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Friday, 15 May 1970


Mr STEWART (Lang) - I was in the House last Friday when the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) made his statement on the negotiations between the States and the Commonwealth on the off-shore minerals legislation. 1 heard his speech and I heard the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) in reply. I was in the House today when the Prime Minister (Mt Gorton) come in to refute the accusations that had been made by the honourable member for Farrer last Friday. I have heard them, 1 have read them, and judging on what I have seen and heard I come to the conclusion that the honourable member for Farrer is stating the absolute truth in this matter. The honourable member for Farrer as Minister for National Development was commissioned by the Cabinet to negotiate with the State Ministers on off-shore legislation and in the statement that the Prime Minister made today he said in the opening paragraph:

In February 1969 Cabinet decided that the Commonwealth should legislate to assert total rights over the sea-bed outside the 3-mile limit, lt deputed the Minister for National Development to inform the States Mines Ministers of this decision.

First of all, the then Minister was sent to negotiate and inform the States Mines Ministers that the Government intended to legislate to assert total rights over the seabed outside the 3-mile limit. Since then the Government has decided to legislate to assert total rights over the off-shore limits from the low water mark. The discussion today arises from the want of confidence motion that the Opposition has moved by way of amendment, that is: and that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they have failed to honour a commitment made to the States by the previous Minister for National Development, acting for and on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, that there would be further consultation with the States before the Commonwealth Government introduced any legislation on the territorial sea and continental shelf.

No-one in the Opposition doubts the Government's right to bring in the legislation.

We do not claim that the States Mines Ministers were not told that the Government intended to bring in this legislation, but we do claim that the Government has dishonoured a contract entered into by a Minister deputed to act on behalf of the Government, a man who enjoys a wholesome reputation in this place, a man of great integrity, a man who none in this place would ever doubt and a man whose word has always been his bond. To the Ministers for Mines in various States he gave an assurance. It was he speaking and nobody can impute motives to him but himself. He is the man who knows what he meant when he gave those assurances to the States Mines Ministers, and now for the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes), the Prime Minister and others to assert that they know better than he what he meant and what was implied in what he said shows a total disregard for the honour of the man who they are criticising. The Minister for National Development in the House the other day showed quite clearly that he was convinced that the honourable member for Farrer had indeed given an assurance to the States Mines Ministers that further negotiations would take place with them before legislation was introduced. In his speech the Minister for National Development - after giving an outline of what he did when he became Minister for National Development - went on to say:

The full details referred to by the honourable member for Farrer did not come to my knowledge until well after the Cabinet meeting al which the Commonwealth, after carefully examining the submissions from the States, gave a firm decision in relation to the matter in the Bill which is now before the House and which I introduced, lt was not until some lime after that meeting that I realised that the previous Minister for National Development had firmly believed that an undertaking to discuss the matter further wilh the States had been given. I am merely trying to explain the problem of lack of time at that particular stage.

After the decision was made by the Government there was a matter of only a few weeks before Parliament sat. The best that I could do in the circumstances was to inform the States by telegram before any public announcement was made as to the future intentions of the Government in relation to the matter.

The Minister sent the telegrams before he realised that the Government, in having taken its decision without previous and further consultations with the State Ministers for Mines, had broken the pledge given on the Government's behalf by the former

Minister for National Development. The present Minister for National Development is also a man of honour and when he was speaking last Friday he indicated clearly that he was in an embarrassing position as a result of the decision that had been taken without further consultation and negotiation with the States. In the quotation I have just read the following appears:

The full details referred to by the honourable member for Farrer did not come to my knowledge until well after the Cabinet meeting.

However, in the Prime Minister's statement today, he said:

The Minister undertook to place their views -

That is the views of the State Ministers for Mines - before Cabinet. This was done by the incoming Minister.

Last Friday the incoming Minister said that he did not know the full details of the situation until some time after the decision had been taken by Cabinet. This is now clearly a matter of public morality. It is a question of whether a Minister who acts on behalf of the Commonwealth Government in negotiations with the States and gives his word can have his word broken by the Cabinet.

When we examine the quotations that have been read from the minutes of the meetings of March 1969 and September 1969, and look at the contradictory statements that have been made by the Prime Minister in his statement today and by the Minister for National Development last Friday, we can come to the conclusion that there has been a broken pledge. The honourable member for Farrer would not have taken action unless he firmly believed that he was now in a position where his good word was being broken by the Government. Since the last election the honourable member for Farrer has been intensely worried about the morality of the Cabinet and of the Government. He refused to serve under the Prime Minister in his Ministry. He is deeply concerned about the behaviour of the Government in respect of many matters. If he were prepared to break the pledge of Cabinet secrecy, and if he were prepared to be disloyal to his own Party, I am quite certain he could give many more instances of the lack of moralitybyCabinetandofthe Government in respect of public questions.

Over the past few years there have been a number of incidents when members of the Government Parties have accused the Prime Minister and other Ministers of breaking pledges and not upholding the dignity of their offices or of the Parliament. Some come readily to mind. One concerned the accusations made by the previous member for Warringah, Mr St John.


Mr Killen - You would not take his word on that, would you?


Mr STEWART - Accusations were made by Mr St John and in some instances they were shown to be absolutely correct. If we recall back a little earlier to the time of the 'Voyager' disaster, we know that 2 royal commissions had to be appointed before the real truth of the matter came out.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I would draw the attention of the honourable member for Lang to the amendment that has been moved and which is before the House. The matters he is raising now are completely outside the ambid of the amendment.


Mr STEWART - The matter now before the House is whether this Government is capable of controlling the affairs of this country with honour and dignity.


Mr Uren - It is the credibility of the Government.


Mr STEWART - As the honourable member interjects, it is the credibility of the Government that is under attack. The Prime Minister has denied the statements made by the honourable member for Farrer and I think that I should be entitled to quote obvious examples where the credibility of the Government has been under criticism and under study.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I would remind the honourable member for Lang that the amendment is clear. In case he does not have a copy of it before him I will read part of it to him. It says:

.   . that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States.

That is a specific reason and therefore other matters are irrelevant.


Mr STEWART - The want of confidence motion deals with the subject of the consultations between the States and the Commonwealth over off-shore legislation. The Opposition accuses the Government of having broken the word given by the previous Minister for National Development. Even in the Governor-General's Speech it is admitted that there was some dispute between the States over rights in respect of off-shore legislation. In his Speech on behalf of the Government, the Governor-General said:

At present, the various State governments claim sovereign rights in respect of such resources from low water mark to the outer limits of the shelf. The Commonwealth believes that, except for internal waters as they existed at Federation, il has sovereign rights in this area.

It is the view of my Government that it would serve Australia's national and international interests to have the legal position resolved. In order that this may happen, my Government will ask the Parliament to pass legislation to assert and establish what the Commonwealth concedes to be its legal rights.

Negotiations had taken place as late as September 1969. On 3rd March 1970 it was admitted that there were legal doubts and disputes between the State governments over the sovereign rights in respect of territorial waters. The Government, in the Governor-General's Speech, at that time indicated that further negotiations had to be carried out with the States before the position could be resolved. The pledge that was given about legislation by the former Minister for National Development, and reiterated here today by the Prime Minister, was that the legislation would deal only with the area outside the 3-mile limit. Without telling the States that the Government was going to relate the legislation to the low water mark it went ahead and introduced the legislation that will be discussed by the House. The Government trod on the State Ministers for Mines. It broke the pledge that was given by the honourable member for Farrer, a man whose word T have said, anybody in this Parliament would accept.

The State Ministers for Mines were entitled to believe that there would be prior consultation before legislation was brought down. It is no good the Prime Minister coming in now and saying that this was not intended - that it was only consultation. It is pettifogging legality to argue that way. The clear understanding of the Ministers for Mines has been shown by quotations that have been read from the minutes of meetings. It was that no action would be taken in respect of legislation until such time as further consultations had taken place. Neither the honourable member for Farrer nor the Opposition have asserted that the intention of the Government to introduce legislation was not clearly known to the Ministers for Mines. But the honourable member for Farrer and the Opposition assert that the Ministers for Mines really believed that further consultations would take place before legislation was brought down in this House.

If in our federal system negotiations between the Commonwealth and the States are carried out by a responsible Minister of the Crown who has been given the authority by Cabinet to negotiate, and if he gives his pledge on any matter to a meeting of State Ministers, Cabinet then is duty bound to honour the pledge that has been given by the Cabinet Minister appointed to negotiate, irrespective of whether that Cabinet Minister might have overstepped the mark or might have misunderstood the instructions given to him by Cabinet. Once a pledge has been given on a ministerial level by the Commonwealth Government to 6 State governments that pledge should be kept.

The honourable member for Farrer has indicated quite clearly that he intended to imply - in fact that he did imply - that he agreed with the State Ministers for Mines that there would be further consultations with them before legislation was brought down. He was the man taking part in the negotiations. He was the man making those statements. He was talking to the Ministers for Mines from the various States. He knew what was behind the words that they were uttering. All of us who have taken part at any time in negotiations have often reached agreement with things not said, with a clear understanding of what was meant rather than what was clearly written. That is what has happened in this instance. As a juror in this place I can only come down on the side of the honourable member for Farrer. He has indicated what he meant and what he said to the Ministers for Mines.

He is regarded in this House as a man of the utmost integrity. He would not have taken this step had he not believed that the Government was breaking a pledge. No government oan break a pledge that is given. As the honourable member for Farrer said, if you need to have everything written down before a promise is binding, if you need to have a legal document, then it is not worth while being a member of this Parliament. It is a Government that cannot be trusted, and the State Ministers and the State Premiers are entitled to believe that in future negotiations with any member of the Cabinet or with any member of this Ministry they will need to have their legal advisers present, indeed they will need to have recordings taken so that the promises given by this Government will be honoured and not broken at the whim of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

I come back to the point that I made earlier. The present Minister for National Development admitted in his statement last Friday that he did not know the full particulars and details of the situation that the honourable member for Farrer has given, until some time after Cabinet had made its decision. In order to try to recover face with the State Ministers before the Governor-General delivered his speech on 3rd March last the present Minister sent telegrams to them stating that the Government intended to introduce the off-shore legislation.

This Government now lacks the confidence of the House and, I think, of the people, because of its failure to honour this commitment and because of its failure in other instances to give to the House all the information . that the House has required. It is the Government which is charged with evasions, half truths and omissions. In this instance all the evidence and the truth of the situation are on the side of the honourable member for Farrer. For those reasons I support the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition, indicating want of confidence in the Government.







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