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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Mr COPE (Watson) .- First, I should like to refer to the statements of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) about the accuracy of press reports. I can recall an instance which occurred a few years ago m this House, after the rape of Hungary, when senior Cabinet Ministers and many Government supporters said that the Russians were blood-thirsty, murdering butchers. Not long after that a Mr. Kadar, who had been a leader of these Russian blood-thirsty murdering butchers, was a representative of the Hungarian Government at the International Labour Organization conference. The Treasurer, then Minister for Labour and National Service, represented Australia at that conference, and he abstained from voting against the admission of Kadar as a delegate to the conference. He was reported in a newspaper to have been criticized by the Employers Federation, but he said that the report was not accurate. Apparently, according to the Treasurer, newspaper reports that do not please him are not accurate, but he has great faith in the accuracy of a report by an American reporter about Mr. Chamberlain. How silly can people get!

Then we come to this usual red bogy which is dragged out from time to time. Will the Treasurer deny that he has dined with Mr. Jim Healy? Will he deny that he has been to the Russian embassy, wining and dining with these bloodthirsty, murdering butchers? Will he deny it? Of course he cannot! Time after time, in this House, members of the Opposition have advocated the recognition of red China and have been classed as pro-Communists and fellow travellers. What about the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), the leader of the Australian Country Party, who wants to recognize red China? Is there any member of the Australian Country Party game enough to say that he does not want to recognize red China? Certainly not! That is because they are afraid of losing the support of the farmers and graziers.

The chief matter on which I rose to speak to-night was an incident that happened in this House this morning, when the Government disgracefully and unprecedentedly debarred a man from speaking on the recommendation of the Constitutional Review Committee. Although I do not agree with the politics of this man, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), I have nothing but admiration for his sincerity. I think that both sides of the House will agree that he has excellent ability in expressing his opinions. This man was a member of the Constitutional Review Committee and, with other members from both sides of the Parliament, he worked assiduously over years in preparing the committee's report. He wanted to speak this morning, but the Government deliberately prevented him from speaking. Why did it do so? Because it did not want two Government supporters to speak in succession in favour of the proposals which, as we know, the Government has no intention of putting before the people.

The other member from the opposite side of the House who supported the proposals before it, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), said that these constitutional reforms must be put to the people. He said that great regions in Australia needed developing, but could not be developed because this Parliament does not possess the necessary power. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) put the puerile argument that we must think of the cost of a referendum. Has anybody ever heard such piffle? A total of £5,000,000 is to be spent on the Canberra lakes scheme! How ridiculous to compare that with the development of Australia and a proposal to seek from the people increased power for this Parliament! Who could compare the importance of a few sailing boats being put on a lake filled with fish and, probably mosquitoes, with the development of our outback regions?

The right honorable member for Cowper said that we need water and we need dams. This is the driest continent, yet we cannot go ahead with such plans because we do not have the power to do so. Is it not logical that the right honorable member for Cowper - an ex-Prime Minister, an ex-Treasurer, an ex-senior Cabinet Minister with 40 years' experience in this Parliament - knows the frustrations that this Parliament suffers because we do not possess the power to do the things that we want to do? There is no doubt in my mind that pressure has been put on the Government not to introduce these proposals. It has been put on by the Government's masters, the private banks and the vested interests.

Members of the Country Party, time after time, have protested in this House about exorbitant hire-purchase interest rates, but they always qualify their remarks by saying that it is a matter for the States. How ridiculous! How silly can any one be to think that the six States could agree unanimously on any matter of this importance. An attempt by the six Premiers to agree on such a matter would be similar to the Prime Minister's eleven, which got messed about by the West Indies, going on the field with six captains. There is no chance of unanimity between the States on such issues. Why is it that vested interests have never protested about the States holding these powers? It is because they know that the States cannot implement them. But vested interests will certainly fight tooth and nail against their puppets here introducing a bill into the House in order to give people a chance to say whether or not they want these constitutional reforms.

Is it not quite logical to back up the argument of a man of 40 years' experience, who has been Prime Minister, Treasurer, and a senior Cabinet Minister, and who is sincere in his endeavours to develop Australia? He knows in his own heart that it cannot be done under present powers, and he had the courage to get up this morning and express his opinion. Yet the Government denied his colleague, the honorable member for New England, who was a member of the Constitutional Review Committee, the opportunity to speak. The committee went to every State and heard the views of members of State parliaments and of people interested in the Constitution, including constitutional lawyers. Only then did the committee frame its report. Yet the Government has not the courage to let this gentleman speak.

It was quite noticeable this morning that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), who as a private member was on the committee, did not take part in the debate. Why? Has pressure been put upon the Government not to do anything about this? Why should not the Government do something about it? The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) promised, at four different general elections, to appoint the Constitutional Review Committee. At last, in 1955, he moved for the formation of the committee. What is he going to do about its report? Is he still going to be ruled by the dictates of the private banks and vested interests, or will he act in the interests of Australia in the way outlined by the honorable member for Cowper?

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