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Thursday, 2 June 1960

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade) . - by leave - Earlier to-day, 1 intimated in answer to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) that if circumstances permitted before the House adjourned, I would make a statement concerning the tragedy in Port Phillip Bay in which there was loss of life. There was, of course, great public and parliamentary interest in this tragic incident. In accordance with practice, the Army immediately instituted a court of inquiry into the circumstances. During the time that this was proceeding, and subsequent to its conclusion, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) was asked in Parliament to make a statement on the whole incident. He very correctly then took the stand, as had been done on, unfortunately, numerous occasions before, that he could not do so because the coroner's court in Victoria had by then commenced its inquiry into the incident and it would be improper for him to make a statement before the coronial inquiry had been concluded. Honorable members will not, I am sure, challenge that attitude.

Mr Calwell - We agreed with it, actually.

Mr McEWEN - Yes, the Leader of the Opposition agreed with it. The coroner has now concluded his inquiry and I had hoped that the formal conclusion and the text of the coroner's views would be available. If they had been, they would have formed the basis with the conclusions of the Army court of inquiry, of a statement. I am informed, in reply to inquiries that I have initiated, that the coroner has told the Commonwealth Crown Law authorities that he may not be in a position for at least two or three days to make available the transcript of his inquiry and of his formal conclusion. Therefore, in these circumstances, the position at this moment is that I am not able to make a statement that pays regard to the conclusions of both the Army court of inquiry and the coronial inquiry.

I had told the Leader of the Opposition that if there arose circumstances which prevented me from making a full statement before the Parliament adjourned, I would see to it that the Minister for the Army, having regard to the public and parliamentary interest in the matter, would make an appropriate and full public statement. I give an undertaking that that will be done. This makes it inevitable that the statement of my colleague, the Minister for the Army, will be released to the press before it is made to the Parliament. I immediately assure honorable members that the fact that it has been made, in the first place, outside the Parliament will not be permitted to inhibit in any way such discussions as honorable members may wish to have when the Parliament resumes.

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