Daryl Smeaton was born in Victoria in 1949. In 1971 he was Departmental Liaison Officer to the Attorney-General and from 1973 to 1975 he provided Ministerial Services to the Special Minister of State. Between 1987 and 1994 he worked as Senior Private Secretary to two Ministers for Justice, Michael Tate and Duncan Kerr.
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- Daryl Smeaton
Interview with Daryl Smeaton part 1
E Helgeby: This is an interview with Daryl Smeaton who worked as a Senior Private Secretary for two Ministers between 1987 and 1994 and you also had other connections with Old Parliament House prior to this period. Daryl will be speaking with me Edward Helgeby for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australia Democracy at Old Parliament House. On behalf of the Director of the Museum I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this program. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview material but disclosure will be subject to any disclosure restrictions you impose in completing the rights agreement?
D Smeaton: I do.
E Helgeby: This being so may we have your permission to make a transcript or a summary of the recording should we decide to make one?
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: This interview is taking place today on the 25th February 2013 at 10.30 am. Can we begin with a little bit of background on your parents and when and where you were born, attended school and so forth?
D Smeaton: Well, I was born on the 8th December 1949 in Ballarat, Victoria. I am the ninth child of Robert and Jessie Smeaton. I went to school in Ballarat and they were at various convent schools, St Aloysius Christian Brothers middle school and St Patrick’s College. Just before I turned eighteen I came to Canberra.
E Helgeby: So you came to Canberra in about…
D Smeaton: 1967
E Helgeby: ’67 – talk a bit about your career up to the time you became Senior Private Secretary for the Minister for Justice in 1987.
D Smeaton: Okay, well that was a twenty year career almost in the public service, starting in the office of the Commissioner for Trade Practices which was the first trade practices commission after the passing passage of trade practices legislation. I then moved to the Attorney General’s Department and moved from Civic to the Administration Building just across the road from Old Parliament House. In the Attorney General’s Department I did a number of jobs, one of which was the Parliamentary Liaison Officer job which, I guess, we will talk about a little later. I then moved to a number of places. The Department of Labour and National Service and then in 1972 with the change of — 1973 in actual fact, in the first year, the full first year of the Whitlam Government I moved to the Department of the Special Minister of State which again brought me into close contact with ministers in particular. Because it was the first time, I think, that a single department provided all of the ministerial services to ministers and their staffs. That proceeded for probably three or four years, I think, no it would have been less than that because the government changed in 1975. I think the Department of the Special Minister of State morphed into an Administrative Services Department.
E Helgeby: Before we move on from there, could you talk a little bit more about your role as the Department Liaison Officer for the Attorney General or AGs Department.
D Smeaton: Yes, it sounds quite wonderful except in those days a Clerk Class 4 but I essentially worked as the liaison between the secretary of the Department who was Clarrie Harders in those days and the Attorney General at the time, Senator Ivor Greenwood. My task was a physical and personal liaison. Every day the parliament was in session I would come over to the House of Representatives side door, go to, straight through, of course, there was no security or anything of that kind, and go in to Senator Greenwood’s office and liaise with his long time Personal Secretary Pat O’Connor. I picked up correspondence and submissions that the Minister had seen and signed. I took them back to the department and personally delivered them to the secretary of the department and we would sit down and he would personally mark the correspondence to an officer within the Attorney General’s Department. I would deliver those and ultimately I would get a reply back and that was the cycle of Parliamentary Liaison. It was a interesting time, compared with later years obviously.
E Helgeby: What about the job you had in Ministerial Services, servicing the Special Minister for State?
D Smeaton: Yes, as I said, I think it was the first time the government decided to bring services to Ministers and their staffs together into one department. I think hitherto, each department looked after their respective minister and his or her staff, of course, we’re not talking about the huge numbers of staff that we now have. I would think that there were probably five or six people in a senior minister’s staff. There were two or three in a junior ministers staff and then the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate, etcetera would have had more substantial staff, but not great numbers I can assure you. So what I did in SMOS as we called it, Special Minister of State, was I set up with a group of people a personnel and salary section. So we brought together all of the staffs under each minister and we actually paid the ministers and those staffs through the Special Minister of State’s salary system.
It also involved looking after Ministerial travel so we didn’t actually do anything around the purpose of the travel but rather just did all of the arrangements, the bookings and the preparation of travel allowance and that sort of thing. That was quite an interesting side of the work because we used to provide the Minister with a travel allowance and we gave the Minister travellers cheques. So, myself and an officer from the Commonwealth Bank used to go to visit the Minister before the Minister left the country and got him or her, well I think it was always him in those days, as you might recall. You used to have to counter-sign the travellers’ cheques in the presence of a bank officer. I did that with most people including the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
I remember at least once going into his office and standing while he signed a number of cheques in the presence of a Commonwealth Bank officer. I do recall Carol Summerhayes was his Personal Secretary in those days. I remember I called him at one stage Mr Whitlam and she, later, she just admonished me by saying ‘You should address Mr Whitlam as Prime Minister’.
I guess the other, only one other memory of that was Clyde Cameron who was the Minister for Labour and National Service and he went, I can recall, to Japan, I think it was a week. Ministers’ used to get one hundred dollars a day in travelling allowance, so I went over duly and signed him up with his travellers cheques and about two weeks later it would have been, when he got back to Australia. I got a call from his office. I remember again, his Senior Private Secretary was Milton Cockburn who ended up being a very prominent journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald. Milton called me up and said, ‘Daryl’ he said ‘Clyde wants you to come over and get the money back’. I was a bit nonplussed. I said ‘Well, Milton it’s not refundable, it’s not acquittable, we don’t have a process for getting that’. Oh no, he is very insistent, so I duly went across, or came across to the office, we went into the office, Milton and I and Clyde said, ‘Gotta give you these travellers cheques back’. I said, ‘Well, Minister there is no process for returning money that’s …’. ‘I didn’t spent it’ he said ‘I went to Japan, they put me up in a Guest House. I didn’t have to put my hand in my pocket at all. So’ he said ‘I can’t keep it’. So we took back seven hundred dollars in travellers cheques which was a first. I didn’t do it, it never happened with any other Minister I can assure you.
E Helgeby: So you had frequent, obviously very frequent with both of these jobs, the DLO and to the Special Minister of State Services, you were a frequent visitor to the building.
D Smeaton: Oh yes.
E Helgeby: Did you ever have an office of any kind that you actually used as a base?
D Smeaton: No, again I was located at East Block is where the Department of the Special Minister of State was, so it was an easy walk. I think Senator Don Willesee was the first Minister of the Special Minister of State. I didn’t have an officer here, no.
E Helgeby: Tell me what was your first impression of Old Parliament House when you first came here?
D Smeaton: Well, of course, I don’t think there was even a thought then of a new Parliament House so it was a very impressive building and, of course, as a young man, I wouldn’t say I was overawed but I certainly — in that particular period, the Whitlam Government I think I had a thought that this was a historic period simply because it had been so long since Labor had been in power. I remember very vividly the 2nd December 1972 when I was actually Best Man at a wedding in Goulburn and we left the wedding early to listen to the count [laughs]. So that was quite an amazing period, but I think, there was — I certainly had that feeling and, of course, that time in November, 11th November 1975, again still working across at East Block and we heard about the Governor General’s action and I was one of many who congregated out the front, in the front of the steps. Heard the Official Secretary prorogue the parliament and Mr Whitlam’s famous words ‘Well may he say God Save the Queen because nothing will save the Governor General’. [laugh]
E Helgeby: Tell me, you had come to Canberra a few years earlier than this, up to this period, where did you actually live?
D Smeaton: I lived for the first four years almost, in Braddon right behind what was then a Hostel, opposite the Canberra Rex Hotel. So I lived one, two blocks back from Northbourne Avenue with my mother and two younger brothers. Then, as we all did in those days, as a young man, just about to turn twenty-one I married and my wife and I lived very briefly in Griffith at Stuart Flats, government flats, most people went into and we bought land and built in Flynn in West Belconnen and we’ve now been there for forty years this year.
E Helgeby: What was it like to live in Canberra in those days, from your perspective?
D Smeaton: Well, it was interesting that I was one of those people who came to Canberra to join the public service or had been transferred up to Canberra. So, at that age, when I was eighteen to twenty-one it was very rare to meet somebody of my age who was born in Canberra. Almost everyone that I interacted with had come from somewhere else. So, my Friday afternoon drinking group at the Canberra Rex Hotel were all, there were eight or nine of us who used to gather there for a drink on Friday night, and most of them lived in Gowrie, Gowrie Hostel, across the road.
Then I was outside work I was a part of a Christian Youth Movement, a Young Christian Workers’ Movement and from there, it was one actually of those places where you find your wife. It was one of those where there were mixed group and I met my wife through that and we — I suppose now what would be regarded as a whirlwind relationship. I think we met in March one year and we were married in November the next year, so it was a pretty quick and that was often the case. She was born in Canberra, that was one of the big things, to actually meet someone who was actually born in Canberra and then marry them.
E Helgeby: Where you at all interested in politics at this time? Did you ever join a Party?
D Smeaton: Never joined a party. I didn’t actually start university until 1972 and I did a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Public Administration, Politics and Law. I suppose that study, part-time study certainly triggered an interest in politics. You couldn’t help working in a place like Canberra, and of course, given what happened through the early ‘70s and Gough Whitlam etcetera. I think there was a heightened, certainly in my case, a heightened interest in politics. I think that in the ‘70s I was probably not — I am trying to think of the right word. I didn’t favour one party over the other, but I think 1975 certainly changed my political thinking and I have, since then, I think been a supporter of Labor, both in terms of my voting intentions but also, I think, in terms of the political philosophy I follow. I’ve never joined a party.
E Helgeby: Briefly, what — if we fast forward from 1975 to 1987 when you became Senior Private Secretary, can you briefly describe what you were doing in those years?
D Smeaton: Between ’75 and ’87 I spent some time after the Admin Services experience in ’75 I moved to the public service, no, where did I go? I think I went to the Department of Finance, spent a couple of years there, then moved to — I’d have to say, I learnt how to say no, in the Department of Finance [laughs]. That’s an interesting comment I think. We used to look after a particular group of departments and look after their Budget submission etcetera, so that, the Department of Finance’s position was generally to — I’ve left out.
I’ve noticed on there — I’ve left out the Department of Finance. I was there as a Clerk Class 8, Clerk Class 7 and then promoted to a Clerk Class 8 and looked after, I think, the Department of Immigration was the main department. I then went to the Public Service Board and I spent about three years in the Public Service Board, possibly a little more than that I think. I started off in areas that looked after the sort of conditions of service of public servants and those sorts of things. We used to talk to departments about the creation of positions and jobs all that sort of thing. I ended up in an area called the Interchange Program, where I ran a program where public servants went to the private sector and private sector people came into the department.
Then in 19 — it would have been about 1980, about ’84 I think, ’83 or ’84 I moved to the Department of Administrative Services. I basically worked on, again a broad range of administrative matters but I ended up running a program called, or looked after the Australian Council of Young Political Leaders. It was something that was set up by Malcolm Fraser as the Prime Minister and the Chair of that group was the President of the Senate and when I took over from Michael Bolton, Michael Bolton who was for a long time the Head of the Joint House Department, I think, up on the Capital Hill, not the House of Representative. Anyway, I took over from him and ran that program working with a bi-partisan group of politicians. So Senator Douglas McClelland the President of the Senate was the co-Chair with Sir Robert Cotton and there was somebody from the Labor Party and somebody from the Liberal Party and somebody from the Democrats who made up that group. Basically it was involved with the American, same sort of group in America, and a group in China and it grew for a bit. I was there for a couple of years but we used to take groups of young Australian politicians to America for a couple of weeks, quite often during an election period and that sort of thing. I think I took two groups to America and one to China and hosted two groups from the United States in Australia. We used to focus on political issues.
I remember a Queensland election we observed where Joh Bjelke-Petersen was opposed by Keith Wright as the Opposition, Labor Opposition Leader. We looked at the campaign in Brisbane where we saw both Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Keith Wright do their final speeches to the Press Club. I think seven of the eight young American politicians were absolutely certainly that Keith Wright was going to win the election and the young potato farmer from Idaho, whose name I forget, but he said, ‘Oh no, no, no Mr Bjelke-Petersen he’ll win, he’s the best’, and of course he did. So it was that sort of thing.
I then moved from that program into, it would have been late ’86, to an area that looked after Royal Commissions within Admin Services.
E Helgeby: Although it was actually just before the main event, so to speak.
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: That’s the one I’d like to focus on now. You became Senior Private Secretary to the Minister for Justice. I think that was September ’87 that happened.
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: Did you apply for the job, or were you approached to apply for the job? How did it happen?
D Smeaton: I think that Michael Tate was for, sometime before the 1987 election, a Parliamentary Secretary, the first of the Parliamentary Secretaries I think. I may not have got that quite right. In late ’86 I started to look after a group called the Australasian Police Ministers’ Council. I first met Senator Tate because I used to arrange the meetings and I think it was, probably I met him at a meeting in Hobart. He was the representative of the Commonwealth. So I was doing that job when the ’87 election came and after it I think that was the election after which Hawke decided to expand his ministry with parliamentary secretaries. I think he did that originally because there was only a set number of ministers and there had to be a change to some piece of legislation. I can’t recall what it was.
So for that period just after the election Michael Tate was the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice and he had a Senior Private Secretary from the department who provided him with services. When the requisite legislation was passed and Tate became Minister for Justice the guy who was doing his Senior Private Secretary job decided he didn’t want to continue to do it. I got a call from a chap who was working in Tate’s office named John Rowe who ultimately became, I think, the Attorney General in South Australia up until relatively recent times. He called me and said the minister would like to talk to you about the Private Secretary’s job or Senior Private Secretary’s job. I thought, oh boy. So I came across to Parliament House. We were on the Senate site almost in the far corner West Block side. I think Peter Cook was in the corner and we were along the corridor there. I sat down with him for, I suppose ten minutes, and he asked me straight out whether I’d be interested in becoming his Senior Private Secretary and I said, yes.
I do remember one finishing comment which I, it wasn’t serious but it was an interesting, he said to me ‘Daryl do you have a history of gluttony?’. If you knew Michael Tate well you knew that this was one of the seven sins. I think it came about because when we were in Hobart when I first met him, the Ministerial Council used to have a dinner. It was a lavish, usually a pretty lavish dinner, it was at the Wrest Point Casino so it was all that sort of thing. I think he probably observed me drinking a little bit more than I perhaps should have but it was not a serious question, but it was an interesting questions, and I think highlights the sort of man that he is.
So about a week later I was in his office and I served as his Senior Private Secretary until 1992.
E Helgeby: Tell me, what was the structure and size of the office? We’re talking about the years when you started not when you made the change. I want to come back later to any changes that might have occurred when you moved up the hill.
D Smeaton: We had, essentially what was two rooms as the thing was set up. So one room was the Minister’s office and there were — and they put another door in the wall into the other office where one, two, three, four people sat. I had a little cubby hole in the corner and the rest was open plan. There was a Secretary-Receptionist at the front, a policy person who was at that stage was John Rowe, the person I mentioned, and a chap named Adrian Wild who was the Press Secretary but also an active Labor Party person from Hobart who used to come to Canberra every week, or whenever the parliament was sitting. So I’m pretty sure there were four staff.
E Helgeby: Including yourself?
D Smeaton: Including myself. And then not long after that probably in the November, I think, we got another staffer who was again a member of Michael’s office Hobart so I don’t think that he was regarded as a member of staff in the strict sense, he was a member of the Senator’s staff. But he came to Canberra when parliament sat, so he was what I think we now call the Electorate Officers but he worked in Michael’s Hobart office but came to Canberra. So we ended up with five by the end of 1967.
E Helgeby: What was your formal role and your responsibilities?
D Smeaton: Well, I ran the office, that was the role of the Senior Private Secretary. It was obviously managing the office from a — well I would say from an administrative and policy point of view. I never got involved in any political stuff in those early days that was looked after Adrian Wild, John Rowe, can’t think of Daniel, anyway the third person. So we had, obviously in a Minister’s office there is a process for managing all of the paper that comes through the office. We used to have — with Attorney General as the department obviously, with the Minister for Justice, they used to operate on a colour process so that coloured plastic folders that had the submissions and everything in them, ranging from red, through blue, green, brown. I can’t remember. There might have been black, in fact there were black, now that I think about it because security stuff used to come over in black. So part of the Attorney General’s remit was ASIO, so there was that, and while Michael didn’t have a responsibility for ASIO there was often things that came through. Our biggest part of the portfolio was, of course, the Australian Federal Police.
E Helgeby: So, did all this paperwork come through you
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: …and you would allocate it to the, or pass it to the relevant staff member or to the Minister?
D Smeaton: Generally not very much of that. I was the one who looked at everything and quite often wrote notes on the submission to the Minister. I would say that that might have been a twenty-twenty-five per cent of the things that I would make a notation on the papers that — and of course one of the other things that I was a stickler for was the letters. They had to be absolutely mistake free. The number of times that we sent back letters because of spelling mistakes and that sort of thing, I think was a reflection on the people in the department more than anything else, but it was something that Michael Tate would have, he would have blown a stack if something had got through to him with a mistake in it. He would have picked it up and so that was something that I learnt very early on that the quality control was a very important part of the job.
E Helgeby: How would you describe your management style. You had four staff and your supervision?
D Smeaton: Well, I’m a very inclusive person, I think. I must say that the relationships in the office have endured to now with all of those people, friendships, great long friendships and all of those sort of things. So I don’t know what that means, a benevolent dictator [laugh]. I was actually, my nickname was ‘Plenipotentiary’ [laughs]. I don’t know where it came from but it was something that was the in joke within the office.
E Helgeby: Tell me did you have any say in the appointment of the staff that were there, or were they already there?
D Smeaton: They were already there, but subsequently yes, I looked — I mean the first personal secretary, or receptionist person, personal secretary was a long term — well in my terms anyway, she’d been with Michael for seven or eight months. We then, early in ’88 we recruited a receptionist and I personally selected her. She was somebody I knew and I thought she was very, very good, so she came across. The staff then remained pretty the same, in fact, it did remain the same right up until we moved up the hill and we expanded rapidly up here but I was part of all of that process.
I just wanted to add, one other thing, which was in a way unique [laugh] to Parliament House. In the corner of my office was little box with a switch on it which was a speaker and it brought the broadcast of the parliament into the office. I used to sit in my office every day at 2 pm to listen to Question Time. Having been part of Question Time preparation every day. I mean that was one of the most, the biggest parts of my job, was at the beginning of the day, working with the Press Secretary and the Minister going through what were the issues of the day and by 9 o’clock I would have spoken to the department about the preparation of Parliamentary Question Briefs on a range of issues. They all had to be back in our office by 11 o’clock so…
[End of part 1]
Interview with Daryl Smeaton part 2
D Smeaton: …and so by 12 o’clock we were then in a position to go to a Question Time Briefing with the Attorney General. So Lionel Bowen and Michael Tate and the advisors used to sit down from about 12.30 until 1 or a little bit after going through the Question Time Briefs and making sure that the Ministers were ready for what questions they may get. But also, of course, preparing the ‘Dorothy Dixers’ for both of the Ministers.
E Helgeby: Remind me, could you describe, if such thing really existed, a typical day doing your job?
D Smeaton: In the office half past 7 quarter to 8. Generally meeting the Minister but not every day. The Press Secretary used to be with me because he actually lived at my house when we were in Parliament House for a long time in Michael’s office. So the first thing we would get from the department was usually at about 8 o’clock we got a press clip. So it was about that thick, it was the Attorney General’s press clip but, of course, it came to us as well. The Minister had one and I had one. I went through it with the Press Secretary and we made sure that there weren’t any issues that we didn’t know about. So my focus then for the first hour was on getting ready for getting everything in place for possible parliamentary questions. So we would do all of that and I made the phone call to the department then by 9 o’clock to give them time to prepare, what we used to call the PPQs, Possible Parliamentary Questions.
Once that was out of the way then from 9 o’clock on generally I would get a delivery from the department of folders and they’d be in those colours I mentioned, red and green and blue and brown and black and yellow and all those sort of things. I would go through most of them personally. A couple of the things that related to, I suppose, the legislation questions. John Rowe was the lawyer in the office who, and had a legislative background, as I mentioned he became a member of parliament in South Australia as the Attorney General. So, if there were legislative things generally I gave them to John to look at and so probably by half past 10 I had been through all of the things that day that were delivered that morning and made notes and they’d go into the Minister’s office and they were in various piles. So the Minister knew which ones were important first and so on. Occasionally I’d hear ‘Daryl’ [laughs]. He didn’t have to yell very loudly I can tell you, from the size of the office but we’d then talk about issues. I might have made a notation that he wanted to discuss or that sort of thing. I’d sit down and go through some of those things with him. Generally there wasn’t a lot of that in the early days. It was — we were all feeling our way in some respects.
That first, what is it, five, eight months — September ’87 to May ’88 in Old Parliament House there were some interesting events that occurred that affected my Minister. One of the things that my Minister did have ongoing responsibility for was the Australasian Police Minister’s Council. So I’d gone from being the secretary now to advising the Minister and in, I think, it was early November, I don’t know the precise date but there were two firearms incidents, the Hoddle and Queens Street massacres. The issue of firearms control had been something that was on the agenda of the Police Minister’s Council back into the Fraser years. Again, I can’t remember the precise time but Malcolm Fraser certainly moved during the course of his Prime Ministership to see whether the Commonwealth could move firearms controls issues along. The Constitutional issue is that firearms control is a State responsibility other than at the barrier, in other words, Customs, Imports to Australia were the responsibility of the Commonwealth, Licensing and Possession and all of those things were the responsibility of the States. When Hoddle and Queen Street occurred, Bob Hawke decided to call a Special Premiers’ Conference to discuss guns. Again, I can’t remember the precise date but I think it was early December that 1987 there was a Premier’s Conference held in the old Cabinet Room, here in Old Parliament House. I think all Premiers attended with the exception of Tasmania, Tasmania was represented by the Deputy Premier John Bennett. Barrie Unsworth was the Premier in New South Wales, and I must say, I can’t remember who the other Premiers were. My Minister attended, of course, as the Minister with direct responsibility for firearms and I sat with him in the Cabinet Room. We debated the issue for a number of hours and there was no agreement. Chiefly because Queensland and Tasmania resisted any change, they didn’t believe that there firearms laws were so bad as to require any change, and in any event it wasn’t — it’s nothing to do with you, sort of thing, this is our responsibility. I think that, there wasn’t a great sort of reaction to it. I think Mr Hawke was probably a little bit disappointed.
My Minister thought, well that’s what happens at these things, but I’ve heard subsequently, an apocalyptical story that has been relayed to me by two or three people was that walking out of the Cabinet Room Barrie Unsworth put his arm around John Bennett’s shoulder, John Bennett being the Deputy Premier of Tasmania, and saying ‘John, I suppose it will take a massacre in Tassy to change your mind’. Now, I don’t know, I didn’t hear it myself, other have said that to me, but contemporaneously not after many years during the early ’88 and that sort of thing we were going through that sort of… So that was a pretty obvious thing, a pretty important event when you think of future things that I’ve been involved in.
There were a couple of other incidents that I’ve thought about. One was related to a Freedom of Information request that was made to the Australian Federal Police in relation to an Asian man, named Dr Stanley Ho, who was involved with Casinos and there was some suggestion that he might have had organised crime connections etcetera. I’m just trying to think, the Member for Dawson I can’t think of his name, he was the National Party Member for Dawson at that time. But he made a Freedom of Information request seeking what the AFP had advised the Minister in terms of Dr Stanley Ho. We received a Brief from the AFP and as was, often you got an FOI thing that had black marks on the pages, and my Minister clearly then got a question in parliament from a colleague of the Member for Dawson, can the Minister advise what the AFP had told you about Dr Stanley Ho. So my Minister read all of the bits except the black bits, but then he said at the end, and that was the full extent of the Briefing I received from the Australian Federal Police. Well, of course, in reality those blacked out parts, we actually did see. So there was a motion of no confidence moved against the Minister so we had a debate in Michael’s first three months of being a Minister of a motion of no confidence. It was actually won because the West Australian Greens held the balance of power, I think, Christabel Chamarette and Dee Margetts. So they voted in the motion of no confidence, but of course, I remember Senator Peter Walsh saying to Michael, ‘Oh you don’t worry about these motions of no confidence, it’s like being slapped over the wrists with a wet bus ticket’. The government, of course, didn’t have the numbers in the Senate, it had to rely on Brian Harradine and the two West Australian Greens.
There was another interesting evening occurrence. There was the time of Senate Estimates and when the particular committee that didn’t include us was not on, often my colleague, Adrian Wild and I went and had dinner, and this was in the days before mobile phones. So unbeknown to us the Treasurer, the Treasury was in front of Senate Estimates Committee and somebody asked a question about Paul Keating’s travel allowance and the Treasury people said that they had, no it wasn’t Treasury, it was Admin Services because they provided services to Ministers and they responded that the matter had been referred to the Australian Federal Police. So my Minister was in his office and he tells the story that the door burst open [laughs] and in walked Paul Keating. One might — if you know his history you would probably believe that it was a fairly interesting conversation. My Minister then tried to find me and he ended up ringing my wife [laughs] and all. Anyway, we came back a couple of hours later and he was not in a good mood but we solved the problem fairly quickly but it was an interesting experience for the Minister to have the Treasurer burst into his office.
E Helgeby: This was the time when you were still here at Old Parliament House.
D Smeaton: We were still at Old Parliament House, yes.
E Helgeby: So, your days were pretty full, the activities were all hours.
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: How were the working hours that you basically had, what were they?
D Smeaton: Well, the Senate used to sit into the deep night, just about every time they sat, we didn’t get up until about 10 o’clock most evenings. So my day started, as I said, about half past 7 we finished about 10. I got home at about 10.30 and I was back in the office the next morning at half past 7.
E Helgeby: How did this impact on your social and family life?
D Smeaton: Well, at that stage we had one child, she would have been in kindergarten, I think, when I joined Michael. She was born in late ’83 so yes she would have been four years old. My wife was working full-time so we just, it became part of the way that we lived. My second child was born while I was working for Michael still, but we were up the hill in ’89. We still had an active social life. We had weekends and that sort of thing. I travelled a lot because almost every time that Michael went back to Hobart I spent at least a week in Hobart because of course the work of the Minister doesn’t stop when parliament isn’t sitting. The process of administering, being a Minister, looking after a department and all went on. So, we used to get the air freight down every day with a whole heap of folders.
E Helgeby: So you stayed with him, basically where he had been?
D Smeaton: Not everywhere, I wouldn’t go every time there was a parliament break, sorry I wouldn’t go for the full time, I often went down for two or three days. But he was looked after by Adrian and others in his office down there. And, of course, the other part of that is, when parliament isn’t sitting the Minister goes other places as well. Most of the time I would accompany him on those trips, myself and the Press Secretary generally. So giving speeches and all of that sort of thing.
E Helgeby: I might come back to that travel issue a bit later on, just a question while we’re still at Old Parliament House. Were there parts of this building that you used every day, and ones that you used only occasionally? Or were you hauled away in the back of the Senate wing?
D Smeaton: Well, most of the time you were in the office. Would often go and sit in when debates were on, when the Minister was leading the legislation on the Attorney General’s side or Health, we had Aboriginal Affairs and that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure — I’m not sure, certainly one of the great debates that I remember him being involved in, and I’m not sure, I think it was up in the new Parliament House, was the ATSIC legislation, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Commission. I remember that Michael and Fred Chaney spent eighteen, twenty hours debating that Bill between the two of them, but I’m not quite sure where that happened, but I know that was — I think it was somewhere near the longest time debating a piece of legislation in the history of the Senate up until that time. I think it’s been broken since. I can’t remember whether that was here or up in the new Parliament House.
E Helgeby: On a regular basis you attended sessions in the Chamber or only when your Minister was in?
D Smeaton: No, the only occasion would have been Senate Estimates Committees were often held in the Chamber because it was the biggest room and it was the place where you get most people in. Question Time occasionally, but usually the only other time would be when Michael was doing legislation.
E Helgeby: What was your impression on the debates, the standard of debate and the atmosphere in the Chamber when you attended?
D Smeaton: Well, of course, it was a much cosier Chamber than the current one. I think there was some very great politicians and debaters in those days. I mean Senator Gareth Evans was a joy to watch and to listen. On the other side you had Fred Chaney, just trying to think of others there were, there were some very good ones. The President of the Senate, I can’t even remember who the President of the Senate was [laugh] but I think…
E Helgeby: Overall?
D Smeaton: …overall I think it was a pretty good standard. I believed that that period was, however, that early period of the Labor Government was the beginning of there being a lot more argy-bargy vitriol, yelling sort of stuff going on in the parliament and I think it’s continued to this day. So I think it was the start of that process of change in debate. I think it’s also changed the relationships outside the Chamber too. Much more so when we moved up the hill, of course.
E Helgeby: I was actually coming to the transition to the Australian Parliament House, of course, in the mid ’88.
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: Can you talk about the move up there. Did the work arrangements and procedures change, working there compared to what it has been here in Old Parliament House? Were there any other differences that impacted directly on the way you worked?
D Smeaton: Internally, not a lot of change, other than having so much more room. The move was as smooth as anything. The office up on the new Parliament House was ready, everything was there, phones and computers and whatever we had in those days, I can’t remember, but everything was there before we moved up the hill. So basically all we had to move were the papers and that happened in two days and everything went in its right place. It was an amazing difference though in terms of quality of accommodation and the fact that I had an office that was as big as the Minister’s office in Old Parliament House. The Minister’s office was as big as the whole office of himself and the staff and then we had a kitchen. We had our own photocopier, all of those sorts of things, I mean even as a Minister we shared facilities in the Old Parliament House. Mainly because there wasn’t enough room to put a photocopier in every office, so there was a room set aside.
But the biggest change that I noticed was that we were no longer surrounded by Senators. In the Old Parliament House the Ministers were in the Senate, if they were in the Senate, and they had — Senators who without portfolio all were members of the Opposition, spread around that sort of thing. When we moved up to new Parliament House you actually had to make a deliberate effort to go and visit. Senators had to walk a long way, or Members to come and see the Minister. The Ministerial Wing made an enormous change to the dynamics, I think, in terms of how the parliament works, vis a-vis the Ministry, a huge change.
E Helgeby: From the start it would also impact directly on how you worked yourself and your relationship with others around, others in the building and others…
D Smeaton: Yes, I think, I mean we certainly had close relationships with the Attorney General’s office because that was part of our portfolio. We worked closely together, every day with the Attorney General. In terms of the other office that we worked closely with, well the original Attorney General we had was Lionel Bowen, who was also Deputy Prime Minister. When he retired Brian Howe became the Deputy Prime Minister but he was the Minister for Health but we represented the Health on the Senate side. So, again, we had that very close relationship with the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and Health and, of course, we had the Attorney General who was Michael Duffy so those sorts of things.
Then you got to know the adjacent Minister’s offices reasonably well, so across the corridor from us was Robert Ray and across the other corridor was Nick Bolkus so we had close relationships with them.
E Helgeby: You said, you represented the Ministers in the Senate from the House of Representative, did that mean that you actually took on the role of managing that part of it? Or did the Minister’s staff in the House of Representatives provide you with material that you would make sure that your Minister representing…
D Smeaton: Combination of both, we would attend part of the Question Time Briefing in Lionel’s office and then Brian Howe’s office, but we didn’t attend all of it because we had to go to the Attorney General as well. So we had to do two separate Briefings. I should say back here we represented Aboriginal Affairs and Gerry Hand was the Minister, but fortunately it was only two offices away so we had time with him on Aboriginal Affairs issues for Question Time and that sort of thing. But that was just a normal part of the day. Every Minister represented another Minister and so that cross-fertilization was happening a lot.
The other group that I had close relationships with were other Senior Private Secretaries. We used to meet regularly around, I suppose to some extent political issues but also government issues.
E Helgeby: So you had regular weekly and daily meetings?
D Smeaton: We had, in the Hawke years it was a fortnight thing often, but in the three Keating years it was every week.
E Helgeby: And that would be all the Senior Private Secretaries?
D Smeaton: All the Senior Private Secretaries, yes.
E Helgeby: And what sort of issues would be on the agenda for those meetings?
D Smeaton: There were a whole range of issues. One of the requirements in both Chambers is the government has to have a Minister or somebody in the Chamber at all times. This is jumping a fair way ahead here, but there was a lovely incident I remember when Keating was the Prime Minister. I think the Senate ended up with only one Minister who wasn’t in Cabinet and only one parliamentary secretary. So somebody, Bob Collins was the one Minister and raised at this meeting with Don Russell who was Keating’s Senior Chief of Staff, I think we were called in those days, he used to Chair these meetings. I’m trying to think, I can’t think of Bob Collin’s Senior Private Secretary, but anyway, he raised this issue, he said ‘Look, we’re having great problems’. He said ‘There’s only Bob’ and whoever the Parliamentary Secretary was and when Cabinet sits and this sometimes sits all day, we have two people who have to keep the Chamber running, because if there is no Minister, the Chamber closes. He said ‘All we’ve got is one Minister and one Parliamentary Secretary’ and Don Russell said ‘Look, we’ve got a number of Parliamentary Secretaries in the House, why don’t we send one of them across’ [laughs]. Truly, that’s an absolutely true story, I couldn’t believe it. We all sort of [shuffled] and one of his colleagues from the Prime Minister’s office whispered in Don’s ear and he realized that it was a bit of a faux pas—you can’t send a Member of the House to the Senate, or vice-versa, anyway.
So that was jumping forward, but certainly, I think the — one of the great things about this place, relationships were as close as running into somebody in the corridor from the Opposition or just a Backbench Senator, or whatever. Of course, the parliamentary Press Gallery was as near as going up a flight of stairs. I used to say that you couldn’t open a can of beer but everybody knew you were having a party. You could have been having a major party in your suite up the hill and nobody would have known so it was a very big change in those sort of dynamics about interplay with lots of other people, did change in going up the hill.
E Helgeby: Was that part of the inference of why you had these meetings of all Principle Private Secretaries or Senior Private Secretaries meeting, that they didn’t meet often enough?
D Smeaton: No, I don’t think it was. I think it was really trying to make sure that we were all singing from the same hymn sheet rather than there being — because you could go for weeks and not have any contact with another Minister’s office if there was no connection between you and that other Minister. So it was a really, an opportunity for people, just to understand what was going on. I don’t think it was to do with the change of the environment but rather just trying to be, to be a better team.
There was one other thing I wanted to talk about that happened in the Old Parliament House relating to the debate on some Referendum Bills. There were four Referendum Bills, I think, in early ’88 was the time that the debate took place and part of the constitution, the constitution requires that there be an absolute majority in support of Referendum Bills before they could go to the people. I can’t remember the precise things, I think there was freedom of religion, there was recognition of local government, and there were two others, I can’t remember.
E Helgeby: There was actually, according to a register I’ve looked at there was one on Parliamentary Terms, one on Fair Elections, one on local government and the final one on Rights and Freedoms, were the topics.
D Smeaton: So we had a debate in the Senate Chamber and it was one of those debates that went forever. Because we had to have an absolute majority we had to make sure that both the two West Australian Greens and Brian Harradine voted with the government and they were prepared to do that. It didn’t sound like an onerous task except for the fact, the debate started early in the morning and by 10 o’clock at night we were still going. The Opposition was being an Opposition and they were calling a Division on every vote and as the evening wore on and into the next morning it was getting harder and harder to get all of the Labor people, in particular, into the Chamber to vote. We were often voting nay as well as yay. Senator Peter Cook had the office in the absolute western corner and they were having a party. There were a few sherbets being shared around and my job when the bells rang was to make sure that I went down the corridor and got them all out and pushing down the corridor. It wasn’t a long walk. It certainly as long as you have to walk in this place, or in the new Parliament House I should say. But I do remember Senator Peter Walsh had been having a few glasses of red wine, which he was wanting to do, and on one occasion I remember him walking down the corridor bumping into each wall singing the Internationale.
Anyway, then one little incident in the Chamber. I used to go in with them and sat in the Advisor’s Box while the Division was counted and this particular Division we were voting nay. So Peter Walsh went to the other side of the Chamber, deliberately sat where Senator Noel Crichton-Browne another West Australian Liberal Senator sat and he didn’t have his shoes on, this was Peter Walsh, and he put his socked feet up onto the desk while the count was going on. Anyway, the Division was won by the government and everybody moves out and I remember watching Crichton-Browne walk across the Chamber to his seat. He didn’t sit down, he picked up papers from the desk next to him and went puff puff, where Peter Walsh, so he brushed where Peter Walsh’s socked feet had been on his desk. That was just something that stuck in my memory. We actually didn’t finish the debate until 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, parliament was due to sit again the next morning at 10 o’clock. So I remember going home, showering, shaving, getting dressed and coming back into the office by 7.30 again. So I think two and a half hours, didn’t get any sleep that night. But that was an outstanding night, I don’t know that we’ve ever sat that long before. We did sit in the Senate once and I think it might have been up the hill. We sat on Christmas Eve one night.
E Helgeby: And the outcome, after all that long night was that all the proposals were rejected?
D Smeaton: Yes, we got the Referendum Bills passed but we lost all of the things and that was another, that was another interesting thing because Peter Reith ran the campaign for the Opposition against Michael Tate. Michael Tate was carrying the yes votes and we lost.
E Helgeby: A bit back to a point that you had raised earlier, travelling with the Minister, did you ever travel overseas with the Minister?
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: And when you were travelling with him, how did that impact on the way you worked, on the way you were fulfilling your role?
D Smeaton: Well, I think, can I preface it by saying that I worked for two Ministers in my time in Parliament House. Both from Tasmania but both quite different characters. I remember an incident with Senator Michael Tate, where he was on a Friday afternoon to open a conference around about 1 o’clock and then go to the airport to fly back to Hobart. He had a bad day and he decided that he wasn’t going to give the speech.
[End of part 2]
Interview with Daryl Smeaton part 3
D Smeaton: …and he said ‘You wrote it, you give it’ and I said ‘But Minister without you I’m nobody’ and he said ‘Yes, and don’t you forget it’. It was just in — but then, by contrast with Duncan Kerr I remember him one day saying to me clearly ‘Daryl, you are my principle advisor, if you say something in relation to the Ministerial portfolio, it’s as if I said it’. So there were two different views of two Ministers about the role of the Chief of Staff or Senior Private Secretary. The incident with Michael Tate didn’t represent how we actually worked together, we were a very good team. In travelling, whether it was around the country, or overseas, we spent nearly a month in ’88 travelling overseas. One of the things the Attorney General of the Minister for Justice does with other countries around the world is to conclude Extradition Treaties or assistance in Criminal Matters’ Treaties. So we did the US, Canada, Greece, Israel, Italy, Spain and Portugal, all in one month. There was myself and the Minister, Michael Tate, a person from the Australian Federal Police and a person from the Attorney General’s Department.
Michael, as you probably are aware is a very good Catholic, a great historical understanding of Christianity and all of those sorts of things. He claims to have been the first person to graduate in Theology at Oxford since the Reformation, but I don’t know whether that’s true or not but it was something that he often used. But, we had a great time. It was living out of a suitcase. You’re travelling first class and living in very nice hotels, so it’s not a hard thing to do. But, one of my colleagues who was with us, he post the tour, christened it the ABC Tour, ABC standing for ‘Another Bloody Church’. Because everywhere we went Michael would look for the big cathedral and that sort of thing. We saw some fantastic churches. The cathedral in Toledo Spain is something to behold, but you wouldn’t even know you were there until you walked inside. Because it was built in 800 and something and all that you saw was a door on the wall and you went through that door and you’re inside this incredible, beautiful cathedral, but there is nothing outside. Then near Madrid is a fantastic church that General Franco built. It is built into a hillside and it is one yard longer than St Peter’s Basilica. So those sorts of things, we did all of that, as well as all of these signing ceremonies and that sort of thing.
E Helgeby: That brings me to a point that I’ve wanted to explore, ask you to talk a bit more in depth. Working with Michael Tate, sticking with him, how did the actual relationship work in practice? How and in which way did he seek your advice and how did you in that sense coordinate the work of the office to, if I can put it that way, make things happen?
D Smeaton: Okay, we had a very incredible relationship, and again I’ve got a relationship continuing with Father Michael Tate now, and we’ve been friends for that whole, what is it getting on for now, twenty-five years. But, Michael is one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met and he also was a very good debater, but he had a temper. On a daily basis we would have had a loud argument in his office about something. It was often around a parliamentary question Brief or a policy issue that he thought might come up in the debate in the parliament or in the questions, the parliamentary questions. He would take an opposite view on what was in the Brief and I would argue the Brief and it was quite loud. The door was closed but everybody in the office knew that Daryl and Michael were having their daily set-to. We often finished the yelling at each other with him saying, you don’t know what you’re bloody talking about, and he would go to the Chamber and he would use exactly the line that I had advised him. I think in terms of his debating position, it was an opportunity to think about the opposite side of the thing and make me justify the advice I was giving him. I think it was, I can’t remember one occasion where he didn’t use what I had put to him, or what the Brief said.
E Helgeby: So he used you as a sounding board.
D Smeaton: That’s right.
E Helgeby: …in many respects.
D Smeaton: Yes. I mean, if you came into the office not knowing the office and you heard it you would wonder what was going on but all of the staff knew what it was all about. They made sure the door was closed.
E Helgeby: They’d duck for cover.
D Smeaton: No, our office was not in way like Gareth Evan’s office. Gareth and Michael had both incredibly intelligent legal minds and both with very touchy tempers, but Michael never threw anything whereas the stories go that Gareth had a habit of throwing things. Not to hit somebody but usually to hit the wall and I think Joe Thwaites was Gareth’s Senior Private Secretary and he told me about they had an award called ‘Brick of the Week’ in his office. It was given to the person who was yelled at most, by Gareth in his office. So we had a similar relationship in that sense to our Ministers, Joe and I, but I think Michael was a voice temper rather than physical.
E Helgeby: So, on a daily basis did you get the papers, you got the papers from the department, or with proposals and ideas you made comments on them?
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: And then you handed, sent them, gave them to the Minister.
D Smeaton: Yes, but I didn’t make comments on every one, because a lot of the work in a Minister’s office is routine. It requires a Ministerial signature but there is no great policy issues, or political issues, and they just go in and he signs them and that sort of thing. But my job was to make sure that the advice he was given, was being given, was right. I suppose, often I would sit with him while he was going through things, and he say, ‘Ah this is bloody rubbish, get this person on the phone’. I would say, ‘I’ll talk to them Minister, it’s okay, I’ll sort it all out’ and I did that ninety-nine per cent of the time and it all came back nice and it was all good. The one thing I was wanting to avoid was having a Minister talk directly to the person in the department who was doing a good job. So I was the sort of — I tried to modify the position in a way that didn’t cause a problem for the Minister’s reputation, but he still had a reputation. You often had Briefings in his office where he would be angry and yell at people and that sort of thing. I think a lot of Ministers were like that.
E Helgeby: So in that sense you must have had a quite special relationship. In a sense that he obviously felt that he could explode in your presence and you would, it would not upset the balance of the relationship.
D Smeaton: I think it was important that I responded. I think that was part of the exercise. It wasn’t just him yelling at me because I used to yell back at him. So, it was a debating process. We yelled at each other and we said, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and all those sorts of things, but I still worked for him for five years. We’re still friends. The staff that worked with us in those offices, we meet each other regularly and we correspond regularly and all. We don’t live close to each other. So it was — I think it was a very effective office.
We had some very interesting things that happened but here — I was going to just give you a lovely little vignette that involved Michael and Gareth. Michael got a question in the Senate one day about the comments of a Family Court Judge, it was a woman, I can’t remember her name and I can’t even remember what Michael said, but the next day somebody from — it might have been one of the — no it was a South Australian Liberal Senator and I can’t remember — got up and alleged that Michael had misled the parliament and moved a motion of no confidence. It just so happened that Michael was away. He’d gone to Sydney with one of the other staff, so he wasn’t there to defend, because motions of no confidence have priority. So Gareth said that he would defend the Minister in the motion. So I went into the Chamber, sitting in the Advisor’s Box next to Gareth had given him a Brief. The Liberal let off with the motion of no confidence and spoke for ten minutes and I’m thinking, oh Jesus, and then Gareth got up and he just roared and raved and banged his fist for ten minutes and it was brilliant. And, of course, we lost the motion of no confidence, the Minister was admonished by the Senate, and I just said to Gareth as we were walking out. I said ‘That was pretty good and you lost’ and he said ‘Yes’ and he said ‘I have this belief that if you’ve got a weak case, yell a lot’ [laughs]. So that was Gareth Evans. He’s still going. I see Gareth regularly because he works in a similar area to some of the stuff I do, so he’s still…
E Helgeby: In terms of the other members of the private office, I’m interested in how you coordinated, because their work — they all had separate areas of responsibility.
D Smeaton: Sure.
E Helgeby: …did they, did everything pass through you to the Minister or did they directly deal with the Minister?
D Smeaton: It depended on the issue and here in the Old Parliament House everything came through me because we didn’t have many staff. In the end, in the new Parliament House, we had probably seven or eight other staff at one stage. There would have been two of them who would have dealt directly with the Minister after I had given them the folder. So everything came to me first. I’d look at them all but I wouldn’t necessarily do anything on legislation, for example, because we have a very good lawyer in the office and he would take the Minister through all of the legislative stuff. We had a couple of specialists, at one stage we were looking after Consumer Affairs, so all the things on consumer affairs went to that staff person. She is now the Deputy Chair of ACCC looking after consumer affairs matters, so we trained them very well. I’ve got another one of the staff who is the Head of the Health Insurance Commission and another one who is a Senior Counsel in Sydney, so we had a pretty good office [laugh]. Anyway, so yes, I still kept an eye on those other things but I didn’t, I certainly didn’t take everything, and as the portfolio grew I couldn’t have done that all myself. So, my focus in all the time I was with both Michael and Duncan Kerr was chiefly on the law enforcement side because that was my speciality in terms of policy.
E Helgeby: You mentioned — I asked what changes occurred when you moved up to the Australian Parliament House in ’88, you now mention that there were additional staff as well.
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: Can you tell me what sort of area, you went from four or five?
D Smeaton: Four to about eight.
E Helgeby: So that is four plus yourself and then eight plus yourself?
D Smeaton: There would have been five of us who went up the hill and we ended up with another four, so we had nine including me. A receptionist, a personal secretary, and a press secretary, two people looking after legal and legislation, so legal matters and legislation, one looking after consumer affairs and one assisting me in terms of law enforcement. So we had, often had somebody from the AFP working in the office, on our staff, and not — well one was a police officer, because he ended up as the Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Police, Simon Overland worked in our office. Just think we picked good staff [laughs]. I certainly know that the people who came out of our office have gone on and done amazing things, so there we go.
E Helgeby: Did having more staff change your management style, in terms of how you ran the office?
D Smeaton: I don’t think so. I think, again, going from that small staff to a much larger staff, again we were all friends. It’s those relationships that, I think, my management staff builds with people that have lasted, that I think, in my view it’s a good test of whether you were a good boss or not. In fact, I was only looking at some papers last night. I mentioned that my nickname was Plenipotentiary and this one page with Plenipotentiary written down, the letters, and one of them, I think it would have been the press secretary had written against P and L and E and N a little line. I think that was given to me on my farewell from Michael Tate’s office because between Michael Tate and Duncan Kerr I spent about a year at the Australian Federal Police.
E Helgeby: Yes, we will come back to that. Yes, the relationship with the press, was that something that was handled always, working for Michael Tate, by someone other than you, or did you get involved with the press relationship?
D Smeaton: I was involved with everything. The press secretary is a brilliant press secretary and his capacity to write press releases and to read the media response and all of those sort of things. I’ve never met anybody as good but we worked as a team. When it came to media issues it was the Minister, myself and Adrian. It was a three person team. Press Conferences and rucks outside the Ministerial Wing those sort of things the three of us were there. I’m usually standing behind the Minister and Adrian is there with a recorder so that we knew what was said, didn’t save us once, but that’s another matter which we’ll come to. There is a great story about what Hawke said about my Minister at one stage.
E Helgeby: You mentioned speeches, did you draft speeches yourself or did that come from the department?
D Smeaton: It was a combination. Most of the speeches that Minister gave were drafted by the department, polished by Adrian and myself, because they were related to a policy issue, the opening of a conference, or whatever. Then there were quasi-political speeches which Adrian and myself would, Adrian mainly but me again, polishing and the Minister, of course, would have a big say in that.
E Helgeby: Adrian is the press?
D Smeaton: He is the Press Secretary, yes.
E Helgeby: That applied both at Old Parliament House and the Australian Parliament House?
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: Was it the two of you that actually did the fine tune, at least the drafts?
D Smeaton: Yes, and I think most offices would — the role of the Chief of Staff, or Senior Private Secretary is almost unique, I think, in terms of the sorts — I can’t think of another job where I’ve been absolutely involved in everything that happened. I mean, I’ve been a Head of organisations and that for years and a Deputy Secretary in the public service etcetera and I was never, ever as involved as I was as the Chief of Staff. Because, I think that Duncan Kerr view, if you say something, I’ve said it, it’s that sort of relationship. It has to be because Ministers rise and fall on the advice they get.
E Helgeby: Can we talk a bit about Michael Tate again, talk about him as an individual, his personality and character, as with that intellects ability to communicate. In particular, he said we needed to communicate policy with colleagues and with the voters, what was your impression of him?
D Smeaton: Well I think his capacity as a politician probably wasn’t as good as his capacity as a representative, if I can put it that way. Michael was from the centre-left faction so there were some very important people in that. I mean Neal Blewett was the leader of it for a long time, and that sort of thing, Peter Cook, but they were the ‘betweeners’, between the right and the left. What ultimately, and the centre-left no longer exists and I think the reason for that is Keating’s ascension to power ultimately. Because they were the group that moved mainly between Hawke and Keating, between the two challengers. But because of that factional weakness in terms of Michael’s position within the Party. I think on, at least two occasions, he was the number one in the Senate in Labor, for Labor in Tasmania, on two occasions Hawke had to intervene to have him put back as number one. Because the Party preselected him and dropped him to number two on two occasions and Hawke intervened and put him back in and ultimately in the end Keating wouldn’t do that for him after the ’93 election. That was when Michael decided to retire because he didn’t appoint Michael to the Ministry again.
E Helgeby: What would regard as his strengths? It sounded as if as a politician that was perhaps not his strong side, what were his strengths?
D Smeaton: I was trying to differentiate him in terms of being a politician and a representative. I don’t think he was a good politician in terms of the politics of the party but I think he was a very good representative. He had a very strong following in Tasmania by the electorate. He did a lot of work in the community that generally Senator’s don’t get terribly involved in. Members of Parliament do because they’re voted for by electorates whereas Michael, for example, he had an office in Hobart, right in the city. But he decided, very early on to establish another office out in a poorer part of Hobart, I can’t remember the name of it now, and actually put one of his staff out there so that people in that area, low socio-economic, lots of issues around social things, and all that sort of thing, could have a place for them to go and talk. So I think in that sense he was a good politician in getting elected but he wasn’t a good politician in terms of the inner workings of the Party.
Now I didn’t have any role in that. He had always somebody in his office who looked after what we all called ‘factional issues’, so I never got involved in that sort of thing at all. Although I did get involved in going with him on election campaigns because often, being a Minister and a Senator, you don’t have to do a lot of work in your home State too much. So we used to support lots of margin seat holders and that sort of thing in election campaigns, or with speeches and with going to openings. Having morning tea in heaven’s waiting room, as I remember, Michael Lee who was the Member for Dobell in the central coast which is situated around a place called Bateau Bay. It’s described by Michael Lee as ‘heavens waiting room’ because of all the old people who lived there, those sorts of things. That was one group that Michael really got on well with, the elderly, particularly the older ladies, who saw him as a young good looking man, they just loved him.
E Helgeby: When you were travelling with him on electoral campaigns, did that in any sense perhaps politicise you?
D Smeaton: I don’t know that it politicised my role, but there is no doubt about the fact that you get recognised and I know quite clearly after the change of government in 1996. I had already been out, because I left in 1994, and during that period just after the government was elected, of course, the Port Arthur massacre occurred and I was involved very closely with the new government. A number of Ministerial staff that I had contact with during that period used to say to me, we know about you, I remember.
But when I was appointed, just going back to give you some idea of that — I left Duncan Kerr’s office in 1994 to go to be the Executive Member of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Board. Senator Calvert an old Liberal Senator got up in Question Time day to ask Nick Bolkus, because he was representing the Attorney General, and asked him whether my appointment was a job for the boys. And Amanda Vanstone leaned across, I’m told, and said ‘No, no, he was the best man for the job’. I had a relationship with Amanda Vanstone both in Opposition and in Government because she ended up being my Minister when I was the Head of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Board.
E Helgeby: It must have been a pretty clear and strong relationship between your private office of your Minister and the Prime Minister’s office and staff, could you talk about what the relationship was like between the Prime Minister’s staff and you and your staff during years you were there?
D Smeaton: As a junior Minister it wasn’t a major relationship. We weren’t a Cabinet Member for example, so Michael only went to a Cabinet Meeting if there was something directly related to the Australian Federal Police. But, every Senior Private Secretary had a relationship with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, so people like Sandy Hollway and Ellen Hawke and there others but I can’t remember them all. You had to have a good relationship and I had to use that relationship on at least two occasions when I was working for Michael Tate. I think on one occasion saving his Ministry, but that’s something that — I felt my job, as much as the Minister interacts with other Ministers and the Prime Minister on a range of things, Caucus Meetings, and Cabinet Sub-Committees and that sort of thing. I always thought that the most important relationship of the Chief of Staff - me, outside my office was with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.
E Helgeby: What about your relationship with government departments? I presume you had contact with not only the Attorney General’s.
D Smeaton: I came out of Attorney General’s, so I had a very good network back in the department and I think that is something that current, and it probably goes back to the change of government in 1996, where the Liberals came in and almost every Chief of Staff was from within the Party rather than from the department. When I went in ’87 I don’t think there was one Chief of Staff who didn’t come from the department, sorry, yes that didn’t come from the department. Now, there is almost none who do.
E Helgeby: Your relationship, in your time with the department, and department in particular Attorney General was a very good one?
D Smeaton: Oh yes. I think the advantage was I knew exactly who to call and I spoke straight to the person that I wanted to speak to rather than sending something through the secretary or Division Head, or whatever. Similarly the relationship was a bit one in terms of the Australian Federal Police, but that was quite a different one. Almost all of the stuff went through the Commissioner. I think that, I suppose, the difference between the department and a disciplined force. So the Commissioner of Police was without any doubt the first person to approach. There were a couple of others that you came to trust and like, sort of thing, but the Commissioner knew that you were doing that. Whereas with the department, I mean they are much bigger, of course, but I used to be able to go straight to the person, I knew, who wrote the submission, that sort of thing.
E Helgeby: A slightly different questions, obviously the very high intensity of working in a Ministerial office like that, what were your coping strategies to make sure that you stayed, in a sense, health and on top of the job? Particularly away from work, what did you do to, in a sense, unwind?
D Smeaton: I used to describe the work in the Minister’s office as ranging between frantic and frenetic. It used to take me, as I mentioned we finished at 10 or 10.30 most night and I would drive home. It took me twenty minutes and I was asleep forty minutes after I got home, after I left the office. My capacity, my ability to switch off — I switched off in those twenty minutes in driving home. I remember, often when my second child was born, before I went to bed though I changed his nappy and gave him a bottle [laughs] but then I went straight to sleep. I think that’s always been — I don’t go to bed with a head full of problems. I then wake refreshed enough the next morning to be able to — I have to say that one of the pluses, was that I had a beard for most of the time I was working, so I didn’t have to shave every morning. My colleague Adrian also had a beard, so neither of us had to shave in the morning, that meant that you were able to get out of bed and out of the house within a half an hour.
E Helgeby: A time saving device.
D Smeaton: A time saving device, absolutely, but I think that capacity to switch off on the way home, I think was important for two reasons. I never had any traffic problems and I was able to go straight to sleep. And, sorry, just to — my weekends were sacrosanct basically. Having a wife and a child and then two children. I still got to play golf most Sunday mornings but generally my wife is a keen gardener and I would assist her in the garden.
E Helgeby: Just one more question of a general nature here. Did you ever feel uncomfortable about what you were doing in the office, say in a philosophical or moral way or sense, about the things you were doing which obviously had a particular impact, and other impacts on the people that came within the domain of the Minister?
D Smeaton: I can’t ever remember one occasion. I think that was probably because I was philosophically aligned with what the government was trying to do. If not being a rusted on member of the Party I’d have to say that currently there are lots of things that — from both sides of politics that I don’t like.
E Helgeby: That’s another story.
D Smeaton: That is another story.
E Helgeby: Just one final question for today and I think we then have to break, would be, what led you to leave the job in 1992? The Minister was still in place, Tate was still in place then.
D Smeaton: Yes, I had had built a very good relationship with the Commissioner of Police, Peter McAulay. I’d had…
[End of part 3]
Interview with Daryl Smeaton part 4
D Smeaton: …I was getting close to five years in the job. I don’t know that I was tired but I was looking to the future. It wasn’t that I thought the Labor Party was going to lose government, I don’t think, but I just wanted to do something different. It was getting close to the ’93 election. I think it was probably after, or close to when Hawke and Keating changed.
E Helgeby: It would have been after if it was in ’92.
D Smeaton: I’m just trying to think, it was after, but anyway, Peter McAulay offered me a job. He created a position of Assistant Secretary Government Relations within the AFP and asked me if I’d be interested and I said yes. I spoke with Michael about it and he encouraged me, I suppose. He asked me to write the story before I left [laughs]. I haven’t got a copy of it but I did write a sort of a history of Michael’s achievements in parliament as the Minister. He’s probably got a copy somewhere but I don’t. Anyway, I left and I spent almost a year and the Keating Government came in and Duncan was appointed as the Minister for Justice.
E Helgeby: And that’s where I would like to start the next time.
D Smeaton: We can start from there.
E Helgeby: Talking about your time with Duncan Kerr and then some general issues in relation to events and the people you have mentioned specifically, maybe we can call it quits there today.
D Smeaton: I just suggest that we make sure we cover the issue of Hawke and Tate in relation to the decision of the Judge to abort a criminal trial in Sydney, because it was almost the end of Michael Tate’s career.
E Helgeby: I’ve got that point, alright so we’ll stop there.
[End of part 4]
Interview with Daryl Smeaton part 5
E Helgeby: It is now the 25th March and I am continuing the interview with Daryl Smeaton. Daryl last time when we finished you had just left the job working for Michael Tate and you were now then had an interim you worked for a year, eighteen months or so, for another organisation?
D Smeaton: Probably it was a little less than that but it’s a round about a year ’92 to ’93 I went to work for the Australian Federal Police as a Government Relations Advisor and that was an interesting time. I was still involved with the same sort of issues around law enforcement police and that sort of thing. Then the 1993 election occurred and Paul Keating as the Prime Minister, of course, claimed that it was a great victory for the ‘true believers’. Clearly one of the non-true believers must have been Senator Michael Tate because Mr Keating decided not to reappoint him to the Ministry. He asked Duncan Kerr, also from Tasmania, to take up the job of Minister for Justice. Just after the appointment of the Ministry Duncan Kerr called me and he asked if I would assist him in finding a Chief of Staff. I think in hindsight that was code for, will you come and work for me. So I did have a look. He’d had a number of people expressing interest and I sat down with him. We went through the various candidates and I gave him a view on them. I thought there were, at least two or three of them, who could have done the job but at the end of the conversation over a cup of coffee, he actually said, well it’s really you I want to do the job. When a Minister asked you to do something like that and particularly somebody whom I knew. I thought well, I said, ‘Look I have to go and talk to my boss, the Commissioner of Police’. I did that, the Commissioner, I’m trying to think of his name now, Peter [McAulay] oh dear I’ve just had a mental blank, but I regard it as a bit of an agreement with my own view of your abilities. As the Minister wants you to work for him, Peter said, then I think that would be good for the AFP as well, to have somebody in the office who knows about the police.
E Helgeby: You said that you knew Duncan Kerr from before, from what capacity was that?
D Smeaton: Well — when I was working with Michael Tate the Tasmanian Senators and Members met irregularly, but often, as a group of Labor representatives of Tasmania. So, because Michael was the only Minister the meetings took place in his office at new Parliament House. So Duncan was a regular part of those meetings and I got to know him and all of the other Members of Parliament.
E Helgeby: So you attended those meetings?
D Smeaton: Not so much attended them, as you see them when they come in. They were political meetings, so I didn’t attend those meetings. I think the last time we talked I mentioned the Media Advisor who was also the Political Advisor in the office would have attended those meetings. But, of course, people arrive at different times and you say hello and that sort of thing.
E Helgeby: Did you notice any changes from the previous period in how the office worked, the Minister’s office worked, staffing, for example, had it changed?
D Smeaton: Well, with the exception of me, the rest of the staff were new. They were — many of them recruited from the Party in Tasmania, there were three I suppose of the people who came up to work in the office were members of the Labor Party in Tassie, and involved in the political side of things. But the continuation of public servants coming up to the Minister’s office, some as staff, and others as Departmental Liaison Officers continued. We had two very, very prominent federal police members who came and worked in the office for the period. I was there for about eighteen months. The first was a woman by the name of Audrey Fagan, now her, I suppose, prominence was that she became the Chief Police Officer in the ACT for a period of time and tragically committed suicide, which was something, I think, shocked everybody. The other one was somebody even more important and that was Simon Overland who ultimately became Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Police. So, it continues that thing about the Minister for Justice’s office attracting some very talented people. One of the staff, whose name is Cassandra, Cassie and I’m just again struggling for her surname, but she’s the current Green’s Minister in the Tasmanian Government. They’ve got a joint Labor-Greens thing in Tasmania. Cassie is her first name and I can’t think of her second name. So again there were some very talented people, and I think that’s common across a lot of Minister’s offices. If I think back to other offices that I knew people of. We have the current Ambassador for Australia to the United Nations, Gary Quinlan was a Chief of Staff at the same time as me, and lots of other people like that.
E Helgeby: The general operations of the office and your role and responsibilities, have they changed from your previous stint?
D Smeaton: Almost exactly the same, the responsibilities of the Minister. One of the big changes was where we were located, of course, we were on the Senate side when I was working for Michael Tate and on the House side of the Ministry. That has changed a lot. Now I notice that they don’t sort of split them up as they did, with all the Senators on the right and the Members on the left. Because I was working for a Member of Parliament rather than a Senator, we actually were in an office right next door to the Attorney General. So it was very close relationship in both work and location. Michael Lavarch was the Attorney General and his Chief of Staff was John Stanhope, who ended up, as you know, Chief Minister here. So, we again, I mean it was much easier. You didn’t have to walk very far for the daily Briefings on Question Time. We worked closely on legislation and all of that sort of thing.
E Helgeby: Had anything else, in terms of the — apart from the fact that you moved office, things were much the same, continuing much in the same vein as they had before?
D Smeaton: I think that in terms of the work there wasn’t much difference, but in terms of the work atmosphere there was a dramatic difference. Michael Tate was, as I’ve said before, a highly intelligent man, but somebody who worked at a frenetic pace. Duncan, I think, was equally as intelligent but had a much more laid back style. I’m not sure that I relayed this incident with Michael Tate where he refused to deliver a speech on a Friday afternoon, went back to Tassie, and I had said to him ‘Minister, without you I’m nobody’ and he said ‘Yes, and don’t you forget it’. Duncan’s position was at the other end of things. He said to me quite often, as my Chief of Staff Daryl, everything that you do or say, is what I do or say. So he took the view that the Chief of Staff and the Minister were ad idem on everything that went on particularly in a public sense.
E Helgeby: Working with Duncan Kerr, in which way was it different to working for Michael Tate? If it was different.
D Smeaton: I don’t know if it was different in terms of outcomes. It was really about process in a sense. Duncan, as I’ve mentioned, was much more laid back. He certainly didn’t possess the temper that Michael Tate could have at times and that sort of thing. I think I talked about our daily arguments in the Minister’s office about issues that then resulted in the Minister doing what I thought he should do. We didn’t have to really do that with Duncan because he was much more prepared to listen calmly and all those sorts of things. So I don’t know that there was any great difference ultimately in the results of the Ministry.
E Helgeby: From what you are saying, I get the impression that Duncan Kerr, he would seek your advice fairly regularly on everything?
D Smeaton: Yes, just about on everything. Again, we had an office that had experts in the particular areas. We were still responsible for consumer affairs. We were still responsible for the appointment of marriage celebrants, it’s an interesting area. Civil marriage celebrants is one of the most incredible areas because, it’s an opportunity for Members and Senators to nominate great people out of their electorates, to be appointed as a Marriage Celebrate. And you are probably aware being a Marriage Celebrant can be quite a lucrative profession. So getting appointed as a Marriage Celebrant was a very happy occasion for the Member or Senator who had proposed somebody.
E Helgeby: How would you describe Duncan Kerr’s personality? I’m interested in personality, character perhaps and his communication skills within the environment of parliament but also with the constituents and I suppose the voters out there?
D Smeaton: Well, look he was the Member for Denison for a very, very long time, he held it with a great majority and fascinatingly it was the loss of Denison at the last election which led to the hung parliament. It was became Duncan retired and the Labor Party weren’t able to hold the personal vote that he clearly had in the electorate. He had a very strong electorate office so that, he’d looked after his constituents, I think. He was also, I think, pretty highly regarded as a legal mind within the Cabinet and probably the difference between he and Michael would have been in terms of their parliamentary performance because there was far more by Michael than there was by Duncan. Because in the Senate there were no other member — parts of the Attorney General’s portfolio, whereas in the House, Lavarch was there and Duncan Kerr was there. So there wasn’t a lot of need for Duncan to be a debater, but I mean, he handled all the Question Time stuff and that sort of thing as well as anybody. But, I think, that was probably the big difference between the two Ministers was their performance in the Senate. Michael Tate I would describe as a great parliamentarian as well as a good Minister but in terms of his understanding of parliamentary procedures and all of that sort of stuff and his debating capacity I think. I think was probably superior to Duncan’s.
E Helgeby: Did you see any changes in the relationship between the private office and the Prime Minister’s office and staff during this period in time compared to the earlier period?
D Smeaton: Quite dramatic. I think the Prime Minister’s office for Keating’s reign as Prime Minister, particularly after the election, became a very closed shop, even for Minister’s offices within the government. It was very much more difficult to get in to see the Chief of Staff, whereas, right through the whole of the Hawke period the Chief of Staff in a Minister’s office could walk straight into the Prime Minister’s office and into the Chief of Staff’s office to say hello even, apart from raising matters. It was much more difficult under Keating for most of the time his Chief of Staff was Don Russell, who ended up as Ambassador to the United States and I think is currently a secretary of a department. I’m not sure which department he now is in charge of here in Canberra. But, he didn’t have a background in the public service, whereas I can’t think of one of Hawke’s Chiefs of Staff who didn’t come from Prime Minister and Cabinet.
I think that was a significant difference. I don’t know whether I told you of a little — we used to meet every week of sitting weeks, on Monday as the Chiefs of Staff with two or three from the Prime Minister’s office and talk about tactics and all sorts of things. There was a delightful little exchange about the problem of the problem of having a Minister or a parliamentary secretary in the Senate to maintain the Senate and we only had one Minister, I think, who was Bob Collins. I think there was maybe one parliamentary secretary so it was very difficult when Cabinet was sitting. Bob Collins couldn’t sit there all day — sorry he was the only non-Cabinet Minister in the Senate, I should have said that. So this was raised at one of these meetings about the difficulties of maintaining the Chamber in the Senate. Don Russell said ‘We’ve got a number of Parliamentary Secretaries in the House who could come across and help’. Which, of course, somebody nudged him quickly and said, ‘No, no’, so anyway, that was just a little part of the, sort of, I suppose, the insular position in a sense that was taken by the Prime Minister’s office in that period.
E Helgeby: Does that mean that you perhaps got a feeling that you weren’t listened to in the same way, at the highest level?
D Smeaton: Well, I mean I can’t comment from the point of view of the Minister, but certainly from the point of view of staff, and particularly if you were Chief of Staff to a non-Cabinet Minister you certainly weren’t, you weren’t in the higher echelon of getting into the Prime Minister’s office for a discussion. You ended up with somebody much further down than the Chief of Staff.
E Helgeby: Did that effect the outcomes, do you think?
D Smeaton: No, I don’t think so.
E Helgeby: So it was procedural more than…
D Smeaton: That’s right, I don’t think there was much of a difference in terms of our achievements, because we just got on and did the job.
E Helgeby: I asked you last time about, in relation to the first period, whether your general views over and above politics did change at all in the time that you worked with the Minister? You came back after a break had that changed your outlook on politics?
D Smeaton: I don’t think so. I think that the period of nearly seven years that I spent up there certainly turned me from a strong supporter of Labor and Labor values, as a personal position, to what they now called ‘rusted on’ I suppose. I think that, while I’ve said before I was never a member of the Party I’m certainly now somebody who would only vote Labor because of my experience of the sort of work that they did and the sort of things that we achieved.
E Helgeby: So that was, in a sense, a result of your years spent there and the exposure you had to Labor Party Ministers and policies and so forth?
D Smeaton: Yes, I think you would have to be somebody who had — you couldn’t but be imbued with the atmosphere and the politics even though you didn’t stay there. You didn’t go to Caucus meetings or anything like that, it was just the fact that you were working for somebody. I think probably the reason for it all is that you respected the Minister, both as a Minister but also as a politician.
E Helgeby: You spent only just a bit over a year, or about a year or so, working for Duncan Kerr, why did you leave the job in 1994?
D Smeaton: Well, I suppose I was reluctant initially to go and work back in the Ministry because, I mean, it’s a very hard job. I’d had two relatively young children and a wife who worked and those sorts of things. So I said to Duncan, I’ll get the office set up and we’ll get the staff selected and all that sort of thing. One of the first things that Duncan put in place was a review of Commonwealth Law Enforcement, Chaired by Bill Coad. I can’t remember precisely where he was working at the time. I think it might have been in the ACCC, Competition and Consumer Commission, but he did have a background in law enforcement policy prior to that. So there was a major review and the report that came to Duncan as the Minister recommended the establishment of a much closer coordination mechanism for law enforcement bodies at the national level. Ultimately an organisation called the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Board was established, comprising the National Crime Authority, Australian Customs, the Australian Federal Police and the forerunner of ASIC. I think were the four bodies were the main, and the Attorney General’s Department, and so there were five. The Heads of those five organisations formed the Board along with a position called the Executive Member of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Board. I saw that as an opportunity for me to go back into mainstream administration. So I applied for the job. It was a public service job and there was an interview process and I won the job. So that was the reason why I left Duncan Kerr’s office, with his blessing, I’d have to say. There was certainly no acrimony. It did lead to an interesting question in the parliament about whether my appointment was a job for the boys. I think it was Senator Richard [Paul] Calvert who asked the question of Nick Bolkus who was the representative of the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice in the Senate. I’m told by Nick that Senator Amanda Vanstone leaned over to Calvert and said ‘Don’t be so silly, he got it because he was the best man for the job’ which was an interesting position. I ultimately ended up working to Amanda Vanstone in 1996 because she became the Minister for Justice when I was still the Executive Member of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Board.
E Helgeby: What was your personal impression of Bob Hawke as Prime Minister? How do you — you had fairly direct dealings with him.
D Smeaton: Yes, yes.
E Helgeby: What was your view of him as an individual and his strengths and weaknesses what would these be?
D Smeaton: I think the most important view was that he believed his Ministers should do the job that they were given without too much interference from the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s office. That when Cabinet made a decision about something and a Minister had a responsibility for implementing that, he got on and did it. That was quite different in many respects to what happened in the Keating years, there was much more intervention in issues from my experience. I don’t know whether that happened across all portfolios, but clearly there was a difference in terms of the management style as I’d call it between Hawke and Keating.
E Helgeby: I was going to ask the same question about Keating, so if you wanted to compare them that would be good?
D Smeaton: Well, I just think, and I wasn’t there for a terribly long period of time, nearly five years with Michael and only twelve months with Duncan Kerr. But I did notice that there was more of an interventionary approach by the Prime Minister’s office with things that were happening in other Ministerial offices.
E Helgeby: Was that instigated, do you think, by the Prime Minister or was it his staff?
D Smeaton: It’s difficult to say. I don’t think that I ever had one meeting involving Prime Minister Keating whereas I would have been to unlimitless, I can’t even put a number figure on the number of meetings that I attended with my Minister in meetings with the Prime Minister and other Ministers and staff and all those sorts of things, that was a regular.
E Helgeby: Bob Hawke you’re talking about?
D Smeaton: Bob Hawke, yes, Hawke had a style of inclusion, I think, and probably came from his union background, I think. You couldn’t dictate to other union leaders but you can make them work together for the good of the union movement. I think it was definitely the same in the Hawke ministries. He was a strong Prime Minister, did some great things, did cause a problem with the my Minister on one occasion where my Minister — we got a Brief early one morning from the Australian Federal Police to tell us that the Thai police had arrested a major drug smuggler in Bangkok with ties to drug importations into Australia. We asked for a written Brief and an oral Brief, and so we got a Brief at about 10 o’clock from the Australian Federal Police with a person who came over and spoke to the Minister. And the Minister said ‘Oh this is something I think we should have a doorstop about. It’s a pretty important arrest, done with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police’ but there had been television that morning as the Thai police want to do with a person bound in a chair with a table covered in all the heroin he was going to import and surrounded by police. So we went down to the front of the Ministerial Wing at new Parliament House…
E Helgeby: That is the doorstop you were talking about?
D Smeaton: That was the doorstop. My Minister had covered himself in glory claiming great credit to the Australian Federal Police etcetera, etcetera. And then the next morning, late morning it was, we heard that a judge in the, whatever, I can’t remember what court it was, it might have been a district court in New South Wales, had come in and said, I’m going to abort this trial. It was the trail of a drug importer and it turns out was related to the guy who was arrested in Thailand. Unbeknown to us, we were aware of this trial, but the Judge decided, in terms of hearing Michael Tate’s press conference etcetera that he should abort the trial. Of course there was a huge uproar in the parliament and we knew that would happen, obviously, so we prepared for it. Michael Duffy, I think was the Attorney General, and he took the first couple of questions and then there was a question, I don’t know who it was from, to the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke. Who said, ‘Frankly, Mr Speaker, it was an appalling lapse of judgement by the Minister’. You might imagine that was something that wasn’t going to be good for the Minister’s future. We closed the doors and talked about it most of the afternoon and then almost around dinner time Michael got a call from the Prime Minister asking him to come down, come down because we were on the first floor, come down to the office.
He went on his own and about half an hour later he came back. He was as white as a sheet and I said, ‘What happened?’. He said the Prime Minister has asked me to consider my position. I said ‘What’. He said ‘I think he’s asking me to resign’. I certainly didn’t think that was something that should happen. The Minister had absolutely no idea about the trial. He should have been advised, clearly by the Federal Police because they knew about it, because they had arrested the man. I decided that I would at least try to save the Minister. I called on two people. The first person was Sandy Hollway, the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of the time. I walked straight, this was one of those things, I walked straight down to the Prime Minister’s office into the Prime Minister’s office and into Sandy Hollway’s office and he, I’d have to say was expecting me. I think he was probably in the meeting that Hawke had with the Minister. I said ‘Sandy, this isn’t a hanging offence. Michael doesn’t deserve to have to do anything but apologize’. Sandy said, ‘I think you’re probably right’ he said ‘I’ll talk to people’ and that time we were located at the end of a corridor of the first floor of the Senate side of the Ministerial Wing and across the road from us was Robert Ray’s office. I had a fantastic relationship with the office and indeed have an ongoing friendship with Robert Ray. I walked over to him and said the same thing. Ray said ‘Well, couldn’t but agree with you, leave it to me’.
So, I think, what happened over night clearly there was the political discussion and the decision was taken that the Minister would be okay. But because of Hawke’s comment the other day, the news that night was — and Bongiorno the journalist, can’t think of his first name. Anyway, he called me that evening and said ‘Daryl, what’s happening’. I said ‘What do you mean’. He said ‘I wasn’t sitting in the Press Gallery. My job today was to look at the Question Time to see if there was anything that could go on the evening news’. He said ‘When I heard the Prime Minister say, Frankly Mr Speaker, it was an appalling lapse of judgement by the Minister’ he said that was the lead story for the news tonight. So fortunately, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General and others rallied around and decided that this wasn’t a hanging offence that it was an inadvertent issue that the Minister had no knowledge of and that they would save him, and they did.
E Helgeby: What time, when was this happening, can you remember the year?
D Smeaton: Well, we were up at Parliament House.
E Helgeby: So after ’88.
D Smeaton: Oh yes, and that was the, I’m just trying to think, it would have been before ’92, probably around ’91 something like that I think. I can’t think of the exact time but there is a fantastic cartoon that was in the Canberra Times the next day where — the day after when Tate had survived and it had the guillotine with Tate down on his knees and his head on the chopper and Hawke about to drop the blade, but between the blade and the Ministers neck was a log of wood just higher than his neck [laughs]. Michael’s got that cartoon. It cost us a bottle of Johnny Walker Scotch to get it off the cartoonist but he was quite happy for it. So that was quite an interesting period. But I think again, it probably shows what the difference between what happened in the Hawke era and what might have happened in the — I don’t think I could have gone down to Don Russell in Keating’s office, wouldn’t have been able to get into his office anyway, whereas I was able to go straight in to see Sandy Hollway.
E Helgeby: Well that bring me to timeframe wise too, I think, when Hawke was finally replaced by Keating in 1991. The first challenge was in June 1991 and then, of course, it went on in December. Can you talk about your own knowledge of what happened and particularly any personal experience of the events. The first challenge in 1991.
D Smeaton: Well, in the first challenge, as you know, of course, Hawke…
[End of part 5]
Interview with Daryl Smeaton part 6
D Smeaton: …prevailed, I don’t know what the numbers were. My understanding was that they weren’t terribly close.
E Helgeby: Your Minister was on what side?
D Smeaton: Oh he would have been on Hawke’s side. I think the whole Ministry supported Hawke. Keating came out of that meeting. I remember him, this is maybe paraphrasing what he said, but he said, I have fired the only shot I had my locker. In my view, over the ensuing next months, this is a personal view. I believe two very senior journalists decided that it wasn’t the only shot that he had in his locker. And, in my view, Michelle Grattan and Laurie Oakes ran an unpaid but very strong campaign to get Keating elected Prime Minister.
E Helgeby: How did the whole, this debate was obviously an ongoing one, how did it affect your work for the Minister in those few years, that would have been from Michael Tate still?
D Smeaton: Yes, I don’t think it affected us at all, in terms of our work, but clearly there was an atmosphere within the Ministry and within the Parliament. I think, and again, my belief was that this was fuelled by the Age and News Limited, so Oakes and Grattan or Grattan and Oakes, in that order, they decided that Keating was the right man for the job and they were going to promote him as strongly they could in everything they did. I think that was picked up by the broader media as well. I think there was a groundswell that grew, and grew, and grew until the second challenge in December and Hawke.
E Helgeby: Did this change in atmosphere, that you mentioned, did that get steadily more noticeable from your work point of view or was it really, were you in a sense, in a cocoon, isolated from those conflicts?
D Smeaton: As I said a little bit earlier, I don’t think it affected our work, but it clearly affected the politics, so in terms of the policy, we just got on and did the job that we were doing. We had, of course, some interesting Treasurers in that time, John Kerin and so on, Ralph Willis I think, and John Kerin were two of the Treasurers who were in that six month period. But I think it was much of an issue for the politicians themselves.
E Helgeby: Did you have any discussions within your office at all, either involvement the Minister or among yourselves?
D Smeaton: I think we probably did, but it wasn’t top of mind by any means. I think the people involved in Caucus and in factions and that sort of thing, clearly, it was an issue for them. But that was in our office, very much separate from what we were doing, as providing the policy direction.
E Helgeby: So when Keating finally was appointed by Caucus and became Prime Minister did you suspect that the then Minister would not be appointed in the new Ministry?
D Smeaton: I don’t know that I had thought ahead, because, of course, the election was a fair while away, but I think the change prompted me to leave and so I did. I left towards the end of ’92 and it was, I think, it was just before Keating became Prime Minister but I was back again straight after the next election. But, I don’t know that — I suppose I had a view of Keating which was that he was no Bob Hawke. I had a lot of respect for Hawke and for what the Hawke Government had done, and of course, Keating was a pretty key part of that, but I certainly didn’t regard him as being a Bob Hawke by any stretch of the imagination. So, I mean, it wasn’t something, the change to Keating didn’t really affect me in any real sense but it wasn’t something that I wanted to continue. And again, I had still a young family and I wanted to do something else.
E Helgeby: Talking about something a bit different, going back a few years, back to June 1988, the story about the final, I suppose you would call night of sittings and the big party.
D Smeaton: It would have been May, I think the last night of sittings down there, because we actually moved up here on the same day as the opening of the parliament in 1928, so that was in May, but anyway. It was an interesting night. There were parties everywhere, both sides of politics, there was certainly more than one or two beers drunk that night, and one or two bottles of wine. I only remember one incident that sticks in my mind. I observed it. I didn’t participate in it. I know that there is photographic evidence of it but I don’t have a photograph. There was a large portrait of Sir John Kerr, obviously as a former Attorney General and I observed three colleagues who were Labor staffers turned their back to the photograph, or to the painting of Sir John Kerr and to drop their trousers. I think it’s called ‘mooning’ and as I said, I not only observed it but I know there is photographic evidence, but I can’t give away anything more.
E Helgeby: Details will be kept confidential.
D Smeaton: Well, I think for life, I hope [laughs] but it was just something. It was triggered by the drink more than anything else. It was a laugh more than anything else. I don’t know that anybody who might have been of a different political persuasion would have laughed but it was certainly something that, boys will be boys.
E Helgeby: Shall we talk about some individual parliamentarians that you mentioned. Did you have any contact with an earlier Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser or John Howard who eventually became Prime Minister, did you have any dealings with either of them during your time?
D Smeaton: I can’t think of any occasion where I had any connection with Malcolm Fraser and I think the same applies with John Howard, interestingly, and probably for most of the time I was on the Senate side. Fraser had already gone, of course, by the time I came to work in Michael Tate’s office in 1987. Howard was in and out of the Ministry and in and out of the leadership and all of those sorts of things. So I didn’t have any real contact with Howard until 1996.
E Helgeby: Yes, after this period, yes. You mentioned, you had a fairly substantial list of individuals that stand out in your memories in your times and the first one, about whom there is also a special, I believe, Gareth Evans and you mentioned there was a special story involving a junior Minister when Evans was Transport Minister around 1988. Can you tell about that.
D Smeaton: Yes, Evans was Transport Minister, we were still in the Old Parliament House. He had his office, and he was Deputy Leader of the Government, John Button was the Leader of the Government, so they were both in the same southern corridor of the Senate side. Michael Tate, as the Minister for Justice had responsibility for, joint responsibility with customs, the Australian Federal Police and Customs ran a thing called ‘Coast Watch’ which was done with aeroplanes and that sort of thing. We still have a thing that does it but — I can’t remember the precise incident but it was something to do with allegations on a television program about being able to fly a light aircraft into Australia, across the west coast and avoid Coast Watch. The guy who did this story — it might have been 7.30, whatever the forerunner, This Day Tonight, no whatever the forerunner of 7.30 Report, I might be wrong. This guy was in the aeroplane and they filmed this incursion across the west coast of Australia where Coast Watch missed them all that sort of thing. He said, this is the way all drugs are getting into Australia and so on.
So, we were a bit concerned about that and Gareth Evans was and the junior Minister who had actual responsibility for that flying side of things was Peter Duncan and Evans called a meeting in his office in the evening. He asked for Michael Tate to come and for Peter Duncan to come and Gareth was there. So we gathered in his office. There was, Michael and I arrived and Gareth and Joe Thwaites who was his Chief of Staff and myself turned up and we’re waiting there for three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten minutes or so and Peter Duncan came through the door and just sauntered in and ‘G’day’ didn’t even say, sorry I’m late, he was just sort of a brash young man, as I described him earlier. Gareth’s response to this sauntering in was peppered with very colourful language, which told Peter to be very quiet, not say another word and sit down. But there were a lot of adjectives in the [laughs] even I couldn’t use the same words in the same measure as Gareth could but it was certainly a put down of a junior Minister, such as I had never witnessed before and have never witnessed since. So it was just one of those little, another of the Gareth stories that the parliament resounds with, if you talk to people who knew him. I don’t even remember the outcome of the meeting but I just remember that, being late for a meeting with Gareth and then not apologizing I think was pretty close to a mortal sin.
E Helgeby: What was your view of Gareth Evans as a politician, as a Minister?
D Smeaton: I think, he is again, one of the brilliant Ministers. A fantastic debater in the parliament, a very strong policy. I think the fact that he still now, is leading debate around a whole range of international issues, is a measure of the man. I think he was — a little story, Duncan Kerr, Michael Tate and Gareth Evans — Duncan Kerr was once heard to say that the three best lawyers in the whole parliament for both intelligence and knowledge of the law were Gareth Evans, Michael Tate and Duncan Kerr. I must say that I would put Gareth in front of both of the others. An intellect of enormous capacity. Able to get to the nub of issues quickly and succinctly but with great clarity.
E Helgeby: And a great temperament as well.
D Smeaton: Well, he had a temperament that, yes, I think volcanic is one word I’ve heard used and I’ve probably used it myself. He used to be very short in terms of the capacity of technology to support what he was doing. He was prone to dictating speeches or papers on one of those little hand held Dictaphones, I think they were called. Then he’d give it to his person assistant who used to do all his typing. She would sit there with the button on the floor and going. At one stage, on one of these tapes, and she turned it on and started it, there was nothing on it. She tried it many times and then she went and saw Joe Thwaites and said ‘Joe, look I don’t know how to do this’. So Joe, of course, as the Chief of Staff had to go in to Gareth and say, that tape you just gave to type up had nothing on it. Gareth grabbed it out of Joe’s hands and threw it against the wall and smashed it into smithereens. It turns out he pressed the wrong button, but I suspect the speech he then dictated was probably better than the one he threw.
E Helgeby: You mentioned another familiar name, Graham Richardson, was that someone you had personal dealings with?
D Smeaton: Yes, mainly from the point of view of location again, we were in that same corridor, the back corridor in the Senate and he was in the corner. Gerry Hand was in between us I think as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. So I got to know Graham and his staff because we were just there. I certainly don’t think we had any great dealings with Graham’s office, but I mean, he is, as he still is, a larger than life person and he was very much the New South Wales Right leader and all of those sorts of things. They had good parties.
E Helgeby: Lionel Bowen, what about him?
D Smeaton: Well, Lionel, of course was the Attorney General when we became, when Michael became the Minister for Justice. So we saw him every day that the parliament sat because we went there for Briefings around Question Time. There was also a guy in his office by the name of Bill Bowtell who very much drove the whole — he and Neal Blewett as the Minister for Health. Bill was in Lionel’s office, I think, representing, or doing a lot of work around human rights and that sort of thing. So the whole issue of AIDS was very much on the agenda in those days, the AIDS epidemic. Bill Bowtell and Neal Blewett drove very much, I think, the campaign, Father Time with the scythe and all those sorts of things, the bowling balls knocking people over. And Lionel was one of the most gentle men I think I’ve ever met for a politician. He had a veneer of gentleness if I could put it that way. He was a fantastic politician. He was glue, I think, in terms of the first and second term Ministries. He was the glue that held them all together. He was never going to become Prime Minister but he was the shoe-in for the Deputy Prime Minister’s job because of his personal capacity, but also I think, the great respect that all of his colleagues had for him.
E Helgeby: What about Peter Walsh, another name you mentioned.
D Smeaton: Yes, well only because of his great capacity to be the character of the Senate but also very important in terms of the whole — they talk about the Hawke-Keating Ministry and their pretty good management of the economy. People don’t mention Peter Walsh, very much at all, but as the Minister for Finance he was the man who found all the savings and did all of the sort of work around making sure that the Hawke-Keating Budgets worked. But he certainly was eccentric. He liked a glass of red wine. I certainly personally observed his mid-evening peregrinations up the stairs to the Press Gallery which were above the Senate side of the House with a silver bag under his arm which was the internal part of a cask of red wine. He carried it around with the glass and he would chat with journalists all through the Press Gallery about all sorts of things. I think I’d — the last time we spoke we were talking about the night that we debated, or the Senate debated the four Referendum Bills and having to get outright majorities. Peter was certainly more than four sheets to the wind, shoeless, he did have his socks on, each time I had to get all of the people down the corridor into the Chamber for the Senate votes, or for the votes against each part of the Referenda that the Opposition called Divisions on. On one occasion he bounced himself off the walls of the corridor as we walked to the Chamber singing The Internationale.
E Helgeby: So your side task or role was almost like a whip?
D Smeaton: Me?
E Helgeby: Yes.
D Smeaton: I think that was part of the — because you were in the Old House the bells only rang for two minutes, while that was enough time to get from anywhere in the Old House to the Chamber, when you’re having a Division every five minutes, and sometimes a ten minute break where they have another drink. It was certainly something that — and particularly on that piece, those pieces of legislation where you had to have an absolute majority, rather than just a majority, it was pretty important. My job was to make sure we had the numbers.
E Helgeby: What about Robert Ray? Is that someone you had personal dealings with?
D Smeaton: Oh yes, Robert was a new Minister, I think, in the ’87 Ministry. I can’t remember what his Ministry was, it’s probably on the list, but he was just around the corner and down a corridor. We had dealings with him. It must have been because of the Ministry that he held. I’m just trying to — Senator Robert Ray, here we go, Minister for Home Affairs and then Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport and Communications in that 1988 period. I got to know him and his staff Geoff Fary I think was his Chief of Staff at the time. When we moved up to the House we got offices opposite each other, and of course, Robert moved dramatically through the outer Ministry and into the Cabinet and probably his most important role was Minister for Defence for a number of years. We both had a major common interest and that’s in Australian Rules Football although he’s a dyed-in-wool Collingwood supporter and I’m a Richmond supporter. One of his staff, his closest member of staff in terms of being — Koula her name was, Koula Alexiades she worked with Robert right through in the beginning until the end of his time in the parliament. She was a Carlton supporter, so I mean, we talked football and every Thursday, it probably was, when the Bulletin came out we had morning tea and did the Bulletin quiz in Robert Ray’s office, little things like that. But we had a very close relationship in a personal sense, not in a policy or politics sense, it was the closeness of the offices and a close friendship, such as I’ve mentioned earlier. I was able to go to Robert Ray when my Minister was in trouble.
E Helgeby: John Button.
D Smeaton: John Button, again was the leader of the government. A fantastic character, a really nice man, always smiled, didn’t have a lot to do with him in again in a policy sense but because of the size of the Old Parliament House, you couldn’t help but run into people. He was the most unflappable politician I think I’ve ever met, John Button. I never saw him once raise his voice. He and Lionel Bowen had very similar characteristics they were softly spoken but very forceful in a sense. There is a saying, I think, speak softly but carry a big stick, both of those men spoke softly but by dint of their positions, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate, they didn’t have to show the big stick you just knew they had one.
E Helgeby: Both of them important.
D Smeaton: Yes.
E Helgeby: Peter Cook.
D Smeaton: Peter Cook was again down the corridor from us. He was also in the same faction as Michael Tate, the Centre-Left, along with people like Neal Blewett, the Centre-Left was a pretty important faction for that mid — certainly the whole of the Hawke Government up until Keating. I think the Keating emergence as Prime Minister was probably the end of the Centre-Left faction. My understanding, not that I was ever part of it, but I think they were the group that splintered when it came to the second Hawke-Keating challenge. So Peter Cook was close again in proximity to us, both in the old and the new parliament houses. We had a couple of common bits of work we did together so I knew Gary Quinlan whom I mentioned earlier who is the current Ambassador to the United Nations was Peter Cook’s Chief of Staff. They were just — you didn’t feel, well I suppose, it’s interesting — relationships were a very important part of the way that the Hawke Government worked.
E Helgeby: You mentioned Don Chipp is an interesting character, of course, not anything to do with Labor at this point in your time, what were your impressions of him?
D Smeaton: An interesting character. I actually first met him when I wasn’t in Parliament House in a direct sense but I was still in the public service and I was running a little program for young Australian political leaders, the Australian Council of Young Political Leaders ACYPL. Doug McClelland, Sir Robert Cotton, Bob McMullan, Sid Spindler they were members of this group, it was a bi-partisan group. They worked with an American group and ultimately a Chinese group where — groups of young politicians went overseas and we hosted groups from those other countries in Australia. Don Chipp was Leader of the Australian Democrats and the first group of these young politicians from the United States that I hosted, we visited Parliament House. We got in to see the members of that group Don Chipp hosted us for afternoon tea in his office. This group, there were eight young American politicians, four from the Republicans and four from the Democrats. One of the Republicans was a potato farmer from Idaho and we were talking with Mr Chipp as he was known, in his office. He was talking about the Nuclear Disarmament and we needed to rid the world of nuclear weapons and all this sort of thing. He very much supported the policy of the Hawke Government not to allow nuclear powered warships into Sydney Harbour and all this sort of thing. This young man from Idaho I remember saying ‘But Mr Chipp, if we don’t have nuclear weapons, how else are we going to save the world’. I think for the first time in his life Don Chipp was speechless, so that was my experience of Don.
E Helgeby: Another name on your list was Noel Crichton-Browne.
D Smeaton: Noel Crichton-Browne Senator from Western Australia, bete noire of Senator Peter Walsh, also somebody that I never took to in any sense. He was a grumpy, certainly I wouldn’t have had beer with him, I can say that, but one incident makes that — again it was the evening of the debate on the Referendum Bills and there were these limitless, unlimited number of Divisions called. On most occasions the government was voting no because the Motions to change the legislation being put up by the Opposition. So that meant we had to go to the opposite side of the Chamber to vote on each Division. I’ve mentioned the sockless Senator Peter Walsh, who was also, had a few drinks that night on one occasion, on one of the Divisions, he came into the Chamber. I was sitting in the Advisor’s Box and I observed him cross the Chamber, deliberately go to where Noel Crichton-Browne’s seat was, sit down and put his feet, socked feet, up on the desk while the vote was being counted. The Division was over and everybody left the Chamber and I observed Noel Crichton-Browne get up out of the government seats where he was sitting to vote. He walked across to where his seat was and he picked up the papers that Peter Walsh had put his socks on and shook them and then put them back on the desk. So it was a non-verbal incident but one that, I think, highlighted that relationship that wasn’t there between Noel Crichton-Browne and Peter Walsh.
E Helgeby: So 1994 you decided to leave your job working with the Minister and what was the reason for your decision to leave?
D Smeaton: Well, I was part of Minster’s office that had called for this review and it was one that I was clearly and advisor to the Minister on. It was right at the heart of my skill set which was around the development and the implementation of law enforcement policy. Again, it was at a time when I had decided that I didn’t want to work in parliament any longer. It had been seven years and I just thought that it was long enough. So I applied for the job and got the job and I spent nearly four years as the executive member of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Board.
E Helgeby: What would you say would be your fondest memories of your working life at the Old Parliament House and the Australian Parliament House?
D Smeaton: The most enjoyable part of the life were clearly working for a Minister in the Hawke Government, I think was a great privilege. It met my career aspirations but also my personal beliefs and aspirations to have the opportunity to be part of a government that I think has been one of the great governments in Australian history. And it’s, it’s a task, Chief of Staff to a Minister of State is a pretty important job I think. I certainly regard those seven years as probably the most important work I’ve ever done but I’ve had a fantastic career in all sorts of things anyway, that certainly a highlight.
E Helgeby: Correspondingly, what would be your worst memories of those years, if any?
D Smeaton: Well, I think the two occasions on which my Minister was in trouble with things those are always very fraught. I’m not sure that I did have — well I suppose, this was again a personal view. I was very disappointed when Keating beat Hawke. I think that changed the whole dynamic of that, the Hawke-Keating years and I don’t think that the Keating Government was anywhere near as successful as the Hawke Government over the years that Hawke was in charge.
E Helgeby: Any last points you’d like to make at this point?
D Smeaton: This has been an absolutely fantastic, historical journey through fifteen years in a sense because of the things — it’s a great opportunity. I hope that people listen to these stories because they are ones that I think will make people interested in the internal workings of Minister’s offices and governments.
E Helgeby: On behalf of the Museum of Australian Democracy I’d like to thank you very much for your willingness to participate in this interview. But also, I’d like to mention that if there are things, when you’ve heard the tapes, that you would like to add, to say more about, or other comments you would like to make, just get in touch with us and that can be arranged in a separate session.
E Helgeby: Thank you very much Edward. I really appreciate the opportunity.
D Smeaton: Thank you.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3 4 5 6
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