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Wednesday, 18 September 1974
Page: 1188

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - I suppose one should feel somewhat sorry for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Murphy, this week. This has been a bad second day. Yesterday was a bad day because he, who had been promoting himself for so long as the founder of the Senate committee system, set out to emasculate and destroy it. Today the same honourable senator, who for years has been running around this country as the great propounder of the Declaration of Human Rights, as well as talking as such in this Parliament, has been very embarrassed by what his Government has done about the Georgi Ermolenko affair. So what did the Leader of the Government in the Senate do in this Parliament? He came in and used his usual tactic. He bluffed, blustered and shouted and attempted to talk his way out of it. Really he should be very ashamed of the case he was putting forward if he believes in the Declaration of Human Rights.

One of the criticisms put forward by the Leader of the Government was that we should not be debating this motion at a time when the country is faced with inflation and a lot of problems; the country has inflation, it has this and that, yet here today in the Senate we are discussing this matter when we should be considering this great national problem of inflation which his Government has caused. The Leader of the Government knows, as every other honourable senator knows, that by tradition the Senate will not return to the Budget Papers until 8 p.m. on Wednesday of next week. What were the great and important issues that the Government had listed on the notice paper for today? Senator Murphy wished to introduce a Bill relating to members of the Public Service becoming candidates for election to Parliament. He wished to get leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Service and Execution of Process Act. No doubt, in his mind those things would cure inflation. I do not think they would.

The other thing which was so important so far as fixing up inflation was concerned was the appointment of some senators to the Constitutional Convention. I understand that the convention is not to meet until October or some such date. That was a terribly important matter to which the Senate ought to have been devoting itself this day! Of course, the most important Bill, the second on the notice paper, is the Superior Court of Australia Bill. For the life of me I cannot see how that Bill, if it is passed, is going to cure the great national problem of inflation. Then there is the Family Law Bill. I suppose that that has some inflation in it somewhere, but I do not think it is monetary inflation. I do not know how the passage of the Family Law Bill, or the debate on it, is going to cure the great national problem of inflation. Therefore, the Leader of the Government was indulging in humbug.

Senator McLaren - Why not mention the next Bill?

Senator WITHERS -The Concilation and Arbitration Bill?

Senator Poyser - Why do you not return to the subject matter?

Senator WITHERS - Why do I not return to the motion before us? I am delighted to hear that invitation and I will come to it in a moment. Do not get excited. Senator McLaren invited me to comment on the Conciliation and Arbitation Bill.

Senator Poyser - Why do you not come back to the motion?

Senator WITHERS -Senator Poyser would prefer me to ignore the invitation. Very well, I will come back to the motion. Senator Murphy said, when he commenced his speech, that the motion before us is a stupid sort of motion; that it should never have been moved; that it is shameful and disgraceful, ineffective and all the rest. If I remember correctly, not so long ago the then Opposition moved a number of censure motions. I remember one moved against the late Senator McKellar. If ever there was a shameful and disgraceful motion brought before the Senate, that was it. I remember two being brought against Senator Wright when he was a Minister. Were those motions shameful and inaccurate and should they never have been brought? I also recall such a motion being moved against Senator Greenwood. Why did the then Opposition move those motions? Were they moved because they were ineffective and because the then Opposition just wished to play politics? Come, come, senator, you should do a lot better than that.

I do not think it is improper and it certainly is not indecent- or it certainly is not decent, to use the exact words of Senator Murphy- for the Opposition to move this motion in its present form. I say without hesitation, Mr Deputy President, that if any Minister sitting on the front bench opposite has earned this sort of treatment it is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Willesee. Even Senator Murphy has not treated the people who have asked him questions with the contempt with which Senator Willesee has treated Opposition senators who have asked him questions.

Senator Greenwood - He has been slightly evasive.

Senator WITHERS -That is fair enough. I admire Senator Murphy's dexterity in avoiding answering questions, but I do not think he has ever been insulting. I do not think any Minister, apart from Senator Willesee, has been insulting. From the day that Senator Willesee became a Minister he decided that as far as question time was concerned he was going to wipe the Opposition off. He not only ignored members of the Opposition but also waved them aside and thought he could joke his way through question time. The main reason why this motion has been moved is Senator Willesee 's total incapacity in question time to give the facts and to satisfy the Opposition.

Senator Devitt - That is the reason, is it?

Senator WITHERS -It is one of the reasons. I will give the honourable senator an example. If Senator Willesee came clean with the transcript in this case he might well answer a lot of questions. Why will he not do so? He is not prepared to answer any questions. Do honourable senators remember one of the things he did on the Thursday when we asked him questions about what was happening in the Ermolenko affair? When he knew at that time that a Royal Australian Air Force plane was on its way, or that it had arrived, I believe he deliberately misled the chamber in the answers he gave that day.

Senator Georges - That is a serious charge you are making.

Senator WITHERS -That is right. He could have said at that time that he ordered the aircraft or that it was on its way. Why did he not advert to it that morning? If he did not mislead the Senate he deliberately withheld information which the Senate was entitled to have. That is the way he has been treating the Senate. He is not a fit and proper person to be a Minister because he will not come clean. Why will he not come clean? His whole course of conduct has been that of a person who will not come clean.

Senator Murphysaid that this motion should not have been moved against Senator Willesee because there is collective responsibility and this was a collective decision of Cabinet. Mr Deputy President, that used to be the rule of government; but when has that been the rule of government since December 1972, or under the Whitlam-Cairns Administration? That is the greatest joke of all time. The Prime Minister was alleged to have said in answer to a question by the television interviewer David Frost that the greatest blunder of his administration was the raid by Senator Murphy on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I thought that the statement was an interesting one. I did not say it. I asked Senator Murphy a question on that matter, and Senator Murphy said words to the effect that it was an example of collective responsibility. This Government has not really impressed itself upon the nation as one which believes in collective responsibility. When the parliamentary salary increases were mooted the members of Cabinet demonstrated collective responsibility by fighting amongst themselves in Caucus. Do not try to excuse the acts of Senator Willesee on the ground of collective responsibility. Honourable members opposite may be able to spell the words but they would not know what they mean.

Senator Murphycontinued to defend Senator Willesee by saying that Senator Willesee honestly told the Senate about the whole of the Ermolenko affair. Mr Deputy President, I do not think that anybody in Australia is satisfied that all the facts came out during that sorry week of the Ermolenko affair. Then we saw confusion between Senator Murphy and Senator Willesee. Senator Murphy said that Ermolenko was not being detained in Australia by anybody. Senator Murphy said that he was not being detained by the Commonwealth Police or by the Russianshe was not being detained. But Senator Willesee said that Ermolenko had to be flown out of Australia because he was being detained against his will.

Senator Wheeldon - Not by the Commonwealth Police.

Senator WITHERS -But Senator Willeseesaid that he was being detained against his will.

Senator Murphy - Come on, you are quibbling.

Senator WITHERS - Yes, he was. He was being detained. Make up your mind. He was either being detained or not being detained. You cannot have it both ways. I know that you do not like it. It is admitted he was not being detained by the Commonwealth Police.

Senator Wheeldon - By Alexandrov.

Senator WITHERS -We do not know that he was not being detained by Alexandrov because Senator Murphy indulged in one of his beautiful exercises and said that on a date, which he did not quote in his spech, the motion for a writ of habeas corpus was quashed at the instigation of the person who applied for it. He did not say when it was quashed. When I interjected at least he admitted that it was quashed after the bird had been flown out of the country. It would have been rather ridiculous to persist with the writ when Ermlenko had gone. That is not exactly coming clean, is it? But the inference was that the person applied for the quashing of the writ prior to Ermolenko going.

Senator Murphy - Everybody knows that.

Senator WITHERS -Yes, but you attempted to imply that. Everybody here knew it was not correct, but those unfortunate people who may have been listening to you would not know that it was incorrect. That is why I advert to it at this stage. The writ was withdrawn after Ermolenko had been surreptitiously smuggled out of the country. What is the purpose persisting with it? Senator Murphy said that the judge thanked counsel for appearing and for their assistance. Knowing His Honour, I imagine that that would be his normal courtesy. I have no doubt that counsel were of assistance to him in helping to advise on the law. Senator Murphy tried to put the proposition that the judge thanked counsel for the Australian Government because he was saying: 'Senator Willesee is a very good man; therefore I thank his counsel. '

Senator Murphy - I did not say that the judge challenged or usurped the Minister's role.

Senator WITHERS -The judge did not praise him or condemn him.

Senator Wheeldon - That is the important thing.

Senator WITHERS -But Senator Murphysaid that merely because the judge did not condemn him he praised him. You cannot get away with saying that. That is why I say that it is really not good enough. I turn now to the transcript. Why ought not that transcript be tabled in the Parliament? The Government says that the reason is that Mr Ermolenko, who is now in Russia, has some right of privacy.

Senator Wheeldon - No, he is not. He is in West Berlin. We understand that he is in West Berlin.

Senator WITHERS -We understand that he is in West Berlin.

Senator Wheeldon - It is subject to verification, but that is our understanding.

Senator WITHERS -That is right. That is the situation to the best of our knowledge, information and belief. Has Mr Ermolenko been consulted? Can Senator Willesee say that he has written to Mr Ermolenko and Mr Ermolenko does not want the transcript released? Has he said that? No. Senator Willesee says: 'I know what is in Mr Ermolenko 's mind. He would not want the transcript released, and that is the reason that it will not be released.' Mr Deputy President, that is a terrible reason. At least the Minister could say that he would attempt to find out whether the other party would have any objection. But has he? One is left only with the suspicion that the Minister does not want the transcript to be released because it would harm his case- to rest upon it. I thought Senator Murphy was about to say that he would table it, to which I would have replied: 'Delighted'. I am sorry. I thought he was about to rush out, as Senator Gorton did once to put the VIP manifests on the table. I thought that we were getting to that stage. But Senator Murphy is not cast in the same mould. Why does the Government not table the transcript? The Government says that it is private. At whose request is it private? Is it private at the request of the Government? What was it?

Senator Keeffe - How about saying something to the nation?

Senator WITHERS -I am trying to expose the humbug which the Government has been putting forward. I realise you do not like this because the normal method of debate of those opposite is to make a set speech. You do not like to have some of Senator Murphy's wild assertions corrected and put in their proper context. That is why you are making this sort of interjection. That is why we claim that Senator Willesee is not a fit and proper person to be a Minister. His conduct during the whole of the Ermolenko affair is such that he -

Senator Wheeldon - You say that because Senator Murphy made a wild speech Senator Willesee is not fit to be a Minister.

Senator WITHERS -I said that Senator Willesee 's conduct during the whole of the Ermolenko affair has been such that he is not a fit and proper person to be a Minister. It is as simple as that. I do not run away from saying that. I am not trying to hang this charge around the Government's neck. I am hanging it around the neck of the person who is completely in charge of the operation and who should be thoroughly ashamed of his conduct in that week.

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