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Wednesday, 18 September 1974
Page: 1184

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Government in the Senate, Attorney) (General and Minister for Customs and Excise) - This motion should never have been moved. The best that can happen is that it be rejected by the Senate. The worst that can hapen is that it be passed by the Senate. The Senate has no power over a Minister. It would be bad enough if there were a strong enough case against a Minister for such a motion calling for resignation to be passed because it is beyond the Senate's power to deal with a Minister. It is the House of Representatives which determines whether a person should be a Minister of the Crown. It is the House of Representatives which determines who shall be the Government and who shall be the Ministers of the Government. A decision would in any event be ineffective and would merely illustrate the Senate's ineffectiveness to deal, as it is purporting to deal, with the rights of a Minister, his entitlements or the propriety of his remaining a Minister. But this is not a case where one could even justify the Senate endeavouring, however impotently, to purport to deal with such a question.

This must be one of the weakest cases ever been put forward in any Parliament against a Minister. The motion starts off by referring to something purporting to be a personal charge against the Minister in relation to his actions in the Ermolenko affair, but it was realised by those who moved it that that charge could not stand up on its own. We were here and heard what the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) said. We witnessed at close hand what his actions were and it was apparent that this charge just could not stand up. So what did they do? They dragged in something about the Baltic states, which is a matter that affects the Government as a whole. It is suggested that in some way the Minister for Foreign Affairs should be blamed personally for the decision. Whatever the rights or wrongs of it may be, it is not proper or decent to select the Minister for Foreign Affairs in regard to such a matter for which the whole of the Government is responsible. The third part of the censure motion says:

The foreign policy alignments he is promoting will not serve Australia 's national interest.

Again, whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter may be, it is most improper and it is not decent to suggest that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is deserving of censure because of that or that he ought to resign. If the Opposition wants to complain about the Government's foreign policy it should understand that it is a collective decision. There is a collective responsibility. The Opposition ought at least to have had the decency to direct its motion in regard to these matters against the whole Government. What more responsibility has the Minister for Foreign Affairs in regard to these matters than I have or any other Minister has? Why select him personally for censure and ask that he resign when, whether the decisions were right or wrong, he was implementing the policy of the Government for which all the Ministers are responsible? I say that it is not fair and decent. The Opposition ought not to have done that in regard to those other matters.

Whatever justification the Opposition may have for saying that some personal element was involved in the first part of the motion- it is debatable whether even there it is decent or fair to select the Minister- certainly in regard to the second and third parts the Opposition has shown no sense of propriety at all in launching this personal censure against the Minister. It would be a very sorry day for the Senate and for responsible government in this community if the Senate were to pass such a motion couched in that way. Whatever the rights or wrongs may be, even if the Opposition were completely justified, there is no justification whatever in respect of the second or third matters- or the first matter.

In regard to the Ermolenko affair there is no basis whatever for criticism of the Minister. He acted properly throughout. We saw here that he acted honestly. He did what he thought was proper. He was conscious of the very difficult situation that the young man was in. He told the Senate honestly what had happened, that the young man had expressed some desire to remain in this country and then he had changed his mind in his expressions. The Minister said that he wanted to satisfy himself as to what the young man's intentions were, and he indicated very clearly that he was prepared to abide by them. The Minister was acting in the highest traditions of civil liberties and the highest traditions of what we would expect of a Minister. Perhaps he could have made some easy and quick decision, but he did not. It must have been a very agonising time for him to try to determine what was in the mind of a young man of 18 years who had expressed himself one way on one occasion and the other way consistently on other occasions.

The attack upon the Minister as put by Senator Greenwood is most extraordinary. It is said that he should have produced some transcript of a confidential conversation which the young man had. What right has the Minister to break the confidence of the young man and to produce to the Senate or publicly what was said in confidence by the young man, whether to an official of the Australian Government or to anyone else? He has no right to break the privacy of the young man. It would be wrong of him to bring that matter into the Senate. He made his decision firmly in the first place that he would not do it and he was right instinctively and right in the parliamentary and governmental sense.

The next thing that was said, in a very colourful way, was that the Minister has prevented the courts of this country from determinng the issue of whether the young man wanted to go back to the Soviet Union. It is said that the Minister challenged the courts, challenged the due process of law and usurped the role of the courts. It is said that the matter requires explanation and some justification. What nonsense! The courts were never asked to determine the issue of whether this young man wanted to go back to the Soviet Union. The Supreme Court of Western Australia was asked, in a very curious proceeding, to determine the question of whether the young man was being detained by a Mr Alexadrov and by an officer of the Commonwealth Police. That was a proceeding in habeas corpus, not a proceeding to determine what was in the mind of the young man as to where he wanted to go. The proceeding was one of habeas corpus- to have the young man released from the custody in which it was alleged he was being detained. If anything was apparent throughout this whole affair, that was the most nonsensical proceeding which was ever conducted.

In relation to the proceeding in which it was alleged that the Commonwealth Police had detained the young man in custody, the Supreme

Court found no difficulty in dismissing the proceeding with costs. Yet it was alleged here that Mr Alexandrov and the Commonwealth Police had detained this young man in custody. Somehow this seems to have disappeared from the consideration of the Opposition. Obviously Mr Alexandrov did not have the young man in custody. In fact during some part of the week it is apparent that Mr Alexandrov was out of the State of Western Australia where the young man was and was over here in Canberra. Leaving aside the clear question of diplomatic immunity, it was nonsense to think that the proceeding could succeed. By the end of the week when the Minister is supposed to have been destroying and challenging the courts and usurping their role the Commonwealth Police had been dismissed from the proceeding and Mr Alexandrov was over here in Canberra. It is suggested that in some way Senator Willesee was defying and preventing the court from determining the issue of whether the young man was being detained in custody by Mr Alexandrov and the Commonwealth Police officer who had already been dismissed from the case, with costs.

It is alleged that the Minister was usurping the role of the courts and defying the courts. What did the judge say at the conclusion of the proceedings? The applicant had agreed that his proceedings be discharged. He withdrew an absurd motion for commital for contempt against Mr Alexandrov and also moved that, in the circumstances that had arisen, the writ be quashed. This was done by the applicant himself.

Senator Withers - What date was that?

Senator MURPHY -That was the end of these proceedings.

Senator Withers - What date was that? That was after he had left. Now be honest. That was after he had left.

Senator MURPHY - Of course it was after he had left. Listen to the Leader of the Opposition. Is he going to suggest that in some way Senator Willesee was usurping the role of the courts in respect of a proceeding relating to the detention of the young man? The Commonwealth Police are alleged to have detained a young man. The Police and Mr Alexandrov were dismissed from the proceedings and an order for costs was made against the applicant. Mr Alexandrov was not even in the State of Western Australia at the time Senator Willesee took the action about which the Opposition is complaining. Nothing else could happen to this absurd proceeding than what did happen to it, and the Leader of the Opposition asks what time it was.

What did the judge who was in charge of the proceeding say? Did he say that Senator Willesee or the Australian Government had been guilty of some contempt of the court in Western Australia? Did he make some adverse comment on the conduct of the Australian Government or, in particular, on Senator Willesee? Did he do that? Has Senator Greenwood informed the Senate of the attitude of the judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia at the end of the proceedings? Mr Justice Wickham made no adverse comment on the Australian Government or on Ministers of the Australian Government. Counsel for the Australian Government and counsel for the Government of Western Australia were present. The learned judge thanked the counsel for the Australian Government as well as the counsel for the Western Australian Government for the assistance they had given by attending the hearing at his invitation. A representative of the Australian Government attended that hearing and represented Senator Willesee by proxy. Not one word of criticism was levelled at Senator Willesee.

The Opposition comes into this chamber and talks nonsense about Senator Willesee usurping the role of the courts, preventing the courts of this country from determining the issue and challenging the courts. If there had been any challenge to the courts, any usurping of the authority of the court of this land, or any endeavour to take over the role of the courts by Senator Willesee to prevent the courts from acting, the Supreme Court of Western Australia would have taken proceedings for contempt against the Minister. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and all honourable senators are aware of that. These people who rush into the courts, as they did, with a baseless case in an attempt to make political capital, would not hesitate for 10 seconds before they would be racing into the court again if there were the slightest basis upon which Senator Willesee could be criticised for challenging the courts, usurping the role of the courts or in any way preventing the courts from determining any issue. It is absolute nonsense to suggest anything to the contrary. How can the Opposition say that in any way there is a case of contempt of court against Senator Willesee when no attempt to usurp the authority of the court has been made by Senator Willesee.

In Western Australia there is a conservative government- a government of the calibre of the Opposition. Why does not that government take proceedings in the Western Australian courts against Senator Willesee if there is any basis to the suggestions that he had challenged the courts and usurped their role? Honourable senators opposite are aware that that is nonsense. The Opposition could not get any counsel in Western Australia to go to court and say that there is any foundation for these suggestions. This matter has not been raised in the proper forum which is the court. Instead, simply because the Opposition has the numbers and it believes it can make political capital out of this matter it comes into the Senate and tries to ruin the reputation of the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I turn now to the matter of the Baltic states. Complaints have been made- on political grounds- about what the Government has done. It is true that the Government has recognised the realities of life. It is suggested that in some way the Government has acted shamefully and furtively in extending recognition to the incorporation of the Baltic states. What was the reaction of the previous Government in regard to the Baltic states? It is very interesting to examine action taken by the Opposition when it was in government. The Opposition has spoken of furtiveness, but what did it do when it was in government? Extradition treaties with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were entered into in the 1920s by the United Kingdom. They would have applied also in Australia. In 1966 Mr Hasluck, as he then was, answered a question asked by Mr Whitlam about the countries with which Australia had extradition treaties. Mr Hasluck 's answer indicated that the 3 Baltic states were included in the list of countries with which Australia had extradition treaties. The answers to Mr Whitlam 's question is contained in Hansard of 25 August 1966.

On 15 September 1970 Attorney-General Hughes answered a similar question by Mr Whitlam. The 3 Baltic states were not included in the reply. What does this mean? It means that the Baltic states, with which Australia had extradition treaties, were no longer countries in the eyes of the then government. The Opposition has spoken about the furtiveness of this Government. The action taken by the previous Government in 1970 was a nice way to get the message across nicely and quietly. What happened to those extradition treaties if the Government of this country in 1970 took the view that the Baltic states were no longer countries? They were no longer viable and no longer existed as a matter of law. Yet the Opposition dares to complain about the performance of this Government in acting realistically in accordance with the concepts of reality in this world.

As to the third matter raised in Senator Withers' motion, there is an attack on the foreign policies of the Government. The Opposition has attacked the policies in a general way without giving proper particulars of the complaints. An endeavour has been made to suggest that Senator Willesee ought to resign because of the initiatives and the alignments which have been taken by the Government. The motion suggests that the foreign policy alignment promoted by Senator Willesee will not serve Australia's national interest. If there is anything that has happened in Australian since the change of Government it has been the improvement of our foreign relations with other countries. It has been remarked upon that Australia has come into its own and has started to arrive at an independent, adult, mature and respected foreign policy. This has been commented upon in the newspapers in the United States, the United Kingdom and all over the world. Australia can now speak with a voice which is respected in the world. Senator Willesee has been material in presenting the views of Australia and enabling Australia's voice to be heard as an independent country. He is to be congratulated on the way in which he has handled our foreign affairs.

This is not my field of expertise but I am aware that even Pope Paul, who is not noted for his radical views, expressed some praise of Australia's initiative in the direction of world peace. Others across the whole broad band of politics have been stating that the change in Australia is welcome. We were ashamed- I think most Australians were- by the stance taken by the previous Government of Australia in world affairs and the conduct of previous Ministers. The new foreign policies have been a very welcome change. I would have thought that the Senate- if it were to give credence to this motion- would be only expressing a desire on the part of the Opposition to return to the bad old days when Australia was not respected in foreign affairs. Australia's voice was not respected in the world as it is today.

The matter really comes back to the point that Australia has some very serious problems such as the problem of inflataion, which we share with the rest of the world, and the problem of adjusting our country to social reforms and economic reforms. We have an enormous legislative progrram. Yet the attitude of the Opposition is to decline to face up to those problems, to decline to co-operate with the Government in solving those problems and to decline to help to make a new Australia. Instead, the Opposition wastes the valuable time of this country- we are the representatives of this country- in endeavouring to enter into what seems to be a rather vindictive attack aimed at the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

It is a personal attack on the Minister. The Opposition has asked for his resignation when everyone in Australia would accept that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has done his job to the best of his ability.

In relation to the matter of Mr Ermolenko, I think everyone was impressed with the Minister's sincerity and his endeavour to deal properly with the problems of that young man. It must have been a great shock to honourable senators opposite when he read out the words of the reverend gentleman who had been closely associated with the young man in Western Australia and who expressed the view that he had no criticism of the way in which the Government had dealt with the affair. Which honourable senator opposite would have been able to deal with this affair in a better way than Senator Willesee? Honourable senators opposite speak of human rights, but one of the worst things moved in this Parliament was the proposition put forward by the Opposition during the course of the affair. It was shameful. I remind honourable senators of the proposition that was put forward:

The Senate demands that the Government ensure that Georgi Ermolenko be able to consider free from duress and improper pressures whether he wishes to remain in Australia and specifically

(i)   that he be not permitted to leave Australia until such time as he has had the opportunity ( for 24 hours at least) . . .

The motion went on to require that he speak to certain people. The motion was to the effect that a person who expressed the wish to leave Australia be not permitted to leave Australia. That is a clear denial of the rights which are common to all mankind as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr Deputy President,the motion we are discussing now ought never to have been moved. Whatever criticisms the Opposition may have of the Government it ought to have put them in a straightforward manner. I think that on reconsideration those honourable senators opposite who are responsible for this motion will feel some sense of shame about it being directed at Senator Willesee. If they wanted to complain about the Government and its foreign policies they should have done that, and done it in a substantial motion and not in this shameful attempt to attack a Minister who has earned the respect of the whole nation.

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