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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 39

Mr SNEDDEN - I ask the Prime Minister: Is it not a fact that all Ministers of the Government are members of the Cabinet? Do all Ministers as members of the Cabinet put themselves in a position where they must have available to them security information? Do not Ministers rely on their staffs for paper handling and filing? For example, does not the Prime Minister himself rely on his staff? Will he in the public and the national interest require clearances at an appropriate level for the staffs of all Ministers? If he is unwilling to take this course will he personally decide which papers have a security content and not distribute these papers to Ministers unwilling to have their staffs cleared? Will he say which Ministers are unwilling to have their staffs cleared?

Mr WHITLAM - The only thing that I have to add to the previous answer I gave to the right honourable gentleman is that some documents which are the basis of Cabinet submissions or which support Cabinet submissions are not shown to all members of the Cabinet. The Cabinet submissions are shown to all Ministers because all Ministers are members of the Cabinet. I have no doubt that every Minister keeps his Cabinet documents completely secure. I can speak for my own Department, of course. There are some documents which are subject to certain security classifications and this means that they are shown to persons on the basis of their need to know of them. Those documents are shown only to persons who need to know them and on my own staff they are shown to persons who have the top security clearance. One of the persons I have in mind had that clearance when he served in several Commonwealth departments. He had it before he came to my staff, and he alone deals with those documents.

Mr Snedden - On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The honourable the Prime Minister appeared to me to take notes as I asked the question and he has failed to answer it.

Mr WHITLAM - I shall table my notes if the right honourable member wants me to.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! There is no point of order involved. A Minister is entitled to answer a question in the way he thinks befitting the question.

Mr Snedden - Mr Speaker, do I understand you to be ruling that the Prime Minister need not answer a question which goes to public security?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I am acting on the precedent set by my predecessor.

Mr Snedden - I wish to ask the honourable gentleman a supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER - No. The right honourable gentleman is out of order. I call the honourable member for Hawker.

Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, might I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper. This is the longest question time we have had in my experience.

Mr Snedden - On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been the practice of this House for some time that questions should run for 45 minutes. Questions were called on today 10 minutes after the normal sitting time.

Mr Whitlam - They have run for 47 minutes.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I shall reply to the point of order. The length of question time has nothing to do with the Chair. It is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Government.

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