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Friday, 15 May 1970

Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - I rise, agreeing with what the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) has said about the way in which this debate has been handled. I hope to handle it in much the same way. However, I think he only needs to read the amendment moved to know against whom the allegations are made. For that purpose I shall read the amendment which was moved to the motion by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) mat the paper be noted.

The amendment reads:

That the following words be added to the motion: 'and that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they 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 seas and continental shelf.

The opening words are the words which indicate who is being censured. Those words are: 'that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they failed to honour a commitment'. I believe that this question needs to be brought into context. I believe that, if we examine it as an isolated incident- as one occasion on which the veracity of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet has come into question - we fail to see the thing in its true perspective. I believe that one of the colleagues of the Prime Minister has been treated in exactly the same way as former colleagues and present colleagues have been treated in the past. I remember very well the way in which my predecessor was repudiated by the Prime Minister purely for the purpose of mollifying the opposition being received from the Democratic Labor Party and to gain the support of that Party in the last federal election. This was the way in which he treated a loyal and faithful colleague, and that was no isolated incident.

We remember that the former Minister for Defence, Mr Fairhall, found it necessary to resign and gave as his ground ill health. When pressed, he said that one has on occasions to tell slight untruths to save a cause. That man resigned because of the stand taken by the Prime Minister and because of the way in which he felt he had been affronted. He felt that he had been repudiated and not taken into the confidence of the Prime Minister. Then of course we had the announcement after the federal election in November last year that the Treasurer had been sacked.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I have allowed some latitude to the honourable member, but this debate has been kept on a very high plane throughout. All honourable members on both sides of the House have kept to the amendment that has been moved. I would remind the honourable member that the amendment before the House is specific and I suggest that he come back to the amendment if he wishes to continue speaking.

Mr KIRWAN - Yes, Sir. However 1 believe that to get the amendment into context we need to see that this is not an isolated incident.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I again remind the honourable member that the amendment is specific. 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

It does not deal with any other matter.

Mr KIRWAN - Yes, Sir. We have had illustrated and demonstrated here throughout this day that the matter before us is one in which a former Minister has stated quite categorically that he gave an undertaking to State Ministers and Premiers and that he had no doubt that that undertaking was given and that it was understood. That has been supported by State Ministers and State Premiers. We have against that the explanation given by the Prime Minister in which he plays with words, takes sentences out of context, and tries to show by a close examination of the wording of those sentences that something was meant other than what appears even from a careful reading.

I believe that the Parliament has had demonstrated to it in this matter that is before the House the unfitness of the Prime Minister for the office which he holds. I find myself in rather strange company in asserting this. One would expect that the Australian Labor Party, the Opposition in this place, would make assertions of this kind and that the Australian Labor Party would be alone in supporting the amendment that has been moved; yet that is not so. I find myself in the same company as Mr Fairbairn, Mr Dudley Erwin, Mr Kevin Cairns and the State Executives of the Queensland branch of the Liberal Party of Australia. At one time or another those people and this organisation have said that they cannot serve under the Prime Minister because they cannot accept his word and he does not enjoy their confidence. If you had allowed me to continue along the lines to which I adverted earlier, Sir, I would have been able to show that the issue before the House is a further incident in a chain of incidents which are in keeping with one another and which deserve the support of honourable members opposite for the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) on behalf of the Opposition.

I appeal to members of the Government parties to examine the statement made by the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) last Friday as well as the statement he made today. He said in quite deliberate terms that an undertaking was given to the States and that they understood fully that further discussions would take place before any legislation was introduced in this Parliament. That would be the understanding of anybody in this country. It has been pointed out that on other occasions the introduction of certain legislation into this Parliament has been delayed for 3 years because it has had to be hammered out between the States and the Commonwealth. The reason for the delay was that the discussions in connection with that legislation had to be brought to a conclusion before it could be introduced. It is only natural that before legislation which affects the States is introduced into this Parliament discussion would take place with the States in connection with it and that discussion would be carried through to its conclusion. What sort of situation would arise if legislation were permitted to be introduced into this Parliament upon which considerable and detailed discussion between the Commonwealth and the States had still to be had. This discussion could culminate in the need to introduce amendments to the legislation as different stages are reached in the discussion?

Is the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill to be passed by the Parliament and then a few months later when agreement is reached with, say, Western Australia about a particular point will an amendment be moved? When agreement is reached with, say, Queensland after further discussion will a further amendment be introduced? The Prime Minister and the Government know that these things are cleared up before the legislation is introduced. They would know also that this would be in the minds of the Ministers for Mines and the Premiers of the various States. Those people would know that if further discussions were foreshadowed they would take place before the legislation is introduced into the Parliament and becomes law.

I believe that the House is debating a matter of great importance. It is a matter which tests whether we believe as individuals and as members of the Parliament in maintaining what has been described by the honourable member for Farrer as standards of old fashioned morality. This debate will decide whether these standards are to be the hallmark of government or whether we will have to resort to the situation which has been referred to by some honourable members of taking along an army of lawyers to ensure that each word and each phrase is the cause of no doubt whatsoever. Each phrase and each word will have to be defined before any agreement can be reached and before any progress can be made. That would be a most regrettable stage to be reached in the public life of this nation. Honourable members opposite, especially those who pride themselves upon their moral standards, should think hard and long before they vote against the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson. What is required is not that they should abstain from voting but that they should support the Opposition. The Opposition stands to protect the morality of this country, to see that it is seen to be protected and honoured, and to see that we do not take yet a further step away from morality, integrity, truth and good faith. These things of which some honourable members opposite speak so often are now being put to the vote. Those members are morally bound to cross the floor and vote with the -Opposition on this occasion. I believe the people of Australia would expect their members of Parliament to support the amendment and to see that the Parliament is protected and that honour, integrity and good faith are maintained and carried forward in this nation.

In conclusion I repeat that I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson. I believe that in the circumstances he has had no choice but to move it. Honourable members ought to show that the stage has not been reached where we play on words to get ourselves out of situations but that we stand by the agreements that we make between one government and another.

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