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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1719


That this House censures the Minister for Minerals and Energy for his gross abuse of power in relation to the New South Wales power dispute.

This censure motion stands on 3 grounds: The misleading of this Parliament by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) - and it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that he misled this Parliament deliberately - the Minister's abuse of authority, and the attempts of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to cover tracks in relation to the dispute. It is necessary to recall that the power dispute in New South Wales began in about 1971 when the 35-hour week case first went to the State Industrial Commission. Over 20 unions were involved. A 35-Hour Week Committee was established. It was formed by the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council but a Mr Jack Syme claims to control 30 of the 50 members of the 35-Hour Week Committee. That claim appeared in the 'Australian' in June of this year. I am also advised that Mr Syme is a member of the Communist Party of Australia, and that has not been denied. The Industrial Commission rejected the claim for a 35-hour week because there was no cause for it. As a result there was reduced output and there were restrictions causing difficulty in New South Wales.

The matter was referred, for a second time, to the Industrial Commission on revised terms. A few days ago the Commission again said that there was no cause for a 35-hour week in that industry, and the State Government has upheld that decision. But there were significant power cuts throughout New South Wales a few days before the actual report of the Commission came down. This was industrial blackmail, it was in breach of an agreement, and the shortages of power, the cuts and the hardship have continued ever since. The strike is partly over hours, but it was stimulated by this Government's statements concerning a 35-hour week for the Commonwealth Public Service, although I cannot understand what justice there is in saying, as the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) says: 'You can have a 35-hour week if you are in a capitalintensive industry, but you must have a 40-hour week in a labour-intensive industry'. But this strike is also over the control of the power generation equipment in New South Wales, and Ron Ross, secretary of the 35-Hour Week Committee has made that claim in the Communist Tribune' of 28 August.

It is against this background of striking against 2 decisions of the Industrial Commission or striking for worker control of the power generation equipment in New South Wales that we need to examine the role of the Minister for Minerals and Energy. On 26 September the Minister was charged with secretly directing the Snowy Mountains Council to produce power only in accordance with the dictates of the 35-Hour Week Committee. I have given the origins of that Committee, and that directive quite plainly gave control of the Snowy Mountains Tumut operating station to the 35-Hour Week Committee and took it out of the control of the Snowy Mountains Council. The Minister was charged with supporting the striking power unions against the Industrial Commission of New South Wales, against the Government of New South Wales and against the people of New South Wales. These charges have been proved by the letter that the Minister wrote to Mr Reiher, Deputy Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Council, on 24 September. I shall again read the letter that the Minister wrote:

I write to confirm the direction I conveyed to you by telephone at about 4 p.m. yesterday to the effect that the Snowy Mountains Council should operate the permanent works of the Authority in a manner that does not run counter to the intentions of the 35-Hour Week Committee unless, in so doing, the personnel associated with the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and/or the equipment and permanent works of the Authority, are endangered.

The letter was signed by the Minister for Minerals and Energy and written on his own notepaper. He has not denied that he gave that direction. He has not denied that he gave over the control of the Snowy Mountains power stations and the Tumut system to the 35-Hour Week Committee. But he tried to hide it until it became quite plain that he could hide it no longer.

On 26 September, in answering the initial charges, the Minister said that he had never at any time been approached by any representative of the trade unions in this matter. This was subsequently proved to be false. He said that he had been telephoned by one of the engineers from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority and told that the Blowering was overflowing. This was subsequently proved not to be the main substance of the telephone conversation he had with Mr Douglas, the Chief Operational Engineer. In that first debate it was hard for this House to understand why the Minister should say that he had told the engineer to speak to the trade unions because that was the first mention of the trade unions in this matter.

The Minister tried to say that all his actions and everything that had been done had been done because of concern with flooding. That was false, as the letter and the directive have shown. The reply was but designed to show that the flooding alone was the cause of the Minister's action. That was misleading. I believe that it could only have been deliberately misleading. For example, he said that each day water is spilling over the Blowering which could irrigate 44,000 acres. The Blowering has filled in substance on 9 or 10 days alone. That is certainly not every day. In the first debate there was no mention of the industrial demands which the Minister mentioned on a later occasion. There was no mention of the directive and the substance of the directive that the Minister had given to the Snowy Mountains Council. He deliberately led the Parliament down a false path.

On 27 September, during question time, some of the truth was revealed. It became clear that Mr Douglas, the Snowy Mountains engineer, had rung because of industrial requests and not really because of flooding. The Snowy Mountains Council is competent. It does not need the Minister's help over a routine matter like the control of flooding and spills from Blowering. Mr Douglas was in fact representing the views of unions to the Minister. Therefore the Minister's statement that he had never been approached by the unions was a false claim. The suggestion that he was rung because of flooding was false. He was rung because of industrial demands - because of an unusual circumstance which took the matter out of the normal run of the operations of the Snowy Mountains Council.

On 27 September this House understood for the first time that the emergency meeting of the Snowy Mountains Council held on Sunday, 23 September, was held because of industrial union demands. The Council reacted in the proper way and made a decision to produce normal power. That, of course, led to the directive from the Minister which the Minister sought to keep secret. On 27 September the Minister said that irrespective of the decisions of the Council he would do what he wanted.

That was the first indication from him that there might have been some directive to the Council. He was still misleading the House and not coming clean with what he had in fact done. He said, in answer to questions later, that the union demands did not matter. But the directive only mentioned union demands. It mentioned nothing about flooding, for flooding again was a routine matter with which the Council was fully competent to deal, not needing the interference of the Minister.

I am advised that this directive is the first directive ever to have been made in these terms by any Minister to the Snowy Mountains Council. It is an abuse of power and a misleading of this House which should be condemned. In fact, the Minister said in the House on 27 September that the unions' demands were reasonable. He went on to say that the professional engineers were not going to be used as agents provocateurs. Again, this statement revealed part of the truth for the first time. If the Minister had not issued this directive and if the Snowy Mountains Council had operated as it ought to have operated and then, as a result, there was a strike and possible stand-downs in the Snowy MountainsTumut power stations, professional engineers from the Snowy Mountains Authority or from New South Wales could have kept the system going. The Minister knew this and he knew quite well that this would weaken the 35-Hour Week Committee in NSW. Therefore, he was determined to see that it did not happen.

So during question time on 27 September we learned for the first time of the union demands that had been conveyed to the Minister some days before by Mr Douglas and we learned that the Minister would do what he wanted irrespective of the decision of the Snowy Mountains Council. That implied that there had been a directive, although the Minister did not say it. Also, we learned that the Minister thought the unions' demands were reasonable. And that, if the unions were not to operate the power stations, professional engineers would. The Minister would not have a bar of it. That was the explanation he gave during the debate on a matter of public importance on 26 September. It was thin, false and misleading. He tried to suggest to the House that flooding was the only cause of what the Minister had done. But a reading of the directive of 27 September proved that what the Minister had said was false and proved that the directive had been given because of the union demands and not because of flooding. Later, during the adjournment debate that night, the Minister virtually admitted it.

At this moment, the Blowering Reservoir is not flooding or spilling. I am advised that there is no evidence of flooding below the dam. The Minister for Immigration, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby), sent a telegram to his constituents indicating his weakness. He urged them to send telegrams to the Minister for Minerals and Energy complaining about what was happening. The Minister for Immigration, who is a member of Cabinet, revealed by that action his importance in this place. The Minister for Minerals and Energy would listen to him only if he received a few hundred - perhaps a few thousand - telegrams from the constituents of the Minister for Immigration but would not listen to the Minister speaking alone and on his own account, I would like to know how many telegrams were sent out of the Minister's office and paid for at Government expense in regard to this operation. In any case, I have also been advised by the Snowy Mountains Authority that there is plenty of water for the full entitlement of all the irrigators during the 1973-74 season and that the water stands in the reservoir in a comparable position to previous years. The position is much better than some earlier years - for example, 1968 and 1969.

However, that situation - the supply of water, the protection of irrigators, the control of flooding - is well within the understanding, competence and control of the Snowy Mountains Council without this Minister's interference. There is no need for him to intervene because of flooding. That is routine. But giving in to the demands made by the power unions is not routine. A Minister has to give in to them to make sure that the strike against the New South Wales Government and people is more effective than it might otherwise have been. This is an abuse of power. It is an act undertaken secretly on the side of the power unions against industrial law, the Industrial Commission and the New South Wales Government, because it is a Liberal-Country Party Government. But more particularly, it is an act against the people of New South Wales who are being hurt grievously.

The Minister is an agent of the 35-Hour Week Committee within the Cabinet itself. He is an agent of the committee led by Mr Jack Syme of the Communist Party of Australia, a committee which he claims to control. He has said that publicly. The directive was an abdication of authority because it gave control of the Snowy Mountains Authority to the power unions. The Minister who thinks this and the hardship involved in New South Wales are amusing matters should well know of the consequences of his decision. He stands directly responsible for it.

The role of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in this matter is well worth mentioning. Firstly, he said that the Commonwealth had no right to intervene. He said this at a Press conference on 25 September after the Minister for Minerals and Energy had intervened. The record stands for anyone to see. The Minister had intervened already. Either there had been no communication with the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister had connived at the action of the Minister for Minerals and Energy in misleading the House. On 4 October the Prime Minister offered a Federal judge to New South Wales as a smokescreen to try to overcome this problem. In clarification a further telegram was sent to the Premier of New South Wales by the Prime Minister which indicated the importance, the harmful effects, and the effects on inflation but then went on to say: there can be no suggestion that the Federal Judge would review the decision of the State Government or the State Commission.

In other words the Prime Minister in his second telegram on this subject to the Premier of New South Wales was supporting the decision of New South Wales and the decision of the State Industrial Commission. Therefore, what purpose could there be in any federal judge being involved in this matter except to create a smoke screen over the activities of the Minister for Minerals and Energy whose activities, whose directive and whose misleading of this House the Prime Minister learned about after the event? Why else would he have made that offer?

There are other matters. There have been other communications between the State Government and this Government. Yesterday morning the bans were reimposed on the Tumut stations. The bans are still imposed on the Tumut power stations as a directive of the 35-Hour Week Committee. The production of those power stations yesterday morning and this morning is running at 200 megawatts, a mere fraction of the capacity of the system and adding greatly to the difficulties in New South Wales. The Premier in a letter yesterday to the Prime Minister, which has not yet been answered, said that in an endeavour to eliminate serious effects to industrial production caused by unscheduled and widespread disruption of electricity supply to factories and to avoid blackouts to domestic users and some important essential services such as smaller hospital and convalescent homes, the New South Wales Government has introduced power rationing. He said that, however, power stations had arbitrarily reduced output yesterday morning below that being supplied over the weekend and operators of the Tumut power stations also restricted their output in an endeavour to cause load shedding and to thwart the Government's efforts to maintain orderly supply arrangements. The Premier was strongly urging the Prime Minister personally to act in this matter and as a matter of urgency to take action to cause the Prime Minister's colleague, the Minister for Minerals and Energy, to withdraw his directive issued on 23 September and put in writing on 24 September requiring the Snowy Mountains Council to act in conformity with the wishes and dictates of the power unions.

If the Prime Minister has any credibility in this matter, if he seriously wishes to overcome this strike he should see that the Minister for Minerals and Energy removes his directive, which is running counter to industrial law and counter to the interests and concern of the people of New South Wales. That is one action that the Prime Minister, who is reported to have wanted to give the Minister for Minerals and Energy another job but the Minister refused, in this particular instance will not take because he cannot take it as he has not the power or the authority to act upon it in that way. Again, if the Prime Minister wanted to be concerned about solving industrial disputes that are causing grievous harm he could do something about the radio technicians strike in New South Wales which has shut Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport and is running the risk of shutting other airports. That industrial dispute is on his desk. It is a Commonwealth Public Service matter. Between 60 and 90 radio technicians have been involved. There are disciplinary powers which the Public Service Board would not use without the approval of the Prime Minister of the Government. Those powers have not been used and it looks as if Sydney airport will be closed indefinitely. If the Goverment were not prepared to use those powers or if the strike continued there would certainly be technicians-

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