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Wednesday, 30 August 1972
Page: 875


Mr MacKELLAR (WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether he has seen a report in the newspapers of a statement attributed to the United States Ambassador, to Australia in relation to the future of American defence base installations in Australia? Has the Minister considered the implications of the reported statement?


Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. The Standing Orders say in effect that a member asking a question based on a newspaper report has to verify the accuracy of the report: that he has to take responsibility for it.


Mr SPEAKER -If the Leader of the

Opposition wishes me to do so, I shall ask the honourable member to verify the accuracy of the report.


Mr Whitlam - Sir, I particularly asked that the honourable member should do this, because the Minister who has been asked a question today was yesterday asked-


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Leader of the Opposition will not canvass what the' Minister said. If the Leader of the Opposition is taking a point of order in relation to this matter, it is my practice, as he knows, never to ask an honourable member to verify the accuracy of a report -until somebody asks for that to be done. If the Leader of the Opposition requests, me' to do that, 1 will ask the honourable member to verify the accuracy of the report. That resolves the point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Whitlam - Yes. because this Minister


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I will not allow the Leader of the Opposition to debate anything that the Minister said yesterday. Does the honourable member for Warringah vouch for the accuracy of the. statement in his question?


Mr MacKellar - In my question I mentioned that there was a newspaper report of a statement attributed to the United

States Ambassador to Australia and 1 also asked whether the Minister has considered the implications of the reported statement.


Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, will you hear me?-


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I would think that this is a rather unusual position. The honourable members for Warringah has not referred to the contents of the statement. He has referred only to a reported statement and has asked whether the reported statement is accurate.


Mr Whitlam - The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) yesterday asked a question based on a newspaper report and I have no doubt that the honourable member believed the report upon which he based his question was accurate. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) answered the question on the basis of this newspaper report which he also had seen. Later he had to make an explanation to the House that this report might have been wrong; it certainly differed from another newspaper report. Mr Speaker, I take the point that a member is on very uncertain ground in asking a Minister to answer a question based on a newspaper report. Yesterday we heard the name of a person mentioned in the House quite inaccurately. The Minister later, and quite rightly, had to vary his answer.

Mr- SPEAKER-Order!1 should think that 60 per cent or more of the questions asked in this House are based on newspaper reports. My predecessor allowed such questions. In a full statement he issued to the House in relation to this matter he said that he would allow this practice to be followed unless somebody requested that the accuracy of the quotation from a newspaper be verified. I have followed that practice. I think it is in the best interests of the House that questions based on newspaper reports be allowed, otherwise I do not know from where a lot of the members of this House would get information on which to base questions.


Mr Barnard - I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been clearly understood in this House that a member who asks a question based on a newspaper report must be prepared to verify that report. The honourable member for Warringah, in asking his question, used the phrase 'attributed to'. He was not certain. I suggest that you ask the honourable member for Warringah whether he is prepared to verify the accuracy of his statement. If he cannot do that the question is out of order.


Mr SPEAKER - On the other hand I point out that a Minister should not be asked to verify the accuracy of newspaper reports, nor should any other member of this chamber, unless he quotes from a newspaper report. The honourable member for Warringah has asked a question based on a reported statement. He has not quoted from or verified a statement; he has asked a question based on a reported statement.


Mr Barnard - But he cannot verify the accuracy of it.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! He has not been asked to verify the accuracy of it because he has not quoted from it.


Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, may 1 take another point of order. Sir, your predecessor before last ruled - it may be in the Standing Orders, too - that questions cannot be asked concerning the head of another state. I suggest that the same principle should apply to the representative of the head of another state. It is a mischief if controversy arises in the House about any ambassador or about the head of another government which the ambassador represents. I believe that you ought to enforce the rule in this case. Sir, could I help you to recall a previous example? Mr Speaker Cameron disallowed questions about the late President Sukarno. There can be no end to what can arise from questions about ambassadors, presidents or monarchs.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I do not think that there is any substance in the point of order in relation to ambassadors. I have heard a number of questions asked in this House about ambassadors over the years. In fact, they have been the subject of great debate in this House on occasions. I took part in such a debate on one occasion. Therefore, I do not think that there k any substance in the point of order in relation to the extending of the ruling on questions about heads of state of other countries to ambassadors. I do not think that would be right.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps I may be permitted to borrow a book from the

Clerk, lt is a pity you have not referred to the parts underlined in red in this book, which read:

The facts on which a question is based may be stated briefly provided the Member asking the question makes himself responsible for their accuracy. Subject to this condition, a Member may direct attention to a statement (e.g., in a newspaper, news report, etc.) but may not ask whether the statement is true and may not quote extracts.

The book goes on to state that a member may not ask for an expression of opinion and may not ask a Minister to announce Government policy. Sir, I have read from a book called 'The House of Representatives' which was issued under your authority and which you now seem to be ignoring.


Mr SPEAKER - Not ignoring the fact that I ruled in that way, the honourable member for Warringah is in order. I call the Minister for Foreign Affairs.


Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I did see a newspaper report of a statement made by the American Ambassador, and it dealt with 2 aspects. One related to the fact that he said that the Leader of the Opposition had said he would investigate the role of American defence installations and that he, the Ambassador, was confident that, if such an investigation were made, in the event of a change of government, the new government would be satisfied that these bases should remain. The second thing was that the Ambassador thought that if there were a change of government the new government would maintain in full force the ANZUS commitment. I expected a question from the Opposition on this matter yesterday. The statement was made on Monday. I checked as to whether the statement was made, and I understand that it was made at Perth airport.

The first thing that emerges from it is that the Ambassador is strongly in favour of the Australian commitment to the ANZUS treaty, which is Liberal-Country Party policy. He is also strongly in favour of the American defence installations in Australia, which also are Liberal-Country Party policy. The strange thing that emerges is that after listening to the Leader of the Opposition, either publicly or privately, the Ambassador should feel that Labor policy will change and the Labor Party will adopt Liberal-Country Party policy on these 2 matters should there be a change of govern ment. May I point out that so far as the ANZUS treaty is concerned, we had the Labor spokesmen on foreign affairs addressing the Australian-American Association stating in the clearest terms, using even pejorative terms, the ANZUS treaty is completely irrelevant to modern conditions. We had him describing the South East Asia Treaty Organisation as an irrelevant dead horse. May I point out that when United States Secretary of State Rogers was out here for the SEATO conference, he said that if Australia withdrew from SEATO that would be the beginning of the end of ANZUS; the 2 things were linked inseparably.

There is no question as to the current policy of the Australian Labor Party on these 2 issues. The Launceston, conference made it quite clear that its policy is that all military content should be eliminated from the ANZUS treaty. Businessmen who have been addressed by the Leader of the Opposition have been convinced that if the Labor Party were elected tq office it would adopt Liberal-Country Party policies, that as far as businessmen were concerned there was nothing to fear. But the point is (fiat Labor policy is not determined by the Leader of the Opposition but is settled by the Federal Conference of the Labor Party. It is quite clear that Labor policy on ANZUS is to eliminate all military content from it, and the Labor policy on installations in Australia is to impose conditions which are known to be unacceptable to' the American people.







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