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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2344

Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the Prime Minister: Did the right honourable member for Higgins last night assert that the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts had given the House figures which were not accurate and estimates which were misleading on the national film and television training school? Did the same Minister on a previous occasion lose his place in the Ministry after giving the House inaccurate and misleading answers on the existence of flight manifests for the VIP squadron? Will the Prime Minister now table all documents and reports relevant to the national film and television training school, as his predecessor on the earlier occasion tabled the VIP squadron manifests? Does he regard the conduct of the Minister as seriously as it was regarded by his predecessor? If so, what action does he propose to take on the matter?

Mr McMAHON (LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Prime Minister) - I did listen in on the intercommunication system last night to the speech made by the right honourable gentleman from Higgins and I heard that part of it relating to the figures that had been presented to the House by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. I have not had time to check them, naturally enough, because the speech was made at a fairly late hour. But 1 will do so.

What I can say is that if anyone knew the full story relating to the VIP incident, rather than being critical of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, he would say that he took upon himself an enormous responsibility when there was no need for him to have taken any responsibility whatsoever. We on this side of the House regard him as a man who should have received approval for what he did rather than be severely criticised. But this is not the kind of conduct that can ever be expected from the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Whitlam - What do you mean by that?

Mr MCMAHON - What I said.

Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, I rise to order. I ask that the right honourable gentleman withdraw those remarks. If they have any point to his reply they must be objectionable. Replies must be relevant and, under the Standing Orders, they must not be objectionable. This did not seem to be a relevant reply, but if it has any relevance it must be objectionable. I ask you, Mr Speaker, to keep the right honourable gentleman within proper limits. I would point out to you, Sir, that my question quoted words used by a former Prime Minister last night about a present Minister, the words being 'inaccurate figures' and misleading costs'. Now the present Prime Minister, in justifying the conduct of the Minister about whom the right honourable member for Higgins made these remarks, has said that I, the Leader of the Opposition, would not act in the same proper way as the Minister concerned had acted on an earlier occasion. If there is any suggestion that I would use inaccurate figures or misleading costs, any such allegation should be withdrawn immediately and unequivocally. 1 have quoted a serious allegation against a Minister made by a former Prime Minister. I am surely entitled to a serious reply.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The question that the Leader of the Opposition raises is a serious one. 1 think that the actions of the Minister in regard to the VIP aircraft incident are well known to the House, and I understood that the Prime Minister in his reply complimented the Minister on his actions on that occasion. If, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Prime Minister was referring by implication to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition would not act in such a way, I think that the line is fairly thin. However, I suggest to all Ministers that when answering questions personalities and implications in relation to the conduct of other members are completely out of order.

Mr McMAHON - Before I go on with my answer I want to assure the honourable gentleman that 1 was not thinking of, and I do know how he could draw the implication that 1 was referring to, the words he used relating to the figures that were presented by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. 1 had no such thought in my mind. To complete what 1 was saying previously, naturally enough I will look at the figures that were mentioned and the criticisms that were made about them. After I have looked al them I will decide what action is to be taken.

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