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Tuesday, 31 October 1967

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - Mr Speaker, I move:

That this House expresses its want of confidence in the Government because of the untrue and misleading information given by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Air in relation to the use of the VIP flight.

This is as serious a motion as could be moved in any legislature. It goes to the basis of responsible government. If Parliament cannot rely on the veracity and credibility of information which it seeks from the Government and which the Government gives, the whole fabric of parliamentary democracy and of responsible government is destroyed. This motion is so serious that if the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) sought to give an explanation before I proceeded, I would be happy to yield and, in fact, to hold the motion over until my colleagues and I had had an opportunity to consider the explanation.

Mr Harold Holt - The honourable gentleman knew that I was proposing to do that.

Mr WHITLAM - Mr Speaker, honourable members know only what they read in the newspapers. On Saturday, there was a Press statement that the Prime Minister intended to make to the House a third statement on this subject. Yesterday and today, there was speculation that, in fact, he might not make a statement but might answer pre-arranged questions on the matter.

Mr Harold Holt - Did the honourable member ask the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden)?

Mr WHITLAM - The honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard), who is Deputy Leader of my Party sought for a long time this morning to learn from the Leader of the House whether the Prime Minister intended to make a statement. Since no information could be gained, the Opposition decided to take the step which I have taken and which will mean that there must be a debate and a determination of this issue. It is clear that the Prime Minister does not wish to make a third statement on the matter. I shall therefore state the facts on which, with the information at present at our disposal in both Houses, we have based this motion. On 13th May last year, the right honourable gentleman gave a written reply to a question on notice asked by my colleague, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). The question concerned the use of VIP aircraft during the previous 12 months, and its third paragraph was in these terms:

In respect of each such Bight during this period, what was the (a) name of the VIP who used the aircraft, (b) name of any other passenger, (c) destination, (d) cost and (e) purpose?

In respect of 3 (a), (b) and (c), the Prime Minister gave this written reply:

Passengers' names are recorded only so that aircraft may be safely and properly loaded. After a flight is completed, the list of names is of no value and is not retained for long. For similar reasons, no records are kept of the places to which aircraft in the VIP flight have taken VIP passengers. The answers' to these questions are thus not available.

Unless the procedure changed between May last year and the beginning of this year, that answer was untrue, Mr Speaker.

In the other place, early this month, this matter was raised by way of question and statement on many occasions. On 4th October, the Prime Minister made a statement in this House. I shall quote passages from it later. On 5th October, in the other place, a motion referring to the Prime Minister's statement was carried. It was in these terms:

That the Senate take note of the paper with dissatisfaction, and therefore that there be laid on the table of the Senate all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of -

(a)   applicants and applications,

(b)   airports of embarkation and of call,

(c)   times and distances of flight, including waiting limes, in connection with flights and any flights necessary to fulfil engagements,

(d)   the passengers,

(e)   crew members,

(f)   the cost of and incidental to each flight, and

(g)   the Department or service to which the flight was charged.

On the 24th of this month, in the other place, Senator McKellar, the Minister representing the Minister for Air, had commenced to read a written reply to questions from an honourable senator, which had been on the notice paper there since March and April last. The reading of the answer was interrupted by the sudden collapse of Senator Hannaford. In this chamber, on that day, the Prime Minister made a statement upon the subject. On the following day, 25th October, the full reply was given in the other place. Dealing with applicants who applied for . the use of VIP aircraft, the following questions were asked:

(b)   At which airport did they embark;

(c)   What were their ports of call;

The answer was:

The answers to (b) and (c) of each question would be very detailed. They are available from the papers being tabled.

It is quite clear, from those papers, that unless the procedure had altered between May and December last year, it had been possible to give all the. information on destinations sought by the honourable member for Grayndler early last year.

In the other place the question proceeded:

How many passengers - were carried?

The written answer was in these terms:

No detailed records have been kept of who travelled with an applicant on a particular flight.

Then the answer gave the general classes of persons who were able to travel on VIP aircraft.

On the same day, the 25th, last Wednesday, in this place, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), asked the Treasurer (Mr McMahon):

Has he any explanation to offer for the fact that out of a total of 422 VIP flights during the period January to August 1967, the number of such flights ordered for air training, defence personnel and all the defence chiefs put together totalled only 29, compared with the 48 VIP flights ordered by the right honourable gentleman for his use alone?

In his reply the right honourable gentleman said:

Frequently, too, I use VIP flights so that officials can come with me in order that I may discuss with them matters that require my immediate attention.

Later that day in the other place, further documents were tabled by the Leader of the

Government there (Senator Gorton). From these documents it was possible to learn the names of all persons who were flying with VIP applicants. In the light of that further information it is clear that the answer, which I have read, by the Minister representing the Minister for Air, that no detailed records have been kept of who travelled with an applicant on a particular flight, 'is untrue. From those documents it is also clear that the statement made by the Treasurer was untrue. From these documents it appears that on only four occasions that could be ascertained was a Treasury official travelling with the Treasurer. Those dates were Thursday, 6th July of this year; Tuesday, 11th July; Thursday, 13th July; and Monday, 17th July. The official is not sufficiently senior to appear in the Commonwealth directory. It is not true and it would be misleading to say that four flights out of fifty-four between January and September of this year - four flights out of some forty flights which the Treasurer undertook without any of his colleagues - would be frequent travel with officials.

Mr McMahon - The word 'frequent' was not used, if the honourable gentleman reads Hansard.

Mr WHITLAM - The honourable gentleman will have another opportunity to give an explanation of his earlier replies. Four out of fifty-four is not frequent.

There were some lesser inaccuracies for which the Prime Minister was responsible, and I quote here from his first statement on 4th October. He said: no aircraft actually has been ordered in the life of my own Government ... the fleet we now have was ordered back in November 1965.

Mr Harold Holt - You are going to quibble on that are you?

Mr WHITLAM - I do not say that this inaccuracy is nearly as serious as his previous one, but the honourable gentleman was, if not speaking from a prepared text, speaking from notes. He spoke quite deliberately. He spoke with full knowledge that there had been a debate and an entirely new procedure on this subject in the other place. He was aware of the issue yet he stated this twice on 4th October. The fact is that the Prime Minister, in an answer to my colleague the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), said that the HS748 aircraft were ordered in April last year, the Mystere aircraft were ordered in June last year and the BAC111, it would appear, were ordered last year or perhaps this year. again,thehonourablegentlemanstated quite categorically in his speech on 4th October:

There has been only one instance since I became Prime Minister on which members of my family have travelled on an aircraft which was not an aircraft carrying me to my destination.

I believe that he was referring to a trip on 27th February of this year. But it would appear from the documents tabled in the other place last Wednesday there were other trips by members of the Prime Minister's family- 5th July, 12th July, 17th July and 11th September. I do not regard these matters as in themselves justifying in any way the terms of the motion I have moved; nor do I regard the facts which I have stated about the dates of the ordering of the aircraft as justifying this. I merely point out that these things were said in the course of a deliberate statement made by the Prime Minister in the light of a debate, persistent questions and a suspension of standing orders in the other place designed to obviate any further action there.

Mr Harold Holt - Let me ask the honourable gentleman this: When the honourable gentleman uses the term family' is he referring to Mrs Holt and not my family in what I understand to be the general sense?

Mr WHITLAM - I can show the right honourable gentleman photostat copies of the documents on which I base my statement. But from recollection there were also on some of these occasions the Prime Minister's stepsons and his daughters in law.

Mr Harold Holt - Not on 5th July or 18th July.

Mr WHITLAM - I said 17th July.

Mr Harold Holt - It is the 18th in my recollection.

Mr WHITLAM - At all events, the serious things, Mr Speaker, are the answers given-

Mr Harold Holt - Are you challenging the proposition that when referring to my family I was also including Mrs Holt going about her official occasions?

Mr WHITLAM - I am quoting the statement the Prime Minister made. I believe that the documents which were tabled last Wednesday in the other place do not square with the statement that the Prime Minister made in this place on 4th October.

Mr Harold Holt - Is there anybody in the House who, when I referred to my family, did not know that I was referring to members of my family other than my wife?

Mr WHITLAM - There were other members of the right honourable gentleman's family, I believe, present on some of these occasions. The right honourable gentleman may well care to explain these two matters of the date of the orders and the travel by members of his family.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - The honourable member took Cyril Wyndham to Adelaide. He is on the manifest.

Mr WHITLAM - This charge was denied in the other place. It is not true.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - He is on the manifest.

Mr WHITLAM - The honourable member for Griffith may say that outside the House if he likes, when Mr Wyndham will have his remedy. His statement is not true.

On the face of it, serious untruths have been contained in the answer given by the Prime Minister to the honourable member for Grayndler in May last year, the answer given last Wednesday in another place by the Minister representing the Minister for Air, and the answer given on the same day in this House by the Treasurer to the honourable member for Hindmarsh. The answers which were given are untrue. They were misleading in the light of the documents which were later tabled in the other place. In two cases the answers were given earlier the same day. One would imagine that the Prime Minister would not wait until today to justify - to explain - the answers which his colleagues gave last Wednesday. Their inaccuracy was known last Wednesday; it was known still more certainly last Thursday that the answers which were given were untrue - that they were misleading. The Government clearly, and nol least the head of the

Government, should have given an explanation promptly in the Parliament about answers which were untrue and misleading.

It is clear that any Minister may be the victim of mistakes on his own part or on the part of public servants. If this happens the Parliament must be able to sheet home responsibility to someone. There is no doubt that after the conclusion of the second Voyager' Royal Commission the Parliament will require to have an explanation for various actions and statements by the Secretary of the Department of the Navy and successive Ministers for the Navy. Here, however, is a matter concerning the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Air. All of these matters require an explanation now. We can no longer wait to know whether it was a public servant who was responsible, or a Minister or a combination of Ministers and public servants. The Parliament must know why it was given inaccurate information - untrue, misleading information.

Correct information is the basis of responsible government. Ministers have been asked to resign for less. In July 1962 a Minister was required to resign for less serious conduct than has happened on this occasion. It is plain that the Ministry is prepared to give inadequate answers even on questions about which there has been parliamentary debate and a great deal of public attention, and condone answers which are inaccurate, untrue and misleading. They will brazenly stick to their guns despite the fact that documents subsequently tabled showed that they are inaccurate, untrue and misleading.

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