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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3302

Mr HAYDEN (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —by leave-I am extremely pleased by the findings of the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of the Nugan Hand Group, at least insofar as they relate to the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony). He is the only person I ever referred to in relation to the matters before Mr Justice Stewart and now before this Parliament . I am pleased very simply that the denials of the then Deputy Prime Minister, now Leader of the National Party, have been endorsed by the Stewart Royal Commission. In turn, that means simply that my acceptance of those denials has been upheld. That I am very pleased about.

My comments will be charitably rather short. They are merely to remind people of the record in the Parliament as distinct from the imagination of the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman). I am a member of parliament and the forum in which I operate is the Parliament, not royal commissions and not courts . They may be incidental areas in which one finds oneself sometimes, with greater or lesser comfort, in my case never with any discomfort. But I am a parliamentarian and as a parliamentarian the venue in which I operate is this chamber. Honourable members who have a reliable memory will remember that in the early part of March 1982 rumours were rife about Parliament House that a senior Minister or Ministers had been involved in interference with the proper procedures of investigations and processes related to some vaguely alluded to narcotics matters. They were not comments generated by the then Opposition, now the Government. They were quite declaratory statements which appeared on television and were heard on radio. In all the circumstances, given the seriousness of the allegations, it would have been most extraordinary had an opposition not raised questions in the Parliament.

One must cast one's mind back to that period and recall the rather strange way in which the then Government conducted the affairs of this Parliament. The Parliament is a debating chamber. It is supposed to be a venue where members express points of view, test them, test opposing points of view, test the veracity of comments that come up from time to time, and question the viability or appropriateness of policies-a whole range of these sorts of things. However, in that period we had a government controlled by a Prime Minister who believed that the less that was said in Parliament the better. I suspect that, making a fairly accurate assessment of his own limitations, that was a sensible approach. It was, however, a self-destructive approach for him in terms of his position in this Parliament. There were many instances when matters raised by the then Opposition could have been snuffed as quickly as a click of finger and thumb had a debate been taken on by the horns in the way in which I believe it should be if serious questions affecting government are raised in the Parliament. I repeat : Instead of doing that we found, with the brilliant wisdom that people such as the honourable member for Bass were able to bring to bear on behalf of the then Government-which parenthetically I observe explains why we are here now and honourable members opposite are there now, that is, they listened too much to the wit and wisdom of people such as the honourable member for Bass-that these sorts of things, instead of being concluded promptly, often went on for days on end. I suppose that in a sense that was a splendid opportunity for an opposition to monopolise the limelight. For the Government it was not a very productive situation and a not very helpful situation for the Parliament. Only one group can accept responsibility or culpability for that-the government of the day.

I come back to March 1982, when the debate on this matter arose. On 11 March 1982, as reported at page 892 of the parliamentary record, I sought leave to move a motion revolving about certain allegations very seriously and disturbingly made, then very recently, about drug matters, ministerial interference, and so on. I then sought to explain that it was being very widely canvassed in the corridors of Parliament that the Deputy Prime Minister's name had been raised in relation to these matters. It had been raised by the media. It had not been raised by the Opposition. We knew nothing about it until it appeared in the media. We knew nothing about the identity of the alleged Minister until I heard from media people, who quite genuinely presented this matter. I said:

The Minister concerned has been privately identified as the Deputy Prime Minister . . . but in these circumstances--

With all the brilliance that the then Government was able to bring to bear-it really was brilliance for a government in such a commanding position to be able to tear out block after block of its majority in government and put us here and it there-it snuffed out the debate. I was going to say: 'In these circumstances I do not accept those allegations'. I remember it clearly, but I was prevented from saying any more. Then a few minutes later, the record shows, when responding to Mr Speaker as to whether I had put the motion in writing, I said:

Yes, Mr Speaker. The allegations have been made publicly today. We neither endorse them nor-

I was going to say 'accept them', and that in respect of the Deputy Prime Minister I found them incredible. I never got a chance. My contribution to the debate was snuffed out. The problem was generated by the lame-mindedness of certain strategists then with the Government. As I recall, the honourable member for Bass was a leading strategist. He was able to bring to bear all the experience and development that he had been able to establish in his Army career . I recall that when he was in Vietnam he was lost for three weeks when he took a troop out on patrol. He was supposed to be out for only three days. They had to send three troops of soldiers to find him. My brother-in-law was one of them and he said it was a matter of melancholy regret that they discovered him.

Mr Newman —I called him a liar when he said that before and I call him a liar again.

Mr HAYDEN —I can nearly wind up now because I do not like to see the honourable member for Bass in an apoplectic condition. On 11 March 1982, as reported as page 97 of the record of parliamentary debates, I said:

The Deputy Prime Minister did stand up this afternoon and deny the allegations. I accept his denial.

That was my first available opportunity to string more than three words together and, given the opportunity, I killed off the problems the Government had generated by its sheer unexampled stupidity. The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) said:

But you accepted a denial. Do you accept it or not?

He said that with that sort of chewing gum accent that comes from the north shore of Sydney. I said: 'What?' Well, I have a hearing problem and sometimes, I must confess, it is convenient. The honourable member said: 'His denial'. I said :

Yes. I said that I accepted it.

All of this development in relation to the then Deputy Prime Minister, now Leader of the National Party, was generated by the ingenuity of the then Government and by no one else. On the first opportunity I had I accepted his denial. Had I not been interrupted I would have made the denial for him. I would have made it effectively, and the silly thing would not have got out of hand. For that, the then Government, now Opposition, has so much to thank the honourable member for Bass. We on this side of the House thank him for being here too.