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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3294

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(5.57) —The issue before the House is the report and findings of the Royal Commission on Australia 's Security and Intelligence Agencies headed by Mr Justice Hope. I can understand why members of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) in their presentation of their case in respect of this report have concentrated largely on one aspect of the report; that is, the very candid and forthright statements by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that he believes that the honourable member for Port Adelaide, Mick Young ought to be back in the Ministry . I can understand why the Opposition would choose to follow that tack because this is an occasion on which the Opposition could have chosen to prove the many very serious allegations that it has made ever since this matter first arose concerning both the Prime Minister's and the Government's handling of it. Let me remind honourable gentlemen opposite that when matters of national security and civil liberties were raised at various stages by the Opposition-they are serious matters and have to be treated seriously by this House-the Government followed a course of action which was designed not to disclose Mr Combe's name. Allegations were subsequently made in this House by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) that the Government's decision was improper and that the Government by its handling of the matter had destroyed Mr Combe's civil liberties. What does Mr Justice Hope find on that matter? At page 43 of the report Mr Justice Hope, in referring to the decision that Mr Combe should be placed under surveillance, says:

I am prepared to accept that it was the desire-

that is, of the Committee-

not to damage unnecessarily either Mr Combe's reputation or his business which motivated the Committee to ask the Prime Minister not to comment upon the relationship when implementing that part of the decision. I can find no fault with that request.

He continues on page 45 to say:

The Government was, at all times, sensitive to the implications for national security of some of the decisions it had made and which were embodied-

He refers to decision 321 of the National and International Security Committee-

It also realised the need to prevent, as far as possible, damage to Mr Combe through the public linking of his name with Mr Ivanov. Accordingly, care was taken in drafting the decision to avoid the use of Mr Combe's name. Further, the minute received very restricted circulation.

It did indeed. Such matters are not just the responsibility of the government of the day. There is also a very heavy duty on the Opposition in the Parliament as to the manner in which it handles these very sensitive matters. It was for that reason and as part of the tradition and practice of this Parliament that the Leader of the Opposition was fully briefed, as he ought to have been. It was for that reason that the Leader of the Australian Democrats (Senator Chipp) was fully briefed, as he ought to have been. What is the purpose of that convention? Is it just some idle exercise in passing across information? Of course it is not . Everybody knows that the Leader of the Opposition has the same status in this House as a Minister of the Crown. When it comes to addressing the Parliament on the serious and vital issues of national security he is entitled to know and be informed if for no other reason than to conduct the affairs of the Opposition so that it can present its arguments and discharge its duties with some sense of honour and propriety and, at the same time, say nothing, either intentionally or loosely, which could damage the institution of the Parliament or its handling of the problems that it has to face when dealing with these issues.

According to the finding of Mr Justice Hope, the Government had set out on a course designed to see that Mr Ivanov was dealt with but, at the same time, Mr Combe's reputation was protected as far as possible. Mr Deputy Speaker, you have been around the Parliament long enough to know how questions are asked in the Parliament. Opposition members come in with questions prepared for them. Yet we are asked to believe that the Deputy Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair) happened to listen to a radio program and, by some curious coincidence, wandered in, without bothering to consult the Leader of the Opposition, and casually threw in Mr Combe's name. I do not believe it. I venture to suggest, Mr Deputy Speaker, that as an experienced parliamentarian you do not believe it and the Opposition does not believe it. Having thrown in his name the next exercise for the Leader of the Opposition was to cry civil liberties. I found that fascinating. In all the years I have known the Leader of the Opposition all of a sudden he was concerned about civil liberties.

The Opposition went further. Let me refer to some of the statements and terminology used by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech in the Parliament on 25 May 1983. Opposition members are the people who lecture us on propriety. The Leader of the Opposition was briefed as if he were a member of the Ministry. I had not been briefed. I had not been privy to the information, nor had the great majority of my colleagues. But the Leader of the Opposition, when he spoke in this House, spoke as a man who had had all the information before him. He alleged that Mr Combe was denied civil liberties. That was not mentioned today. He did not want to pursue that matter. He then made specific allegations. Let me use the terminology that is to be found in Hansard. The Leader of the Opposition , a man who knew, directed the allegations of dishonesty specifically to the Prime Minister and the Government. He also used the words 'duplicity' and ' deceit'. Dishonesty, duplicity and deceit are strong words. He made unspecified allegations about general misconduct. This powder puff Leader of the Opposition, this escapee from a beauty parlour, had the opportunity today to drive home those allegations on the basis of the findings of this report. Why did he not do so? If the Prime Minister had not used his usual candour and honesty in respect of the future of Mr Young, the honourable member for Port Adelaide, the Opposition would have had nothing to say and neither should it. On every specific issue and allegation the Commissioner has found for the Government. That is the reality.

Mr Spender —On Young?

Mr HOLDING —I will deal with Mr Young. The honourable member should not fear about that.

Mr Spender —Nobody else has.

Mr HOLDING —I am very happy to deal with Mr Young. The Opposition was running around Australia talking about deceit, dishonesty and duplicity when the Leader of the Opposition had been fully briefed. People were entitled to say: 'He must know when he says these things'. There was not one tittle of evidence to support what he said. The allegations made against the Prime Minister were repeated in the House today by the Deputy Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair). Everybody knows that he will say anything but what was the specific findings of His Honour? He said:

It is therefore open to find, and I do find, that the Prime Minister had implied authority to communicate with Mr Butler and Mr Farmer. The communications were, in fact, justified by the need to ensure that, as far as practicable, the purposes of the NISC decision were achieved. Moreover, what the Prime Minister had done was in effect, confirmed by both the Cabinet and the Ministry, for he told each of these bodies about his communications on 26 April and 2 May respectively.

Despite that finding, the Deputy Leader of the National Party talks about cronies. What sort of evidence does he need? If there is any dishonour in this House on the handling of this allegation it is by the lazy, slovenly and incompetent Opposition. That is where the dishonour lies. Let us deal with Mr Young, whose conduct has been a major part of the allegations. I do not have any difficulty in dealing with any of these matters. I think the House would be assisted in looking at what was said. As was pointed out by my colleague, Mr Young is not now a member of the Ministry. When the matter was disclosed he resigned. The Prime Minister took the view, supported by the Cabinet, that his position would not be filled until after the decisions of the Royal Commission were available and could be debated by the Parliament. Mr Young himself has admitted the impropriety and its cause and it has been dealt with. The honourable gentlemen opposite cannot prove any of their allegations about dishonesty or deceit. These men can no longer pursue their arguments about civil liberties because they know that on every major aspect of their allegations about the Prime Minister and the Cabinet there has been a specific finding which destroys the basis of their allegations. They are left with Mick Young. Let us look at the statements that were made. His Honour finds:

I am also of the view that the potential, rather than the actual, damage to the national security is what must be considered in determining impropriety.

That is fair enough. He goes on to say, and this is the heart of the matter, the basis upon which we must make our judgment and it is a political judgment we are making, not a legal judgment:

In the present case there is no evidence-

I stress 'there is no evidence'-

that national security was damaged by what Mr Young said to Mr Walsh.

Mr Howard —So if the bullet misses it is okay.

Mr HOLDING —I am dealing with a finding that was made. The honourable member for Bennelong might not like the finding, he might not want to agree with it, but that is the finding that was made. Let me remind honourable members opposite again of what Mr Justice Hope says:

. . . there is no evidence that national security was damaged by what Mr Young said to Mr Walsh.

He goes on to say:

It is also relevant that Mr Young had been a Minister for a period of less that six weeks and that this was his first experience of such a case. I have concluded that, notwithstanding his short Ministerial experience, it should have been apparent to Mr Young that he should not make the disclosures.

Mr Young agrees with that. The Prime Minister agrees with that. The question is whether, in the face of those findings, we say that Mr Young has paid an appropriate penalty. Because there is a finding that says that there has been no damage at all to national security, that there was an impropriety, in my political judgement that matter has been paid for well and truly by Mr Young's resignation and the subsequent problems that gave him. I do not have any difficulty at all with that. I stand by that as an exercise in political judgement and I will defend it.

Let me finish on this note: The tragic aspect of this debate is that, in the face of the very high responsibility that was placed upon the Leader of the Opposition, and indeed upon the Opposition as a whole, to deal with this matter with great sensitivity and with what I believe to be due regard to the interests of the nation, those interests were submerged by a desire to buy cheap political points and it did not matter who was damaged in the process. That is the record. On every major issue Mr Justice Hope finds that the Government acted properly and with propriety. In so finding he has, without saying it, condemned the shallowness, the meanness and the hypocrisy of the approach which unfortunately has been taken by the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition in this Parliament. I believe that if there is any shame in this matter it rests upon an incompetent and slovenly opposition.