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Friday, 15 May 1970

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - We are concerned to win the debate and I think we are doing pretty well. We will leave the numbers to the Government because we know that it has enough people to win the vote irrespective of the arguments. We know that the Government has lo win on the numbers. 1 am speaking here for the purpose of winning the debate, not winning the numbers. The Minister can have his say in a moment and then we will see whether he can put up a better case in opposition to what I am saying than the case I am putting. He can leave the debating to me. The new Minister for National Development avoided the issue like the plague. Why did he avoid the issue if there was not some reason to want to avoid it? Not only that. The right honourable gentleman who by accident and fortune is at present the Prime Minister of Australia chose to make a statement in the House this morning in which he too chose to ignore the matter. He chose to make no reference this morning to a change in policy. He chose to make no admission that there had been a change in policy which could have misled both the Minister for National Development and the Ministers of the States. This was completely avoided and ignored.

Of course, the whole thing has come to the surface today simply because of our motion of no confidence in his Government. It is obvious not only that the right honourable gentleman and the new Minister for National Development had something to hide but that they deliberately chose to hide it. What they chose to hide was that their own then Minister for National Development had made a commitment or had given an undertaking - call it what you like - to the Ministers of the States.

It was the policy of the Government at the time, so it must have been a commitment. If it was the policy of the Government at the time to share control of these waters with the States in some way - a way open to debate and discussion - then the honourable member for Farrer must have put it to the Ministers of the States in his discussions with them. He had no alternative but to do that. Now it is admitted that since he did it there has been a change of policy or a change of position from the one that was occupied by the honourable member for Farrer. Everything that he has said in this House since he first spoke has been confirmed up to the hilt by the amendment that was moved this afternoon by the Government. 1 want to sum up what 1 have to say. Not only was this the dishonouring of an agreement made with the State Ministers by the honourable member for Farrer as Minister for National Development in this Government in March 1969 and in September 1969 to the effect that there would be a sharing of responsibility between the States and the Commonwealth. Nobody thought of anything else until the indication came from the High Court that powers were different. That was in August. Not only was this the dishonouring of an agreement for a certain kind of law or a certain kind of regime. It was also the dishonouring of an agreement to go back and discuss that - and, most vitally, to go back and discuss if there was to be a change of policy. If the Minister is going to preside over a government that will dishonour agreements in this way once, he will dishonour agreements again.

This was also the use of centralised power. It was an arrogant act by a man who has been responsible for several arrogant acts on other occasions. It was the act of a man who will come in and make a decision because he has become convinced that that decision is right, no matter what his colleagues - whether they be in his Government or in some of the State governments - might happen to say. He is priding himself upon this. He is priding himself upon being such a man.

Of course, the judgment has to be made on this matter and I would not expect political supporters whose retention of their seats depends upon backing their party to allow these things to have the faintest influence upon their decisions, even when they take self-righteous positions on moral grounds, or on always being independently minded men, as the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) does. But every time he has to put his vote up to test that, he goes to water. Not only do I say that this is the case-

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