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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1045

Mr McMAHON (LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the Prime Minister seen a report submitted to me by the AttorneyGeneral's Department dated on or about 12th September 1972 - that is, shortly before the dissolution of the House - that the Commonwealth Police Force had no knowledge of any terrorist group operating in Australia, nor had it been able to obtain any information concerning such a group? As this report is identical with other information submitted to me in writing and known by other departments to be correct, is it the proper interpretation of the words alleged to be used by the foreign affairs officer in the alleged Australian Security Intelligence Organisation minute that the reply to the Whitlam Government should be consistent with the aide-memoire to the Yugoslav Embassy? This being so, does not the repetition of the word 'conspiracy' create the impression of a smear against those civil servants involved and that, accordingly, an apology should immediately be conveyed to the officers who submitted the report to the Prime Minister?

Mr WHITLAM - I did not initiate the use of the word 'conspiracy'.

Mr Anthony - But you used it.

Mr WHITLAM - If the report is accurate, then what else could there have been other than a conspiracy, as the Leader of the Opposition himself discerned quite quickly? Bluntly, if the report is correct, then on the face of it there was a conspiracy.

Mr Staley - Why?

Mr WHITLAM - I have expressly-

Mr Staley - Why?

Mr WHITLAM - Because it is asserted-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Prime Minister can answer only one question at a time.

Mr McMahon - I want him to answer mine.

Mr WHITLAM - If the right honourable gentleman will let me, I will quote again what the report said. This is the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation report made on 5th March about a meeting held on 2nd March:

The Department of Foreign Affairs made two points on the proposed statement.

That is the statement by the Attorney-General.

Mr McMahon - I rise to order, Mr Speaker. 1 have asked a question. Admittedly, the Leader of the Opposition asked a question earlier and received an answer.

Mr Snedden - I did not receive an answer.

Mr McMahon - An attempted answer. I ask that the Prime Minister answer my question and not refer to other questions asked earlier today.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I should like to inform the House, as I have done on numerous occasions since becoming Speaker, that I intend to follow the practice of my 2 predecessors and allow Ministers to answer questions as they see fit.

Mr WHITLAM - As I was saying when 1 was so querulously interrupted, the report stated:

The Department of Foreign Affairs made two points on the proposed statement. The first was that the statement should not be at variance with the interim reply given to Yugoslavia in response to the aide-memoire presented to Australia following the Bosnian incident', in 1972.

I will skip the next point. The report continued:

The Attorney-General's Department accepted the first point.

I quoted that in answer to the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition then asked me a further question and, by way of interjection, said: 'What about the conspiracy between Attorney-General's and Foreign Affairs?' The word 'conspiracy' was used by the Leader of the Opposition.

I have expressly, again and again - at question time yesterday, at question time today and at a Press conference yesterday - declined to confirm the accuracy of the report or to speculate about its accuracy. If it is accurate then, as the Leader of the Opposition said, there may well be a conspiracy. On the face of it there would be a conspiracy. On the other hand, if the report is inaccurate we all have much to fear from inaccurate reports by ASIO. All applicants for naturalization and pro spective public servants, have much to fear from reports by ASIO if they are inaccurate. Inquiries are being made into the whole of this matter. In answer to the specific question asked by the right honourable member for Lowe, I have not the document to which he referred.

Mr McMahon - Have you seen it?

Mr WHITLAM - I do not remember seeing it but I will oblige the right honourable gentleman by asking for it. I have got here a document which he sent to a former AttorneyGeneral. I completely agree with the sentiments of it. It reads as follows:

I believe that the situation is now so serious that the Government must take whatever further action is within its power to put an end to these incidents. It may be that some additional Commonwealth legislation is required - to increase penalties, for example - and 1 suggest that Departments should continue to look at this matter to see what recommendations can be placed before Cabinet in the very near future. But as a matter of immediacy I think we should use all the agencies at our disposal, including the Commonwealth and State Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, to attempt to identify the offenders among the extremist groups and to bring them to justice.

Mr Sherry - Who said that?

Mr WHITLAM - The right honourable member for Lowe, lt was on 1 6th December 1969 when he was Foreign Minister, before he displaced the then Prime Minister. The right honourable gentleman proceeded as follows:

I find it hard to believe that lt is not possible to penetrate these groups by one means or another. It ls most important that, when offenders are brought before a court, the full rigour of the law should be applied so that there can be no doubt as to tha determination of the Australian authorities to put an end to this form of violence in the community. I think it is essential that we should act quickly and that we should act so that there will be no possible misunderstanding by anyone of our concern and our intentions.

He pointed out that in 1964 Prime Minister Menzies had stated that his Government would not tolerate any activities which constitute a breach of the law. The right honourable gentleman proceeded:

The situation is a great deal more serious now; and it may be desirable that a further statement be made in stronger terms than that of S years ago.

This letter is dated 16th December 1969. So slowly did the mills of justice grind then that now we have to tackle the position that deteriorated under the right honourable gentleman.

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