the extraordinary suggestion that somehow, sometime and some place I have, it appears, been guilty of aiding and abetting either the commission of a crime or its subsequent concealment, the stealing of Commonwealth Government property. The allegation is really so bizarre as to barely justify a reply. Nonetheless, let me try. It appears that the nub of the allegation is my unquestioned presence at the conference of the Australian Labor Party in November of last year. At that conference there was not just the Minister for Communications, Michael Duffy, Senator Robert Ray or me. There were over 450 other participants with God knows how many Press people and goodness knows how many visitors thronging about.

Now that Senator Messner lets me into the secret, I have a vague recollection, to which I will readily confess, that amid all the paraphernalia of an Australian Labor Party Conference, and I appreciate that Senator Messner's conferences are not nearly as lively as ours, I might have seen peering out from among posters-I will not describe what sorts of posters they were-some material satisfying this description. There was certainly an awful lot of material about Pine Gap. As I recall, there were posters everywhere one looked. It is a common phenomenon at ALP conferences. But I have not more precise recollection than that. I certainly had no knowledge that I can recall then or subsequently of the material in question. I am not even sure to what it is that Senator Messner is referring-some sign, it appears, having been stolen, although it may have been self-evidently of that kind of origin, had I stopped to take any notice of it.

I have no knowledge, nor did I at any stage have any knowledge-I am quite confident about this-of the material in question being the subject of an auction , a raffle or anything else. I certainly was not in the business, nor am I now, of making pedantic distinctions of that kind. Some sort of raffle of that kind may have been going on, along with all the chook raffles, duck raffles, china plate raffles, Bob Hawke bust raffles, and everything else that happens at an ALP conference. I do not know whether the Liberals are still flogging Malcolm Fraser busts or whether they will ever contemplate flogging Andrew Peacock busts . Be that as it may, Senator Messner must be familiar with the kind of surge of activity of this sort that goes on. I have no knowledge whatsoever and certainly no recollection of any such activity.

Since Senator Messner is keen to make a production number of it, I repeat, as I said yesterday in completely good faith, that I am perfectly happy to follow up the matter with the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) and find out from him what the progress of the investigation has been. But I really think that there are matters of larger moment that ought to be occupying the honourable senator's time. He seems utterly unable to appreciate, given his own preoccupation with these things, that someone attending a conference of that kind, which was one of very considerable moment, might just conceivably have had his mind on things other than what sorts of decorations might have been around the hall. I appreciate that it has been something of a triumphant-

Senator Messner —So long as you tell my constituent this, that is all right.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I appreciate that Senator Messner feels that he has had something of a forensic triumph here this evening. I am certainly happy enough to accommodate him in his concern that there should not be offences overtly committed against Commonwealth law and certainly that no comfort should be given to those who commit such offences, for whatever motivation. I have no desire to conceal the commission of such an offence, if that did, indeed, occur, or any subsequent events in relation to it. I shall do my best to find out what, if anything, the police have been able to find out and notify Senator Messner accordingly.