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Friday, 15 May 1970


Mr Cope - A Liberal! Oh!

Mr Whitlam - He is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in Queensland.

Mr CONNOR - Yes. I believe the honourable member for Farrer to be an honourable man. I know an honest and a frank man when I see one. I accept his statement without reservation. This is not merely a matter of my own personal judgment. The events that did take place ought to be considered. At the first meeting of the combined Government Parties which took place after the federal election, the honourable member for Farrer openly stated that he was not prepared to serve under the Prime Minister. He accused the Prime Minister of having repeatedly acted arbitrarily and without consulting Cabinet. Precisely that happened on this occasion as I will proceed to prove.

Since 1965, continuous discussions have taken place with the Australian Minerals Council and, before it, discussions between the various State Ministers for Mines and the Commonwealth Minister for National Development. In every case in those discussions the Ministers have been seeking to evade or to slide around the known constitutional position. Every possible artifice has been used to see that the deal that was made between the Commonwealth and the States would be continued and would be perpetuated.

At the time of the September meeting of the Australian Minerals Council something sensational had happened. It was this: The offer which had been made - which the former Minister for National Development had been authorised to make - in fact had been ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia in the case of Bonser v La Macchia. That judgment, it should be carefully noted, was given on 6th August 1969. a matter of a month before the meeting of the - Australian Minerals Council. It is worth noting that the Minister for Education and Science (Mr N. H. Bowen), who was then the Attorney-General, appeared on behalf of the Commonwealth. He was fortified by a colleague from New South Wales in the person of the Crown Solicitor, who also appeared and asked the Court not to decide on the legality or otherwise of the very offer that had been made to the March meeting by the Commonwealth. Chief Justice Barwick said quite frankly and forthrightly that he would not take any notice of the representations of either the Commonwealth or the States. He then proceeded to make a decision. The decision was that the Commonwealth had sole sovereign rights in respect of all the resources of the continental shelf right out from low water level.

That was the situation that confronted the Ministers and the other representatives when they met in the Australian Minerals Council in September. There had to be further negotiations. There was no conceivable alternative. The Commonwealth's offer had been destroyed. It had been ruled out. A compromise had to be entered into. The compromise was to be an obvious one. The States had won. The States had wanted a continuation of the old deal which had gone on ever since the days of negotiations between the Premier of Victoria and the then Prime Minister, the late Mr Harold Holt. The deal was always this: We will not ever get to court; we will not challenge one another; we will pool all our respective sovereignties, all our claims; we will agree on a cut-up of the cake and the royalties; we will enter into contracts that are non-justiciable; we will be all pals together; but it will never hit the court.

This time, at the September meeting, the States had the Commonwealth over a barrel. They had it in this position: They could not do otherwise than meet again. They had to meet because otherwise the whole of their rickety structure of constitutional invasion would fall and collapse completely. In the light of that, can any member of the- Government suggest that there would not be another meeting; can any member of the Government suggest that it would not have been forced to meet the States?

Then what happened? The GortonHewitt axis sprung into action. This was not the only occasion on which this had happened. The honourable member for Farrer had had his corns trampled on before, when the Prime Minister deliberately usurped his function and intruded into the negotiations in respect of the pricing of oil and the arrangements between EssoBHP and the Government. On that occasion the honourable member had said - he made this charge and I respect him for making it - that the Prime Minister had intruded into the administration of hrs Department and had forbidden him to give any of the details of the negotiations to the Bureau of Mineral Resources. What a situation!

The same authoritarian, arrogant Prime Minister who was capable of doing that moved in again. He said: 'I, Gorton, will provide a Gordian solution. ( will provide the solution. We will go right ahead. We have a judgment. To hell with the States. Let them rot. We will assert to the full our sovereign rights'. The Commonwealth has those sovereign rights. I said this in the House when the off-shore oil legislation was being discussed some 3 years ago, in 1967. The Commonwealth undoubtedly has these rights. I am not dealing with the merits of the legislation; I am dealing with the facts as they are. They are quite simple.

The whole structure is collapsing. The off-shore mining legislation has yet to be discussed in this chamber. I assume that the Government still intends to proceed with it. If it wants to save face with the people of Australia, that legislation will have to be proceeded with. When the States make their challenge, the sovereign rights of the Commonwealth undoubtedly will be upheld. That is the situation today, as I see it. The States need money. They are determined at all costs to proceed with mirror legislation. They are determined to maintain that rickety structure and to use it because, God alone knows, they need the money.

Behind it all is the fundamental conflict between the centralists and the federalists. The Prime Minister is a centralist, and the honourable member for Farrer is a federalist. 1 respect their viewpoints. On this occasion the Prime Minister is doing what he said long ago he would do. He said that where there was a conflict between him and the Cabinet his will would prevail. And so it. has on this occasion. A decision was made to anticipate, to sidetrack and to prevent any further discussion. There is no doubt in my mind, there is no doubt in the mind of the Opposition and there is no doubt in the mind of the people of Australia that the Prime Minister rushed in and hamhandedly. as he so often does, decided what was to be done. He provided the Gordian solution. He was determined to give the States the pill, and they had to take it and swallow it on the spot.

Hence the Government is in the dilemma in which it is at the present time, with Ministers rushing around trying to persuade the recalcitrant members of their own Party to support them, or at least not to abstain from voting, and sending out urgent messages for men who have gone off to other places to come back by air. This is a Gilbertian situation. It is one that J believe is a complete travesty of parliamentary procedure. This Government is not prepared at this stage to put this matter to a vote.

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