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Tuesday, 14 October 1975
Page: 2068


Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent either the Prime Minister or the honourable member for Cunningham from making a statement to this House immediately on the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the honourable member for Cunningham as Minister for Minerals and Energy.

On this incredible day a Press statement has been released by the man who, for a very short time, remains the Australian Prime Minister. Press statement 574 dated this afternoon was released outside this Parliament explaining not to the Parliament but to the Press covering this Parliament the circumstances, or some small part of them, of the extraordinary events which have evoked questions which remain unanswered within this chamber. It is essential that this Parliament be told the reasons for and the nature of the extraordinary circumstances which surround the resignation of the man who was until but a short while ago the Minister for Minerals and Energy. It is incredible that during question time the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) chose to have placed on notice most questions which sought replies on this matter. It is essential that the Parliament be provided an opportunity to hear the reasons for the resignation of the Minister for Minerals and Energy and why he today sits as the honourable member for Cunningham on the back bench.

It is critical that Standing Orders be suspended so that the whole Parliament and the people of Australia can know something of the deception and the deceit which first saw the man who was then Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer called upon to hand in his resignation because he supposedly had not conferred with the Prime Minister. It is interesting that in this instance the precedent set by the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) has not been followed by the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor). It is interesting that the Prime Minister has not seen fit to come into this Parliament and provide for us all a reasonable opportunity to debate and to consider the circumstances of this most unusual and, dare I say, almost reprehensible event. It is important that there be an opportunity for the Parliament to consider the circumstances of a senior Minister's resignation. This is the man who on the last Caucus vote was No. 3 in the ministerial stakes. The suspending of Standing Orders is the only medium now open to the Opposition, when we have given to the Government since 2.15 this afternoon an opportunity to explain the full circumstances of the Minister's resignation.

The Prime Minister was one of the 4 signatories of the original Executive Council minute authorising the whole of the overseas loan negotiations. The suspension of Standing Orders would give the Prime Minister who is also the leader of the Government, and as such under the Westminster system responsible for each of his Ministers and for the actions of each of those who are his public servants, an opportunity to answer to this Parliament. -He has chosen to refuse that opportunity. Mr Speaker, suspending Standing Orders would allow the honourable member for Cunningham as an alternative an opportunity to respond. This opportunity would be given to the man who only last week in answers in this place assured us that no negotiations had been undertaken although in the course of transactions revealed through telexes referred to in this Parliament earlier today he has obviously been continuing in negotiations to which the Prime Minister has not referred and yet obviously he must have been in some way involved in them.

Suspending Standing Orders, Mr Speaker, is the only way that we can get an opportunity in this Parliament to hear and have answered the charges which must be laid, and have been laid, by the Prime Minister against one of his former senior colleagues. No member of the Labor Party, no member of the Government, can be proud when, circumstances having arisen which cause a senior member of their Government to resign, that member is to be let languish. He is allowed no defence and no opportunity to explain to the Parliament or to the people. That man is to be let suffer. Is that man, who is a colleague of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) who is trying to interject, a man who presumably even the honourable member would have supported but a week ago, a man who would have presumably spoken for him, to be allowed to languish? Is the honourable member and every other honourable member on the other side going to prevent this Parliament giving to the honourable member for Cunningham a chance to tell us why he was called on to resign?

Mr Speaker,we ask for the suspension of Standing Orders so that the whole of the details of those transactions which have been adverted to in the telex messages, which apparently have been covered by telephone conversations, which apparently have been subject to discussions between the Prime Minister and the honourable member for Cunningham and officers of his Department can be debated. This is the only way in which these matters can be canvassed in this Parliament. We have given the Government since 2.15 this afternoon an opportunity to explain to the people of Australia and to the Parliament what has happened. This man seeks to hide behind his Leader's apron strings. The Prime Minister said in Press statement No. 574 that no charge has been laid. I would suggest that the Prime Minister might refer back to Hansard of 9 July. He might look at the charges made by the Opposition then. He might even care to read his own speeches. He might care to see that in his charges against the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) he suggested that the difference between the honourable member for Lalor and the honourable member for Cunningham was that one had his confidence, that one confided in him. He now says: 'But I was misled'.

The suspension of Standing Orders is the only way to ensure that this Parliament is not misled. It is the Prime Minister who would seem to be the one who is misleading us. It is for the Prime Minister to come into this Parliament at even this late hour and tell us just why and in what way he has called upon the honourable member for

Cunningham to step down. And well members of the Labor Party should be embarrassed. We are concerned here with parliamentary principle and the absolutely reprehensible way in which the Prime Minister framed his statement. He suggested he maintains principle. Yet he reneged upon it. He suggests that in order to preserve principle he has called upon his colleague to resign. Yet he does not give to the honourable member for Cunningham a chance to defend himself. What a great manner of behaviour from a man who is supposed to uphold the law. It is absolutely incredible that senior members of the Labor Party are to be permitted to be sacrificed on the altar of the egoism of the Prime Minister. It is absolutely deplorable that the Parliament should be denied any opportunity to debate this matter.

The resignation of the Minister for Minerals and Energy is a matter of serious moment to this House. It is vital that the Parliament and the people of Australia be advised of the circumstances of his resignation. It is vital that a Press statement made outside this House be made as a matter of policy within the Parliament, that every member of this chamber be given an opportunity to debate it and that the man who is accused to be given the opportunity to defend himself. For those reasons I have moved suspension of Standing Orders.







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