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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) - I desire to enter this debate on the estimates of the Prime Minister's Department. The Committee may recall that I directed a question to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) some few weeks ago following the disclosure that a pension had been granted to very extremely ex-Governors-General of this; country at a time when the Government had decided it would pay age pensioners practically nothing to compensate them for the increased cost of living that they have to bear when they are purchasing their meagre everyday needs. The Prime Minister on that occasion almost questioned one's right to ask a question of this nature. What prompted the Prime Minister to this line of thought is perhaps best known to himself. I only wish he were in the chamber tonight. He is not, and is not likely to be, apparently. But the fact is that the question was followed then by some criticism from a number of Ministers that such a question was asked. Why is this attitude adopted by the Prime Minister and others of his Cabinet? The fact is that the people of the Commonwealth and this Parliament have a right to know. I would like to know from the Prime Minister's Department - the estimates certainly do not reveal it - whether or not there are other recipients to whom sums of taxpayers' money are secretly handed out. The Prime Minister is the sole custodian of those funds and he is the only person who doles out these handouts to the affluent and the fortunate within the community. In addition to that, the Prime Minister's Department is responsible for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I would like to know, although 1 am not likely to be told and the House is not likely to be informed, why the Budget increases the proposed vote for this body by about 13 per cent, which is a greater percentage increase than was accorded to the social welfare sector of the community?

The point I come to is this: While an age pensioner was away from his home, his wife was confronted by an officer of the security service or Commonwealth Police. 1 want to know, the House ought to want to know and the public ought to be informed why age pensioners or their spouses are called upon by representatives of the Security Organisation.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - You mean the secret police.

Mr FOSTER - Secret service - call the officers what you like. If this sort of thing happened in another country, the Prime Minister would stand up and condemn such action. But he does nothing about these occurrences, shabby as they are. This sort of incident has occurred on 2 occasions - one recently and the other probably a couple of years ago. The only possible conclusion that the people concerned could draw from the visit was that they had chosen to air their knowledge by writing to the newspapers or perhaps writing letters occasionally to members of Parliament This is a shocking state of affairs. The visit considerably upset the aged person to whom I referred. Before her husband arrived home she thought that he had been in some form of serious trouble. She was advised by the police to inform her husband that he ought to keep quiet and more or less behave himself. Having had this information conveyed to him, the Prime Minister ought to do something about the situation. He ought to act quickly. i suppose 1 am no more inquisitive than the average man, but I would like to know whether we are still paying - and whether it falls within the ambit of the Prime Minister's Department - for one of the greatest political farces of all time. I refer to the Petrovs and what flowed from the Petrov royal commission from which there were no prosecutions. I would like to know whether people concerned in this inquiry are still receiving money from the taxpayers today. Somewhere along the line probably the taxpayers are still footing the bill for the persons on this silent list. The House ought to be informed how many people are on the silent list. We ought to be told how many other Governors-General and what-have-you are on this list. We ought to be told who they are, what payments they are receiving and in what circumstances are they entitled to such payments. Is it the prerogative of the Prime Minister and his Department, perhaps after having a quiet whisper to someone or someone having a quiet whisper to the Prime Minister, to dole out taxpayers' money.

The sums of money that were involved in the case of the 2 Governors-General who received some publicity were far in excess to what I consider they were entitled to in view of the salaries which they commanded during their term of office. I say this even though one of them perhaps had a political affiliation with this side of the House. This makes no difference to me. The fact is that he was paid and paid well for his job while he was in office. I will leave the question of how this man carried out his job to the thoughts of honourable members. I have my own. I was condemned because I dared to mention the fact that a field marshal had been a Governor-General. Why is it considered by some people that anyone who served his country and held the high rank of field marshal, general and so forth ought to be immune from anything but absolute praise? The gentleman to whom I referred is still in employment. But coming down to the grass roots, I say that this man ought not to be treated any differently from those who have paid taxes during the whole of their working lives and are denied by this Government the right to receive lc of that money in return during their retirement. This is why I raise this matter. Why is it so? When this Government ceases being so hypocritical and its supporters cease being hypocritical perhaps one may not question their motives in this regard. But honourable members opposite are certainly not being straightforward in what they do. As a result of the passage of most of the Bills debated in the Budget session, the Government certainly has involved itself in an expenditure that almost boggles the mind. Because of the system that prevails in this chamber, the Government does not have to face up to anything. Yet it sees fit to condemn workers' organisations and the like which could not possibly get away with such a system of accounting or anything else for that matter. I will end on this note-

Mr Robinson - Thank goodness.

Mr FOSTER - Now I might not conclude. The honourable member who interjected said : 'Thank goodness'. The attitude of the Party of which he is a member to the rural industries, which it represents, has been: Thank goodness. The rural industries have nothing to thank his Party for. I think that the expenditure of certain sums is perhaps necessary to bolster rural industries today because the people who were supposed to have accepted responsibility for what happened in those industries have done nothing about it. They have turned their heads.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Dmr}') - Order! The Committee is not discussing the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry.

Mr FOSTER - I shall come back to the estimates for the Prime Minister's Department. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr McEwen) is one of those people who keeps turning his head, as does the Prime Minister. I conclude on the note that the Prime Minister ought not to be able to give an answer to a question asked in this House, irrespective of what the subject matter may be, in the manner in which he answered the question to which I referred originally. If there is nothing to hide, why does he not tell us what the complete list is? The Prime Minister can call his watchdogs off the doorsteps of aged pensioners in the electorate which I represent. If it were not for the fact that one of the womenfolk concerned in the matter would have been upset if it had been taken further, most certainly something would have been done about it on an official basis. He most certainly can investigate my statement with a view to calling the policemen off the doorsteps of pensioners who dare to write a letter to a local newspaper occasionally.

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