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Friday, 15 May 1970


Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - We now have a motion and an amendment before the House. The motion was moved by the Opposition as a motion of no confidence in the Government, the strongest and most fundamental motion that can he moved against a government in a parliament. We have an amendment which is presumably something less than that, and which was described by the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) a few minutes ago as not black but purple. The amendment is not a vote of no confidence in the Government hut it is a censure of the Government. The House has an alternative now, either to vote for no confidence in the Government or to vote for an amendment which is a significant criticism of the Government and a significant censure of the Government. The amendment was moved by the Government itself. We have had a very remarkable situation today. After a debate that has been over 12 hours in duration we now have the Government moving a censure of itself. We have the Government moving an amendment which is a very significant criticism of itself. The motion of want of confidence was accepted this morning by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) as a motion of censure against the Govern men t and he said he would meet it head on. It was a matter of whether the interpretation given to events by the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) or that given by the Prime Minister was correct. The Prime Minister accepted it as a motion which was to test that proposition. But during the course of the day there have been changes.

The Prime Minister no longer wants that proposition to be tested because it was obvious that the honourable member for Farrer was going to vote against him, probably the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson) was going to vote against him and the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) was going to vote against him. Nobody was quite sure how the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) was going to vote although later he said that despite the fact that he agreed completely with the version of the honourable member for Farrer he was still going to vote for the Government. I understand that nobody at all m the House had the faintest idea what the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) was going to do. So in this condition of very great uncertainty in which the future of the Gorton Government was teetering on the brink conferences took place in the Prime Minister's room and in the Cabinet room during the course of the whole afternoon. During the course of the whole afternoon today the Gorton Government was at the brink of disaster and was dependent on the votes of 3 or 4 people who were worked on in various ways during the course of the afternoon. We saw several versions of a motion brought in to the honourable member for Casey. We saw him shake his head and look unco-operative. We saw the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) go and speak to him. Then the honourable member for Casey went away with the honourable member for Chisholm. During the course of the whole afternoon the future of the Gorton Government was in doubt. Now we have the alternative of a censure which has been moved by the Government itself. How has this remarkable situation come about?

The discovery of oil and minerals off the coast of Australia created the necessity for legislation and a constitutional problem arose. It was a matter of whether the States or the Commonwealth should pass laws of certain kinds, which of the 2 sets of government was to have all authority in which areas, what were to be the limits and what Was to be the nature of the legislation. So it was obvious that discussions would have to take place between the States and the Commonwealth and those discussions took place. At first the position of the States was that they claimed to be responsible for the area from the low water mark to a position 3 miles out, leaving the Commonwealth responsible for the area beyond the 3-mile limit. Discussions have taken place. Mutual legislation was envisaged to take place between the 2 sets of government. There was to be mirrored legislation, and then something happened. There was the contradiction between the position of the States and the Commonwealth and that difference had to be worked out. From the very beginning until about, perhaps, November 1969 the control of the territorial sea was a matter that was to be shared between the Commonwealth and the States. That was the position that the honourable member for Farrer understood. That was the position that he put to the State Ministers in March and in September and that was the position that everybody in the Government understood. If that undertaking given by the honourable member for Farrer was not a commitment I do not know what a commitment is. That was the undertaking given by the honourable member for Farrer as the Minister for National Development to the State Ministers in those 2 conferences. I submit that that was done just as clearly in the second conference attended by the Attorney-General as it was at the first conference. This is borne out in detail by the speech of the honourable member for Farrer in this House last Friday. Of course that was the position, and everybody knew that was the position. If this is not a commitment - if this is not something that meets the meaning of that word in the Opposition's motion of censure - then I do not know what a commitment would be. What was the position has been established by practically every honourable member who has spoken during the day, but the point that apparently is coming into doubt is whether this was a commitment.

What happened, of course, was that there was a change of policy. Somewhere about August of last year in a case that did not have anything in particular to do with this series of discussions - a case that was mentioned by the honourable member for Farrer last Friday - 2 judges indicated that the Commonwealth had authority from the low water mark out indefinitely. This, of course, established a position that the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) were able immediately to take advantage of, and there was a change of policy, as they call it. But the honourable member for Farrer, the former Minister for National Development, had given an undertaking to the State Ministers for Mines that was based upon a different policy. He had given what we claim to be a commitment. Then there was a change of policy. That is all. just a change of policy; not a change of commitment, not a breaking of any undertaking, not a breaking of any promise to the State Ministers - a change of policy. Some honourable members have been persuaded, because of the semantic twist that has been given to words, to change their attitude. Half a dozen of them were committed to the honourable member for Farrer because, they said, he was a man of integrity who would not tell a lie or give a false impression. And 1 believe that to be true. They were committed to him because they thought that what he said to the State Ministers was the Government's policy at the time and was a commitment, surely, in anybody's language. But then along came the clever men who suggested some semantic differences. They have moved an amendment and have said that this was not a change of commitment, it was a change of policy. The gentlemen who apparently were taking strong positions during the course of the day have gone to water. They have taken weak positions. But I submit that the situation has not changed. I submit that the former Minister for National Development made a commitment to the State Ministers, and this they understood. It was a commitment that there would be a division of responsibility between the 2 sets of government. That was the policy of the Government up to mat point. A commitment was made on that policy as clearly as a commitment has ever been made on any policy.

But then there was a change. Since November 1969 the position has changed fundamentally. The Commonwealth decided not merely to take control beyond the 3-mile mark and leave the innerwaters to the States, as it might have been proceeding to do up to that point, but to go further, and under the legislation that was introduced info the House by the present . Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) will take control of the lot. What a change in policy that was. How can anyone claim, in any degree of honesty, that there was not a change of commitment? How can anyone suggest that this is not a fundamental change of policy? The Commonwealth was going to share with the States control of the waters, but now the Commonwealth is going to take control of all the waters. This is not only a change of policy but a change of commitment - a twist, a breaking of an undertaking.

The significant factor really is: How did this come about. There was a change of policy. The Prime Minister may have been mainly responsible for this, but he did not go to the State Ministers and say: 'Look, we have decided for very good reason that we are going to change our policy. The position is not the same now as it was when the Minister for National Development met you in September and March. The position now is not the same as it was then. It has changed'. He did not even do the natural thing. Certainly the honourable member for Farrer, as the Minister for National Development, must have given those Ministers an impression, an undertaking. I can quote his own words in September to the effect that there would be further discussions, and not only about policy as the Ministers at that time .thought it to be. Had the then Minister for National Development known that the Government intended to change the whole arrangement and take control of all the waters, what would he have said to those Ministers in September 1969? What would he have said if he had known that there was to be a complete change? This is the biggest piece of humbug and political dishonesty that I have seen during my time in this House, and I have seen a few instances of that from the other side of the House in that time.

The Prime Minister does not decide to have a discussion with State Ministers. He decides a couple of days or 1 day before the announcement is to be made in the Governor-General's Speech to send them some telegrams. I understand that one of them did not even receive the telegram until after he had heard the statement in th Governor-General's Speech. Is that the way to treat Ministers from the States? Is that the way to keep whatever it was that the Minister for National Development had established with them - this thing that the Government now says is not a commitment but merely the subject of a change of policy?

Then we have another series of remarkable events. There has been a stark fundamental change in policy. One would think that some attempt would have been made to explain this, if not to the Ministers directly, then certainly by the new Minister for National Development who apparently did not even talk to the former Minister for National Development until Parliament reassembled during the course of 1970. What kind of a breakdown in communications was that? Then the new Minister for National Development made a long speech which is recorded in Hansard of 16th April 1970. Not one word does he say about this. These are the opening remarks in his speech:

The object of this Bill is lo carry out the Government's decision, concisely stated by His Excellency the Governor-General-

I interpose here, for the first time ever - in his Speech at the opening of the present session, to introduce legislation asserting and establishing the exclusive right of the Commonwealth to exercise sovereign control over the resources of the sea bed off the Australian coast, from the low water mark to the outer limits of the continental shelf.

There was a complete and fundamental change in policy, and the new Minister does not even consider it necessary to explain to the House that such a change in policy has taken place. He does not even consider it necessary to say in this speech whether he had informed the State Ministers that there had been this change. He does not even consider it necessary to make any reference to the position occupied by his predecessor - a position whether it was regarded as a commitment or not, a position that was diametrically opposed to this. Is that not so?


Mr Hulme - Your two Western Australians have just arrived.







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