Following his resignation as Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Fraser government, Andrew Peacock explained his decision to the House of Representatives.
Peacock accused Fraser of “fracturing Cabinet government and the parliamentary system as we know it”.
In remarks reminiscent of Fraser’s own resignation from John Gorton’s government in 1971, Peacock claimed there was an “erosion of the Cabinet system” arising from “reposing too much power in the Prime Minister”.
He said that concentration of power in the Prime Minister was at odds “with efficient management of the country”. Moreover, he said “the ever increasing centralising of power is striking at the heart and core of liberalism”.
Peacock spoke at length of policy differences over industrial relations and recognition of the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea (now Cambodia).
Three present and future prime ministers spoke in response to Peacock’s speech in the House: Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating and John Howard.
Hansard transcript of Andrew Peacock’s speech to the House of Representatives on April 28, 1981.
Mr PEACOCK —I rise to explain today why I have resigned from the Fraser Ministry. I resigned because of irreconcilable differences between the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and me about his method of government. Before speaking further, I wish to stress a matter which is of fundamental importance if the reasons for my resignation are to be understood. My resignation is not based on rivalry, nor is it inspired by any personal ambition. Throughout the turbulent post-Menzies years of the Liberal Party of Australia I have never been associated with any group that has sought to overthrow the leader. This is the first time I have publicly called into question the elected leader. Accordingly, it will be obvious that the decision to resign from the Prime Minister’s Ministry was the most painful decision I have been forced to make in all of my 25 years working for the Liberal Party.
The Prime Minister knows the anguish one feels when faced with the questions of deep seated principle. In March 1971 he resigned his portfolio as Minister for Defence. He said at the time in an interview which was republished in the Australian less than two weeks ago:
I know people could be hurt, I know it could assist the Opposition. But there was no alternative.
If I allowed these factors to stop me doing what I think is right, I would have put a quite impossible degree of power in the hands of one person.
The circumstances associated with my resignation are different in that there is no question of an election, there is no conspiracy to overthrow the elected leader of the party; nor will I give assistance to those who sit opposite. The report of the interview with the Prime Minister stated also:
‘It goes far deeper than that. It is the whole system of how a government should operate that is at stake,’ he said. ‘The most important part of cabinet government is collective wisdom.
‘No matter how good one man is, there is always something the others can contribute.’
Over recent months I have regretfully concluded that the Prime Minister is fracturing Cabinet government and the parliamentary system as we know it. Our system of government will operate only if there is a responsible relationship between the Cabinet and the Parliament. Our present system has deteriorated because that relationship has foundered. It has foundered because the Prime Minister increasingly centralised power around himself. Any erosion of the Cabinet system goes to the heart of the parliamentary process. By reposing too much power in the Prime Minister, the system of collective responsibility within Cabinet is destroyed; the responsibility of Cabinet to Parliament is abandoned; and the very democratic process is placed in jeopardy.
I need to demonstrate by recent examples the damage that is being done. The Government’s economic policies were vital to my role as Minister for Industrial Relations. Part of that role was responsibility for wages policy. Shortly after the election the Prime Minister announced the composition of the formal Cabinet committees. These vital policy and administrative committees make binding decisions. Nevertheless, when the Prime Minister announced the composition of these committees, the Minister for Industrial Relations was not included on any of the committees dealing with economic affairs.
The Press noted and commented on this omission. On the day of those reports the Prime Minister asked me to come to his office. He apologised for not including me on an appropriate committee. He said it was an oversight; it would be rectified as soon as possible. He said he would put me on the Monetary Committee, but he could not do it that day because this would be interpreted as bowing to Press pressure. It was erratic for the Prime Minister to defer this action, knowing that he was making it difficult for his Minister effectively to carry out the duties of a sensitive and important portfolio. Regrettably he did so solely to preserve his personal standing in the Press.
Although I accepted his assurance, nothing happened. He was reminded in January and again in March of his failure to appoint me to the Monetary Committee. This appointment was important for the effective presentation of the Government’s case to the public. Here is an example of how the Prime Minister failed to honour firm undertakings repeatedly given. His failure undermined the authority of a senior Minister in a policy area relevant to his portfolio.
The Whitlam Government left us with the appalling burden of spiralling wages and rampant inflation. With some success we have been grappling with it ever since. Wages policy is central to our fight against inflation. The very question of a centralised wage fixation system has been the subject of a detailed inquiry by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. How we fix wages in Australia is critical. Constitutionally the Government cannot act directly in the area of wages. It is questionable whether a centralised system of wage fixation is desirable or can work. The national interest in wage restraint and orderly and stable industrial relations requires further careful examination of that very question.
The Government recently argued before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the maintenance of a centralised wage fixation system. The Commission determined that such a system would continue for a further two years. We should use that period to take a long and serious look at centralised versus decentralised systems of wage fixation. The aim should be to achieve consensus based on compromise between government, employer and union. If a transition is involved it can be planned and it can be orderly. In the last Government there was a Cabinet wages committee chaired by the Minister for Industrial Relations. It was a way to consult and have collective consideration within the traditional Cabinet committee structure. Nevertheless, after the election, the Prime Minister abolished that committee without consulting me as Minister for Industrial Relations. The Prime Minister made this important change without taking the opportunity to hear contrary argument that, by having no wages committee, by leaving the industrial relations portfolio totally unrepresented on any economic committee, he was reducing the effective administration of the industrial relations portfolio.
Recently, in my absence, the Prime Minister persuaded a Cabinet committee to change confirmed government policy in the industrial relations field. In 1978 Cabinet accepted a submission from my predecessor that the Government incorporate the Public Service arbitration system into the conciliation and arbitration system. The former Minister had not introduced the legislation when I assumed the portfolio. It is important to understand that this proposal arose from a royal commission report. The proposal was then endorsed by Cabinet. It was later taken to the National Labour Consultative Council. That body, comprising leading employer and union representatives, endorsed the proposal. In other words, a royal commission, the Government, employers and unions all supported it. On 8 January 1981 I appeared before the Committee of Review of Commonwealth Functions-the so-called razor gang-and supported the established policy. I told the Committee that the decision was to be incorporated in a Bill to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I recommended that it include the decision in its report. The Committee then asked that I return later to argue the case. This I did on 6 February. The Committee accepted my argument. I thought that was the end of the matter.
On 30 March, without telling me of his intention, the Prime Minister attended a meeting of the Committee and argued for its decision to be reversed. The Committee did so without hearing me again. This was a decision from a royal commission, endorsed by Cabinet, endorsed by the National Labour Consultative Council and now overturned after endorsement by a previous committee at which I was given the opportunity to speak. It decided to recommend that Cabinet not incorporate the Public Service arbitration system within the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It did so without hearing me again. The Prime Minister’s role in having decisions reversed in the absence of the responsible Minister is totally contrary to the principles of Cabinet government. It is inexplicable, save by reference to the Prime Minister’s obstinate determination to get his own way although undermining the authority of a senior Minister.
Regrettably, another example of the Prime Minister undermining the authority of a Minister was his diversion from the Government’s stance against the union campaign for a 35-hour week. Representations were made by the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Sir Phillip Lynch) and me. It was agreed after that meeting and later ratified by Cabinet that the Government should adopt policies to assist and support employers directly faced by the union campaign. On 25 March I submitted a copy of a statement on the 35-hour week campaign to the Prime Minister. I was informed he agreed that it was in keeping with the Cabinet decision and with government policy. He approved it. I showed it to the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and he approved it. I made the statement to the House on 26 March. It was an important policy statement. It was to form the basis of the Government campaign against union demands for a 35-hour week. Among other things I said:
The Government will be supporting them–The employers-in their stance with all appropriate means.
The statement to the House made it clear that the Government would be ‘strongly supportive of employers who stand up to union pressure’. It said:
This is the only responsible action for the Government to take. We intend to take a number of steps to lessen the burden that industrial action over the 35-hour week issue places on companies and firms.
I ask the House to note the words: ‘This is the only responsible action for the Government to take’. They are worthy of emphasis. They were deliberately included in the speech because the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia had told the Prime Minister, the Minister for Industry and Commerce and me that it was time to tell employers that they would be helped, not hindered, by the Government. The Prime Minister agreed with that theme.
On the very evening of the day I made the statement, the Prime Minister addressed the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. He contradicted the theme agreed to by him and contained in my parliamentary statement by threatening reprisals against companies negotiating a log of claims containing a claim for a shorter working week. His threats followed two newspaper accounts that ICI Australia Ltd was alleged to be negotiating a 35-hour week with relevant unions. I learnt of this on reading the Friday morning newspapers. Subsequently the Prime Minister told me of his statement and asked me to a meeting that day with ICI executives.
This is another of the reasons referred to on the day of my resignation. Two things are relevant. First, effective industrial relations in this country have been put at risk by the undermining of the authority of the responsible Minister. Second, the nation requires steady and responsible conduct of its affairs, and especially in the extremely significant area of industrial relations. As my predecessor and I have frequently said, it is fundamental that the power of government in the field of industrial relations be used with fine judgment. Overuse of that power can aggravate a situation by hardening attitudes and shifting the focus from the basic conflict. This is especially so in an outmoded system of industrial relations unsuited to the shift of power between capital and labour. This was one of the reasons that I began a fundamental overhaul of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.
On the day I resigned I said the Prime Minister had by-passed the system of Government. I turn now to the structure of so-called Cabinet government that the Prime Minister has evolved. Earlier I referred to the formation of various formal Cabinet committees. Such a committee system has been a common and sensible practice but the Prime Minister has introduced a powerful new element, the Co-ordination Committee. This Committee is effectively superimposed over other Cabinet committees and, in effect, over the Cabinet itself. It is supposed to comprise the coalition party leaders and deputies. Actually, it is often expanded by including some other Ministers. Its major role is to discuss tactics over the entire range of departmental and ministerial responsibilities. But when it does, the responsible Ministers are rarely, if ever, present when issues within their portfolios are discussed. Issues relevant to the industrial relations portfolio discussed by the Committee have included, I believe, wages policy, the Qantas Airways Ltd dispute and the 35-hour week. I was not present for any of these discussions.
I make the strongest protest about such a debasement of our system. What is Cabinet itself if it is not a co-ordination committee? Why the need for the Co-ordination Committee? The Committee is in fact an extension of the Prime Minister’s well-known lobbying of Ministers before issues are brought to Cabinet. Therefore, when Cabinet meets a significant number of Ministers have already determined many matters concerning government strategy. In some cases, policy matters have been decided. The decision of Cabinet is a foregone conclusion and, so, collective wisdom of Cabinet is aborted. I remind the House that the Prime Minister himself, after he resigned from the Ministry in 1971, said:
The most important part of cabinet government is collective wisdom.
Regrettably, by-passing the system of government does not stop there. As I have said there is a dangerous reluctance to consult Cabinet. Cabinet Ministers are sometimes directed by the Prime Minister to leave the Cabinet Room so that the Co-ordination Committee can deliberate on the matter before the Cabinet or on some other matter the Prime Minister wishes to pursue. It is wrong, indeed outrageous, that Cabinet Ministers can be dismissed from a Cabinet room to permit discussion behind their backs about Cabinet matters. This is not just a kitchen Cabinet; it is a formal structure crushing the Cabinet system. Added to this, individual Ministers are lobbied by the Prime Minister. That is a principle of proper Cabinet government that should not happen. It even happened on a matter as important and sensitive as the question of derecognition by Australia of the Pol Pot regime.
Apart from individual caucusing by the Prime Minister and apart from the use of the Co-ordination Committee the Prime Minister also uses ad hoc committees. Provided an ad hoc committee of Cabinet reports back to the full Cabinet there can be absolutely no objection to the use of it to examine a complex issue. The method should be used only to unravel complexities to save time for the full Cabinet. Since the Fraser Government came to power there has been a plethora of ad hoc committees. Even worse, these ad hoc committees make Cabinet decisions. I am informed that between June 1977 and July 1979 there were approximately 5,900 Cabinet decisions of which more than 1,200 were ad hoc decisions. I do not have later figures. But it is damning evidence and an indictment of the erosion of the Westminster system.
What I in fact have shown reveals the Prime Minister’s determination to centralise power and satisfy a mania for getting his own way. I say this well aware of the complexity of government today. A Prime Minister has the right to determine governmental structures for the smooth operation of Executive responsibility. I do not ignore the growth in Prime Ministerial government in many Western democracies. But this should not be an excuse for a leader to manipulate the system to retain personal power.
Outside Cabinet there is another development, that of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Apart from the complex system surrounding Cabinet, the House should note that each Commonwealth department is now duplicated in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This causes waste but, far worse than that, it brings interference with, indeed supervision of, decisions made by Ministers and their departments. The role now given to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet challenges the authority given Ministers under section 64 of the Constitution. There is another equally undesirable effect. It places deep strains on the Public Service because it sets public servant against public servant. It is a major power structure for the Prime Minister. As a consequence, it is at odds not merely with the Constitution but with efficient management of the country.
Furthermore, to me, as a Liberal, it strikes at the root of liberalism itself. Liberalism distrusts concentration of power. It has always been associated with checks and balances and the division of powers. Liberals believe that in a healthy society power and decision-making are widely dispersed throughout the community. They are not to be monopolised. Therefore, the ever increasing centralising of power is striking at the heart and core of liberalism. Mr Speaker, Liberals believe in consensus, and consensus does not mean abject compromise. Strength does not mean bullying. I believe the growth of centralised power within our Government today is restricting effective formulation of policies required by Australia.
I now turn to the matter which finally provoked my resignation. In this the Prime Minister was grossly disloyal to me and broke an undertaking to deny a false and damaging report published about me in my capacity as a senior Minister. On 14 April the leading article on the front page of the Australian was headed ‘Fraser, Peacock row set to erupt’. It reported a ‘bitter six-month feud’ between the Prime Minister and me and ‘the latest round of what amounts to the battle for leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party’.
It then described conduct by me which, if true, would disentitle me to the respect of my colleagues in this House, the members of the Liberal Party and the Australian public. The article said I had plunged the Federal Government and my relations with the Prime Minister into crisis on the eve of the announcement of the 1980 election date. It alleged I had used that occasion to threaten resignation from the Ministry in order to force Cabinet to comply with my policy on Kampuchea’s Pol Pot regime. It alleged that I had made that resignation threat after the Prime Minister had arranged to see the Governor-General to inform him of his election plans and immediately before the Prime Minister was to announce to this House his intentions as to the election. It described my threat as a ‘bombshell’ which threw Cabinet into turmoil. That allegation was false. It was an account which should be denied in detail if my credit as a responsible member of Cabinet and of my party was to be retained. At my request, conveyed to the Prime Minister through three ministerial colleagues who came to discuss this report with me, the Prime Minister agreed that he would issue a denial. Later, the Prime Minister deputed the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon) to show me the form of his so-called denial. These are its full and complete terms:
I have seen the statement on the front of today’s Australian concerning events that occurred last year. There are some significant inaccuracies in that report.
I was appalled when I saw its bareness and I said so to the Minister for Primary Industry. It scarcely could bear the description of a denial. It did not even deign to express which allegations were denied. For all the reader was to know, it might have been a denial of the allegations in the report that there had been a so-called bitter six month feud or that there was a battle for the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party. When I made this point to the Minister he said:
Any inadequacies are not for you to be concerned about. They are matters that the Prime Minister or Barnett will background on.
The Minister has agreed that those were his words. That meant that the Prime Minister or his Press Secretary would orally supply to the Press the details of what he described as significant inaccuracies. I accepted the assurance. The Minister for Primary Industry had been chosen by the Prime Minister as his personal representative. The near useless statement was issued but the Prime Minister said nothing. ‘No comment’, said Mr Barnett when asked about it. The Prime Minister has never given an explanation for his failure to repudiate effectively the allegations. His failure was disloyal and explicable only as an attempt to cast me as dangerous. This act of disloyalty, this breach of undertaking, was to be the last I would tolerate from the Prime Minister. I decided to leave his Ministry.
I now give an account of events illustrating a pattern of the Prime Minister’s conduct which contributed to my resignation. It will be detailed. I am sorry about that but it is necessary to explain. In the early part of 1975 the Whitlam Government recognised the regime of Pol Pot as the legitimate Government of Kampuchea. Soon after disturbing reports of the atrocities perpetrated by this regime began to filter to the outside world. More horrific information about Pol Pot emerged after the invasion of Kampuchea by Vietnamese forces in December 1978. As a result, I sought and obtained Cabinet approval to review the question of Australia’s recognition of the Pol Pot regime. On information provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and other sources, in July 1980 I concluded that withdrawal of recognition was imperative. Having reached that conclusion, I said as much in the course of an interview on the television program Sixty Minutes. At the time the Prime Minister was out of the country. On the day following the interview I cabled to him a transcript of the interview. He sent me a request for a submission to Cabinet to be considered immediately after his return on the following day. On 15 July 1980 Cabinet made a decision rejecting my submission. The minute reads:
The Cabinet considered the question of the recognition of the Pol Pot regime and decided that there should be no change in the Australian Government’s present policy.
I should explain that the question of recognition of the Pol Pot regime involved questions of principle that were to me of the gravest importance. On moral grounds, on political grounds, on legal grounds, recognition gave an impression of support to a butchering regime which had no effective control of the territory. Recognition was unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of Australian citizens. If Australia was to maintain a credible foreign policy and its government to retain the respect of its people, recognition had to be withdrawn. It is axiomatic that Australia has a vital role in Asia. In my view the integrity of Australia’s foreign policy should not be compromised.
On principle I could not remain part of a government committed to recognition of the Pol Pot regime. After the Cabinet meeting I called on the Prime Minister and resigned. I told him that I resigned because I could not sustain a credible foreign policy for this country while we continued recognition of this regime. The Prime Minister said that he refused to accept the resignation. I told him that it was not a matter of offer and acceptance; I had resigned. The Prime Minister asked whether I would discuss the matter further with colleagues and called in the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Minister for Primary Industry. We discussed the matter at length. They offered a compromise on this basis: I would rejoin the Ministry if the Cabinet decision was amended. The words to be added to the decision made by Cabinet that day were these:
The Cabinet agreed that, as in the past, the matter would be kept under continuing review. The Cabinet also agreed that, if in the judgment of the Minister for Foreign Affairs circumstances alter, the Minister will re-raise the submission with the Cabinet.
I did not give my decision that night. I said that I would inform the Prime Minister next morning whether I would return to the Ministry on the suggested basis. On the following morning I accepted the offer that was made. My resignation from the Ministry on this night has never previously been made public. Press reports have suggested a threat to resign. They were wrong. Mark this point: The terms of our agreement involved two undertakings. One was to keep the matter under review. The other permitted me to bring the matter back to Cabinet if circumstances altered. Circumstances did alter.
In early September the Prime Minister and I flew to New Delhi for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. En route, I showed the Prime Minister a report from Australian officials whom I had sent to Kampuchea to investigate the alleged deaths of Australian yachtsmen at the hands of the Pol Pot regime. This report chillingly described the methods of torture used by the Pol Pot regime and the types of cells in which the Australians were kept. It concluded that, in all probability, the Australians were gruesomely tortured by the Pol Pot regime before they disappeared. Asking the Prime Minister to bring the matter before the Cabinet at the earliest possible opportunity, I told him that this was compelling evidence of ‘an alteration of circumstances’ within the terms of our agreement and within the terms of the amended Cabinet decision. The Prime Minister, in breach of his agreement and of the Cabinet decision, refused the request.
Before our return to Australia various discussions concerning recognition of the Pol Pot regime took place between the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, me and others. Although they are irrelevant to my decision to resign, I mention that in those discussions attempts were made to persuade me to change my view. As a result of several discussions with the Prime Minister in Singapore he gave me two undertakings: He would make no further public comment on the matter and he would have Cabinet discuss it as soon as he returned to Australia. Because of the sensitivity of the matter, he already had my agreement that I would not bring the matter before Cabinet without his concurrence.
I left Singapore on 9 September. On the morning of 10 September, upon returning to Australia, I began to prepare the paper to put before Cabinet. The Prime Minister returned later that day. On that night the Prime Minister, despite his undertaking, issued, on Mr Lee’s behalf, a Press statement dealing with the Kampuchean question. The statement quoted selectively from correspondence between me and the Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister. Disturbed, I telephoned the Prime Minister when I learnt of this. In plain terms, I told him it was disloyal, as well as being a breach of his undertaking, made to me only the day before, not to make public comment about the matter. By releasing the statement the Prime Minister was publicly associating himself with it, if not actually adopting it. If the Prime Minister did not wish to give his weight to it, why did he issue a statement by a foreign Premier? Why not leave it to the Premier’s own diplomatic representative in Canberra, according to the usual practice? The Prime Minister argued that it was not his statement but Mr Lee’s. He said he saw no reason to inform me of it whatsoever.
Relying on the other undertaking given in Singapore, his original agreement and the Cabinet decision concerning review in altered circumstances, I requested that the Prime Minister have Cabinet meet the next morning to discuss the matter. The Prime Minister did not agree and told me to discuss the matter further with him on the following day. On the following morning, Thursday, 11 September, I sought unsuccessfully to arrange an appointment with the Prime Minister. My staff subsequently made two more unsuccessful attempts. Thereafter, when the House began its sitting, I spoke to the Prime Minister on the floor of the House during Question Time. I asked for the meeting with him, or with Cabinet. I told him, as he already knew from our conversation on the previous night, that I wanted to discuss the breaches of his agreements with me and the whole question of recognition of Pol Pot. He said to speak to his staff and that a time would be made available. When having that conversation I had absolutely no idea that the Prime Minister intended that day to put to Cabinet the proposed election date.
Later I tried again to obtain the promised appointment, but failed. Cabinet met that afternoon. The first and only item brought before it was the determination of the election date. Yet another undertaking broken. After the meeting I went straight to the Prime Minister’s office and told him he had placed me in an intolerable situation. All this took place on a Thursday. There could be no Cabinet meeting on the Friday because everyone was leaving Canberra at the end of the parliamentary week. The Prime Minister had known since July that for intricate foreign policy reasons the change I sought in Australia’s policy as to the recognition of the Pol Pot regime should be effected before 15 September, which was the following Monday. The timing was critical because it was linked with the earliest possible day of the meeting of the Credentials Committee of the United Nations.
When I went to him, the Prime Minister called in three persons: The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), the then Minister for Special Trade Representations-now the Minister for Communications (Mr Sinclair)-and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon). In a lengthy discussion I pointed out the existence of three options: First, I could resign; second, the Cabinet could change its policy; third, in the event that the Government did not change the policy, I could remain silent until after the election and then decline a portfolio in a new Government. When discussing the options I made it clear that if the policy was not changed, the third option-declining a portfolio-was acceptable to me. It was an honourable and a practical compromise. It would recognise my commitment but not disrupt the Government on the eve of an election. The Prime Minister, after all, was to call on the Governor-General that evening concerning the election. He left our meeting to go to Government House. As he did-for it has been reported otherwise-I repeated what I had said earlier: Even if the policy was not changed before the election, I would not resign. I assured him that I would go through the campaign maintaining my silence although I would not serve in his Government after the election. As he left us I gave that assurance. The Prime Minister turned to me and said these exact words: ‘Thank you, Andrew’. That this exchange took place was corroborated in my office on 14 April by the Minister for Primary Industry in the presence of two of my ministerial colleagues. They had not known of it. Apparently, they had been under a false impression.
During the evening of 11 September, after the Prime Minister went to the Governor-General, the Minister for Primary Industry and I drafted a proposal to be put to the Cabinet for a reversal of its decision to recognise the Pol Pot regime. Later the Prime Minister accepted the draft and agreed to place it before Cabinet. On 21 September I left Australia to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations. Two days later the Prime Minister cabled Cabinet’s acceptance of the proposal drafted on the night of 11 September. In the event, as is well known, due to the international controversy about the question, the credentials vote was not, in fact, taken in the United Nations until, as I recall, 13 October 1980. Next day I issued a statement announcing the Government’s changed policy. So far as I was concerned, the matter rested there until, on the afternoon before the story was published in the Australian on 14 April, I heard the Prime Minister mention our differences over Pol Pot. It must now be obvious why the Australian report on 14 April was so disturbing for its falsity. It is obvious why the Prime Minister could not refuse my request that he correct that report. What remains incapable of even the most charitable explanation is why the Prime Minister, knowing all this, issued a denial by the bareness of which he serviced his word but dishonoured his obligation.
Before concluding, I wish to make some points abundantly clear. I oppose the philosophy of those who sit opposite. The central tenet of their socialist philosophy and all it would seek to implement is the antithesis of my philosophy and that of the Liberal Party. I am pledged to the principles of my party. I said earlier that I have been a member of the Liberal Party for many years. In that time I have led the Young Liberal Movement and the Victorian Liberal Party. Honourable members will be aware of my previous service as a Minister under three Prime Ministers and as a shadow Minister during the years of the Whitlam Government. In that time there was never any suggestion that I was not a member of the team or that I was unmouldable. I joined my party because it was a liberal party, not a conservative party. Liberalism, properly applied, will arrest the polarisation and the social conflict which is testing our country. Today I have touched lightly on some policy issues. A number of people urged me to develop detailed proposals, and I respect those views. However, my primary duty was to detail the reasons for my resignation, and this I have done. From this place where I proudly stand I will be debating the issues facing our nation and pressing the solutions provided by the party I serve. With my colleagues I look forward to that challenge.
Front page of The Australian, April 29, 1981.