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Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1321

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - This motion for the suspension of Standing Orders is properly brought. If the motion is not passed it will be only because the Government is using its numbers in this House - everybody knows that it has the numbers - simply in a blind response to protect members of its Party, without having the slightest regard for the conventions of government which have existed for centuries and which are known as the Westminister conventions. The conventions of Westminister have existed for some centuries. The basis of the convention to which I refer is that, when a government governs, there must be within the government a need for total and complete communication between the government and the Public Service and total and complete communication between the Ministers making up the government. In accordance with that convention, when the government goes out of office, it is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Cabinet Office to lock up all the papers of that previous government.

Mr Connor - This was not a Cabinet document and you well know it. Do not mislead the House.

Mr Anthony - How did he get it?

Mr Connor - It was also a report to my administration - and do not forget that too - on 29 December.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Minister can seek to make a personal explanation at the conclusion of this speech.

Mr SNEDDEN - The convention is for the Secretary of the Cabinet Office to lock up all the papers of that government and submit them to Archives. From Archives they will be available only after the expiration of a 25-year period. In the meantime they can be made available only with the consent of the leader of the Opposition party. Within the convention there is also a very strict instruction in terms of the convention to the Permanent Head of every department that he should take out of the files in the department all personal documents that are submissions, decisions or correspondence between Ministers, and keep them away from the incoming Minister. I do not speak of this without authority. There is plenty of written authority about the convention and the most recent one made was by Richard Crossman, whose name will be well known to Government supporters. He said:

Though I know of no book or document in which they are written out, the procedures to be followed in the Cabinet Offices and in each Ministry or Department when a new Government takes over are well established and understood throughout Whitehall. Some of them involve considerable work before the election - or more probably during the actual campaign, when the Minister is otherwise engaged and his Private Office has time at its disposal. The most important of these procedures is the removal from the files of any document which is either wholly or partly composed by the Minister, or contains any annotation by him or even his signature. The departmental records when presented to an incoming Minister of the Opposition side must be pure arid undefined by the hand of any politician. The reason for this is twofold. In the first place, the incoming Minister must not have the advantage of knowing the views and reactions of his predecessor. Secondly, and much more important, the outgoing Minister must not be embarrassed by his incoming enemy obtaining an insight into his confidential minutes, drafts and conclusions, which could contradict his public utterances.

The purpose of that is so that government can go on. How can the Minister for Minerals and Energy himself write to another Minister if it is to become the property of anybody else? Last night the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) said:

I should like to read some excerpts from a section of a speech prepared by the Minister for National Development in the days of the Gorton Government.

He quoted from it; this morning the Minister for Minerals and Energy made an admission that that was so. The purpose of the motion under consideration is to appoint a select committee. If the motion is not able to be moved, and it can be moved only if Standing Orders are suspended, then it is a further contradiction of the parliamentary system which the present Labor Government is determined to achieve.

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