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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1685

Senator KILGARIFF(5.36) —In speaking on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 1984 and the Christmas Island Administration ( Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 1984, I intend to direct my remarks to the latter Bill. This Bill has a number of purposes expressed in the explanatory memorandum , as follows: Firstly, the Bill will amend the Christmas Island Act 1958 so as to enable the making of ordinances of the Territory to regulate the use and occupation of land. A further amendment to the Christmas Island Act will enable ordinances of the Territory to be made in relation to the Supreme Court of the Territory, that may have effect outside the Territory. Secondly, the Bill will extend Commonwealth legislation in the areas of health, social security, Federal electoral representation and education to the Territory of Christmas Island, following the decision of the Government to bring living conditions in the Territory into line with those on mainland Australia.

The Bill will amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 so as to place residents of the Territory within the boundaries of the Northern Territory for Federal electoral purposes. An amendment consequent upon the amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 will also be made to the Northern Territory ( Self-Government) Act 1978. The Bill will also amend the Health Insurance Act 1973 and the National Health Act 1953 so as to make residents of the Territory eligible for benefits under that legislation on a basis equivalent to that for mainland Australians. The Bill will amend the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 so as to place residents of the Territory within the Commonwealth electoral division of the Northern Territory for the purposes of referendums. The Bill will also amend the Social Security Act 1947 so that a resident of the Territory will be treated as a resident of Australia for the purposes of that Act. There are also some amendments in the area of student assistance, so as to permit certain institutions in Western Australia to be able to continue to offer courses of study to Christmas Islanders and to ensure that students may be eligible for the purposes of section 10 in relation to the payment of tertiary education assistance allowances.

Whilst I welcome the decision of the people of Christmas Island to integrate with Australia, I have doubts as to the appropriateness of their incorporation into the Northern Territory for the purposes of voting in elections and referendums. I am from the Northern Territory and am one of the two senators representing the Northern Territory. This integration has significant implications for both the people of Christmas Island and the people of the Northern Territory. I will deal, firstly, with the integration from the point of view of the Christmas Islanders.

The Government has pursued the integration of this island in the same way as it dealt with the integration of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands; that is, without consultation with the people of the islands as to which electorate they would prefer integration with. We went through this matter some months ago when we were dealing with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands situation. As I remember, I tabled a letter from the Chairman of the Council on the Islands in which he indicated very clearly that these people had not been consulted.

Christmas Island is about 360 kilometres south of Indonesia and 2,623 kilometres from Perth. Commercial deposits of high grade phosphate are the basis of the Christmas Island economy and this is exported as rock phosphate and phosphate dust, chiefly to Australia and New Zealand. The mining is carried out by the Phosphate Mining Co. of Christmas Island Ltd. Phosphate has been mined on the island since 1897, many years ago. Prior to 1 October 1958 the island was administered from Singapore. However, that date saw it become a territory of the Australian Government. Its population of 3,300 people consists of Chinese, Malay , Indian and European communities, most of which are employed in the mine. In 1958 the island became a territory of Australia. The people of the island were offered the opportunity to take up Australian citizenship and almost every person on the island has now taken advantage of that offer. The only non- Australians on the island, as I said, are a few temporary workers.

Christmas Island, like the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, has strong ties with Western Australia and, to some degree, the Australian Labor Party through the trade union movement, but we have gone through that in debate on the Cocos ( Keeling) Islands. We have seen considerable movement of people from the Cocos ( Keeling) Islands to Western Australia. To many it seems odd that the first to integrate the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and now to integrate Christmas Island has come at this time. It was rumoured that there would be a Federal election and of course now we know that the election is to be held on 1 December. Presumably the decision to integrate these islands into the Northern Territory is a political move in an endeavour to rescue the Australian Labor Party's Territory member at the coming Federal election. If that is the case, those Islanders, being of an independent view, might have different ideas.

I believe that Christmas Islanders will view the ALP warily, particularly following the Hawke Government's actions concerning the island once it was announced that the island would be integrated. I refer to the Government's decision to close the Christmas Island Phosphate Mining Co. if enough workers do not leave the island. That does not seem to me to be a particularly friendly act . It is not an act of consultation; rather it is a very heavy-handed act. The Government is saying: 'Do this or else'. I hope that the people of Christmas Island do not allow themselves to become pawns of this Government. On the comments that have been made by the Cocos (Keeling) Island people, and as I understand it, the people of Christmas Island, this will not happen. They should be given every opportunity by this Government to decide for themselves where their association with Australia will lie. With that in mind I strongly support the amendment foreshadowed by the Attorney-General, Senator Durack--

Senator Gareth Evans —Former Attorney-General.

Senator KILGARIFF —He is the former Attorney-General and the coming Attorney- General. He held the portfolio before and he will hold it again. The proposed amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill reads:

At end of motion, add ', but the Senate is of the opinion that a suitable person should be commissioned to ascertain the wishes of the Australian citizens on Christmas Island as to which electoral division of Australia they should be included in for the purposes of participating in elections for the Commonwealth Parliament and referendums under the Commonwealth Constitution'.

All I can say in supporting this proposed amendment is that if the Government is not going to have the decency-I say 'decency' deliberately-to allow the people of Christmas Island to be consulted I think the Senate should take it upon itself to ensure that those people are at least consulted. I believe the proposed amendment is reasonable. I hope that the majority of honourable senators will support it. Even if the majority of honourable senators do not support it, very clearly the members of the Opposition-the members of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia-believe that the people of Christmas Island should be consulted. That is why the Opposition proposes to move the amendment.

If after the proposed survey is conducted the people of Christmas Island wish to be integrated with the Northern Territory, so be it. They will be very welcome. That will be it. They will be a part of the Northern Territory. However , if they wish to be associated with other parts of Australia, for example Western Australia, so be that too. The argument has been put that, despite the island's strong trade and transport ties with Western Australia, its communications links through Perth and the fact that most of the Christmas Islanders who have moved to Australia now live in Western Australia, the island cannot be integrated into Western Australia because of constitutional difficulties. I do not accept that argument. I believe a referendum would overcome that problem. The Government's offer of integration into Australia is a very hollow one if it is not prepared to allow the Islanders a say in the matter to the extent of allowing them to integrate with the State or Territory of their choice.

That brings me to the second matter of concern; that is, the effect this will have on the Northern Territory. I understand that should the Northern Territory attain statehood, which we are certainly on the road to achieving, the Federal representative of the new State would not be able to represent the people of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands unless those people became part of the Territory, hence part of the new State. If the Government is not prepared to take the necessary steps to integrate the Islanders into Western Australia, does that mean that the Government will attempt to prevent the Northern Territory attaining statehood in order to avoid the same constitutional difficulties arising in that event?

The Northern Territory is looking to attaining statehood in the not too distant future and the Federal Government is fully aware of that. One would have thought that the Federal Government would be able to see far enough ahead to realise that these constitutional difficulties will arise when the Territory attains statehood. Surely then the most sensible course, the course which is fairest to all concerned, particularly the Islanders, is to hold a referendum to amend the Constitution to permit external territories, including the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island, to be attached to electorates on the mainland with which they have the greatest association and community interest. In the case of Christmas Island, as with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, I am sure the electorate would be Western Australia. That is where their ties, their people, communications, trade-the lot-are.

The same referendum would allow a territory such as Norfolk Island to seek integration with New South Wales if at some time in the future it so desired. I wonder why Norfolk Island has not been mentioned in the past year in the context of the integration of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. Is it because there is just a handful of people on Norfolk Island and that to the Government at this time of harvesting votes they are of no consequence? Indeed, such a referendum would clarify the position once and for all for all Australia' s external territories. I do not believe that any reasonable person in Australia would resist such a move. I urge the Government to take steps to hold such a referendum as soon as possible. I see every reason for every honourable senator- Government, Opposition, Democrats or Independent-supporting the amendment to be moved by Senator Durack.