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Tuesday, 31 October 1967

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It does not give me much pleasure to contend that the Government lacks the confidence of the Parliament and to have to rest my case on the fact that the lack of confidence is due to our doubting the veracity of the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and of two Ministers of the Government, rt is true, as the Prime Minister said, that on numerous occasions motions expressing lack of confidence in the Government have been moved in the Parliament, but never in the Parliament's whole history - as the Prime Minister, pretending to make a strong point, correctly stated - that a Parliament has been asked to debate a motion of no confidence based upon the belief that the Prime Minister and two Ministers of the Parliament were not telling the truth. If the allegation is true - and I will refer to this in a moment in order to prove that the allegation is true - and it can be proved that it is true then, as in the case of Profumo, no Minister or Prime Minister is entitled to sit or is fit to sit in the Parliament as a Minister of the Crown. If the Parliament cannot believe what the Prime Minister or any Minister tells it, then the Parliament has the right to reject them. No Prime Minister over whom a shadow of doubt rests ought to have the audacity to continue to occupy the position.

Profumo was not obliged to leave Parliament because he had had a relationship with Christine Keeler. The reason Profumo was obliged to resign- and as a gentleman he accepted the obligation to resign as a Minister - was that he had lied to the Parliament. He had deliberately lied to the Parliament. When a Minister will lie to the collective elected representatives of the whole nation, surely it is elementary that that Minister no longer has the right to occupy a position of trust. What we must determine now is whether it is true, as alleged in the Senate and by the leading newspapers of this country, that the Prime Minister lied; whether it is true that the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) lied; and whether it is true that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), if not lying, misrepresented the truth to the Parliament. If it can be proved that they did lie, then they ought not to wait for a vote on this motion, they ought to voluntarily retire and resign as would any honourable man and as did Profumo - not exactly an honourable man but one who was prepared to show enough honour not to continue to represent Her Majesty the Queen in the Parliament of Great Britain.

We have listened for 75 minutes to the Prime Minister and to the Treasurer, and so far they have not answered the charge. Instead, the Treasurer spent the whole of his time in diversionary tactics. He did not answer this most serious of all charges that can be levied against a member or Minister. He said that the use of the aircraft was justified. He spent nearly all his time in trying to say: 'Look, we are justified in using the aircraft.' But this motion does not deal with the rights or wrongs of the use to which the aircraft have been put. The motion is not concerned with whether or not the use of VIP aircraft has been abused. The motion concerns the most serious allegation that can be made against a Minister - that the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia has lied to the elected representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia in this Parliament. It is also alleged that the Minister for Air has lied to the Parliament and that the Treasurer has misrepresented the true facts to the Parliament. These allegations have not been answered. Unless they are answered then, in spite of the fact that the Government will use its majority in this chamber to get a superficial and artificial victory, the fact will remain that they will go down as stained men, no longer entitled to the confidence of the people. How can anybody accept the word of the Prime Minister on anything at all if he cannot acquit himself of this serious charge? How can we believe the word of the Minister for Air unless he can acquit himself?

The Prime Minister talked about the Government's standing on defence matters. This was one of the first topics he mentioned. What was he trying to do? He was trying to divert this debate on the issue of whether he lied in the Parliament to the question of whether the Opposition has a better policy than the Government has on defence. This motion, I repeat, is not concerned with whether our defence policy is better than the Government's defence policy; the question we are considering is simple. We must determine whether the Prime Minister lied to the Parliament. So far the allegation has not been answered. Indeed, the Treasurer, by inference, suggested that the Minister for Air had lied because he said - and I use his words - that there were errors. . A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Honourable members can call it an error if they like, but the fact is the error was a lie on someone's part, and they cannot deny it. The Minister's answer was not given off the cuff, take heed. It was given in answer to a longstanding question on the notice paper. It was not a question in answering which the Minister could claim to have been caught off balance or caught unexpectedly. It was an answer carefully prepared, carefully given, and delivered with all the solemnity of a ministerial answer to a question in the Parliament of this Commonwealth.

Before reverting to the Prime Minister, I want to deal with the previous Speaker in this debate, the Treasurer. He contented himself by saying: 'Who would doubt our Prime Minister? Who would suggest that this man could possibly tell an untruth?' Of course, at one time there were some people who could not doubt, and did not doubt, the loyalty of a man named Philby about whom, at one stage of his life, it could have been asked in the same rhetorical way: 'Who can doubt the sincerity and' loyalty of this great man?' This is no answer to the positive charge we now make. We demand an answer. I want the Prime Minister or one of his Ministers to explain to my satisfaction - so far he has failed to do so - how it came about that he could categorically deny that he ordered aircraft during his time as Prime Minister when the facts are that he did. It is all very well for him now to say that this was a slip of the tongue and that he should have w id that they had considered them. It is no use after the event to come along and pretend that what he meant was something else. We are left with what is in Hansard and if this matter had not been raised in the Senate we would still have been left with the impression that this Government did not order any additional aircraft.

We have heard enough already about the abuse made of the present fleet to hope that the Government will reduce its use. We also hope that the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Andrew Jones), who is smiling, will no longer be allowed to accompany Ministers to Adelaide in a VIP aircraft. When a proper reduction of the use of VIP aircraft is brought about there will be no need to order any additional aircraft. We regard the costs in which we are already involved as being too high anyhow.

I want to deal with the Treasurer's allegation that my colleague the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) did not tell the truth when be alleged that the Treasurer had stated that he frequently uses VIP flights in order to talk to officials. The Treasurer cannot even tell the truth in respect of a matter that occurred less than a week ago. If he reads page 2214 of Hansard for 25th October - this is the uncorrected one - he will see that he said, in answer to a question asked by me: 1 use VIP flights to get to Canberra so that I can do my job effectively and to the best of my capacity.

These are the words the Treasurer said he did not use:

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.

Is it now suggested that this is not a truthful recollection of what happened? I say that the Treasurer has not told the truth in respect of that more recent allegation. I say that the Minister for Air lied to the Parliament when he said that no records were kept. Senator Gorton proved that it was a lie by producing the records that the Minister for Air said did not exist. How can anyone get him out of it? What is the use of the Government saying it cannot answer that allegation because the Minister for Air is away? It was known on Friday that these allegations had been made. Why did not the Government bring the Minister here and, if necessary, send a VIP aircraft to get him, so that he could answer this serious charge? Is it because the Government regards the charge of untruthfulness and of lying as being of such little consequence that it is business as usual on the part of the one accused. This must be the case, otherwise we would have seen the Minister for Air at this time ready to take his place, lt is not too late at this stage for the Minister for Air to return before the Parliament rises. I say, moreover, that if the Minister cannot get back here before the Parliament rises, it is the duty of the Government to reconvene the Parliament immediately he does return in order that he can be examined, if that is what the Government wants. If it fails to do this we can assume - and we will be entitled to assume - that the Minister is guilty and that the Government knows he is guilty. We will be entitled to assume that the reason for his absence is to allow him to evade the accusation being levelled against him.

May I drift for a while into the mistake that the Treasurer made, concerning the use of the aircraft. Is the Treasurer going to suggest that any time he wishes to read a classified document or have to talk with another Minister or one of his departmental heads, that alone gives him the right to order a VIP flight from Sydney to Canberra. Such a proposition is so stupid that the Treasurer should not have attempted to justify it. I believe that one of the things that Ministers ought not to do is to use VIP aircraft for the purposes of thinking because the worst place in the world for thinking is up in the air. That may be the reasons for the Treasurer's decisions embodied in the last Budget. The Treasurer attacked the Leader of the Opposition concerning his use of VIP aircraft. He said that the Leader of the Opposition uses the aircraft for Party political matters. The suggestion, again, is that the Treasurer does not do so. In this regard the Treasurer has made an untrue, false innuendo.

The Treasurer dropped a clanger in Capricornia when he attacked a person's religion. He got into the gutter in order to try to defeat the Labor candidate for the electorate of Capricornia. The Treasurer went there in a VIP aircraft and returned in one. The Leader of the Opposition used commercial flights when he went to Capricornia. How does that measure up against the false allegation that the Treasurer has made against my leader?

Mr Luchetti - That is typical of him.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Of course it is typical of him. The Prime Minister said that Senator Murphy had made a cowardly attack on him and this had led him to leak to the Press, through his Press officer, that he intended to make a statement in the Parliament today. The Press was more privileged that the Opposition because although we tried finally to obtain the information from the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden), we could not obtain it. Members of the shadow Cabinet sat until 1 o'clock before we knew, and then we did not know positively what the Minister intended to do about it. This despite the fact that we frequently sought information. We could not get it. We were told that the Cabinet was still in session. Of course it was. The Ministers were in a desperate fix over this. They were in session trying to find ways of getting out of the trouble. We can see the resolution being arrived at. We will not answer the charges. We will throw in things about defence and sidetrack the issue as much as we can by saying we are entitled to use the aircraft.' The debate is not concerned with whether the aircraft should be used or not. I remind the House that the debate is whether the Prime Minister lied, whether the Minister for Air lied and whether the Treasurer lied and is lying to the Parliament. These charges have not been answered to our satisfaction. Senators have said that the Prime Minister did lie. To call a statement of fact a cowardly attack is to my idea stretching the meaning of words completely.

I want to say to both previous speakers from the Government side and to future speakers that they ought to remember that abuse is no substitute for argument and that we do not want a lot of abuse here today. We want the Government to answer charges.

Mr Swartz - The honourable member should apologise then.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am sorry that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) has interjected. I wanted to say to him - I could not think of a way to fit it in - that he also uses VIP aircraft quite a lot, but they are not on the ordinary manifest; it comes under the Department of Civil Aviation.

The Treasurer went on to say that the Leader of the Opposition did not tell the truth about the bombing of North Vietnam and so on. What a ridiculous statement. The Leader of the Opposition has not told untruths about these things and the Treasurer knows it. He is trying to use diversionary tactics. He is like a drowning man, clutching at any straw. He says: 'Will I get out of it by clutching this straw? No. I am sinking again. I will clutch at this one and see if I can save myself. But he sinks. The Treasurer and the Government have indeed sunk so low into the quagmire that nothing but a miracle will get them out of it.

How true were these words of Scott:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!

If only the Prime Minister had told the truth in the first place this matter would have been finished with. If only the Minister for Air had admitted that records existed, and if only he bad produced the records, this would have been a dead issue. But the issue is no longer whether the use of VIP aircraft has been abused - although I think it has. The issue now is on a much higher level. It is whether the Prime Minister and other Ministers of this Government have lied to the Parliament.

Mr Robinson - That is the thirty-fifth time you have said that.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And it is not the last time I will say it, and if you can prove that it is not true as many times as I say it is true you will be doing an excellent job.

Mr Giles - The honourable member said he was going to prove it.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Of course I can prove it. The proof is that the Prime Minister said that the fleet was ordered as far back as 1965. The Prime Minister said that he did not order the aircraft. That, I say, is an untruth. Whether it is a lie I do not know, but it is an untruth. The Prime Minister said that there were no records, and the Minister for Air said that there were no records. That, Sir, is certainly a lie, because it was said in answer to a question on notice. The Minister cannot escape responsibility by saying that he was misled by the Department. Listen to what a leading article in today's 'Canberra Times' had to say about this, and let every Minister remember this: ]( someone within, a Minister's department Get us say) supplies him with wrong information, and tie supplies it to the Parliament, how far should the Minister be held personally accountable"! The most likely answer, surely is - all the way.

This has been an accepted principle of parliamentary government.

A Minister's job is to get the information that the Parliament may reasonably require, and if the Parliament cannot trust him to do that accurately, then it is entitled to take a grim view of him. If he is allowed as a matter of course to climb out through the Public Service, then no doubt in time we should be hearing lamer excuses again. In plain fact Ministers are answerable to Parliament for every word spoken and act performed in their capacity as Ministers. If they can fall back on the Public Service when things go wrong, at some time or another public servants will be in the unhappy position of being called before the Parliament to testify to the veracity or otherwise of their Ministers. The only answer is for Ministers to shoulder the responsibility themselves.

The article says further:

It is no miserable academic debating point but a question at the heart of the parliamentary system. If indeed Parliament has been misinformed then the question arises not only of intent but of how serious the mistake is. If a Minister unintentionally misinforms Parliament about the volume of peĀ»rs exported . . . no-one is likely to care a hoot. But if he intentionally misleads Parliament about a matter of national moment, a graver breach of trust would be difficult to imagine.

We on this side of the Parliament have approached this matter in the most responsible way possible. We have made it clear that we are not now querying the use of VIP aircraft. I have made it clear, and so has my leader, that we have never queried the right of the Prime Minister and his family to use VIP aircraft whenever they want to. The Prime Minister agrees, in response to that, that similarly the Government does not query the right of the Leader of the Opposition, and presumably his family, to use VIP aircraft whenever they want to. I do not go into the point that the Prime Minister made, in response to the charge that he lied also when he said his family accompanied him on only one occasion, as to whether one's wife may be considered one's family, or whether the family does not begin to exist until the children and stepchildren are included. That is another matter. I do not object to tha Prime Minister's family travelling with him. I have made that quite clear. Nothing in our motion and nothing we have said in this debate suggests that we question the right of a senior Minister to use VIP aircraft in appropriate circumstances.

The debate centres around one single issue - our belief that the Prime Minister lied to the Parliament and that the Minister for Air lied to the Parliament. We believe that when the Leader of the Government lies to the Parliament he is not fit to occupy his position. If the Government will not remove him from office of its own volition then I believe that whole Government deserves to tumble. I hope, therefore, that in the interests of decency, in the interests of parliamentary government and in the interests of serving the great Australian people who sent us to this place to represent them, this motion will be carried.

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