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Wednesday, 31 May 1989
Page: 3102

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(12.08) —We have had a long debate this morning on the motion of censure that I moved on behalf of the Opposition:

That the Senate censures Senator Schacht for his conduct in making use in the Senate adjournment debate on Monday May 29 of an illicitly-obtained transcript of a private meeting of Senators and Members and his subsequent destruction of the material.

It would be fair to say that most of the debate from the Australian Labor Party side has involved an attempt to debate issues other than those before us. Senator Schacht set the precedent, which was followed by Senator Robert Ray, of ranging over a whole lot of matters including a motion that was never moved, my qualities and all the rest. All of that is very interesting and no doubt edified Labor senators, but it had nothing to do with the issues raised in the motion.

The simple facts of this matter are-and I assume that no-one would defend what happened with respect to that meeting; not even Senator Schacht or Senator Robert Ray has seen fit to defend it-that the meeting was overheard, perhaps using the sound recording system-who knows?-and no explanation has been forthcoming. Senator Schacht is persisting in a cover-up, which makes the ultimate determination on how this occurred very difficult indeed. As I understand it, no-one is defending the proposition that a group of senators and members, meeting in private in this building, should be subjected to having their conversations illegally or illicitly taped, without their consent, transcribed and made available to others.

I do not think that there has been any serious defence of the proposition that Senator Schacht should be entitled to collude with that sort of activity and use that material in debate. I think it represents, and clearly represents, a threat to the doing of any sensible business in this Parliament. As I said in opening the debate, this building is designed for the use of most modern electronics. Senators and members on both sides of the Parliament have made it clear that they demand from the Presiding Officers the highest possible standards to avoid the interception of their conversations and the illicit interception of their communications. That is clear common ground in this Parliament. Today we are talking about a blatant abuse of this place in which Senator Schacht is implicated up to his neck.

Senator Schacht was invited, in my opening speech, to give some explanation. He made no attempt to do that. There is no innocent explanation. Senator Schacht knows exactly how this transcript came into being. The fact that he has chosen not to disclose it simply indicates the implication of the Australian Labor Party, and it is ridiculous to assume anything other than that this is a Labor Party effort to subvert a group of senators and members, across party lines, who have been trying to come to grips with one of the most delicate policy issues that we have to face.

Senator Schacht tried to divert the argument-and it is interesting how effective this part of his diversion was-to suggest that it was all a matter of taste. I seem to recall that Senator Macklin addressed the question of taste, although his own conclusion in the end was that it was a censurable act. It is not a matter of taste. It has nothing to do with taste. I agree that those matters are not in the eye of the beholder, as I think was said by Senator Schacht. They are certainly in the mouth of the taster. We should not waste the time of the Senate on those matters.

Rather, the point was put quite shortly and well in example form by Senator Stone who spoke in support of the motion. Senator Stone pointed out that no-one here would defend the proposition that anyone could walk into an office which might happen to be empty and help himself to the contents of a desk. That was something that occurred in this place some years ago, and it was the subject of some rather violent parliamentary response and properly should have been.

Senator Stone —A journalist.

Senator CHANEY —I am reminded by Senator Stone that it involved a journalist. I do not think that either Senator Schacht or Senator Robert Ray would suggest that it would be defensible for Senator Schacht to walk into the office of, say, Senator Harradine, and because Senator Harradine happened not to be there and because the record, perhaps of this meeting, might be on his desk, to help himself to it. I think that that was a very good parallel and a simple, graphic example of the fact that, if this building is to operate in any satisfactory way at all, there have to be some standards.

We have had the ludicrous situation where Senator Schacht has, for the second time, apologised to Senator Harradine for not telling him that he intended to speak on the adjournment. Not telling Senator Harradine that he intended to speak on the adjournment has warranted two apologies; the use of an illicitly obtained transcript warrants no apology at all. I suggest that that shows an extraordinary lack of balance on the part of Senator Schacht and either a refusal to face the facts or a determination to put those facts in some sort of odd light.

It is not a matter of taste, as claimed by Senator Schacht. It is a matter of whether there are any standards at all that have to be observed here. There is no innocent explanation of what occurred. Had there been, I am sure that Senator Schacht would have given it to us. He knows that he is protecting Labor Party people who undertook this transcription, and he is deserving of censure.

I turn now to the Australian Democrats and, at risk of again irritating Senator Macklin, I say that he finds it very difficult to avoid going into agreement with any proposition put forward by the coalition in opposition. He did indicate in his speech that he thought that this was a censurable matter. He went on to suggest that the motion should be amended by censuring other activity, and he specifically named Senator Tambling, who has used material which has been leaked to him by officials of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or the Aboriginal Development Commission, as a basis for questioning both during the Estimates committee hearings and during debate in this chamber. In my opening remarks I made it clear that I thought there was a distinction. There is a distinction. It is quite different from a tape recording being made of the private deliberations of people in this place. The truth is, as was said by way of interjection during Senator Macklin's speech, that it has been a part of the political process in this building, and in the old building, and in all parliaments, that that sort of material is used.

I do not think Senator Macklin would deny that members of the Australian Democrats have been enthusiastic users of such material. For example, Senator Janet Powell on a number of occasions has brought forward leaked material, presumably made available from the Public Service, with respect to the scrapping of the community youth support scheme (CYSS). I refer to reports in August 1987 in which Senator Powell described her source as `being as reliable as I can get without a public statement from the Minister'. In June 1988 it became a little clearer, when Senator Powell released a leaked draft Cabinet document outlining the proposed closure of CYSS projects. I do not raise that in some way hostile to Senator Powell. I do not suggest that she is doing anything different from what has been done by numerous senators and members in this place over a long period. I am using Senator Powell as an example because, among the Australian Democrats, I suspect she has been the most vigorous user of such material. In July 1988 she leaked what was described in her press release as `confidential Cabinet documents on child-care which are being considered today by the Federal Cabinet'. Senator Powell used those documents to criticise the Government and to call for policy changes. In the same way she referred to other leaked documents about plans to reduce projects in the field of community employment.

I do not wish to labour the point. The simple reality is that the Australian Democrats, in common with all other political parties in this place-Labor, National, Liberal, or any other party such as the Democratic Labor Party-have had access to material which is confidential and have used it. I believe that the entirely appropriate and proper distinction which is drawn by this Opposition is that if the normal deliberations of senators and members of this place are subject to electronic eavesdropping, however arranged, whether by the planting of a bug or the illicit use of the communications mechanisms throughout this building, we say that is of a quite different nature and kind. It destroys the basis for effective exchange between members of parliament and affects the system.

I reject what was an excellent diversionary speech and an excellent diversionary point by Senator Robert Ray. He said that we are concerned about this matter only because it touches us. The operation of this Parliament happens to be fundamental to the maintenance of democracy and our system of government. If we are not prepared to defend the integrity of the system here, we cannot expect anybody else to do so. We have a particular responsibility, not in the name of self-interest but in the name of being the people who are primarily responsible for the way this place functions. If it is good enough for members of the Labor Party and members of the Opposition to raise the issue of security of communications, as we all have done because it goes to the working of this place, it is good enough for us to show that we object to the sort of behaviour in which Senator Schacht has indulged in the use of this illicit material.

There were endless attempts to draw red herrings into the argument. Senator Bishop was used as an example because she brought into this place a tape recording of a public meeting. How in the world can that be said to relate to the issue we are looking at today, which is the taping of a private discussion between individuals-not even from one party, but across party lines? If this motion is defeated it will be an indication that the Senate is not prepared to impose any standards at all, that it is prepared to let these things run at large.

We do not accept the Democrats' amendment because, as I have tried to indicate in this response, we see the matters which Senator Macklin has tried to bring forward in his amendment as being different in quality and kind from the matters in this motion. We do not see the need for the sort of amendment that has been moved by Senator Harradine, although, were Senator Harradine's amendment to be carried, there would be no reason for us not to vote against the motion. On the speeches which have been made, it is the clear view of the Opposition that there has been a censurable act on the part of Senator Schacht. There is a clearly expressed view by Senator Macklin-and he did not indicate whether he was speaking on behalf of all the Democrats; I suppose we must assume that he was, since he did not--

Senator Macklin —Only for the amendment.

Senator CHANEY —He spoke for them only in putting forward the amendment. On that basis it is clearly the view of the Australian Democrats that what Senator Schacht did was censurable and therefore, whatever the outcome of the divisions that will follow my resumption of my place, Senator Schacht should understand that it is the clear majority view of this place that what he did was improper, wrong and is not to be repeated.

Senator Knowles —He is still laughing about it.

Senator CHANEY —He is laughing. Senator Schacht's incompetence as an individual was demonstrated in the debate here today by the performance of Senator Robert Ray, as against his own lacklustre incapacity to defend his actions. We are not surprised that he was unable to defend his actions because they were indefensible. In closing this debate, I say that the Labor Party is asserting in response that there are no rules at all. That is the simple assertion it is making. If that is its assertion, it is a very sorry day for the Australian Parliament.