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Tuesday, 18 March 1980
Page: 719

Senator BUTTON (Victoria) -Arising from a matter raised by Senator Chipp at Question Time, I now move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Button moving a motion: That the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Durack, requests the Prime Minister for real and complete answers to questions asked by Senator Chipp and Senator Button by Thursday, 20 March 1980.

In order for Standing Orders to be suspended, it is necessary for me as the mover of the motion, to establish what the Standing Order describes as an urgent necessity. To do so, I have to refer to the substance of the question which Senator Chipp addressed to the Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) on 4 March. Senator Chipp stated:

My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, a member of the Cabinet. Is it true that the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, made certain statements to two visiting American newspaper executives, Mr William Randolph Hearst and Mr Kingsbury Smith, national editor of the Hearst newspapers, which were published in those American papers on 26 February and reported in the Melbourne Age of 3 March? Did the Prime Minister state or imply to those two gentlemen that he considered any military activity in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian sea -

I emphasise ' and the Arabian sea '-

To come within the meaning of the ANZUS Treaty and that our military co-operation would be, to quote the Prime Minister, absolute? If so, does this mean that he has committed Australia to join the United States in some or any military action in those regions? If the Prime Minister has decided on such a vital and far-reaching re-interpretation of the ANZUS Treaty, why has the Australian Parliament not been informed? Was the Minister at any Cabinet meeting where this re-interpretation of ANZUS was discussed or introduced by the Prime Minister?

Senator Carrickanswered that it was not his practice at Question Time to deal with matters discussed inside Cabinet. He said that the rest of the questions were appropriately addressed to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Senator Chipp then asked this supplementary question:

I am disappointed that Senator Carrick should take so lightly a question containing such a heavy concept. This is not just a point-scoring exercise. This is about a statement in the Melbourne Age that the Prime Minister did re-interpret the ANZUS Treaty to include the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Will the Minister do better than he did before and ask the Prime Minister to answer those two specific questions and will the Minister report back to the Senate so that the Senate may debate the issue if there is any substance to the story?

Senator Carrickreplied:

I certainly did not take the question lightly. As to the four questions concerning the Prime Minister, I said that I would direct them to him and seek his response. I will so do. If the Prime Minister gives a response that I can present to the Senate, I shall be very happy to do so.

Senator Chipp,following his question, wrote to Senator Carrick on 5 March indicating to Senator Carrick as Leader of the Government in this place that from today, 1 8 March, he would pursue that question. I am informed that today he has sought an answer to that very important question which he has asked. I draw the Senate's attention to the fact that, on 6 March 1980, I asked Senator Carrick a somewhat similar question. I asked:

I refer the Leader of the Government in the Senate to the Prime Minister's statement reported in the American Press following interviews with Randolph Hearst of United Hearst newspaper chain that Australia's military co-operation with the United States in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf would be 'absolute'. I asked the Minister: What will this absolute commitment entail? How does he see Australia's present defence resources meeting such an absolute commitment? I also asked the Minister why the Prime Minister has seen fit to contradict the terms of the ANZUS Treaty in this statement, and whether the Prime Minister consulted with our partners in that Treaty before stating that the ANZUS security zone includes the Indian Ocean. How are these statements of the Prime Minister reconciled with the action of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Peacock, when he refrained from giving the ANZUS Council any commitment to meet threats in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in the region?

Senator Carrickanswered that a question had been asked on that recently and said:

I indicated that I had no knowledge of this matter and that I would seek information on it. I have in fact sought so to do.

That was on 6 March. He continued: 1 shall add Senator Button 's additional request to that, and seek an answer.

Today at Question Time, Senator Chipp was handed a bit of paper purporting to be an answer from the Prime Minister. Senator Durack read that answer to the Senate. I will read it again because it is in respect of a matter which is so important to the security of this country. This is the answer which the Prime Minister gave:

As the honourable senator knows, I do not discuss matters dealt with in Cabinet.

With regard to the other questions raised by the honourable senator there should be no misunderstanding.

That is a statement of impeccable common sense, if I may say so. He went on to say:

During an interview with two American journalists on 20 February I noted, in answer to their question whether Australia would assist if U.S. forces in the Indian Ocean were attacked and needed help, that this was a hypothetical question and that circumstances would need to be taken into account. I took the opportunity to reaffirm that Australia would meet any commitments under ANZUS absolutely, and I expected the U.S. would meet any commitments under ANZUS. When the question of ANZUS' application to the Indian Ocean was raised, I referred to Australia's location adjacent to the Indian Ocean; reference to this geographical fact does not carry the implication suggested in the honourable senator's question.

This is a very important matter. The sorts of commitments which the Prime Minister makes on overseas trips or when talking to foreign journalists in Australia are matters which are vital to the security of this country, to the foreign policy of this country and, of course, to a wide ranging number of defence issues. In that answer the Prime Minister makes no reference whatsoever to any suggested commitment which he might have made in relation to the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Sea. He makes no reference to the question of any consultation with ANZUS partners about any commitment which we might make in respect of the Indian Ocean. As I understand it, these were the key points in Senator Chipp 's question. They were certainly key points in the question I asked. The Prime Minister refers to Australia's location adjacent to the Indian Ocean as if it has some relevance to the question of Australia's commitments under the ANZUS Treaty.

For those sorts of reasons this sloppy, evasive answer really compounds the felony of making silly commitments to American journalists if that, indeed, be the position. It ought to be a matter of vital concern to the Senate and this Parliament that the attitude of the Prime Minister on these matters be clarified. Of course it is in the context of the Prime Minister's saying to this Parliament and to the people of Australia in January and February of this year that events in Afghanistan were the greatest threat to world peace since 1945 that Senator Chipp 's question and my question to a lesser extent become very important.

Senator Chipp - A world war three days away.

Senator BUTTON -Yes, a world war three days away. If that sort of assurance by the Prime Minister is in fact correct this matter becomes of vital concern to the Australian people and the answer to Senator Chipp 's question and to my question become matters within the Standing Orders of urgent necessity not only to this Parliament but also to the people of Australia as a whole. It is for those reasons that the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders has been moved. The motion calls upon Senator Durack as Minister representing the Prime Minister in this place to provide a real and complete answer by Thursday, 20 March- not just half an answer- to the very important questions which have been raised. The motion gives the Prime Minister three days to reply. Coincidentally, it is exactly the same period which the Prime Minister predicted would elapse before the third world war was upon us. It is in the same context that the motion gives the Prime Minister three days in which to reply to the debate which has taken place. This matter is of equal importance.

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