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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1198


Senator KILGARIFF(12.43) —I take the opportunity afforded by this quiet time in the Senate to raise two matters, one relating to the Chamberlain case and the other to outback communications. Honourable senators will recall that Senator Mason, on the adjournment debate on 2 October, made some remarks regarding the Chamberlain case which were reported in the Canberra Times of yesterday, 3 October. The article is headed 'Everingham ''misleading and inaccurate'' on Chamberlain'. The article quotes these remarks taken from Senator Mason's speech in the Senate:

Everingham's misleading and totally inaccurate public utterances on this matter do not do him any credit nor do they help the appearance of his attitude towards the Chamberlain case.

I took the opportunity of referring Senator Mason's statement to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Paul Everingham, to give him the opportunity of commenting on a statement made in this House. In his reply to those criticisms he says:

1. The material provided by Senator Mason relating to the Chamberlain matter to the Solicitor-General was not new. The allegations contained therein were known for a considerable time prior to Senator Mason's intervention and have been widely canvassed in the media. Some of it had been previously forwarded in a different form direct to the Northern Territory Government.

2. Release of the exhibits has not been denied. The solicitor for Mrs. Chamberlain sought the return of only some of the exhibits which had come from the possession of the Chamberlains. In the opinion of the Solicitor-General those exhibits, having been tendered to the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, they should be returned to the custody of that Court and arrangements made for their release. The exhibits are presently with the High Court.

In the meantime, a request was made by those solicitors to have access to a number of other exhibits as part of their further investigation into the matter. That request was agreed to and agreement reached that the exhibits would remain in the custody of the High Court where they would be more accessible to those solicitors and anybody else authorised by them. Given the further investigations being made on behalf of Mrs Chamberlain, it is considered that all exhibits should be retained in the custody of either the High Court or the Supreme Court of the Territory for the time being.

3. A ''briefing'' from Mr Tipple would hardly be worthwhile in the absence of the material upon which the briefing is based. No briefing has been received and , as indicated above, the further investigations are still going on.

4. It is most important to note that in a personal letter to me tabled in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, Mrs Chamberlain expressly disassociated herself from the activities of some people who have been generating a great deal of publicity with their alleged new evidence and theories. Her solicitors have confirmed that position in writing. The Northern Territory Government will only have regard to material provided by legal advisors authorised by Mr and Mrs Chamberlain. None has so far been received. Further, I specifically requested that the material given to Senator Mason be made available to the Solicitor- General so that it could be considered and commented upon in the event that it became the subject of debate in the Senate.

I think in fairness to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory that that statement should be acknowledged in the Senate. Mr Deputy President, if any person wishes a copy of that particular statement before the Hansard is available, it can be obtained from my office.

I turn to the other matter I wish to raise, communications in the remote areas of Australia, with particular reference to the cyclone tracking and warning system in the Gulf of Carpentaria region. Residents of the Northern Territory are well aware of the devastating effects of tropical cyclones. They have only to recall Cyclone Tracy which caused such destruction and tragic loss of life in Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974. More recently, Cyclone Kathy caused extensive damage to the township of Borroloola when it crossed the western coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in March this year. As well as damage to the township itself , the cyclone left in its wake, three prawn trawlers run aground, one trawler sunk and a crew member of the sunken vessel drowned.

Tropical cyclones in the Gulf of Carpentaria region are of major importance to local communities in the area, to people working in the area, and to the prawn fleet as well as the mining companies, Aboriginal settlements and cattle stations. It is essential that there is an adequate early warning system to alert the people in these areas of any likelihood of cyclonic conditions in the region. During Cyclone Kathy, despite the fact that the cyclone had been tracked for six days and almost 24 hours warning had been given to the township of Borroloola and other people, difficulties did occur, particularly in the Burketown area, in receiving a number of warnings. Of course, Burketown is in northern Queensland and naturally, the people of northern Queensland were affected too.

This led to some public criticism of the cyclone warning system. Honourable senators would be aware that I raised the matter in this chamber earlier this year, and I am now pleased to see that the Government is taking steps to upgrade substantially the radar facilities at Gove-Nhulunbuy. I welcome the intended provision of a 'current state of the art' radar facility for this area which the Minister for Science and Technology, Mr Barry Jones, has advised me will hopefully be operational by the 1985-86 tropical cyclone season. I understand that the design work on this project has almost been completed and the project is intended to go to tender shortly. The station will be equipped with a radiosonde facility for the measure of upper air temperature profiles used to aid the provision of forecasting warning services. In addition to the weather observation station, three residences will be built to house the four staff members who will operate the station in the Nhulunbuy area. No doubt the provision of these services will be welcomed by those who recall the difficulties experienced during Cyclone Kathy earlier this year. Communications in the outback are difficult, particularly in this part of Australia. I also understood that it is intended to replace the aged weather watch facilities at Cairns with a modern unit in 1986 and to provide a new radar facility at Weipa in the late 1980s to improve further radar coverage in the Gulf area. Such services will be welcomed by the people of the Northern Territory and north Queensland. I commend these proposed upgradings and urge the Government most strongly to implement these facilities as soon as possible.

On this issue of outback communications as it relates to cyclone warnings, I also make mention of the proposed transmission system to be used once the Aussat satellite is launched. The Minister for Communications, Mr Duffy, has announced that the B-MAC system will be used to provide transmission of radio and television services to outback and other remote regions once the satellite is in service. I understand that this system has been chosen for its superior technical capacity to deliver a number of services such as a teletext service, educational services and an on-screen emergency warning service in addition to its capacity to deliver radio and television services. I urge the Government to ensure that the on-screen warning service capacity is utilised from the outset of the service, or at least implemented as soon as practically possible. This service has the potential to provide people living in isolated areas with a source of information and support in the face of natural disasters such as cyclones, floods, bushfires and all those other things that make life difficult for people, particularly in the remote areas.

Related to the introduction of the B-MAC system of transmission, I might also raise the question of the expected cost of the receiving dishes which will be required to pick up the television and radio signals. The Minister has said that the receivers are expected to cost some $1,500 plus installation and delivery costs, which of course can make the cost considerably more. The provision of a television service is something which is very much taken for granted by those people living in the eastern States and the more populated areas of Australia. The cost to these people of a fitted television antenna is not much more than $ 100. So it seems to me that it is inequitable to ask those people living in the remote regions of Australia to pay up to some 15 times more than the amount paid by their fellow Australians for the same service.

I think it should be borne in mind that for these people living in outback areas, television might well offer the only chance they have to enjoy cultural presentations of music, dance and drama and educational programs. In view of this matter of parity in way of life, I think it would be appropriate for the Government to consider the provision of assistance or a rebate to those people who purchase what are, after all, rather expensive pieces of equipment, to receive a service most Australians regard as being theirs as of right.

In closing, Mr Deputy President, I merely once again say that I am most pleased to see that action is being taken to improve the facilities to track cyclones and to upgrade communications in these very remote areas. Despite the fact that the outback and the north are developing and the population there is increasing, there are still very many areas which are very remote. Telephonic communications are slowly improving, but only in some areas. There is another wet coming on very soon and it is likely, on the law of averages, that we will have another cyclone in the north. The next cyclone, of course, could be considerably dangerous to the people. It could be very strong, as was Cyclone Tracy and Cyclone Kathy, for that matter. So once again I urge the Government to continue on with the plans that it is carrying out now, to implement the various safeguards that have been indicated by the Minister for Science and Technology, to ensure that in the future there will be many more safeguards for those people who, at particular times of the year, in the wet, come under the threat of these very dangerous cyclones.