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Tuesday, 2 December 1986
Page: 3205

Senator KILGARIFF(10.30) —I rise tonight to bring to the notice of the Senate a matter which relates to an ongoing discrimination by the present Federal Government against a particular Australian family. During the Estimates committee hearings and the Appropriation Bills debate, I raised the matter of victimisation of Mr John Clunies-Ross, Sr, by a Minister of the Federal Government who, as part of a campaign to get Mr Clunies-Ross off the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, decreed that Clunies-Ross shipping companies were to be excluded from consideration for Government contracts to ship goods to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

I have already outlined the clearly unjustified and discriminatory nature of these ministerial decisions which ultimately contributed to the decline and eventual bankruptcy of the shipping companies of Mr Clunies-Ross. But there is one further comment which I think should be added with regard to the answers that Senator Grimes gave to the questions I asked in the Appropriation debate. I asked what rights to redress Mr Clunies-Ross would have in regard to the ministerial decision to exclude his companies from the tender process. The Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government-perhaps he had little to do with it; if he had something to do with it the situation might have been different-stated that a person excluded from the tendering process can complain to the Ombudsman. That is interesting because I understand that Mr Clunies-Ross and representatives of his former shipping agent did indeed make representations to the Ombudsman regarding the decision to exclude Clunies-Ross companies from the tender process and was met with the response that the Ombudsman was unable to take the matter up as it was a ministerial rather than an administrative decision which was being questioned. Either the Minister or the Ombudsman is incorrect because Mr Clunies-Ross definitely received no assistance from the Ombudsman. As I say, it seems to be the situation that an Ombudsman is set up in the Australian scene to take up what is considered wrong on behalf of the individual, the little Australian, but apparently the Ombudsman has no power with regard to a decision made within the Ministry. It is quite apparent that the whole episode was part of a campaign to get the Clunies-Ross family off the islands. I am sad to say that this campaign against the family appears to be still going on very strongly today.

This same campaign was apparent in the attempts of the Federal Government to compulsorily acquire the Clunies-Ross family home on Home Island of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Clunies-Ross family fought this action in the High Court of Australia. Thankfully, the Court found in favour of the family and refused to allow the Commonwealth to evict these people from their rightful property. It is just another example of how attempts have been made and continue to be made to remove the family from their home.

Another example came to my attention only this week. It is principally that matter which I wish to raise. When I visited the Cocos (Keeling) Islands earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting Mr John Clunies-Ross, Jr, his wife Vicki-just a young couple-and their young family. They have a baby, born in August, only three months old, and two toddlers-one 18 months old and one three years old. The family lives near the old Clunies-Ross home on Home Island and is eking out a living by having guests stay on the island and taking them diving in the very clear waters off the islands. It is a tremendous place. I think that this family is fortunate that it can earn some income to enable it to live. The Clunies-Ross family is related to many of the Cocos Malay people on the islands. As I have said before, members of the Clunies-Ross family having married Cocos Malay people over a number of generations. Yet, in spite of the family's close ties with the island people, a situation has developed on the island whereby the Clunies-Ross family-I am talking about the junior family, the young family-is being treated as less than equal to other citizens.

It was brought to my attention yesterday as an example of victimisation that for about two weeks now the generator belonging to the Clunies-Ross family which supplies its home with electricity for lighting, refrigeration and pumping water from the well has been broken down. Members of the Clunies-Ross family have been denied access to the community electricity supply. While they have been loaned a small generator which is sufficient to supply power for some lights and refrigeration, they have to draw water by hand from their well. There is insufficient electricity for them to pump water from their well to provide water for the family. That has to be done by hand. This is causing great difficulties for the family. To many people it might be just a minor matter but to me this is part of a list of things that are being done to try to drive this family into the ground.

It seems quite incredible that the family is not provided with access to the community electricity source. After all, these people are citizens of that place, yet they are banned from getting electricity. They are Australian citizens with a legitimate entitlement to their property and their lease but they are the only people on the island who have to supply themselves with electricity. That is very difficult. My understanding is that they have sought approval for their property to be connected to the community electricity supply. The Cocos Malay Council sought the advice of the Administrator. The response was that it was not for her to decide. That could be interpreted in a couple of ways. The most generous interpretation would be to say that the Administration was acting impartially and declining to interfere in what should be a matter for determination by the local council. That is a generous interpretation because the reality on the Cocos Islands-the very small islands way out in the Indian Ocean that are Australia's responsibility and indeed now part of Australia-is that the Administration has a record of interference in the affairs of the islands, particularly where the Clunies-Ross family is involved.

My interpretation of the approach by the Cocos Malay Council to the Administrator is that because the people to a great extent are dependent upon the largesse of the Commonwealth, they have learnt that it is not in their best interests to put the Commonwealth or its public servants offside. Hence they have sought the approval of the Administration when approached by the Clunies-Ross family for assistance in a time of considerable difficulty and stress. On this occasion no advice was forthcoming but I am aware of at least one instance in the past in which advice was given. This was a disgraceful episode when one considers what the consequences of that advice might have been.

The instance to which I now refer occurred earlier this year. The Clunies-Ross boat, a small boat that runs between Home Island and West Island, got into difficulties off the coast. This could have been extremely dangerous in view of the nature of the waters in that area. I understand from a variety of sources that an order was made by the Administration on the islands that the islands' boat-the official boat which is quite powerful and can be used for sea rescue, Customs and so on--

Senator Crichton-Browne —Zelman Cowen.

Senator KILGARIFF —That is correct. It was not to go to the aid of the Clunies-Ross vessel which was in distress. I repeat: A boat broke down in the Indian Ocean. The Administration said that the boat was not to go to the aid of the distressed Clunies-Ross boat. This could have been very serious. When one considers the possible gravity of the consequences, one wonders what level the vendetta conducted by the Federal Government and its officers against the Clunies-Ross family has reached. Is it now at the point where the safety and lives of the family are to be put at risk?

One could ask the same question about the present difficulties of the family, which I mentioned a little while ago, with its lack of electricity. That is perhaps a more mundane situation. I urge the Federal Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) to look into the situation immediately and ensure that proper recognition is given to just another Australian family, which has very little opportunity to stand up for itself, to see that those people are accorded their rights as citizens equal to other citizens on the Cocos Islands. It would be very regrettable if any member of this young family suffered unduly as a result of what appears to be a policy of victimisation against Australians whose only crime, it appears, is that they have inherited the name of Clunies-Ross.