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Thursday, 15 October 1964

The PRESIDENT - Order. The time allowed under Standing Order No. 127 for discussion of the business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 1, has expired. The orders of the day will be called on.

Motion (by Senator Paltridge) agreed to -

That consideration of orders of the day be postponed until after the disposal of the business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 1.

Senator McKENNA - I want to pass now to a consideration of the reaction of the various States. The four State Premiers who have replied to the Prime Minister's letter of 6th August have indicated their opposition to what the Government proposes to do. In the case of Tasmania, the objection of the Premier, Mr. Reece, was buttressed last night by a resolution carried unanimously by the House of Assembly. This is what it says -

This House in of the opinion that -

(1)   while recognising that matters affecting air safety and navigation and the control of air space may properly remain within the legislative framework existing before the recent amendments of the Air Navigation Regulations made under the Air Navigation Act 1920-63, nevertheless the licensing of intrastate air services should remain within the sole power of the respective State Governments;

(2)   any assertion by the Commonwealth of a right to legislate by virtue of the external affairs power on matters not otherwise within its powers would constitute an unjustified threat to the traditionally accepted sovereign rights of the States; and

(3)   the State Governments should take all necessary action, including collaboration with the other State Governments, to protect the States against the intrusion of the Commonwealth into spheres hitherto accepted as belonging to the States.

That is a very powerful indication of the strength of feeling in the community, when the rival parties in the State of Tasmania come together in a unanimous resolution of that type. And is it not proper, having regard to the circumstances in which their long standing arrangements with the Commonwealth are thrust overboard without prior consultation?

The whole procedure of this Government is an insult to State Governments. Of course, the Government has been trapped into proceeding precipitately solely through its solicitude and love for the Ansett Transport Industries group. It is an insult to the Constitutional Review Committee, which found that there was not adequate power over civil aviation. What has happened is an insult to this Parliament, because here is a major matter of this type disposed of by executive action, and at a time when the Parliament is not sitting. A matter of this importance and significance should have been dealt with by means of an amendment to the Air Navigation Act itself, when it could have been discussed and ventilated adequately in this Parliament. To do a thing of this nature furtively, as the "Daily Mirror" quite properly said yesterday and with such speed, certainly does create an air of suspicion in the minds of people who do not understand. In this matter the Government has itself to blame - nobody else.

Two Premiers have not replied, but one has made his position completely clear in the Press, if he is correctly reported, namely Sir Thomas Playford, Premier of South Australia Within the last few days he said that he wanted this particular regulation disallowed. He has made his position perfectly clear. He protested at the fact that five years ago he unsuccessfully asked the Commonwealth to allow Trans-Australia Airlines to move into South Australia so that there would be some competition and there would not be preservation of a monopoly. He also indicated that he asked a year ago for the same concession and was refused. Quite obviously he is very bitter and very disturbed about what the Commonwealth Government has done and the way in which it has proceeded in this matter. As to Western Australia, I have no knowledge. I have been informed - I hope reliably - that the Premier of Western Australia is equally opposed to what was done.

Senator Branson - They are meeting in Western Australia on Monday to make a decision.

Senator McKENNA - I have not seen anything from Western Australia myself but I am told that is the view of the Premier of Western Australia also. It would seem that the Commonwealth Government, by its precipitate action, has brought State Governments of all political colours down on its head, and it must be a very great love that would force them along and bring about that result. I would hope that the Commonwealth Government would look at this matter again and do the right thing and the democratic thing and permit these regulations to be disallowed by the Senate. With that done and a Senate election imminent, the Government could put to the people of Australia the question whether power over aviation should be vested in this Parliament. Let the people decide. When the people have decided, State Governments of all complexions and all parties unquestionably will accept the verdict of the people. It could be done at insignificant cost. A Senate election is to be held in the immediate future and rather than have everybody concerned - the States, the Commonwealth and the airline operators - embarking upon protracted litigation that might run indefinitely with heavy fines hanging over the heads of the airline operators, would it not be better to cut the painter now, disallow these regulations and announce that the Commonwealth wants complete power over civil aviation? I assure the Government that if it will do that wholesome and open thing, costing very little in the circumstances of the near Senate election, we of the Opposition will support the Government all the way - and the Australian Labour Party will support the Government all the way - in putting that referendum to the people. That should get the Government at least half way along with the voters of Australia. The Government would have to find very little.

The Commonwealth is not going to get very far for many months with this litigation hanging over our heads and easily the cleanest and quickest way to get this matter resolved is to disallow these regulations, accept the Opposition's offer of a referendum and go to it. I regret that I have had to take so much time in laying the foundations of what I have had to say and leading to the conclusions I have reached. I finish as I began by saying that to quite a degree this is action not authorised by the Constitution and, insofar as there is power in the Government to proceed as it has done, it has acted in a way which is clearly an abuse of Commonwealth power.

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