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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2453


Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) - It is well known that the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party, Mr Sinclair, made a statement relating to the behaviour of ministerial staff going overseas. Referring specifically to an incident during the recent visit to China of the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns), the Deputy Leader of the Country Party called on the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to comment on whether a member of the Deputy Prime Minister's staff had punched an exhibitor at the Aus.tralian Trade Fair in Peking, had assaulted the Australian Ambassador Dr. Stephen Fitzgerald and had also assaulted an American diplomat attached to the United States mission in Peking. Replying, the Prime Minister stated that he would investigate the situation. Apparently he was unaware of the facts. Since that question was asked it has emerged that the incident which the Deputy Leader of the Country Party detailed occurred and that it occurred within the precincts of the Australian Embassy in Peking. It has since been confirmed that the assailant was a senior member of the staff of Dr Cairns. His resignation is now pending.

Before going further it is worth looking at the staff of this darling of the left wing. Dr Cairns has on his staff his son, a former honourable member for Bendigo, a Peking basher, and during the visit to Peking not only did the Deputy Prime Minister take his wife but also his daughterinlaw and, it is alleged, his former daughterinlaw. It appears to me that when Labor comes to power not only is it jobs for the boys and jobs for the kids but also trips for the family. Even the Prime Minister, as we know, has offended here. But what concerns me is the nature of the incident within the precincts of the Australian Embassy. Three respectable and responsible men were assaulted. No action was taken by the Deputy Prime Minister to send the offending staff member home. No apology was made to the Chinese officials who saw the incident and who, I understand, were appalled by it. From what I can gather about the trip which can be called the Cairns trip to China it apparently was a number of days of pretty straight boozing by a large section of the party which accompanied Dr Cairns.


The PRESIDENT - Order! I draw the attention of Senator Webster to standing order 418 which states:

No Senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any Member of such House, or of any House of a State Parliament, or against any Statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

I ask Senator Webster to refrain from making personal reflections on a member of Parliament.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,if you would draw my attention to what I have said which has reflected on a member of Parliament I will be pleased.


Senator Poyser - I raise a point of order Mr President. There was no withdrawal by Senator Webster. He was asked to withdraw a reference he made.


The PRESIDENT - I did not ask Senator Webster to withdraw. I simply drew his attention to the fact that he must not again make a personal reflection on the Minister.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,I assure you I made no personal reflection on the Minister or a member of the other House. I will re-state what I said.


The PRESIDENT - You must not re-state what you said. I took exception to it and I drew your attention to it.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,you drew my attention to the point that apparently I was referring to a member of another place. Let me repeat what I said. I said: From what I can gather about the Cairns trip to China it was just 16 days of straight boozing by a large section of the party that accompanied Dr Cairns.


The PRESIDENT - You reflected on Dr Cairns.


Senator Poyser - Mr President,I raise a point of order. I understand that there is a standing order which provides that if any senator is quoting from a Press report he must be able to substantiate the authenticity of that report. Obviously Senator Webster is quoting from some report that he has read somewhere and I want the authenticity of that report established.


The PRESIDENT - In response to the point of order, I have drawn Senator Webster's attention to standing order 4 1 8. 1 ask him to observe it and also to submit to the authority of the Chair.


Senator Keeffe - Mr President,I want to speak to the point of order. It would be equally as rude for me to say that Senator Webster was an alcoholic.


The PRESIDENT - Order!


Senator Keeffe - I am not making that accusation. I am saying that it would be equally as rude for me to say such a thing.


The PRESIDENT - Order! I ask the honourable senator to discontinue along that line.


Senator Keeffe - I would not say it. Even if he were, I would not say it because that is the type of illness from which some people can suffer from time to time. But he has cast aspersions on a whole group of people including the Deputy Prime Minister of this country.


The PRESIDENT - Order! I have already ruled on this point of order. I have prevented -


Senator Keeffe - I am saying that -


The PRESIDENT - Order! I have given a ruling on it and I do not think we should pursue it any further.


Senator Keeffe - Well, he should apologise and withdraw it if he has got any guts.


The PRESIDENT - I asked him to refrain from making these personal reflections on a member. That is the position at the moment.


Senator WEBSTER -The attitude of this section of the Australian party must be regarded as a significant factor in the failure of Australian exhibitors at the Trade Fair to achieve substantial contracts with the Chinese. What fascinates me about this whole incident within the Embassy is that nothing was done about the offending member of the Deputy Prime Minister's staff.

This may suit Senator Keeffe. According to a letter sent tonight to the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party one can only assume that no action is contemplated. Let me read that letter. This letter is from the Acting Minister for Overseas Trade, Parliament House, Canberra, 14 November 1 974. It is addressed to the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party, Mr Sinclair and reads:

Dear Mr Sinclair,

I refer to your question to the Prime Minister concerning the behaviour of one of Dr Cairns ' personal staff one evening in Peking.

From advice now given to me, I confirm that there was an incident substantially in the terms you have described. Dr Cairns was not present.


Senator McLaren - I raise a point of order, Mr President. I draw your attention to standing order 4 1 6 which reads:

No Senator shall allude to any Debate of the current Session in the House of Representatives, or to any Measure impending therein, unless such allusion be relevant to the matter under discussion.


The PRESIDENT - If Senator Webster continues I will be able to make an assessment of whether he is alluding to a debate.


Senator WEBSTER - I resume my reading of the letter from the Acting Minister for Overseas Trade:

The individual concerned has tendered his resignation from Dr Cairns' staff in September with effect from end November. That effective resignation date still stands.

There has been no communication from any other government concerning the incident.

Following your question I arranged for the Prime Minister to be advised of the foregoing- I am advised that he had not been aware of it beforehand.


Senator Keeffe - Mr President,I rise to take a point of order. I support the stand taken by Senator McLaren. I think standing order 416 is quite clear. In addition to that, the amendment to that standing order adopted on 26 September 1969 states the position quite clearly by adding the words: unless such allusion be relevant to the matter under discussion.

This is not relevant to the matter under discussion. The only way in which Senator Webster could introduce the subject matter that he is trying to debate in the Senate tonight is under standing order 4 1 6a. That standing order states:

Where a Session of Parliament has continued for more than fifteen months, Standing Orders 133,413,41 4, and 416 shall not apply to any subject or matter that has transpired or been dealt with more than six months previously.

I respectfully submit that the submission made in the point of order taken by Senator McLaren, in addition to the amendment to standing order 416 carried on 26 September 1969, is relevant and that Senator Webster is totally out of order in trying to raise this matter in these circumstances.


Senator Greenwood - Mr President,I rise to speak to the point of order. In my submission, you should regard these points of order as completely specious and as an unwarranted attempt to prevent the facts of a matter of public concern to be aired in a house of the Parliament. In the first place, Senator Webster has not alluded to any debate which has taken place in the House of Representatives. Secondly, the matter which is the subject of the honourable senator's remarks tonight has not been the subject of any debate, nor is it a measure which is pending in the House of Representatives. Accordingly, the point made by honourable senators opposite is absolutely without substance. The fact that it is completely without substance indicates what the points of order being raised are really intended to do. They are an endeavour to prevent the embarassment of 2 members of the Labor Party who see in what is being alleged by Senator Webster something which they would like to have hidden. They are doing what they can to have it hidden. The truth ought to come out.


Senator McLaren - Mr President,I rise to speak to the same point of order. My recollection is that when Senator Webster first introduced this matter in the Senate tonight he referred to a question asked in the House of Representatives today by his Deputy Leader in that place, Mr Sinclair. They were the very words that he used.


The PRESIDENT - The standing order which has been referred to states:

No senator shall allude to any Debate of the current Session in the House of Representatives, or to any Measure impending therein, unless such allusion be relevant to the matter under discussion.

So it can be seen that the standing order refers to a debate. I call Senator Webster.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,to assist you in this matter I shall repeat the comment that I made at the opening so that you may be aware of whether I refer to a debate in another House. I ask Government supporters to be patient. I think that they would be as anxious as I was to see that the reputation of Australia is upheld. If they do not wish that, they may keep on acting as they are acting now.


The PRESIDENT -Order! I ask Senator Webster not to be provocative.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,would you wish me to read the introductory statement that I made so that it may clear the matter for you?


The PRESIDENT - The honourable senator is entitled to continue his speech. -


Senator WEBSTER - I believe that the man concerned is in receipt of a salary of about $30,000 a year. He resigned in September, went to Peking in October and his resignation does not become effective until the end of this month. In other words, he is drawing a salary of several hundred dollars a week after causing grave embarrassment to the Australian Government. He not only caused offence within the precincts of the embassy but also he caused further offence outside. I am informed that he was travelling in a Chinese cab when he began abusing the driver and, on alighting from the cab, tried to wrench the licence plate from the cab. This almost provoked a riot when the Chinese driver remonstrated in a main Peking street.


Senator Poyser - I rise on another point of order. The honourable senator is saying: 'I have been informed of these things'. He should have more factual evidence than the kind of nonsense that he is putting up now. It is absolutely ludicrous for any senator to be able to make these charges without factual evidence in documentary form which he could present to the Senate.


Senator WEBSTER -The letter from which I read, from the Acting Minister for Overseas Trade, was signed by Lionel Bowen. Attached to it was a Press statement which I will table for the benefit of Senator Poyser. I was saying that a riot was almost provoked in a main Peking street. There was still no action taken after this incident. The entire Chinese trip seems to have been marked with unfortunate and unseeming incidents. In Shanghai a member of the party who had become so inebriated vomited all over a senior Chinese railway official. This has been fleetingly referred to in the 'Nation Review'. His performance drew no official censure from the Deputy Prime Minister. In fact a trophy was presented to the offender by a top Australian official. I do not find it funny that such an incident occurred, and I believe that such incidents should draw rebuke and an apology from the individual. I have detailed three of the incidents that occurred in China, all of them disgraceful and all of them smacking of debauchery. The Deputy Prime Minister has this week been visiting the United States. God knows what happened there. It has already been -


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - I rise on a point of order. I refer to standing order 418 which states:

No Senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any Member of such House . . . unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

Senator Websterreferred to alleged incidents in Peking. He said: all of them disgraceful and all of them smacking of debauchery. The Deputy Prime Minister has this week been visiting the United States. God knows what happened there.

I suggest that quite clearly the honourable senator was reflecting very seriously on the reputation of the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, a member of a House of this Parliament who is not in that House to protect himself at the time that the accusations are made. I suggest that Senator Webster be asked to withdraw his remarks.


The PRESIDENT - Senator Webster,you have been asked to withdraw the remark: "The Deputy Prime Minister has this week been visiting the United States. God knows what happened there'.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,on your request, I will withdraw the remark. I am referring to the staff that accompanies Dr Cairns, and that is quite evident. If I have made an offensive remark about a member of another place, I withdraw it. I said:

I do not find it funny that such an incident occurred, and I believe that such incidents should have drawn rebuke and an apology from the individual. I have detailed three of the incidents that occurred in China, all of them disgraceful.

I think members of the Government Will agree with me. When a Minister and his party go overseas they go overseas not only to represent the Government of the day but also to represent the Australian people. I cannot think of any one Australian who would hold his head in pride when hearing of these incidents in China. I think that officials who go overseas should demonstrate their best behaviour. This was always the case in the past and it is why personal staffs of Ministers were issued with official passports- not the normal run of the mill passports but passports which emphasised the status and importance of those people within the Australian community. It wil be interesting to find out whether these individuals were on official passports or on diplomatic passports. However, here we have an incident of a person travelling as an Australian official, behaving like a pig and . . . He is not on the Washington trip; he is in Australia.


The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Webster, I must draw your attention to standing order 418 which states that no senator shall use offensive words against any member of either House and aU personal reflections on members shall be considered highly disorderly. You have reflected on the Minister and I ask you to withdraw those words.


Senator WEBSTER -Mr President,if anywhere in my statement I have reflected on the Minister I withdraw. However, here we have an incident of a person travelling as an Australian official- I repeat, travelling as an Australian official- behaving like a pig and . . .


The PRESIDENT - Order! I ask Senator Webster to withdraw the words. I believe that they are a reflection on the Minister, and I ask the honourable senator to withdraw those words and refrain from repeating them.


Senator WEBSTER - I withdraw the remark, Mr President, if it reflects on the Minister. I want to discuss this person -


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Mr President, Senator Websterhas said, in response to your request, that he will withdraw the remark if it reflects on the Minister. You have ruled that it is a reflection on the Minister. I suggest that Senator Webster's remarks are not a withdrawal and I ask you to redirect him to withdraw his remarks.


Senator Greenwood - On a point of order, Mr President, I only say that Senator Webster has indicated very clearly that he will comply with your wishes and that he Will withdraw any indication, any suggestion, any imputation, any reflection that might be construed by you, as the custodian of the Standing Orders, as reflecting upon any member of the other House. He has made that abundantly clear many times. Of those words which you asked him to withdrawordinarily quite innocuous words, and . . .'-he said: 'I do withdraw them if they are regarded as reflecting on the Minister'. I only say that that is reasonable conduct which you, Sir, in comparable circumstances, or I, or anybody else, would regard as an appropriate withdrawal.


The PRESIDENT - I have asked Senator Webster to withdraw the remark. He said he would withdraw it. I would expect the words to be deleted from Hansard and that no record would be made in Hansard of the reflection on the Minister.


Senator WEBSTER - I believe, Mr President, you would agree in your position, if I am speaking about an official who is an official representative of the Australian Government- I am not speaking about the Minister, I am speaking about an official- that, if there is a reference of criticism of a Minister because he has not taken action, that is a reasonable proposition. If any member of this chamber was in employment and had to work out his resignation period he would report for duty until the period ended. This man has not done so but is still collecting his salary. I can only assume that he is not attending work because it has been suggested that he have a few pleasant weeks off. That attitude is not good enough for me or anyone else, particularly when one considers his high salary and the fact that there is mounting unemployment in this community. I believe that the Deputy Prime Minister deserves strong condemnation for not exercising restraint on the behaviour of his staff while overseas and this Parliament and the people should be given a full explanation -


Senator McLaren - I rise to order. Mr President, I draw your attention to standing order 416 which states that no senator shall read his speech. This is precisely what Senator Webster has done this evening.


The PRESIDENT - There is no point of order.


Senator WEBSTER - I will not repeat the last remark I made because it will appear again in Mansard. The people should be given a full explanation and an apology for the behaviour of the Deputy Prime Minister's staff.







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