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Wednesday, 25 February 1959


Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I would not have spoken on this matter had it not been for the remarks made by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight). He states that the Labour party is afraid to be represented on the Foreign Affairs Committee because of some split on foreign policy within the party. It is very nice to hear expressed the hallucinations of some honorable members opposite. I should like to say as a member of the Labour party that when the proposal for Labour party representation on the committee first came before our party the decision made was made because, first, the only foreign affairs matters with which the committee could really deal were to be those referred to it by the Minister and, secondly, because anything dealt with by the committee was to be absolutely secret and would not be communicable to other members of the Labour party. We felt as a party that, if we were to elect representatives to the Foreign Affairs Committee, they should be permitted to report to the party anything that they thought it was desirable that we, as an Opposition, should know.

The Minister is still of the opinion that any information given to the committee must not go back to a party, whether it be a Government party or the Opposition party. We do not agree with the Minister and honorable members opposite that the Parliament would be better informed if a few members had access to certain information which they were not permitted to pass on to other members. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has put the position clearly. If the members of the committee were free to convey information to other honorable members, we would join it. On previous occasions when this matter has been raised, honorable members opposite have questioned whether Opposition members should be permitted to join the committee. They have said, " Some honorable members opposite are Communists or ' fellow travellers ', and if they heard the information that is made available to the committee, it might not be to the advantage of Australia ". So long as Government supporters have the idea that Opposition members would be traitors to the best interests of Australia, we do not want to be associated with the committee.

I agree that committees of the Parliament should consider the details of various matters. We know very well that the Minister cannot place some matters before Parliament and have them debated in the ordinary way. But they can be referred to a committee of honorable members who can, as a body, put in the time to deal with them. If the Minister would view the problem in that broad sense in which we view it, this committee could become a very valuable one. I do not suggest that whatever the Minister put to the committee should be given to the newspapers or to the public generally. Many matters could be very easily misconstrued and put to the public, through the press, in a way that could do much damage. But for goodness' sake do not ask members of the Opposition to serve on a committee that is constituted in the way that this committee is.

I ask honorable members opposite not to continue with the idea that this party is impotent. I think honorable members, particularly those who have been here in previous Parliaments, will agree that a party decision on either side of the House is usually observed very faithfully by all members of that party. We see that when a division is taken. On few occasions since this Government has been in office have Government supporters voted against a measure introduced by it. From time to time we see statements in the press that back-benchers, as they are termed, are opposed to what is being done. We see reports of differences of opinion in the Ministry and the difficulties that have been experienced in reaching a final decision. But when a vote is taken in the House, honorable members follow the decision of their party. I know what the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said on one occasion to, I think, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). I know that threats have been made that, if certain honorable members were not prepared to stick by the Government, they would have to have a new government, or something to that effect. We expect honorable members to stand by the decision made by the party.

So, on this matter, when we say that we will not serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee as it is at present constituted, we are carrying out the decision of our party, and 1 hope that we will be able to continue to do so.

Honorable members on the other side of the House talk about linking up with the D.L.P., as the honorable member for Lilley did. I say, for goodness' sake keep the D.L.P. out of this business altogether. I thought we had had enough comment about communism and the D.L.P. thrown at us by honorable members opposite. The Government has a pretty big majority and, on the vote of the people, has the right to put forward the legislation that it wants to introduce. We have the right to criticize it and to vote against it. The Government has the numbers to pass any legislation, and its supporters do not need to draw these red herrings across the trail, unless it is done for an ulterior motive, such as influencing a State election. Apart from that, I cannot see why Government supporters want to bring up these matters at the present time.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has correctly stated our objections to this committee. I shall not go into his criticisms of the Minister. That is his own affair. He has put our views on the matter and in my way I have endeavoured to make our position as clear as possible.







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