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Friday, 15 May 1970


Mr BRYANT (Wills) - For 20 minutes we have heard the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) dismiss with characteristic equivocation the charges laid against the Government by one of the most respected members of this Parliament

He spent 20 minutes defending the indefensible, explaining the inexplicible, and mutilating the immutable. He turned his great talents to arguments designed to confuse and confound. He comes into this House as one of the men with the greatest proven intellectual capacity. On every occasion I have listened to him on great issues in this place he has turned those talents to try to confuse and to explain that red is green and black is white. He avoided the issues completely. The charge here today is not that the 3 mile limit ought to be 300 miles or that it is a question of minerals or State rights. Charges have been levelled at this Government by a man who has held some of the highest offices in this country and who is respected as being an integral part of the governing political Party in this country. The issue here is that this Government has no honour. The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) said in the House last week:

That offer was that the States should retain control of the mineral resources of the territorial seabed, that is, from low water mark to the 3 mile mark off-shore, while the Commonwealth legislated to take over total rights outside the 3 mile limit to the edge of the continental shelf.

He said he made that offer. He outlined it exactly in the debate. We have seen the papers which were tabled. We have all been able to consider them. Finally, he stated to the House, in such a way that a large number of people are convinced, that these commitments were undertaken and that the Government has failed to honour that undertaking. These are hard words. They are not levelled at some private person in a private brawl. They are levelled at the Government of one of the world's major democracies by one of its most distinguished citizens, a man who has held the office of Minister for many years. He said:

Mas public morality in this country declined to such a degree that an agreement entered into by the Commonwealth is not binding unless it is legally enforceable? ... Is it believed in Australia today that the word of the Commonwealth Government means nothing unless those to whom this word is given have some legal means of enforcing it?

He has placed his political career on the line. That is the charge, and he is prepared to sustain it. Today we are not debating an ordinary issue. This is a challenge to the Government. The Government of Australia is indicted. The honourable member for Evans and the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) this afternoon have chosen to avoid the issues very skilfully, but they will have to answer to their consciences for it. As I listened to the honourable member for Chisholm, it seemed to me that he must have hobbled that great white charger he uses every week or so in this place on other issues. As far as I could ascertain, the honourable member for Evans charged every State Minister with dishonesty. He tried to cloud the issue with words to show that all they did was to misunderstand the situation, that this was something that flowed from their vested political interests in the situation, ls not that a charge of dishonesty against every State Minister involved in this? Are they all of that sort? Are they not all of the same political parties as the Government? That is what he has had to say.

We are charging the Government with failure to honour its commitments. We have moved that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States by the previous Minister for National Development, acting for and on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, that there would be further consultation with the States before the Commonwealth Government introduced any legislation on the territorial sea and continental shelf. As far as 1 can determine from the debate today and from a study of the papers, there is ample evidence that the honourable member for Farrer, acting in his capacity as a Minister in the Cabinet and in the Government, did make that commitment and there is ample evidence that the Government has failed to honour it. That is the way this Government conducts its affairs. It has become a one-man band in which 1 man makes decisions or is dilatory about making decisions and the rest of the country has to tag along behind.

We have been charged with all sorts of things. I thought the honourable member for Farrer did demean his own contribution to the debate by the way in which he referred to the Australian Labor Party. We are not concerned here this afternoon with State rights. That is a question that can be resolved in other fields. We are not concerned with sovereignty. But we are concerned with Australia, with the way in which it is governed, with its people and with the integrity of its Government. It is the integrity of the Government that is under challenge here today. Of course, as the honourable member for Farrer and, I think, the honourable member for Chisholm said, there is a possibility of considerable difference of opinion. The honourable member for Chisholm referred to the honourable the Minister for Education and Science (Mr N. H. Bowen), formerly the AttorneyGeneral, as having had such and such to say of the discussions. The honourable member for Chisholm referred to the honourable member for Farrer, formerly the Minister for National Development, as having had such and such to say. What we have to say today is: Who is the more creditable witness?

The honourable member for Farrer has an enviable record in this place and in the public mind. I regard him as a very conservative man. I recall that on the very first night I sat in this Parliament in 1956 - honourable members can check this in Hansard - there was a discussion about how Parliament ought to be conducted. The Treasurer of the time had introduced a Ministers of State Bill upon which there had been no consultation. It was obvious that the Opposition had not been advised. It was obvious that the forms of the House would be used by the majority to put this through. After some discussion, which went on in accordance with the normal procedures of the Standing Orders and so on, 3 members of the Government voted with the Opposition on a procedural motion. One of those members was the honourable member for Farrer, another was the present High Commissioner in Great Britain and the other was the former member for Franklin. Does anybody challenge their integrity?

As far as I am concerned, following the 15 years for which 1 have been a member of this House, if I have to place reliance upon the judgment, the integrity, the sincerity and the keenness of observation of the honourable member for Farrer against that of the present Minister for Education and Science, my vote goes to the honourable member for Farrer because the Minister for Education and Science, during his time in this House as Attorney-General, continually associated himself with the

McCarthyisms and other matters which were associated with his portfolio. At no stage did I ever see him give any impression that he was concerned in any way with what I would call the real values of democracy or with anything else. This is not to suggest that he was insincere consciously.

But the facts are that in these matters about which I know something he was wrong. He was wrong in his judgment of the Australian Labor Party, its association with other political parties and the way we conduct our affairs. When the secondary school students came here a year or so back, he was wrong in his judgment of the situation on that occasion, as he realised when the evidence was placed before him. If I have to make a decision between the judgment of the honourable member for Farrer on the facts and the judgment of the former Attorney-General on the facts, I will support the honourable member for Farrer. I suggest that honourable members might take a look at the record of the honourable member for Farrer and the positions he has held in the Ministry and his offices in other areas. The honourable member for Farrer and the former Attorney-General are not equally good witnesses. But the issue, of course, is the integrity of the government of this country, and that is what honourable members have to answer for to their consciences and the country.

The Prime Minister has been charged with arrogance. Is there anyone who cannot produce plenty of evidence .to show that over the last 12 or 18 months, or even further back, the Prime Minister has been trying to run this country, his Cabinet and the Parliament as a one-man band; that he is amply supported in this by other members of the Cabinet; that in fact we have lost a great deal of the initiative to executive management, in this instance the Prime Minister himself? One only has to look through the debate here this afternoon on the matter that was originally raised by the honourable member for Dawson relating to Ministers and so on to see that In this instance we cannot place any reliance on the way that this Government is handling the affairs of this country. So the problem here today is how the Commonwealth is to be governed, the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States, and the essence of what one might regard as the Cabinet contract. Is the Cabinet committed when a Minister makes a decision on its behalf? The honourable member for Evans said: 'Well, the Prime Minister is a busy man. He has a lot of things to do. He is handling all sorts of departments of State'. Does that not mean that he ought to rely more absolutely on the judgment of Ministers in charge of the various affairs? Of course he should.

The Prime Minister, I believe, is gradually dragging this country and not only his own political Party into disarray, as we see here today. We on this side of the House belong to a party which has a long tradition of solidarity and discipline. When we come to a stage where some members of a parliamentary party are prepared to vote against that party on some ground of issue and' principle, it is a matter of high moment indeed. The Prime Minister is under challenge because this is happening here today to his Party. Then there is the other issue at stake-the collapse of the federal system as we know it. Everyone knows, of course, that we are not federalists as such, but we have to face the fact of life that Australia does not have 1 government but 7 governments.

MrDEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)I suggest that the honourable member is now getting a little wide of the motion before the House. The wider issue of the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States is not the subject of the debate on the motion before the House. It is a subject matter in itself, and the honourable member for Wills may refer to it only as an illustration.


Mr BRYANT - With proper respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, our motion says:

.   . that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States by the previous Minister for National Development. . . .

So this is an issue of Cabinet integrity, but this is also a question which deeply involves the way we handle Commonwealth and State relations. This is the issue. The Governor-General in his Speech indicated a line of action upon which there had been no consultation, and therefore the position of the States was jeopardised. The whole question is one of Commonwealth and

State relations. I do not see that it is about anything else, because if the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have no duties to the States there is no need to consult the States whatsoever - and that was the point I was coming to.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock>Order! I point out to the honourable member that the point here is whether a prior commitment had been made, and the matter of Commonwealth and State relations is not an issue. The issue is whether a prior commitment has been broken.


Mr BRYANT - But surely this issue has been proven. During the course of the debate today and on the previous occasions the evidence of it has been laid before the House. I believe that this debate involves one of the fundamental issues of our time. This is not a debate on an Aged Persons Homes Bill; the fate of a government is being decided here today. The issues which are crystallised in this debate must be before the House or the debate has no meaning at all. We cannot indulge in abstractions hour after hour. The honourable member for Evans raised a multitude of questions. He raised the question of the way in which the States and the Commonwealth conduct their business. The Opposition has been challenged continuously today by the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) and other honourable members on the other side of the House about its attitude towards CommonwealthState relations. I believe 1 am in duty bound to answer them.

In this instance we are faced with the fact that the relationships between the Commonwealth and State governments - there are 7 governments altogether - are crystallised in the dispute which is the issue before the Parliament. I could detail in- : numerable other issues which are in dispute. The fact that the Commonwealth and. the States have lost complete faith in one another is symbolic of the breakdown in their relationships. Another question which is in issue is the relationship between the parties which form the coalition Government. We have discussed during the day the question whether the Government was committed and whether the honourable member for Farrer can be relied upon as a reliable witness. The point I am making now is that Australia can no longer be governed in this fashion. The undemocratic leadership of the Government is being challenged. The Government has been charged with arrogance and showing a lack of consideration to the States. Furthermore, there are disputes within the political parties which form the coalition Government and there are disputes within the States.

Australia is being torn with discord because of this very issue. Great disputes within the political parties which form the Commonwealth Government and the 6 sovereign governments which make up the federal system of Australia are causing the whole system to collapse. The issues which are at stake are the integrity of the Government and the way in which the country is being governed. Another matter is whether we have a Government in which there is Cabinet solidarity and collective Cabinet responsibility. Australia's minerals, its industries and laws and its social welfare are involved in the relationships between the Commonwealth and State governments. If they have been damaged irreparably, as it would appear, because of differences in the governing parties of this coalition Government and the governments of the States then great damage has been done to Australia and this House should reject the Government. Therefore, I should vote in favour of the motion of censure.







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