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Monday, 26 November 1973
Page: 3802

Mr JAMES (HUNTER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the Minister for Immigration aware that that master racketeer, spiv, confidence man, company director and international crook, one Alexander Barton, who cheated Australian shareholders out of $21m before fleeing Australia is now travelling Europe on Australian passport No. G.528710 and is staying at luxury hotels, drinking scotch at $2 a throw and eating steaks at $10 each?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I am not interested in his gastronomical doings. Will the honourable gentleman please ask his question?

Mr JAMES - He is paying $52 a night for bed and breakfast. Will the Minister in view of what the previous Government did in connection with Wilfred Burchett's passport, which my Prime Minister had reissued within a month of taking office-

Mr Whitlam - Within a week.

Mr JAMES - The Prime Minister says that it was reissued within a week. Because of his honest writing, Wilfred Burchett's passport was withdrawn by the previous Government. In view of the fact that this crook got away with $21m, will the Minister give serious consideration to withdrawing Alexander Barton's Australian passport?

Mr GRASSBY (RIVERINA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Immigration) - I cannot confirm or deny the gastronomic delights enjoyed by Mr Barton and his family at present. But I did have a report that he was in Europe. This is the second inquiry that I have had regarding this gentleman. The first was a query as to whether he had in fact left the country. I made inquiries at that time, and he undoubtedly left the country on an Australian passport to proceed, in the first instance, to Hong Kong. He has an Australian passport; he is an Australian citizen. There was no hindrance to his leaving at that time because he had not been found guilty of any crime and there had been no report or action to prevent his departure by the New South Wales Government which, I think, has the major involvement in the prosecutions in this matter. So, as far as my officers were concerned, he proceeded overseas with all the rights and privileges of an Australian citizen. I would add, however, that great concern has been expressed about an Australian citizen who has been accused, I think, of being the Australian equivalent of Ronald Biggs. It was a slightly different operation, but the end result was the same. I cannot comment on that because the matter has not yet been brought before the courts--

Mr Sinclair - Mr Speaker,I raise a point of order. Is it within the competence of the Minister to comment on proceedings which, I understand, are being undertaken either by a court of law or by the Registrar of Companies in New South Wales in respect of the person named in the question asked by the honourable member for Hunter?

Mr SPEAKER -I am unaware that an inquiry has been initiated. I am not too sure about that fact. If one has been initiated, I would prefer the Minister not to enter into any controversy regarding that matter.

Mr GRASSBY - An important point has been raised by the Deputy Leader of the Country Party. If any inquiry has been initiated and is already in train, I make no further comment on the gentleman or his activities. I am not sure about that fact, so I will refrain from saying anything more along those lines. There are well defined procedures for extradition from certain countries of any Australian citizen who is required by the due processes of law in our country. In view of the gravity of the charges which have been made here and the discussion generally, I will give the honourable member for Hunter an undertaking now to inquire immediately as to the status of this gentleman, as to the status of his passport and whether any action should be taken.

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