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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1364

Senator ROBERTSON(6.50) —I rise briefly on the adjournment to deal with a matter which is causing me some concern. I draw the Senate's attention to a paragraph in the Canberra Times today under the heading `Newspaper raid'. The article reads:

DARWIN: Police have raided the offices of Darwin's only daily newspaper, the Northern Territory News, in search of a leaked confidential government document about the Aboriginal title to Ayers Rock.

The police investigation was authorised by the Public Service Commissioner after the document was used as the basis for a report in Saturday's edition of the paper.

The background very briefly is that Dr Anthony Thomas, who is the head of the Northern Territory Conservation Commission, prepared a confidential report for the Northern Territory Government on Uluru, Ayers Rock. Dr Thomas recommended as part of this report that the Northern Territory Government should support and be seen to support Aboriginal ownership. I quote from the document:

Territory opposition to Aboriginal title would be a reversal of previous position, would alienate the Aborigines and their advisers and would be exploited by other parties.

The report says in a latter part:

The Commonwealth legally owns and controls Uluru.

The report then went on to advise the Minister to take certain action and refrain from other action. The article from which I have quoted was published in the Northern Territory News on Saturday 12 October, last Saturday. It is an article which is embarrassing to Chief Minister Tuxworth, who is at present conducting a campaign alleged to cost $300,000 to condemn the handover of Ayers Rock to its traditional owners-a campaign which is, I see, unsuccessful and certainly wasteful of public funds. I am not concerned about that aspect of it.

Dr Keith Fleming, who is the newly appointed Public Service Commissioner in the Northern Territory, initiated police inquiries to trace the source of the `leak'. I am referring to the document on which the article was based, the document supplied obviously by someone to the Northern Territory News. On questioning, Dr Fleming took full responsibility for initiating the police investigation but indicated that Chief Minister Tuxworth had not objected, rather interestingly, and again I quote the article, `over drinks on Monday'. Quite clearly the matter was discussed in a social situation and Chief Minister Tuxworth had no objection to that action being taken.

The journalist claimed when he was spoken to that the police had stood over him and tried to force him to reveal the source of the document. When I drafted a notice of motion on this matter and gave notice of it this morning I made an error. I had been advised that the police had rifled his desk; in other words, had actually opened a drawer of his desk and looked for some material. I apologise for this because my latter advice is that the police did not open a drawer in the desk to look for the document, but certainly in what the journalist claimed to be stand-over tactics they demanded to know from where the journalist had received the document. I make the point that the police had no search warrant to look for the document and no warrant to make an investigation of the sort that was carried out.

Again, that is not the matter that I am raising. It seems to me that the matter under discussion is either for the police or the public service. I suggest that it cannot be both. We have no place for jackboot tactics in the Northern Territory or in any other part of Australia. Let me make it quite clear that I do not support the leaking of documents. As a former public servant I deplore such behaviour. However, I must condemn the tactics adopted in this case to get the source of the document. I think it is generally accepted by those of us who sit around this chamber and those who work in the Press Gallery and in other places that journalists do not reveal sources of documents. Many journalists have been prepared to go to gaol rather than reveal the source of their documents.

I have no reason to push the case of the Northern Territory News. As I have indicated in this place on a number of occasions, the Northern Territory News is certainly no supporter of the Labor Party, but this is a matter of principle and I think that the principle is one that concerns us here. I am ashamed that my Territory-the Northern Territory-is beginning to look more and more like a banana republic or something worse. I trust that we will see no more examples like this from a government which I have to say-and I make this in no political sense but as a Territorian, and I am proud to be one-has politicised the public service, which is most unfortunate, and which I believe has brought discredit on the institution of parliament, which is something of concern to us all here.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 6.56 p.m.