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Tuesday, 10 April 1973
Page: 1222

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted?

Mr Snedden - We have not had the privilege of seeing the document, Mr Speaker, and until we see it we cannot agree to its being tabled.

Mr SPEAKER - Leave is not granted.

Mr WHITLAM - I shall table it at the next opportunity. It is not an exhaustive list, having been prepared solely from the resources of the Central Crime Intelligence Bureau of the Commonwealth Police Force. It excludes a number of serious cases still before the courts. We were asked to believe that there was no evidence of any organisation. We were told by Ministers in the previous Government that there was no evidence of the existence of any organisation, and we were asked to believe that these incidents were all spontaneous, isolated, unplanned. Against this background came the visit of the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, a visit most welcome to my Government but one which resulted from a standing invitation extended by the previous Government. In the fortnight before the visit took place the Commonwealth Police informed the Government that it believed an attempt would be made to assassinate Mr Bijedic. According to the Commonwealth Police this threat was coupled with threats on the life of the Attorney-General, his wife and myself. In these circumstances I authorised the Attorney-General to take the necessary measures to protect the safety of our distinguished visitor and to ensure the success of his visit. The Attorney-General acted with vigour and correctness. I congratulate him.

The Attorney-General had to ensure the complete co-operation with and between the various security and law enforcement agencies under his authority. He knew that the Commonwealth Police believed that there had been lack of co-operation and a failure in information exchange with ASIO. Officers of my own Department of Foreign Affairs had also repeatedly complained of the lack of co-operation and information exchange with ASIO.

Mr Speaker,perhaps this would be a good opportunity for one to remind the House that, on 3rd April, the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) asked me to table the terms and conditions of appointment of the Director-General of Security. I can tell the House that Mr Barbour was appointed DirectorGeneral of Security on 22nd January 1970 by the Governor-General, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council for a term expiring on the day on which he attains the age of 60 years, subject to the terms and conditions set out in a separate determination. I ask leave of the House to table a document which, omitting only formal parts, states the terms and conditions set out in the determination.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr WHITLAM - I understand from the Attorney-General that ASIO itself now accepts that there have been, in the past, deficiencies in co-operation and information exchange. We are now confident that these deficiencies and failures will no longer occur. The actions of the Attorney-General have been a major factor in ensuring this. Many of the . memoranda supporting these views were compiled by departmental officers in the lifetime of the previous Government. I assume that the former Prime Minister, with his diligence and phenomenal memory, knows of their existence and recalls their content. The right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) will remember his plea of 27th October 1970 to the then Attorney-General:

I therefore earnestly hope that an intensified effort can be mounted by our police and security authorities designed to expose and render ineffective the extremist groups who presumably are responsible for the attacks which have occurred.

I notice the right honourable gentleman remembers this as he indicated by nodding, and remembers the circumstances which led him, as Minister for External Affairs, to write in that way. I assume that the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) recalls his own complaints on this matter. One letter has been tabled. Would he like me to table another? I assume that the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) recalls his own activities in 1964 to achieve a watering-down of a proposed statement on Croatian terrorism. The right honourable member is not in the chamber so I shall not table the document.

In the light of all the material available to us - material we inherited - the Attorney-General was bound to have misgivings about the level of co-operation on this particular matter as far as

ASIO was concerned. He would not have been doing his duty if he had not acted directly, personally and vigorously to ensure that he was receiving all relevant information and receiving all necessary co-operation. His visits to ASIO headquarters in Canberra and Melbourne were designed to achieve just that, and they did achieve just that. It is intolerable to suggest that the Attorney-General should have placed strict formality above the safety of a visiting Prime Minister and, if it matters, the safety of the Australian Prime Minister.

I regret, the Attorney-General regrets, and we all regret the publicity given to these visits. The Attorney-General was not responsible for that. It was not the Attorney-General or anybody on his staff, it was not any member of the Government or his staff, who tipped off the Melbourne 'Herald' on 16th March. The Attorney-General himself, as did I and every member of the Government, maintained complete silence until the Parliament could meet. It would have been much easier and personally less embarrassing for the Attorney-General had he felt free to answer questions from the media throughout the subsequent week. He felt obliged - and he was obliged - to maintain silence except for one quite formal and circumspect statement. We are not at all complaining about the Press, but I repeat that we cannot accept responsibility for it.

On the basis of this one event, or its interpretation of that event, the Opposition for the past fortnight has turned question time in both Houses into a farce. Members of the Opposition have abused the authority of the Chair in the House and on television outside it and made a concerted effort to impede the real business of this Parliament and this Government. But they have failed entirely to grapple with the important issues involved.

Has there been, over the last decade, because it was 10 years ago when there was first a debate on Croatian terrorism, a pattern of political violence and political terrorism in Australia? There has been. Was this organised? It was. Did the previous Government know of the existence of these organisations? It did. Did the previous Attorney-General deny the existence of such organisations? He did. He did repeatedly, deliberately, irresponsibly. Were members of the previous Government satisfied by the level of co-operation and competence being shown in combating this violence, this terrorism? They were not and they complained about it - privately. Did they insist that the previous Attorney-General take all possible action to stamp out terrorism and to ensure the vigilance and vigour of the law enforcement and security organisations? They did not. They complained privately and condoned publicly. Did the previous Government deal honestly and frankly with the Government of Yugoslavia in its complaints about threats to Yugoslav nationals in Australia and operations being plotted in Australia against the legitimate Government of Yugoslavia? It did not. Was the present Attorney-General entitled to act promptly and directly to safeguard the lives of the distinguished visitors and distinguished Australians? He was and he did so act. He will continue so to act, and in acting against terrorism from the right or the left or from whatever extremist groups in this country, he will have the unwavering, unqualified support of this Government.

I stand amazed at the sense of priorities and proprieties of honourable and right honourable gentlemen opposite. Senator Murphy, we are told, is to be censured for sealing some documents; Senator Greenwood presumably is to be praised for stealing some. It might be best if I deal at once with the proposal which the Leader of the Opposition has proposed as an amendment to my motion, that there should be a royal commission of some form or some form of judicial inquiry into this matter. I read about this proposal over the last few days. I pondered it quite deeply and I may say that, with great reluctance, I have decided to set aside the temptation the right honourable gentleman dangles before me. Nothing could suit me better; nothing could be so politically devastating to the remnants of the previous Government than such an inquiry.

Clearly a royal commission would have to cover the whole range of terrorist activities and the attitude of governments and their agencies to it over the last 10 years or more. Such an inquiry would have, of course, powers to call for persons and papers. The persons who have something to answer for from the 1960's to the present time are, of course, overwhelmingly, Ministers in the previous Government. The papers would be 99.99 per cent papers produced for and by the previous Government. The crucial question that such a commission would have to report on would be the neglect and the deceit of the previous Government in the face of the clearest evidence of organised terrorist activities in this country over the last 10 years.

I confess I am sorely tempted. I will tell the House why I have resisted the temptation. There are 2 good reasons. Firstly, I am convinced that such an inquiry would not add materially to our ability to crush the terrorist activities which were allowed to grow under the previous Government. I am satisfied that the measures we are taking, and in particular the measures that the Attorney-General is taking to reorganise the agencies which come under his responsibility and to ensure cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies, will be effective in stamping out terrorism, Secondly, I have decided - tempting as the prospect may be - that the Labor Government is not going to have a Petrov commission in reverse. We are not going to have a witchhunt. We are not going to have the first months and years of our Government dominated by an atmosphere of heresy hunting and fear. I repeat: It tempts me to set up a commission which would leave every leading member of the previous Government, the present Opposition, with his reputation in shreds. I assure the House that the material is there. The Leader of the Opposition knows it is there, the last Prime Minister knows it is there, the Prime Minister before that knows it is there and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows it is there.

Such a commission would have to satisfy itself, for example, why the then AttorneyGeneral, Senator Greenwood, wrote on 16th August last year to the Prime Minister of that time complaining about stories which were then appearing in the Melbourne 'Sun' and other newspapers about political terrorism, a letter in which Senator Greenwood suggested that the departments then headed by the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes), the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) and the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) were insecure or were 'insufficiently safeguarded'. This is the sort of material that would have to go before the royal commission or any judicial inquiry. We would have a rare old time. We would have to haul before the commission or inquiry not just the right honourable and honourable gentlemen I have named, but the then heads of those departments, the officers who know the truth, the journalists involved and even editors of newspapers. And for what purpose? There would be only one purpose and one result - to destroy the last vestiges of what ever reputation that previous Government and surviving members might possibly have.

The Leader of the Opposition puts up this phoney proposal for a royal commission. He is the nominal head of a party whose own Senate group declares its independence of the Liberal Party in this House. That independent group judged the Attorney-General without an inquiry - a judicial inquiry or any other form of inquiry - or without a royal commission of one, two or three judges. The Leader of the Opposition now comes forward with a proposal to have an inquiry to pass judgment on the Attorney-General. When will these gentlemen - this plethora of privy councillors, this gaggle of ex-Ministers - sort themselves out? Is there to be a censure followed by an inquiry or an inquiry followed by a further censure? I have had to make a judgment between an easy destruction of the Liberal Party and damage to the welfare of this country. I have decided to put the welfare of Australia ahead of my contempt for the Liberal Party.

The long debate on this whole matter seems to have concentrated on Senator Murphy and Senator Greenwood. This is terribly unfair to Senator Greenwood. Senator Greenwood is not significant enough a person to be the scapegoat for the previous Government. The documentation against the previous Government goes back well before Senator Greenwood was even a member of the Parliament and, in indicting the members of the last Government, I want to concentrate on one aspect of their activities and their failures which has not been paid much attention. I refer to their cavalier conduct, their lack of candour towards a friendly government, namely the Government of Yugoslavia. Let there be no illusions about the importance of good relations with Yugoslavia and the significance of that Government not just to Australia but to the world. The previous Government was under no illusions. For example, Senator Wright, representing the then Foreign Minister, told the Senate on 21st September last:

Any break up of Yugoslavia could lead only to the creation of a new crisis point in the world today. It is almost certain that under such circumstances there would be increased tension and thus a reversal of the current trends towards a better climate for good relations in Europe after a post-war period of tension lasting over 25 years.

Yet that same Government was willing to imperil our good relations with the Yugoslav Government and to condone within Australia the existence of terrorist groups dedicated to that Government's destruction by violence. 1 ask leave to table a list of the occasions upon which the Yugoslav Government sent formal notes or made informal representations to the Australian Government and the dates of the Australian responses.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted?

Mr Snedden - Earlier the Prime Minister asked leave to table a document which I had not seen. I have since seen it and I grant leave for the tabling of it. The document to which he has just referred I have not seen. If he will allow me to glance at it I will inform him whether leave is granted.

Mr SPEAKER - Leave is granted for tabling the list of incidents with connotations of violence within the Yugoslav community.

Mr WHITLAM - In October 1963 the Yugoslav Government referred, in the first of many formal protest notes, to the incursion of 9 Croatians with connections in Australia which occurred in that year. In 1963, as papers tabled by the Attorney-General indicate, there was no disagreement within the Australian police or intelligence organisations that a terrorist group known as the Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood existed in this country.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Prime Minister's time has expired.

Suspension of Standing Orders

Motion (by Mr Daly) - by leave - agreed to: That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition each speaking for a period not exceeding 45 minutes.

Mr Snedden - I understand that the Leader of the House does not mean 45 minutes from now.

Mr Daly - That understanding is correct.

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