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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26636


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:15 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. In relation to the recent statements by Mr Mike Scrafton, does the minister recall that the Prime Minister's strident defence of his position has been solely based on questioning why Mike Scrafton did not detail his conversation with the Prime Minister on children overboard to Jenny Bryant, who was undertaking an inquiry for the then head of PM&C, Mr Moore-Wilton? Hasn't this desperate defence now been completely blown out of the water by the corroborative statements provided by Major General Powell and Commander Noonan, who have both confirmed that Mr Scrafton did detail his conversations with the Prime Minister shortly after those conversations took place? Isn't it true that if you and the government had not gagged Mr Scrafton from giving evidence to the Senate committee these corroborated facts would have been available to the Australian people two years ago?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —It is the Labor Party that is determined to drag Mr Scrafton into this debate even further. If that assertion is going to be put to me, I remind Senator Faulkner of what Mr Scrafton did say. He was asked:

Do you recall being advised at any stage that there were no children among those in the water on the 7 October?

What was his answer with his signature underneath? No.



Senator HILL —There is a fine distinction, is there, Senator Bolkus? We are going to have the unprecedented experience of a sham parliamentary inquiry with a Labor-Greens majority sitting through the election campaign. The motion that is going to be passed today will, in a very rare if not unprecedented way, allow the committee to sit during the election campaign. It directs it to report before the election—I wonder why that is!—and to address just one issue. What is the one issue? The issue is about the statements made by Mr Scrafton. This motion is because Labor sees a political opportunity. There have been two questions in this place on the Scrafton statements. I guess every question today—this will be an interesting test—will be on Scrafton because that is the best the Labor Party can come up with after nearly nine years of opposition. Obviously Mr Scrafton says one thing to the PM&C inquiry and he says another thing in the Australian. I do not know what he will say to the Senate committee. I do know what the outcome of the Senate committee will be. I know the finding.



Senator HILL —Senator Conroy, as you have the numbers to dictate this order, why don't you also write the judgment into the order as well—this farce that the Senate is going to be dragged into to try to please a Labor Party totally bent on personality politics. Mr President, most Australians—I think almost all Australians, even Labor Party Australians—want to move on. They want to know what the Australian Labor Party, after nearly nine years of opposition, is offering as an alternative. They would like to see some defence policies. We do not have those yet, apart from sacking a whole lot of public servants, which really did upset the union movement, I have to say. Senator Evans would not have said that, but he got sacked—that was the trouble.

The Australian people would like to see a taxation policy from the Labor Party. They really would like to know that the Labor Party has done some work in opposition and has made some effort to prepare an alternative set of policies—a program on which the Australian people can make a choice. That is what they would like to hear. How disappointed they must be that this Labor Party, at its first question time since the election was announced, is back into the Scrafton statements and papers and back into the personalised attack upon the Prime Minister, attempting to drag the major issues that need to be debated in an election down into the gutter. Mr Latham boasts that he is a hater. If this is setting the scene for this election, he will prove that he is a hater. But that is not what the Australian people want in an election. (Time expired)


Senator Brown —Mr President, I raise a point of order. On the last day of sitting, I was asked to withdraw the word `hater' or `hate', which was applied to the Prime Minister.

Government senators interjecting—


Senator Brown —No, I did not. I am raising a point of order. I was asked by the chair to withdraw the word. I would ask that the same ruling be applied to the minister regarding the Leader of the Opposition.


Senator Knowles —Mr President, on the point of order, my recollection of that last day of sitting is that Senator Brown refused to withdraw the word `hate'. But on this occasion Senator Hill is actually quoting the words of Mr Latham, not accusing him of it. He is quoting Mr Latham's own words back to him.


Senator Hill —Mr President, just following up from Senator Knowles on the point of order, on 26 June Mr Latham said:

I'm a hater ... the more I see of them the more I hate them.

He is obviously talking about politicians on his side or the other side whom he is not in agreement with. On 26 June he said:

Everyone's got hate in—


The PRESIDENT —Order! I am going to rule on this point of order. My ruling is that there is no point of order. In this particular case it was a quote. In your particular case, Senator Brown, it was a direct accusation.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Prime Minister has decided that the Senate should sit to examine these issues, I invite the minister to perhaps stop raving and answer this supplementary question. Given that both Major General Powell and Navy Commander Noonan have corroborated Mike Scrafton's account, does the Prime Minister seriously want the Australian people to believe that Mike Scrafton concocted a false story of conversations with the Prime Minister and put that to the official Defence inquiry back in November 2001, simply to go public for political reasons three years later? Does the minister support the Prime Minister's contention that Mr Scrafton has acted from political motives in this matter?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not want to make a judgment on Mr Scrafton. I do not think Mr Scrafton should be the issue. He has written to the paper stating his current recollection.

Government senators interjecting—


Senator HILL —Yes, inconsistent with what he had said earlier; but that might be. Mr Howard has said that that does not accord with his recollection or the recollection of those in his office. It is the Labor Party that wants to draw on that and drag this issue onto the public agenda yet again, even though it has been subject to the most detailed and extended parliamentary inquiry already. The point I was making was: why does the Labor Party want to do this? Why does it want to get down into the gutter and personalise this campaign? The point I was making was that it is because Mr Latham is a hater. That is the point—he says `I am a hater'. The quote I was going to read was that not only did he say he is a hater but he said: `I hope my little boy grows up hating Liberals.' (Time expired)