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Wednesday, 16 March 1977
Page: 291

Mr THOMSON (Leichhardt) - I am honoured to take part in the debate on the Address-in-Reply to Her Majesty's Speech. The visit of Her Majesty and the opening of Parliament by her were great Australian occasions. The visit of the Queen sparked a great deal of comment devoted to the cause of a republican Australia. Just after the arrival of Her Majesty I attended a luncheon at the National Press Club in Canberra, which was addressed by that high priest of republicanism, Donald Home. If I had been a swinging voter on the question of a republican Australia, I would have come away from that luncheon a confirmed monarchist. The speech was dull, repetitive, destructive and negative. It was over-concerned with and overinfluenced by the events of November 1975.

Mr Baillieu - Typical of Donald Home.

Mr THOMSON -Yes, it was very typical of him. The questions by the media after the speech were little better. I suppose most of them were covering the visit by Her Majesty. It seems that so far all the running in this discussion has been made by the republican cause. It is high time that those who believe in our form of constitutional monarchy spoke out loudly and clearly. This is what I propose to do tonight.

I am not an emotional monarchist tied to the past. I am a practical monarchist because I believe that is the best system of government yet devised. I have spent many years living and travelling in other countries and I have seen dictatorships both of the right and the left. They are equally bad. I have seen one-party governments of different sorts and I have seen various forms of presidential government. None of these, as far as I could see, offered a really satisfactory alternative to our form of constitutional monarchy. The Canberra Times of 1 1 March carried the headline 'Wishy washy monarchists versus rootless republican intellectuals'. I think that is a splendid headline, the author of which should be congratulated. I am certainly not a 'wishy washy monarchist' but there do seem to be many 'rootless republican intellectuals'. They seem to want to destroy our present system of government without producing any clear idea of a worthwhile alternative.

Republicans, particularly of the rootless intellectual variety, seem to be committed to a republic which is a socialist and unitary state. Very often the formation of a socialist and unitary state is the first step towards various forms of dictatorship or one-party government. The republicans seem to be confusing arguments against the Constitution because of the events of November 1975 with arguments against the monarchial system. Surely they are 2 different issues. There are very good arguments for changes to the Constitution but I believe there is one vital principle which must be preserved. That principle is that the head of state must be able to dismiss a bad government and order an election. In this way the people can speak and make a decision on the issues. This is the very essence of democracy. On 13 December 1975 the people spoke in a loud clear voice. The composition of this House today shows that they were in no doubt as to what they wanted. This power to dismiss a bad government and to call for elections is a major guarantee against dictatorship or one party government. It is one of the great checks and balances of our system. It is insurance against a Watergate in Australia.

It is regrettable that the issue of republicans versus constitutional monarchists is bound to be a political issue. If this is so, those who support our present system of constitutional monarchy must speak out so that their voices are not drowned by those tasteless demonstrators whom we saw during the Queen's visit and by the rantings and ravings of the rootless republican intellectuals. Donald Home, in his speech to the National Press Club, said:

The Queen can be seen as a symbol of division.

What utter nonsense. The overwhelmingly friendly and enthusiastic welcome which the Queen received everywhere she went was an indication of what the Australian people really think of the monarchy and our system. I must congratulate the armed services for their magnificent parade after the opening of Parliament. The parade brought back to me many happy memories of times past. I hope that parades such as that will be repeated throughout Australia so that people can see more of the Services.

Having declared myself as a believer in constitutional monarchy I would like to turn now to some of the problems in my electorate of Leichhardt in far north Queensland. In February and March we had 2 very destructive floods. The rain gauge on top of Mount Bellenden Ker, which is not very far from where I live, registered from 28 January rainfall of over 7 metres- that is over 280 inches of rain- in less than 6 weeks. That must be something for the Guinness Book of Records. I repeat that we had 280 inches of rain in less than 6 weeks. Record or not, it caused a great deal of destruction.

Mr Martyr - You must be growing webbed feet.

Mr THOMSON - Yes, we are growing webbed feet. I spent last weekend visiting the flood areas and inspecting the damage. I know that my friend and neighbour, the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), was doing the same thing in his electorate which also suffered very badly. The amount of damage is still to be calculated but I am certain it will run into many millions of dollars. There was damage to roads and bridges and to train lines. There was also damage to sugar fields and to banana crops and damage of course to houses and personal possessions, furniture, carpets, vehicles and machinery.

The announcement last week by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) that the Commonwealth will meet its commitments together with the State Government will do much to provide funds to repair the damage. But much more needs to be done. On 8 December 1976 the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) tabled in this House a discussion paper entitled A Natural Disaster Insurance Scheme for Australia. The Government has decided in principle to introduce such a scheme and I hope that the details will be worked out as quickly as possible and a suitable scheme announced. Whilst it is not possible for householders and property owners to insure against cyclone damage, it is very difficult and very expensive to insure against flood damage, particularly in flood prone areas. I have tried and I know. This makes a properly instituted national disaster insurance scheme of the utmost importance and urgency.

I note that the discussion paper tabled on 8 December does not attempt to discuss the question of natural disaster crop insurance which is under separate consideration. I would urge the Treasurer to have this matter resolved as soon as possible. I saw large areas of cane fields destroyed and millions of dollars will be lost to the sugar industry as a result of this destruction. At present there is no way in which such crops can be insured. Perhaps our experience of the Brisbane floods, the Darwin Cyclone, Cyclone Ted on 20 December last year which destroyed so much of Burketown and Mornington Island in my electorate, the terrible fires in Victoria last month and now the floods in North Queensland will impel the Government to move very quickly on the matter of a natural disaster insurance scheme.

I would like to deal now with another major problem in my electorate, namely, the lack of communications in all forms. During the debate in this House on 24 February 1977 on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) at page 484 of Hansard is reported as saying:

We live in a world of communication- telephones, travel, television and all the rest of it and we are now in communication in a way which was not possible when electorates were first drawn.

The honourable member knows much better than that for he is one of the few members of this

House who knows something of my distant and isolated electorate. The honourable member knows that very large areas of my electorate have no telephone service. There are very few roads and those roads which do exist are unusable for four or five months of the year during the wet season. Beyond a radius of 60 kilometres or so from Cairns there is no television service and no commercial radio. Many people in my electorate can receive the Australian Broadcasting Commission only by use of strong short wave sets and none of them can listen to the broadcasting of parliamentary debates.

Mr James - You will regret it when they can.

Mr THOMSON -I must say that listening to some of the debates, particularly speeches by the honourable member for Hunter, I am delighted that they cannot. Two weeks ago I toured my electorate with the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. We travelled from Cairns to Cooktown, Thursday Island, Weipa, Normanton and Burketown. That is about 20 times around Victoria. On this trip the Minister became aware of the grave deficiencies of communications in isolated areas. For example, the people of Burketown assured us that their postal and telegraph services were much better 30 to 50 years ago than they are today. When the people in my electorate hear about the cities with their FM and ethnic radio, a choice of several television channels, many commercial radio stations and private telephones and public telephones available to nearly everyone, it is very hard for them to understand why they cannot get the barest minimum in the form of communications.

Mr Martyr - You tell them how lucky they are not to have all of that.

Mr THOMSON -They would not agree with you there. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications announced recently that the Australian Telecommunications and Postal Commissions were to spend more in rural areas. Let us wait and see whether that happens. I know that these commissions are statutory authorities, that they are in effect a law unto themselves and that they are not readily responsible to this Parliament. The Act setting up the statutory commissions gives the Minister power to direct the commissions to act in the national interest. If the communications and postal services do not improve I will urge the Minister to invoke that power and direct the commissions to act to provide better services to the people in isolated areas of Australia. It is these areas that produce so much of the wealth of the nation. They do not use very much of it but they produce it. The cities use the wealth. They eat it up and it is time that we had something back. It is very unfortunate that there seems to be an increasing lack of understanding between people in the cities and people in rural areas. I do not want to add to this problem, but I am convinced that the imbalance between city and country must be corrected in order to give country people at least some of the amenities which are taken for granted by city people.

Debate (on motion by Mr James) adjourned.

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