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Tuesday, 19 August 1969

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Supply) - I oppose the motion put by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). I regret that the motion has been put. Indeed, I regret the circumstances in which we find ourselves where the Leader of the Opposition moves a motion of censure of a Minister. I would say that this case had its foundation in implications and questions that were put in the Senate on 12th August - on Tuesday last. I should like to comment in a nonlegal way on these questions in a moment or two, but at the outset I should like to say that I do not accept the motion of censure. Government senators who sit behind me do not accept the motion of censure. We believe that it will be demonstrated here that Senator Murphy's criticism - I suggest this will be reflected in Hansard - goes beyond what in fact Senator Wright set out to do. I do not propose to deal with this at great length because, at an early stage in the debate, Senator Wright will respond himself. There are other Government speakers who are also willing and anxious to respond to the criticism.

I cannot help feeling that in this motion of censure there is the shadow of the experience of a senator, now a Minister, who has always been a very vigorous, forthright and determined debator. Let us face the facts: Senator Wright has always debated vigorously, and he always will. He is n capable and efficient debator. Sometimes, when he is debating vigorously, people take umbrage at some of the things that he says. I would remind honourable senators that 1 was a Minister when Senator Wright was sitting on the back bench and he has taken me to task quite a few times. But this is the wear and tear of a parliamentary institution. I am going to suggest-

Senator Cant - He was not debating that.

Senator ANDERSON - I say quite deliberately and calmly that 1 cannot escape the feeling that in this motion there are the seeds of more vigorous debating in the past which have perhaps found their expression in a misunderstanding - I say this with reference to Senator Murphy - of what Senator Wright was purporting to say in relation to a question that was put to him. I regard Senator Wright, who sits behind me in this chamber, as a capable, efficient and loyal Minister. Therefore, 1 do not support the censure motion that has been moved against him. Those honourable senators who are interjecting should let me develop my case.

Senator Cavanagh - Tell us your impression of the words used.

Senator ANDERSON - I will do that, but I will do it in the way that I want to do it and not in the way that the honourable senator wants me to do it. This matter arose as a result of a question asked by Senator O'Byrne. Quite clearly a very serious accusation was directed at not only Senator Wright but also every Minister of the Executive of the Government. The very serious, wilful and vicious accusation was that the Crimes Act was deliberately and wilfully used by the Government.

Senator Cavanagh - That was his belief.

Senator ANDERSON - When one is bandying around who is hurt and who is not one should remember that it is just as much an affront to me as it would be to honourable senators opposite to suggest that in the democratic society in which we live and in which we cherish our freedom, a Minister of the Executive would be guilty of a wilful and shameful misuse of the Crimes Act. But that was how all this started.

Senator Cavanagh - The court found that.

Senator ANDERSON - The court did not find that at all.

Senator Cavanagh - lt found that there had been misuse.

Senator ANDERSON - It found the person concerned not guilty of the charge and it acquitted him or dismissed him, whichever expression honourable senators like to use. I am not going to play with words. The fact of the matter is that quite clearly Senator O'Byrne's question was directed at an allegation of misuse of the Crimes Act to search homes, offices and bank accounts on the grounds of flimsy evidence. Senator Wright answered the question. In his reply he made it perfectly clear that in his view there had been no misuse of the Crimes Act; that in the Pratt case the use of the Act to launch a prosecution had been justified. One cannot read anything else into the question and answer. After listening to the question and the answer Senator Murphy rose in his place and objected. In the final portion of my answer I took the point with him that if he had been so moved by the matter he should have taken his objection at the point when it was being raised. He did not do that. But let us put that to one side. In my reply I said:

Senator Wrightresponded to a question from Senator O'Byrne who, let me point out, if we are talking in terms of morals and standards, reflected upon the veracity of the Government's intentions in relation to a prosecution that was launched.

That was the nature of the question that Senator Wright responded to and he was entitled to respond to it in the way that he did. But the Leader of the Opposition, significantly, took objection to the manner in which Senator Wright responded. I want honourable senators to note that he took objection to it. This indicates that his mind was not on other matters. It was completely directed to what he claimed was an offensive statement by Senator Wright. We all know the procedures of the Senate. Senator Cavanagh then asked a question. He said:

I refer the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral to his reply to Senator O'Byrne's question. Is it the Minister's opinion that the decision in the case of Graeme Pratt was a travesty of justice and not in keeping with the evidence before the court?

God help us! If the Leader of the Opposition thought that the answer that Senator Wright gave to the first question was offensive how in the name of conscience could he sit in his place and let one of his own front bench men ask such a question? If there was any impropriety at all it was in the nature of the second question. But the Leader of the Opposition, who had taken offence to the answer to the first question, and whose mind had been alerted to the possibility of offence, sat and let the second question go. I do not need the help of those honourable senators opposite who are interjecting.

Senator Cavanagh - The Leader of the Government badly needs someone's help.

Senator ANDERSON - Be that as it may, the fact is that the honourable senator asked a Minister to express an opinion on whether the decision given in a case was a travesty of justice and not in keeping with the evidence before the court. The honourable senator's question was most improper. As I see the matter, Senator Wright responded to two questions concerning whether there was any justification for a prosecution. The prosecution was undertaken in good faith. The magistrate found that there was no evidence of communication of information and therefore the person concerned was acquitted. I believe that we cannot have a situation where the Parliament is not allowed to express a view on the question of whether a prosecution should be taken. As I heard and read Senator Wright, I do not think that he reflected upon a decision of the court. He expressed a view as to whether there was sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution. In reply to the second question on the subject he said that as far as he was concerned there was evidence to justify a prosecution. There is a distinction there which I do not think Senator Murphy wanted to hear at any stage. I have read the judgment. I will not quote all of it, but I was intrigued to find that the magistrate - and Senator Murphy did not read this part out - made a comment from the bench in a non-legal way. He said that if he could be excused for using a non-legal term: the sixty-four dollar question is, by whom was this information communicated and on the evidence before me I would answer that question by saying, 'probably by the defendant'.

But that is not to say that he found that there was evidence of communication of information by the defendant because he acquitted the defendant.

Senator Murphy - The Leader of the Government had better read further. That was suspicion' and I referred to that.

Senator ANDERSON - That is right. 1 do not think we can live in the cloisters. I do not think that we can put cloaks around ourselves and say that we are not allowed to look at a matter that has in fact been before the courts and has been referred to in the Press. I understand the limits imposed upon the Parliament when a matter is sub judice, but I have heard some things said in this chamber that I thought bordered very closely on matters which were subjudice. In this instance a person was before the court and was acquitted. Nobody is moving away from that fact. It seems to me that we are making something big out of two questions which were asked in this chamber. I regard the second questioner as being more culpable than the first. 1 believe that honourable senators opposite are reading into the answers given by Senator Wright something which was not intended.

Senator TURNBULL (TASMANIA) - 'If it was not intended why does he not inform the Senate of that now so that we can get on with something else?

Senator ANDERSON - Senator Wright will take part in the debate. After all, it is a serious matter to move a motion of censure against a Minister. I suggest that Senator Wright's reply was directed to the fact that in his view of the evidence which was brought out it was proper to launch a prosecution. I regret the circumstances in which this case has been brought before the Senate. I think it would be a good thing, as Senator Turnbull has suggested, if we had a limited debate and got on with the business of the Senate. Senator Wright will enter into the debate reasonably soon, but I would say that in my view he has been wrongly accused in these circumstances. I suggest that there is a background of vigour in his campaigning and in his speeches which might have led the Opposition into error in imagining that he was saying something which in fact, he never said. If honourable senators look at his replies, and particularly at the reply to the next question, they will see that he deliberately avoided the implications that Senator Cavanagh had put into this question. I was very surprised that Senator Murphy, as Leader of the Opposition, allowed Senator Cavanagh to ask that question.

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