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Thursday, 7 July 1949

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) has undoubtedly been through a great personal ordeal. The Government showed him the consideration of appointing a royal commission to investigate the charges that were made against his good name, and the Parliament has extended to him the indulgence of permitting him to occupy 75 minutes of its valuable time in placing his views before it. In those circumstances, the Minister may well feel that he has been shown a consideration that other members of the Parliament whose characters have been attacked from time to time have sought in vain. He has been shown a consideration that the Government was not prepared to extend, for example, to the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann), who was the subject of a vicious attack in this Parliament a few weeks ago. This has been an unsavoury business. It has not been sweetened by the hysterical harangue to which we have listened for 75 minutes. I consider that the Minister would have served himself and the Parliament more wisely had he allowed the matter to rest upon the calm, temperate and judicial language of the report of the royal commissioner, but he has chosen to do otherwise. He has not been content with explaining his own position. He has ineluded in his statement allegations against honorable members on this side of the House and persons outside the House who are not in a position to defend themselves.

I have risen mainly because I received a mention in despatches very early in the course of the Minister's speech. I desire to say something about that matter and then to make some general observations about two other matters, one of which was present before the Minister spoke and the other of which has arisen from his remarks. The honorable gentleman saw fit to make an attack upon me. The only active part that I have played in this affair has been to raise in the Parliament, in accordance with my public duty as I saw it, a matter that had not then been brought to the attention of the royal commissioner, that is, the whereabouts of a Mr. Ainslie St. Aubyn Kingsford. I shall inform the House of the background to the questions that I asked in February of this year. At that time there had been two court investigations of this matter. One was the trial .of Garden for forgery and the other was the trial of two Gardens, Parer and Farrell for conspiracy. I think that I am stating the position fairly when I say that in each of those cases the jury, by its verdict, expressed its doubt of the Minister's version of the affair. In the first case, although the jury found Garden to be guilty of forgery, it was not prepared to accept the evidence of the Minister. In the conspiracy case, the accused persons were acquitted. In that case the prosecuting council made it very clear that the jury had to choose whether it accepted the evidence of the Minister or the evidence of the accused. I do not say that the jury, by acquitting the accused, said that it did not accept the evidence of the

Minister, but it showed quite clearly that, in its view there was some doubt about where the truth resided. Therefore it acquitted those who had been charged with a criminal offence. It was against that background that the Opposition had to consider this matter.

The terms of reference of the royal commission were not discussed with the Opposition. That was a distinct departure from the practice of the Parliament This is not the first time that the Minister has been involved in a royal commission. When a royal commission was appointed to examine the honorable gentleman's " Brisbane line " allegations, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, in informing the House of the terms of reference of the commission, said that in accordance with practice they had been agreed upon in consultation with representatives of the Opposition parties. That was not done in this instance. When the Parliament assembled early in this year honorable members were aware that in two sets of legal proceedings there had been quite clearly a refusal by juries to express a definite view of the credibility of the Minister, and also that the terms of reference of the royal commission had been determined by the Government without any reference to the Opposition. I considered that the disappearance of Mr. Ainslie St. Aubyn Kingsford, whatever the explanation of it might be, was a matter that came within the scope of the inquiry by the royal commission. Therefore, I sought the first convenient opportunity to ask the Government whether it had made any inquiries into the matter and, if it had done so, what was the result of those inquiries. I asked further whether, if the Government considered that some examination of the matter should be made by the royal commissioner, his terms of reference gave him the opportunity to do so. I was by no means satisfied with the replies that I received, and I raised the matter temperately, and I hope fairly, in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House on the 10th February of this year. The Minister has seen fit to attack me for the action that I took. He has said that I implied that he had committed on act of murder. My remarks are on record.

What was the result to the action that I took in the Parliament in the exercise of my sense of responsibility? When the royal commission met again I was the subject of a scurrilous and offensive attack by counsel for the Minister, Mr. Miller, K.C, who completely misrepresented what I had said to the Parliament. He made charges against me that were obviously untrue, as an examination of Hansard will prove. Mr. Miller, with a knowledge of my professional status, could not have spoken in the terms in which he did speak unless he had been prompted by the Minister to do so. He made these remarks concerning me -

.   . may I say publicly that Mr. Holt's statement is based upon two gross distortions of fact.

He set out then to recite what he alleged to be gross distortions of fact. He continued -

I make that public statement, Your Honour, because it does seem to me, with all due respects to the privileges of the House, that it was a grossly wrong thing for. a solicitor to make such misstatements of fact at the very time when Your Honour is investigating these important matters.

If what he had to say had been true there might have been something behind the charges that he made. When the Parliament met I made a personal explanation in this House that clearly "blew out" the allegations that he had made against me. I went further than that. I posted to the royal commissioner the Hansard extracts of what I had said on the earlier occasion and of my personal explanation, which completely covered the matter. I had hoped that if the counsel representing the Minister, or the Minister himself, had any sense of fairness in the matter, that some reference to my explanation, in view of the fact that the charges had been made publicly about me before the royal commissioner and had been widely reported, would have been made before the royal commission. However, for reasons that the royal commissioner perhaps could explain he did not see fit to mention them. In fact, I have not even received the courtesy of a formal acknowledgement of my correspondence that accompanied the extracts of my first statement and of my personal explanation. That, of itself, is a minor matter. I am able to take care of myself in this place when charges may be levelled against me. Rut I want to say to the Minister that those members of the Opposition against whom he has levelled his attack to-night have all of them, I am quite sure, acted from a sense of their public responsibility in connexion with such matters. Here was a matter about which the public was entitled to have the facts. It was a matter of great importance, and we on this side of the House shall not be dissuaded or intimidated in the carrying out of what we regard as our duty in relation to such matters by the kind of attack to which we have been subjected to-night.

The matter of Mr. Ainslie St. Aubyn Kingsford remains a mystery. The missing Mr. Kingsford disappeared at the same time as it was learned that the safe deposit box of the Minister was to be examined. To this day there has not been any satisfactory explanation of why he disappeared. I say frankly that it was with some surprise that honorable members on this side of the House learned of the existence of the Minister's safe deposit box. After what we had heard the Minister say in this place over a period of years against those who, by some means or other, had collected worldly possessions, we were astonished, to say the least, that he found it necessary to have a safe deposit box in which to place his valuables or private papers. That was particularly so because the safe deposit box was in the Bank of New South Wales, a capitalist institution, and not in the Commonwealth Bank, to which the Government professes such devotion. However, Kingsford's disappearance remains a mystery. I do not consider that the statement in the royal commissioner's report concerning it clear the mystery up to any degree. The royal commissioner said that Kingsford was in financial trouble and that he had disappeared on account of the financial trouble. There, so far a3 the royal commissioner is concerned, the matter ends. I do not propose to pursue it any further.

The general observation that I want to make is that this unsavoury matter has been brought upon the Minister's own head as the royal commissioner's report very clearly reveals, because of his own association over a period of years and in conditions of personal intimacy with a certain man who has been utterly discredited and is now serving a term of imprisonment. I think it is worth making some reference to what the royal commissioner said about Garden in his report. In giving a brief biographical sketch of Garden, he mentioned, amongst other things, that in 1919 Garden formed the Australian Communist party, and, in 1922, having been elected a member of the world' executive of the Communist party, he attended a conference of the party in Moscow. It was brought out in evidence at one of the (proceedings that at the time that his personal effects were examined he still held the ticket of membership of the Communist party in Australia. This is the man, who, as a result of influence exercised by the Minister, had a position specially created for him in the Commonwealth Public Service. This is the man who was retained in a position of confidence and close association by the Minister and who, as secretary of the Labour party branch in the electorate that the Minister represents, had access to the Minister and from time to time dealt with constituency matters at the Minister's request. This is the man who, after the Minister ceased to be Minister for Labour and National Service, and after the then Minister for Labour and National Service had apparently come to the conclusion that his retention as liaison officer was unnecessary, was retained, partly, at any rate, as a result of representations made by the Minister for External Territories in the Commonwealth Public Service. He was not removed to quarters or offices connected with the Department of Labour and National Service, but was left in a room occupied by the Department of Transport, and made a practice of seeing the Minister almost daily in the most intimate fashion. So when we find that as a result of this association and of the proximity in which Garden found himself to the Minister, with the resultant accessibility to confidential documents and ministerial notepaper, and through his association with the Minister's staff, he was able to perpetrate this fraud, we must say, in exercising our responsibility in this place, that the Minister, by gross negligence and gross neglect, by a failure to either perceive the character of the man with whom he was dealing, or, knowing it, by remaining in close and intimate contact with him, has brought himself into this predicament in which he has floundered for the last twelve months or so. I believe that goes to the whole root of this matter.

I do not propose to say anything about the Minister's other associations that were revealed during the trial. The royal commissioner has spoken, and I am prepared to let the matter rest there. But one moral at least that comes from both the proceedings of the royal commission and the speech that we have heard from the Minister to-night is that men in this Parliament are particularly vulnerable to attack in respect of their reputation. It takes moral courage for a man, knowing what awaits him, to offer himself for service in this Parliament. It takes moral courage of a high order for a man to get up, as honorable members on this side of the House have done in the exercise of their duty, and endeavour to sift these matters without shirking the charges and attacks that may viciously or otherwise be made against them. Another thing that has been made clear in this matter is the vulnerability of public men to attacks, either inside or outside the Parliament, from those who find' it easy to smear or destroy in the cowardly fashion that rumour provides for them. I say to the Minister that I had hoped that this matter would have served as something of a lesson to him. There is no man in all my experience in this Parliament who has done more than he has done to peddle the poison of personal defamation. There is no man in this place who has so callously, recklessly and viciously attacked the reputations and characters of honorable members sitting opposite to him in the Parliament, and also of men outside who have no opportunity to defend themselves. But I say that if he, for once, has had to taste something of the bitter brew that he has ladled out in the Parliament so recklessly to so many others in the past, it is evidence that there is a rough nemesis which exercises a just toll. I had hoped, as I have said, that this would have proved to be a lesson to him. But he has seen fit to attack honorable members on this side of the House. I wonder what sort of charges and attacks would have been levelled against me or any of my colleagues had' the Minister been placed in a position to challenge our actions and to deal with us as so often in the past he has dealt with every honorable member who has opposed him in this Parliament. He should be grateful to honorable members on this side of the House for the temperance and restraint that they have disclosed in dealing with this matter.

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - They could not do anything else.

Mr HOLT - I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service not to "buy" into this argument.

Mr Holloway - Is the honorable gentleman not satisfied with the report?

Mr HOLT - I have accepted the royal commissioner's report. I have not challenged it. At no stage of my speech to-night have I gone behind it.

Mr Holloway - The honorable gentleman has refrained from doing so very grudgingly.

Mr HOLT - I do not know why the Minister should say that. Does he expect me to quietly accept the sort of charge that the Minister for External Territories has levelled against me? I am here to defend myself as well as any other men who may be so attacked, and to exercise the responsibility that I have as a member of this Parliament. I have not said anything more than the bare minimum that the occasion demands.

The last matter that I shall deal with was not brought before this Parliament at any earlier stage than during the speech made by the Minister for External Territories to-night. One might reasonably have hoped that, out of the ordeal that he has experienced and from his own feeling of victimization and realization that he was charged unjustly and falsely, the Minister would have learnt some restraint and care in relation to the character of others. Nevertheless, in the last few minutes of the lengthy period that an indulgent House allowed him to-night, he saw fit to embark upon a wild and reckless campaign of character assassination against a number of people who have no opportunity to defend themselves in this place. Many of those persons are unknown to me; I had not heard of them previously. But one of them is known to me. He is Mr. Vernon Treatt, the Leader of the Liberal party in the Parliament of New South Wales. Mr. Treatt was selected as a Rhodes scholar to represent Australia. He gave valiant military service to this country and earned the Military Medal. He was chosen as the leader of his political party in New South Wales. He is a man of the utmost integrity, whose character nobody should stoop for a moment to assail. Yet the Minister uttered the wild charge that he had lent himself to some process for the collection of funds in some sort of conspiracy to attack the Minister. I give the lie back in the teeth of the Minister. We in this House who know Mr. Vernon Treatt and the members of the Parliament of New South Wales, including those who are opposed to him politically, know just how much weight to attach to the charges that have been made against him. There is a lesson in this experience for the Parliament. Many of us have learned it, and I had hoped that the Minister would do likewise. He has had a pretty fair run in this Parliament in making charges against other people. There is scarcely a man who has been a member of this House for any length of time who has not felt the lash of his tongue. Many honorable members, and their families, have suffered as the result of the reckless and damaging charges that have been made by him. If the Minister has had his share of public rumour, criticism and comment, then he has bought it by his conduct in this place. He has had a bitter lesson. Let us hope that he will benefit from it and will put it into practice in the future service that he gives in this Parliament.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Scully) adjourned.

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