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Friday, 15 May 1970

Mr FIFE (FARRER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would you like us to hold ourselves available for a meeting on, say, 15lh, subject to events at the Commonwealth level?

MR FAIRBAIRN - I think this would be the best.

So there we set the date. It is true that at a later stage the Western Australian Minister for Mines and Minister for Justice. Mr Griffith, said: 'We realise this may be a difficult timetable for you. We have agreed that, subject to the Commonwealth's accepting the titles that we issue in the meantime, we can go on until such agreement is arrived at. Therefore, we would not press you to hold that meeting exactly on that date'. This was the situation at that time. I was staggered when the Governor-General announced in his Speech that the understandings I had with the States and the undertakings I had made were to be completely abrogated. J did everything within my power to see that the Government realised that I believed 1 had made this statement and this commitment and that many others also believed I bad made this statement and this commitment, f did everything possible to see the Prime Minister. I saw him on a couple of occasions. I saw the Deputy Prime Minister. I have taken this matter to the Party room on 2 occasions. I have discussed it with the person who recently retired as the State President of my Party. I have discussed it with the chief organiser of my Party in New South Wales and with the national development committee of the Government Parties when the Minister for National Development, the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Hughes) and a senior State officer were in attendance.

I believe I made this commitment and I have tried to convince everyone that I made it, but I have just run into a wall of resistance. I have been told: 'You are quite wrong. You may have thought you did it, but we know better'. A whispering campaign has ensued with claims that so and so is said to have had a look at these minutes and he believes that what the honourable member for Farrer has said is not right. So, having finally exhausted every process available to me and the legislation having been introduced in this House and the documents having been tabled, I felt that it was encumbent upon me. having exhausted every other alternative, to say in this House that 1 believed a commitment had been made. That is what I am now saying. 1 beleieve it would be very easy for the Government, given a little bit of goodwill and commonsense, to overcome this problem. 1 believe that it should withdraw the Bill which has been introduced. There is no urgency about this matter. To the best of my knowledge the only off-shore mining which is being undertaken anywhere n Australia is in relation to a very small amount of coal which is being mined under the sea off the coast of New South Wales. So there is no immediate urgency. There are 40 or more Bills on the notice paper. The Government should temporarily withdraw this legislation go back to the Stales and negotiate with them. It should say to the States: 'If we bring in this Bill and if, by litigation, it is proved that we have authority over these areas, we will hand back to you, as has been done in the United States, control of the territorial waters'. Surely the matter could be resolved upon this basis? Unfortunately, it has been completely impossible for me to get anywhere in relation to it.

I conclude by saying that I believe that these machinations have brought about an enormous amount of ill will between the Commonwealth and the States. This may be considered a small matter by some people, but I do not believe that it is. It is a matter of the Government's integrity. I believe that what I have said is correct.

If I were the only one to think this way I would have some second thoughts about the matter. I would think that perhaps English does not mean what I think it means. But I am not the only one. Every Minister for Mines in Australia believes that I made a commitment. I think it is virtually true to say that every State AttorneyGeneral believes this, but I would not be certain because I have not checked it with them. But one of them has said that there was an arrant and considered breach of faith in this matter. The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in one of the States said this. Therefore, I am not the only one who thinks there has been a breach of faith.

The Opposition has considered the matter and it believes me. Of course the unfortunate thing is that the Opposition is playing politics. We should recognise this fact. The hyenas on the Opposition side of the chamber are just sitting there waiting for blood. This places any honourable member in a most awkward position. Many people have run away from what they thought was their duty in a parliament just because they have been able to say: Perhaps we do not agree with what the Government is doing, but just think what a dreadful thing it would be if the Opposition were ever to come in.' I agree. I can think of no worse fate than for the Labor Party to be on the treasury bench. But I believe also that there is the matter of my honour and that I must support the amendment that has been brought in by the honourable member for Dawson.

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