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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 2990

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(3.59) —The arrogance and overweening patronage of this Government never cease to amaze me. If the Government really believed in the motion it has before us today, we would have seen the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen), the Deputy Prime Minister, up at the table a moment ago. He is the only one in the Government who has acknowledged that there is a fault in the constitutional change. He has acknowledged that the High Court of Australia would not enforce the interpretation of section 15 of the Constitution that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister at the table, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young), have sought to impose on it.

Let us look at the motion itself. I think everybody needs to understand that the Government is seeking to pretend in some way that the Australian Labor Party has never been that indecent, never breached the conventions. I think that the Labor Party talking about not breaching conventions is rather like an arsonist talking about putting out a fire. Have honourable members opposite all forgotten that back in 1975 Sir John Kerr, exercising the conventions of the Constitution, exercised quite correctly his powers within those conventions to fire the Government of Gough Whitlam? We heard all around the country how diabolical it was that that convention of the Constitution should have been applied as it was. We need to realise that what this Government is about is selectively choosing those conventions which it believes are appropriate to its cause and, in particular, trying to ensure that its numbers in some way are protected when it happens prejudicially to affect the rights of everyone in a State.

Nobody should ignore the reality that Labor is centralist. Labor has no concern about the rights and opportunities of the people in Tasmania. Day after day my colleagues from Tasmania come into this place and ask the Prime Minister and Ministers what the Government is doing for the people of Tasmania. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) said a moment ago, a firm and formal contract negotiated by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has been ignored because of the convenience of political opportunism-because the Government thought that a greenie vote might be capable of being won. We had the whole of this Lemonthyme--

Mr Simmons —Why don't you get back to the issue?

Mr SINCLAIR —This is the issue, my friend. The Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill was introduced into this place peculiarly so that the Labor Party could try to attract to itself the greenie vote. It is now recognised that as far as the Labor Party is concerned the firm contract entered into by the Minister for Primary Industry on the Government's behalf was not as important to the Government as getting a few votes from a few conservationists which it thinks in some way will swing the pendulum back in the Government's favour.

6 This motion is not about the conventions of the Constitution; it is about the Labor Party trying to assert a bit of big muscle against Tasmania. As far as Tasmania is concerned, for a long while this Government has tried in every possible way to deny the Government of Robin Gray the rights and opportunities of governing his State in the way he believes to be fit and proper. We need to remember that the whole of the Franklin dam project was the beginning of this Government's actions against the rights and prerogatives of a State. We remember Biggles Evans and his streaker's excuse: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Today the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) came in here and said `We did not use military aircraft. We did charter an aeroplane and we took photographs'--

Mr White —And chartered it in Melbourne.

Mr SINCLAIR —Yes, in Melbourne. The Minister said: `We asked whether the aircraft had a camera, and of course photographs were taken'. But did he apply within the appropriate Lemonthyme legislation to get approval to go in and inspect the site? No, he ignored that. Once again a spy aircraft was used to engage in domestic espionage. What the devil is the matter with this Government? It is asserting its arrogant right to intervene in the prerogatives of a State government. The motion before the Parliament today is not one, were it to be addressed to this Parliament, that we would accept was other than a breach of parliamentary privilege. It seeks not properly to draw attention to the conventions of the Constitution with respect to replacement senators; it seeks to direct the Tasmanian Parliament as to the way in which it should act.

The sad part of this whole affair is that for a long while this Federal Government has progressively tried to use its international affairs powers in such a way that it can intrude on the sovereign rights of Tasmania in particular. I wish to identify a few areas where I believe this whole affair has gone far too far. The reason the Government is now embarrassed is not that there has not been a replacement senator from Tasmania, but that it has suddenly realised that it is being seen by the people of Australia as engaging in a total abuse of its constitutional power. It is for that reason that we have moved an amendment to the motion. Firstly, the Tasmanian Government believes that, including global borrowing cutbacks, there has already been a cutback in funding for Tasmania, last year, by $160m. Whilst it is true that at Question Time today we had a denial by the Prime Minister that there will be a further $50m cutback, it did not change the fact that there have been media reports of the Prime Minister running around the country for weeks threatening the Tasmanian Premier with action unless he acted in a certain way. Constitutional conventions are one thing, but to have a Prime Minister of this country berating a State Premier in the autocratic way this Prime Minister is doing with regard to Robin Gray is totally unacceptable to honourable members on this side of the House.

Secondly, we have to understand that the magnificent freight equalisation scheme, introduced by a coalition government to assist the people of Tasmania to gain a more equal place within the Commonwealth, has been cut by the Hawke Government. The Government has removed the air fare subsidy. It has continued National Estate listings without consultation with the State Government. The Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill was introduced significantly to try to ensure that the greenie vote was picked up by the Labor Party. We know that the Prime Minister has never shown any real interest in Tasmania. I am told that until the ALP Conference last year the Prime Minister had spent fewer than 70 hours, that is, not even three days in Tasmania in the whole of the period that he has been Prime Minister. This motion is not about how section 15 of the Constitution should be adhered to but about how and in what way the Labor Party can beat a small State around the ears and try to ensure that it complies in every way with the directions of this Federal Government.

Unfortunately, as far as Tasmania is concerned, there is little doubt that progressively the Labor Party has shown not only that it is prepared to act in every way it can to deny the Tasmanian Government its constitutional rights but also that it is prepared to act in such a way that it ignores even the rights and opportunities of ordinary Australians. ALP senator, Terry Aulich, has a staff member who properly was concerned about the actions of the Federal Government--

Mr Goodluck —Yes, of course-Murphy.

Mr SINCLAIR —That is right. His name is Murphy, as my colleague says. Mr Murphy was quite properly concerned about the jobs of those who work in logging in Tasmania. Poor old Senator Aulich found that he was going to be carpeted because Mr Murphy, a member of his staff, thought that the Minister for Primary Industry had meant what he said when he entered into a firm agreement. Talking about conventions, I would have thought that one of the conventions a government ought to honour would be the legality of a formal contract, entered into formally between a Minister on behalf of a Federal Government and a Minister on behalf of a State government, relating to the logging of forests. But what happened? The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment has already told us that the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests area is to cover an area of about 284,000 hectares. We know that the logging that Senator Aulich's Mr Murphy was concerned about affected only about 600 hectares. But the Government was not content with producing some sort of a ban with respect to 600 hectares. We have a new piece of legislation, intruding on the rights and opportunities of Tasmania, this bully boy tactic, this contravention of a firm agreement, and the Labor Party comes in here today and has the hide to talk about the breach of a constitutional convention. There is no more sacred convention than the rights of a legal contract and agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the States. Mr Shayne Murphy set up a new organisation called the Australian forest workers task force. It was out there trying to protect the jobs of those Tasmanians who properly thought that their Federal Government was going to abide by its Federal responsibilities.

But it was not only a question of loggers losing their jobs, it was also a question of Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd finding out that its $200m Japanese-Australian joint venture was not to go ahead because this Government was not prepared to abide by that legal agreement. We now have the prospect of yet another inquiry. Three people are to be involved in the inquiry. None of them is a Tasmanian. The commission of inquiry is to be headed by a retired New South Wales Equity Court judge. The other two commissioners are a Mr Peter Hitchcock, a former forester with the New South Wales Forestry Commission, and a Mr Robert Wallace, Reader in Economics at Flinders University, Adelaide. In an inquiry looking at logging, looking at the products of a contract entered into formally by the Labor Government, nobody from Tasmania is included. I do not know how many inquiries there have been into logging but there have been a sufficient number of inquiries for the Minister for Primary Industry to believe that he was in a correct, proper and valid legal position to enter into a formal agreement.

Let us put this whole matter back into perspective. Don Grimes, for his own valid and proper reasons, retired from the Senate. We all accept that it is the right of any senator, or any member of this place, to leave if he or she wishes to do so. Senator Grimes having resigned, the Tasmanian Government was called on to elect a replacement. It is true that within this motion there is a reference to a constitutional convention, but there are a number of ways in which that convention has been carried out. For example, in Queensland the party which is required to fill the vacancy within section 15 of the Constitution has been called on to offer three names. It cannot be denied that there is a right, within section 15 of the Constitution, for the Parliament ultimately to make the decision. It is on that basis and for that reason that the Attorney-General-the Deputy Prime Minister-who refused to participate in this debate, in fact said that the High Court would not in any way declare illegal the action taken by the Tasmanian Parliament.

We need to understand that this particular motion has done several things. Firstly, it tries to take, in a politically opportunistic way, the constitutional convention and rewrite it in a tighter way than the Constitution itself expresses it. While the Leader of the Opposition and I have already declared our position, it needs to be understood that it is not for this Parliament to intrude unduly in the affairs of any State parliament. Secondly, it should be understood that this Federal Government consistently, over a protracted period, has sought to intervene not just in the affairs of Tasmania but in the affairs of every non-Labor State and Territory in this country. We all know that only the other day there was a meeting of Labor Premiers to consider the impact of Budget cuts to be announced by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) tomorrow night. Why were not the other leaders, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and the Premiers of Tasmania and Queensland invited to come to Canberra and confer on that same basis?

We all know that this Government has consistently asserted its right to differentiate between Labor States and non-Labor States. We all know that as far as the Constitution and division of powers is concerned, this Labor Government is not concerned with equity between States; it is concerned with what it sees as inequity between political parties. The whole basis of this motion is in no way related to constitutional conventions, nor to the upholding of constitutional conventions. This motion is entirely related to the Government's assertion that it will beat around the ears any State that in any way might have a point of view that differs from its own.

It is under that circumstance and on that basis that the Leader of the Opposition has moved this amendment, which has the wholehearted endorsement of the members of the National Party. We are fed up with the Federal Government using external affairs powers for the purpose of intervening in the affairs of a State. We are fed up with the Labor Government differentially asserting its right to intervene in the prerogatives of State governments, particularly those of a non-Labor persuasion. We are extremely concerned that in the circumstances of general economic disquiet that exist at a time when ordinary Australians are being beaten around the ears by high inflation, by high interest rates and by economic policies that have run amok, this Government in some way tries to suggest that all that happens that is wrong is done by State governments. That is not true. Yet again, this motion demonstrates that the Federal Government should start concentrating on those things for which it is responsible and stop intruding unduly on the affairs of those State governments which quite properly are incensed because of the high-handed, autocratic and arrogant behaviour of a government that has lost touch with ordinary Australians.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr Young) put:

That the question be now put.