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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2924

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(3.17) —Senator Durack has canvassed the questions which were dealt with in the second reading debate. He has indicated that the amendments he has moved would delete the Government's decision, subject to the concurrence of the Senate, to include the Cocos Island residents-Australian residents now-in the Northern Territory. I thought we canvassed the matter fairly widely. Although speakers in the debate took almost an hour to say their piece, I was restricted to less than a quarter of an hour in order to have the second reading dealt with by the luncheon break. I indicated then that the Government's concern was that having brought the Islanders into Australia as Australian citizens, having brought them into the Australian democratic process of elections, the only course of action available to us at this time was to associate them with either the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory. The Government's judgment was that for ethnic, social and other reasons, their interests would be best served if they were part of the Northern Territory.

I indicated that, if the Government feels disposed to take on board the view of the Senate, I felt that the Islanders' first taste of our democratic processes would be when the representatives of the Northern Territory visited them and talked with them. I said that if an expression of opinion subsequently came to the Government the Government would be prepared to look at it.

But to take on board at this stage the Opposition's propositions would be to deny the Islanders that elementary right; that is, the right to vote in the first election to be held once they made that very important and formal decision to seek Australian citizenship, to be incorporated in the Commonwealth of Australia. To that extent I believe we canvassed the arguments fairly well in the second reading debate. I do not think there is much point in developing a long argument in the Committee stage when the Government's view has been accepted by the Australian Democrats as being the only course of action available to it at this time to enable the residents of the Cocos Islands to participate in the elections. If subsequently a case is made out that they want to be incorporated in one of the electorates of Western Australia, I have indicated that the Government's advice will be that that will require not only the consent of the Western Australian Government but also a referendum on the question. The constraints which the amendment seeks to impose upon the Government will disadvantage the hundreds of new electors who have now decided to make themselves part of the Commonwealth of Australia. We want to give them the opportunity to vote in the next Federal elections. So we will oppose the amendments.

Amendments negatived.