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Tuesday, 13 May 1980
Page: 2167

Senator GRIMES (Tasmania) - I do not wish to keep the Senate for long. Strangely enough, the sort of thing I will talk about is very similar to the sorts of things which Senator Button has talked about, the depths to which political comment and discussion in this country have descended. It concerns an article in today's Launceston Examiner, which was confirmed by a shorter report in today's Hobart Mercury. It is a report of some words that Senator Walters is alleged to have said at the opening of the Liberal Students Conference. The Examiner, as anyone knowledgeable in this country would know, is a journal known for its accuracy. Unfortunately its accuracy is not matched by its speed of arrival in Canberra. Senator Rae, being the legal representative of the Examiner, will confirm this. The Examiner's accuracy not being rivalled by its speed of delivery in Canberra, I had to get the text of the article dictated to me on the telephone. I think it is worth while reading the text of that article. The article which appeared in today's Examiner, 13 May, stated:

The Federal Opposition was seen by the Government as being a communist sympathiser.

That is interesting. It continued:

The pro-communist feeling had been revealed during recent debates in Federal Parliament on the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.

The article quoted Senator Walters as saying:

It's not far fetched or exaggerated to describe the Opposition as being a communist sympathiser.

The article then went on:

She was opening the Liberal Students' Conference. She frequently heard Opposition members calling each other comrade in the halls of Parliament House. She said: 'I thought at first they were joking but the Fact is that it's not a joke, its serious and it's frightening'.

The article quoted Senator Walters as continuing:

It's no secret in Canberra that one of the brightest members of Cabinet, Senator Wheeldon, was still on the back bench because he was too anti-Soviet'.

My initial reaction is, of course, to dismiss some of the wilder remarks of Senator Walters. Any reading of the debates on the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union will reveal that it was not supported by the Opposition. This can be checked out not only by reading speeches by Opposition members in this place and another place but also by reading the many personal explanations made in this House when Senator Carrick made a similar accusation at a later date. Secondly, I should like to inform Senator Walters that Senator Wheeldon is not in the shadow ministry because he did not stand for election for that position. We on our side of the House democratically elect our shadow ministry, unlike the Government. Senator Wheeldon did not stand for election.

Senator Rae - We democratically elected ours.

Senator GRIMES - The Government elected its ministry once and gave it away.

Senator Rae - No, more than once.

Senator GRIMES - Because the honourable senator got up too often it stopped electing members and then he did not get up again. If Senator Wheeldon had stood for the position at that time I have no doubt that he would have been elected. I have no doubt that I would not have been sitting in this place; I would have been sitting where Senator Ryan is, and Senator Wheeldon would be sitting here. I might even have been on the other side of Senator Ryan. So it seems that the whole argument hinges on the use of the word 'comrade' which Senator Walters, in overhearing other people's conversations in this place, finds so serious and frightening.

I should like to point out that other people use this term. Every night in every Returned Services League club in Australia, at 9 o'clock the lights are turned out and there is an invocation to fallen comrades. Every Anzac Day speeches are made in this country in honour of fallen comrades. Senator Walters is suggesting to us that the RSL is in fact referring to fallen communists, that all these comrades were in fact communists. Other people use the word 'comrade'. Every democratic socialist party, social democratic party and labour party in the world use the word 'comrade '. When I had the honour to represent the

Australian Labor Party at the Socialist International at Vancouver, Willy Brandt, the President of that International, the ex-mayor of Berlin, the ex-Chancellor of West Germany, introduced me as comrade. No one in the world would suggest that Willy Brandt is a communist, pro-communist or communist sympathiser, a man with his record. Helmut Schmidt, the Chancellor of West Germany, the Vice-President of the Socialist International, a man who is in great favour with the Government at the moment because of his attitude to the Olympic Games boycott, refers to his friends as comrade. Olaf Palame, the ex-Premier of Sweden of course is comrade. When Senator Wheeldon visits his friend Bruno Kreisky, the Chancellor of Austria for the last 10 years, Chancellor Kreisky calls him comrade Wheeldon. No one suggests that John Wheeldon or Bruno Kreisky are in fact communists. Yet Senator Walters finds the use of this term so serious and so frightening.

Senator O'Byrne - It is a smear.

Senator GRIMES - It is a smear, and it is a pity that she has to resort to this sort of smearing. Certainly communists use the term. Certainly communists call each other comrade. As I say, it is a good English word, and it has a good friendly meaning. The Concise Oxford Dictionary dennes the word 'comrade' in these terms:

Mate . . .

That is a good Australian word- or fellow in work or play or fighting, equal with whom one is on familiar terms . . .

That is the first definition. It is also used to refer to a fellow socialist, communist, et cetera. Senator Walters of course uses the third definition to suit her argument- the Walters law of selective definition of words. Apart from the fact that I think it is absolutely ludicrous in this country to go around calling people communists or anything else on the basis of one word or on any other strange basis that Senator Walters may use, if we carry Senator Walters' logic to the extreme, if we carry Senator Walters' law, if you like, to the extreme, we end up in a very strange situation. Senator Mulvihill and I are members of Senate Estimates Committee C. Senator Walters is the Chairman or the chairperson of that Committee. During the hearings of that Committee she is referred to as Madam Chairman. Not only that, but also the public servants when answering questions frequently say. 'Yes, Madam'. Frequently around the Parliament people refer to Senator Walters as madam. I looked up the Concise Oxford Dictionary's definition of madam. The first definition is:

Polite or respectful formal address or mode of reference to woman.

The second definition is a woman brothelkeeper. The third definition is a conceited, pert, et cetera, young woman. Using Senator Walters' law, I would have to ignore the first definition and take my pick of the second two. I leave it to the Senate to decide which of the second two is appropriate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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