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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2687


Mr SAUNDERSON —I refer the Minister for Territories to reports on the front page of yesterday's Canberra Times about the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Is it true that Mr Clunies-Ross is being denied electricity? Is it also true that special provisions are being made for the Administrator's spouse to be present on Cocos at Commonwealth expense? Will Dr Williams be employed by the Commonwealth during that period? Is this contrary to normal practice in the employment of spouses?


Mr SCHOLES —I have seen the articles in the Canberra Times, naturally, and I have also had reports of a program on 60 Minutes which presented the Clunies-Ross side of the argument. Both seem to be predicated on the basis that there is some campaign against Mr Clunies-Ross Junior to disadvantage him; that just is not true. The Opposition is quite obviously offended that a woman has been appointed to the position of Administrator of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and is pursuing a policy of discrimination against and vilification of that person. The facts are that, with respect to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and all other areas under my administration, we do not pursue any policy of preventing the spouses of Commonwealth employees from seeking employment in those areas provided that suitable employment for which they are qualified is available. In fact, some 70 per cent of spouses of administration employees on Cocos are currently employed by the Commonwealth, and I think that is something which should be accepted as being in the best interests of the families concerned.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are some 3,500 kilometres west of Darwin. They represent an area of 14 square kilometres. By any measure, they constitute an isolated area in which Australians serve for fairly long periods. It is a fact that Commonwealth employees, be they male or female, posted to such areas have an entitlement to be accompanied by their families at Commonwealth expense.


Mr Downer —Yes, but not to give them jobs.


Mr SCHOLES —Seventy per cent of them have jobs. The honourable gentleman has a fixation about having the Clunies-Ross empire reinstated on Cocos, and I do not know why.


Mr Downer —That is absurd.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Mayo will cease interjecting. The honourable member for Mayo will not argue with the Chair.


Mr Downer —That is absurd. What a thoroughly absurd and dishonest thing to say.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member for Mayo will not argue with the Chair. He will heed the Chair. I call the Minister.


Mr SCHOLES —With respect to the specific job which was offered to Dr Williams, which is a short term appointment to carry out work on the cataloguing and assessment of the environment, vegetation and fauna of the Cocos (Keeling) area, the job was advertised in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. No suitable person was available. It is also the Government's intention to appoint a conservator in order to protect the fragile infrastructure of the islands. Dr Williams, who is qualified to occupy the position and who has previously undertaken research work on those islands, has been engaged for six months. I might point out to honourable gentlemen opposite that Dr Williams has a perfect entitlement to be on the island at Commonwealth expense as the spouse of a Commonwealth employee. I think what is being suggested by the honourable member opposite is that it is improper that Dr Williams be engaged to undertake work on the islands but that it would be proper if he accompanied his wife to the island and then we appointed someone else, who may also wish to take his or her spouse, to do the work.

With respect to electricity generation, when most of Home Island was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1978 the Minister at the time, Mr Ellicott, and the Fraser Government decided to establish a council to administer local government matters on Home Island, where the majority of the former serfs of the Clunies-Ross family lived. With the establishment of the council, the Clunies-Ross family, by agreement of both sides, was not subject to the authority of the council. The situation has not changed. Late last year Mr Clunies-Ross--


Mr Downer —I can see your point, Bob. You should have got rid of him.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Mayo. If he keeps interjecting at the rate he is going, the Chair will deal with him. No member in this House has the right to continue to interject at will. I refer the honourable member to standing order 55. I call the Minister.


Mr SCHOLES —Late last year Mr Clunies-Ross demanded that over 10 per cent of the total power supplies of the island be diverted to himself and his family. That power was not available from the generating capacity of the council. The Administrator loaned the Clunies-Ross family a generator to cover their power needs. I think it is fair to say to the House that what is in fact happening on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is that the frictions which occurred before the separation of the Clunies-Rosses from the administration of the island have been building up for some time and I would suggest that Mr Clunies-Ross Junior has a lot of blame to bear for that.