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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 289

Senator CHIPP —Did the Minister for Veterans' Affairs undertake to table all documents relating to the report of the Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam? Is there in existence a letter to him from the Royal Commission dealing with the proposed $40,000 five-week publicity campaign to disseminate information about the Commission's findings and with the role of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia in that campaign? If so, in accordance with his undertaking will the Minister table this complete letter before 4 p.m. today?

Senator GIETZELT —In my file dealing with the Royal Commission on chemical agents in Vietnam I have a confidential letter from Mr Justice Evatt. I am somewhat at a loss to know whether such a confidential letter should be tabled in the Parliament. It seeks to have my approval of the suggestion that Mr Phil Thompson, the National President of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, should be involved in highlighting the good news of the Royal Commission. I did not agree to that request because, as I think honourable senators, whatever their views, would appreciate, the Vietnam Veterans Association has held a very strong view about the involvement of its members in the war and the likelihood that their health was affected by exposure to chemical agents.

I did not want to put Mr Thompson in a position where he would be employed by the Commission or by the Government in a publicity campaign in the ensuing weeks which I felt would compromise him and place him in a very invidious position with his own membership. In those circumstances, I believed that I had an obligation to protect him from the suggestion that had been made by the Royal Commissioner. However, as the honourable senator has made such a request-had it not been a confidential letter, I would not have hesitated in doing it-I will very seriously consider the matter and seek some advice on it. If the advice is favourable I will table the letter.

Senator CHIPP —I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his answer. I remind him that he undertook to table all the documents. I find it extraordinary that he has a document which he now says is confidential. Will he please, among other people he consults, consult the Royal Commissioner, to get permission to table that document in the Parliament? I suggest to the Minister that he note that unless overwhelming reasons are given as to why that document should not be tabled, further action will be taken by my Party to have that document tabled and made public.

Senator GIETZELT —I will certainly discuss the matter with the Royal Commissioner.