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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 3023

Dr MACKAY (Evans) (Minister for the Navy) - I would just like to speak very briefly, appreciating what has been said by the Chairman of the Public Works Committee and other speakers from this side of the House. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) did use publicly a portion of a briefing that I personally provided for him before he left for Western Australia, in reply to a question from the Press. If there was any impropriety in its contents, I accept full and complete responsibility for it. But I deny that there was anything improper because, as has been explained to the House, this was a letter that was not intended or conceived to be sent as a private or privileged document. It was simply a letter confirming, after further review publicly made and publicised statements that the area to be made available for public use could, in the Navy's opinion, be slightly extended. That is the full story. There is nothing more nor less to it than that.

The matter was considered by the Navy, and I was most astonished, when answering a question recently, to have the hon ourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) draw my attention to the fact that he thought I was pre-empting, in some way, the activities of the Committee. This was far from my mind or intention. I believe that what the Chairman of the Public Works Committee has said is perfectly correct, that it is highly desirable to have no action from the Executive pre-empting the decisions of the Committee. But nevertheless, the basis on which this inquiry began was the taking of public evidence and the giving of the public statement by the Department of the Navy of what its requirements were. It was my duty, I believe, to see that this was accurately stated.

The letter that was received by the Public Works Committee was not marked confidential. I had no knowledge it was received in a private sitting. Therefore, I just want to explain to the House that I am personally responsible if the Prime Minister made certain statements that the Public Works Committee regarded as having been received in private and therefore as being privileged. That certainly was not in my mind, and I had no knowledge that the Committee had been sitting in private. It was never intended that that letter should be so received, as has been explained. I personally believe that the Prime Minister has nothing whatsoever to answer.

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