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Friday, 15 May 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - We have just listened to the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) enter a debate in a low key in which he used words like 'ambiguity' and 'misunderstanding between friends', made passing reference to what he called the Labor Party's view on co-operative federalism' and defended what happens when a government changes. He did not address himself to many people in the Parliament. In fact, he addressed himself to a small number in this House about whom he and the Government are concerned. But I want to say that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, gave a very wise decision earlier this afternoon when you dealt with the matter that exercised your mind and which was raised by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) because when he said that this was not just an issue touching on a technical or a constitutional matter you had doubt in your mind as to whether the matter was a broad one. I am pleased to say that you ruled that the honourable member for Wills was totally in order in pinpointing this issue today. The crystalisation of this entire matter is, in fact, not just good faith or bad faith on this occasion. lt is not just the matter of rae man of honour and of whether we stand with him or not, it is the matter of the whole performance of an administration in relation to the States. In fact, this is the point that I particularly want to refer to because I want to say at the outset that I did not come to Canberra to set a shovel and help the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), to bury the States and their needs. I came, indeed, to join with men of goodwill to strengthen the entire fabric of administration and upgrade it in the interests of the nation.

Having said that, we can go from there to have a look at this moment of quite historic importance. The issues, as 1 see them, are clear. They are neither technical nor constitutional. As I said, the honourable member for Wills and the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) particularly placed emphasis on the Commonwealth and State relations involved. The importance of this matter is that it is an important trial of the earnest of the Commonwealth Government in its relation? with the States. In fact, what we are. dealing with is a piece of bad faith. Lt might bc said that it is a double-cross of national dimensions because behind all the nice words this is surely what is involved. Let us strip away all the polite facade from it. What was said by the Prime Minister was that the honourable member lor Fairer (Mr Fairbairn) was wrong, that he had misinterpreted the issues or that he had deliberately, perhaps, misunderstood them.

If he is wrong he must have deliberately misunderstood them because as the responsible Minister dealing with his State colleagues closely and continuously - I will have more to say about them in a moment - he could not have had any doubt at all in his mind as to what they believed.

I want to draw attention to the fact - an important fact in this entire matter - that the honourable member for Farrer is the Federal member for the area represented by the New South Wales Minister for Mines. Mr Wal Fife and the honourable member for Farrer are close associates and close friends. They see each other with regularity, they discuss things in a close way because they are of the same electorate, the same part of the world and, indeed, are of the same Party. Surely it is not suggested thai the honourable member for Farrer should come into the House and say: "Of course, 1 and the State Ministers, including my close colleague from New South Wales, have all been wrong'? Are honourable members opposite asking that he come in here and say: 'We were all wrong together' and then go home at the weekend and when he sees his colleague in Wagga say: 'I am sorry, I had to turn my back on all our discussions. I had to change my mind. I had to compromise my principles. I had just to stand in line because I was told to do so'? This is not going to happen and honourable members opposite would not expect it to happen.

This is an intimate matter touching on relationships with people as well as relationships between one Minister and another. I would expect the honourable member for Farrer to stand by what he has done and by what he has said, and also to stand with the State Ministers concerned. Let us be quite clear about this: If the honourable member for Farrer is wrong and the Prime Minister is right, then every State government is wrong and every Minis:cr lor Mines is also in error. This is a mighty error, is it not? It seems that the summation of the Prime Minister's case is: 'They are ail out of step except our John'. This is a very big claim to make even for a Prime Minister, and it will hot bear close examination.

The confrontation today is not a confrontation between the honourable member for Farrer and the Prime Minister - between Fairbairn and Gorton as it has been suggested in the headlines - it is a confrontation between capricious dictatorship and responsibility at various levels, particularly at the State level. I do not think there is anybody in the Parliament or in the Commonwealth today who does not feel that there is room - indeed, a great deal of room - for a revision of Commonwealth and State relations. There is no doubt about this at all. But with the structure that we have there is also very little doubt in anybody's mind in State administrations that there has been capricious dictatorship and this is the culmination of it. So surely this is the time when we should say that it has gone far enough.

Perhaps 1 can illustrate some of the incidents which have led up to this particular confrontation. In the Parliament of New South Wales it has been known for a responsible Minister of State, calling upon the full panoply of power in his department and all its expertise, to formulate a submission which has gone to his appropriate opposite number in the Federal sphere. It has been a submission from one Minister to another, a submission between equals, but what has been the response? It has not been a response from Canberra by the Minister with the responsibility, but a response from a girl in the office who has signed it on his behalf. This sort of casual disdain is not good enough. This may be a small matter, but it is indicative of an attitude that has been growing. This is simply the tip of the iceberg, and that is all.

The mining dispute has been going on for some considerable time but there have been many other occasions that call for comment. We should look at this matter in the context that there is a growing restlessness about and a growing rejection of fiscal and physical dictatorship from the present Administration. This is obvious in respect of every issue that has been raised in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. This is not an isolated incident.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! I suggest to the honourable member for Riverina that he also is going far beyond the subject matter that is under discussion. This is not a discussion about Commonwealth and State relationships. This is a matter primarily of a betrayal of faith by the Commonwealth Government, lt is related to legislation concerning the territorial seas and the continental shelf and a promise or an agreement made by a Minister of this Government at a particular stage. I do not want the debate to broaden out into a general debate on Commonwealth and State relationships.

Mr GRASSBY - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Let me pose this to you: When you were dealing with the speech of the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) he did point out that what he was trying to do was to put this entire matter in its proper context. It was not an isolated matter; it was part of a whole chain of events in Commonwealth and State relations. If I may explain, I do not intend to debate the subject matter of the various, shall I say, matters of concern to State Ministers. I did want to refer to the nature of the relations which I believe have given rise to this confrontation today. I hope I may be permitted to do that.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Commonwealth and State relationships in general terms have no relevance to the subject matter under discussion.

Mr GRASSBY - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. If you wish, I shall contract to the particular point. I say again that this has been simply part of a pattern. 1 also say that it is not a sufficient excuse for, for example, the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) to come into the debate as. I gather, the one dedicated sincere friend and father confessor of the Prime Minister because he was the only one who took upon himself that role today. He came into the debate with a defence which seemed to me to be the weakest defence of all. He told us that the Prime Minister was a busy man. He told us that the Prime Minister was concerned with the election. We were all concerned with the election; even I was. In addition he was concerned with the turbulence of that period. It seemed to me that in defending his leader on this occasion the honourable member for Evans may well have placed his finger on the essential weakness in this matter because the whole defence of the Prime Minister was that he could have misunderstood, the honourable member for Farrer could have misunderstood, everyone could have misunderstood.

In fact, what the Prime Minister has said is: T do not care who misunderstood what. I do not care what was done before. This is what I intend to do. That is the decision. I have Cabinet backing for it, or at least Cabinet has agreed with me. I intend to go ahead no matter what'.

Surely that is the issue and the defence of the Prime Minister that was put up by the honourable member for Evans was not, I feel, a defence but in fact an indictment because he placed the whole of the responsibility on the Prime Minister. It seems to me, then, that what he is saying is: 'For goodness sake, do not blame the Government. Whatever you do, leave the Government out of this. If you must blame anyone, blame the Prime Minister but do not blame him too much'. This is an incredible situation in which the only firm defence of the Prime Minister has come from the honourable member for Evans in those terms. He knows, as I think we all know, that this matter is part of a pattern of casual disdain for State rights which has been growing. That is the feeling in every State of the nation. That is the feeling to which I, as a former member of the Legislative Assembly in New South Wales, can testify.

We heard the Minister for the Navy with his alibi doing his very best to say that it is all an awful and terrible misunderstanding, but if the misunderstanding is a misunderstanding of the meaning of honour, a misunderstanding associated with the breaking of solemn obligations, of understandings which were entered into freely and should be honoured, if this is regarded as being something of minor importance, then where do we go from here? It was stated by a member of the Opposition during the debate that if every discussion between Ministers and if every matter that has to be dealt with between the Commonwealth and the States must be set down in a legal document signed before a neutral witness, what kind of government will we have in the remaining period of this administration?

There has to be a certain amount of trust in government. Certainly if there is no trust between the Federal Government of one persuasion and every State Government of the same persuasion on a clear matter such as this, then we are running into a period of legislative chaos. We cannot continue on that basis. This is one of the major things before us today. The issue is broad and deep in its ramifications. It is an issue of power and the exercise of power. This is a matter which perhaps has been run away from. But 1 have not yet heard from any of the defenders of the Government's action, and particularly of the Prime Minister any applications of their argument to the exercise of power in this matter.

An attempt has been made to make this a purely personal issue between 2 men. This has been the effect, or the intention - noi the effect certainly, but the intention - of every defending speaker. I come back to the fact that this is an issue of the wielding of power and the way in which it is done. If the honourable member for Farrer has the courage to come into the national forum and say that this is something that he must stand by, the least that we can do is to stand with him. The issue today, 1 feel, is of either standing with a man of honour or accepting dishonour as the price of power.

Mr SWARTZ(Darling Downs- Minister for National Development) [4. 16J - The debate has reached at the present time a stage of repetition, as you have probably noticed, Mr Deputy Speaker. Speaker after speaker on the Opposition side have quoted extracts from the papers which have been tabled and repeated what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and other speakers on that side. I do not doubt that for the time that we must wait for a few members to arrive we will continue to hear some repetition of the remarks of previous speakers.

I wish to refer to one or two points which have been raised by honourable members during the debate and then to try to get back to one or two points of major issue as far as the background to the present situation is concerned. I wish to refer to one or two points which so far have not been covered. First of all. I wish to correct what was said by the Leader of the Opposition and I think was not clearly answered later. I think that the Leader of the Opposition probably misquoted at the time when he quoted from the minutes of a meeting indicating quite clearly that an undertaking was given to hold a further meeting. He said that that meeting was not held. Then his attention was drawn to the fact that he was quoting from the minutes of the March meeting and not the minutes of the September meeting. In case this had not been elaborated clearly for the record. I wish to clarify this point now. The quotation by the Leader of the Opposition was from the minutes of the March meeting. The undertaking that was given then for a further meeting was fulfilled by the meeting that was held in September. I think that the Leader of the Opposition made an honest mistake by quoting as he did, but I think that the record should be clarified in that regard.

The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) referred to the fact that, in the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), no reference was made to the change in the proposed legislation prior to the September meeting, where at that point in time the reference was all to the '3 mile limit, and the low water mark' decision was made subsequently by a Cabinet decision, and is incorporated in the legislation which is before the House at the present time. [ think that the honourable member for Farrer on reflection will acknowledge that the Prime Minister was not dealing with this aspect. He was dealing with the points which have been raised and which are confirmed by the amendment moved by the Opposition today, and which is in the terms of a censure motion in relation to the undertakings which were supposed to have been given and which the honourable member for Farrer believes were given. But the proposals at this time are not relating to the legislation. I will deal with one or two matters in relation to what I told the State Mines Ministers at the meeting that I had with them fairly recently. These matters deal with the situation in regard to the changed proposals for the new legislation.

The honourable member for Farrer also said that the telegrams which I had sent lo the State Mines Ministers had not been sent until a short time before the GovernorGeneral's Speech was made. That, of course, is quite correct. He said that some Ministers did not receive their telegrams before the Speech was made. I believe that there was 1 Minister, namely, the Western Australian Minister, who, because there was a holiday in that State on the Monday and we here did not realise that when the telegrams were sent on the Monday morning, did not receive his telegram until the Tuesday morning. But my understanding is that he did receive it before the GovernorGeneral's Speech was made in Canberra during the Tuesday afternoon. To the best of my knowledge, all the other State Mines Ministers received on the Monday the telegrams that were sent to them. In fact, they did not indicate otherwise when we were having discussions with them later.

The honourable member for Farrer also referred to the fact that he had stated that there would be further meetings with the State Mines Ministers. This was related to the minutes and transcript of the meeting in March 1969. In fact, as has been stated here today, additional meetings were held with the State Mines Ministers. There was a meeting of. the Australian Minerals Council in September, which is covered by the minutes and transcript tabled in the House, and there was a further meeting of State Mines Ministers which I called, which was also attended by the Attorney-General and which was held in Melbourne during March 1 970. 1 will refer more to that meeting in a few minutes.

The honourable member for Farrer also referred to the fact that copies of the Bill and the second reading speech were to be sent to the States, as I had indicated in the rough notes covering my meeting with the State Ministers. I do not know whether it has been stated in the House before, but that has been done. Copies of the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill and of my second reading speech were sent to all the Mines Ministers and '-hey all acknowledged receipt of those documents. When the second Bill, the one in relation to the mining code, is introduced - it should be drafted and available for presentation to the Parliament within the next few weeks - 1 will immediately send copies of it, together with copies of the second reading speech, to the Mines Ministers. I indicated to them that this would be done so that they would have the opportunity to study the 2 Bills and the second reading speeches before they met together again to discuss the matters and to decide on any future action that they wish to take.

The honourable member for Farrer also made reference to some comments that I made in the House recently after he had made his statement. He referred to the part of my speech in which I said that I had not realised that he, the previous Minister for National Development, had such firm views - or had firm views - in relation to the points he raised at a party meeting and subsequently, until after the Cabinet meeting at which the decision in relation to the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill was made. That, of course, is quite correct. But the point I would like to make is that after the submission had been made to Cabinet a Cabinet decision was made, and it was made on the understanding which had been given to Cabinet and which was confirmed by the previous AttorneyGeneral, who is now a member of Cabinet, that the accepted view of the Government was identical with that expressed by the Prime Minister today. So there was no reason for me and for other honourable members at that lime to suspect the strongly held views of the honourable member for Farrer. It was not until he expressed them at a Party meeting here and also in the House, and in discussions with me both privately and in Committee meetings later on, that I understood his feelings in relation to it.

That was the point I was making when I referred to it in the House. The honourable member for Farrer also confirmed this impression that I had when he stated today that he was staggered when he first learned from the Governor-General's Speech of the proposed legislation to be introduced by the Government. At that time, he said, he approached many people in many quarters and clearly stated his position. Of course, we know that he did that and I have already stated that that is the action which he took, but this confirms what I said in my comments the other day which were queried by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) today, namely, that I had not realised the honourable member felt so strongly in relation to it until well after the Cabinet meeting. Indeed, as he has said today, he did not take action to stress his feelings in relation to it until he knew from the Governor-General's Speech what action the Government contemplated and proposed.

There is one point borne out in this and that is that under normal circumstances when there is a change of Ministers within the same Government there is usually a handing over from one Minister to the other. Matters of importance, or matters that should be drawn to the attention of the new Minister, are normally explained at that time. But under the unusual circumstances whereby the honourable member for Farrer had resigned from the Ministry the usual type of changeover operation did not take place. As I said before, I did not have an opportunity of seeing the honourable member or discussing any matters with him subsequent to the first Party meeting in Canberra and when the House met. But 1 will say that subsequent to that I have had many discussions with the honourable member, who is the Chairman of the National Development Committee with which I work very closely; indeed I have attended most of the meetings which have been held since Parliament has been in session. I must say that since then and since I have had the opportunity of discussions with him he has gone out of his way to be helpful to me in relation to many matters concerning my Department.

I still reiterate what I said at the outset, that is. that we did not have an opportunity under the circumstances for any discussions prior to the first Party meeting here and the sitting of the new Parliament. I have stated and I reaffirm that 1 have already met the State Ministers for Mines to discuss matters which are pertinent to this debate. 1 am a firm believer in personal contact in these matters, as I am sure most honourable members are aware, and I will continue this type of contact with the States. T will very shortly be again in contact with the State Ministers for Mines. The next meeting of the Australian Minerals Council, which originally was to be held in May, is arranged to be held, provided Parliament rises in time, about the middle of June in Perth, at which time the opportunity will be taken with all the other Ministers for Mines to view the development in the north west. I merely refer to this to show that there will be continuity of contact through the Minerals Council. So far as I am concerned, as many other opportunities as possible will be taken to maintain the closest possible relationship.

The honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) during his speech today made some statements which 1 feel should be corrected.

He said that the comments I had made in this chamber the other day, and a reference I made earlier today, show that I was positively convinced that the commitment referred to by the honourable member for Farrer and refuted today by the Prime Minister and the previous Attorney-General had been made. He added that the telegrams I sent to the State Ministers indicated confirmation that I was so convinced. I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that is not correct because, as I stated a moment ago, when the Cabinet meeting was held and the submission to honour the undertaking given by the previous Minister was brought forward by me for consideration in Cabinet, the whole of the discussion - of course, 1 cannot refer to the details of a discussion in Cabinet - revolved around the understanding which has been set out by the Prime Minister in his statement today and the opinions which were given by the previous Attorney-General and the present Attorney-General (Mr Hughes). 1 wanted to clarify that particular point in case the honourable member for Lang still misunderstands my position.

The honourable member also said that the Commonwealth went ahead with proposals for the new legislation without telling the States. As I have already said today, we did send telegrams to the individual State Ministers for Mines before the GovernorGeneral made a public announcement on the matter. This was done out of courtesy to ensure that they had the advice before the Governor-General made the announcement; but this was not the introduction of legislation. This was an announcement that the Government intended to introduce this legislation during this session of Parliament.

Before the legislation was introduced, and indeed before the Bill had been finally drafted, we met the State Ministers for Mines and indicated to them exactly what would be in the legislation when the drafting was finalised. In fact we had with us at the time a rough copy of the Bill. We discussed aspects of it with the State Ministers. They are the 3 occasions on which the States were advised that the legislation was to be introduced - not the 3-mile limit legislation but the proposals on the grounds which were stated by the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) a moment ago, and also have been mentioned in this House, and were clearly set out in my second reading speech on the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill. I repeat, it was not on the subject of the 3-mile limit but on the basis of legislating to take sovereignty from the low water mark across the continental shelf. This was clearly set out in the telegrams to which I referred. It was mentioned in the Governor-General's Speech and it was discussed at length - over a whole morning - with the State Ministers on 26th March 1970 in Melbourne. I have mentioned that again to point out the error of the honourable member for Lang in saying that the States had not been advised before we went ahead with the legislation. It is clear that they were in fact advised on 3 separate occasions.

As I pointed out, in addition copies of the Bill and my second reading speech were sent to the State Ministers immediately the Bill was introduced here. A copy of the second Bill and the additional second reading speech will be sent to them immediately they are available. As my time has nearly run out I will need to be brief. I had meant to deal with a few other points but 1 would like now to return quickly to the 2 points Which have been brought out and have been covered today in the alleged misunderstanding that has arisen. The first relates to what has been stated to be an agreement with the States regarding the legislation in relation principally to off-shore minerals. Of course, ali the evidence and the transcript show that there was no such agreement. Secondly the question revolves around arrangements for further discussions before the final decision was made by the Commonwealth. This point was dealt with extensively by the Prime Minister in his statement today. It was clearly covered. I refer to the statement merely because it deals at length with the various aspects of that point.

I again would like to emphasise that the vital undertaking given at that time to submit the States' views to the Commonwealth Cabinet was honoured. I submitted their views, as arranged by the former Minister, at the end of January. Their views were considered very carefully by Cabinet before the final decision about the present legislation was made.

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