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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1728

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - Mr Speaker, I second the motion moved by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that the House censure the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) because he has abused his power in relation to the New South Wales power dispute and has deceived the House in the information that has been provided to it. All the tabling of documents today, massive as they may be, will not clear up some of the misinformation, the misleading information, that he deliberately gave to this House.

I was unceremoniously removed from this chamber just before the sittings of the House were interrupted 10 days ago. But this action was the culmination of one week's effort to try to obtain information from the Minister regarding his involvement with the Snowy Mountains Council in the New South Wales power strike. An attempt by the honourable member for Wannon to have a document tabled failed to reveal the information that the Minister had given a direction to the Snowy Mountains Council to conform with the wishes of the 35-Hour Week Committee. When we moved a procedural motion on Thursday 27

September the Minister did not respond. He ducked the issue. No papers were tabled then. Today we have had to use one of the most extreme measures to try to get the tabling of some documents. But I am afraid it is too late because it is quite obvious that this Minister has little respect for this Parliament. Today he has shown that there was complicity between the 35-Hour Week Committee and himself. He does not deny that he was involved with the trade unions. He has given in to this industrial power.

The motion now before the House is a very serious one. But it is not only members of this place who are concerned. The Melbourne Age', which is more patient than most other newspapers, last week eventually came to the conclusion that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) must be wondering how much longer the Minister for Minerals and Energy can be safely left to rampage in the corridors of power. This is a question which every member of this House must ask himself today. It is certainly, as the 'Age' suggests, a question which the Prime Minister must ponder on very deeply. We have heard about a Cabinet reshuffle. Surely if there is anywhere there should be a reshuffle - not just a change of portfolio but a dismissal - it is in the case of the Minister for Minerals and Energy. The Australian people must ask themselves whether it is good enough for vital industries of this nation to be under the control of a Minister who is so out of control. The Minister's fitness to continue to hold his portfolio must be seriously questioned.

Again, as the 'Age' says, no Minister has contributed so consistently and offensively to the decline in the Government's international reputation, national confidence and public goodwill. It is perhaps not very serious when he throws things about in this House, or when he insults mining industry leaders, or when he makes childish and petulant remarks about the Press, or rips clocks off walls. These things, however undesirable, can perhaps be overlooked as the expression of a person's own idiosyncracies. But when great and vital national industries, the national interest and the well-being of the Australian people are placed in jeopardy by a marauding, uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable Minister, the time has come for some pretty serious thinking. Today we are looking closely at this Minister's involvement in the

New South Wales power dispute and the administration of the Snowy Mountains Council. In doing so we must ask whether he has acted with the propriety that is expected of a Minister of the Crown. What we are concerned about is not only the abuse of this power by a Minister of the Crown; the overriding issue is the manner in which the Minister for Minerals and Energy has explained, or not explained, to this House his actions and decisions. The truthfulness of his explanations also is under challenge. I have come to the conclusion that the truth is not contained in the explanations given by the Minister here today. His explanations are not wholly untruthful but they are at least a real manipulation of the truth.

Let us look at the events leading up to the Minister's intervention in the New South Wales power dispute, including some matters which have not been made public, and certainly they had not been made public by the Minister until today. The 5,000 employees of the New South Wales Electricity Commission recently renewed their application to the State Industrial Commission for a 35-hour week. Following rejection of this request by the Commission the 35-hour Week Committee of the New South Wales Labour Council resolved to reduce progressively the output of power stations, and in Sydney there were some blackouts on the night of 23 September. Speaking on television on the night of 23 September the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) said that he supported a 35-hour week for the power industry. The 35-hour Week Committee soon intensified its activities and severe power restrictions occurred in New South Wales. In the New South Wales Parliament on 3 October the New South Wales Minister for Power said that the Electricity Commission was drawing on supplies from the Snowy Mountains in a bid to minimise serious hardship throughout the State. New South Wales had used 80 per cent of its power entitlement from the Snowy up until the end of September. Meanwhile, industrial trouble had spread to the Snowy Mountains power stations. Mr Jeffrey of the 35-Hour Week Committee had gone there to organise industrial action. On 23 September there was a telephone discussion between the Deputy Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Council, Mr Reiher, and members of the Council concerning the operations of the scheme. Council members had been informed that the work force had decided to limit production from the scheme. The decision of the Council was to the effect that it would require the work force to operate the scheme in accordance with the Council's requirements and that it would not accept a situation where the work force limited production to less than its requirements.

According to the Minister for Minerals and Energy, he was telephoned at 12.15 on the day before the Council's decision - Saturday, 22 September - and was told by one of the engineers of the Snowy Mountains Authority that the Blowering Dam was overflowing, and was asked what should be done. According to the Minister, he told this engineer that he should point out the position to the unions concerned. The Minister came to Canberra the following day - Sunday, 23 September - to meet officers of the Authority and to establish what was the position. No doubt he would have been told about the industrial dispute, the demands of the 35-hour Week Committee and the decision of the Council, but we were told none of these facts last week. The next development was that at 4 p.m. on that day the Minister phoned the Deputy Chairman of the Council, Mr Reiher. te tell him that the Snowy Mountains Council should operate the permanent works of the Authority in a manner that did not run counter to the intentions of the 35-hour Week Committee. He followed this up with a confirmatory letter next day, a copy of which has been made public by the honourable member for Wannon. That was the only way we could get the information.

Those are the facts of the situation. Let us now see how they line up with what the Minister has told this House. As I said earlier, the Minister said that he was told that the Blowering Dam was overflowing. He went on to say in the House on 26 September that Blowering was full because of consistently high energy demands of the New South Wales Electricity Commission. He painted a graphic picture of the huge overflows from the Dam and talked about flooding. He related this to the fact that Lake Eucumbene was 50 per cent empty to keep up the supply of power and that if the overflow from the Blowering Dam continued there would a shortage of water for irrigation.

The explanation simply does not hold up. If it is not a deliberate untruth it is at least a distortion of the truth. Let us consider the facts one at a time. Lake Eucumbene is at present 54 per cent full, which is target level.

The level is purposely kept down so that the dam can cope with wet seasons. On a number of occasions - not two previous occasions as the Minister suggested - it has been as low as at present. The Minister is not correct. It has never been intended to keep the dam full. So the Minister's use of this matter is exposed as phony.

Secondly, there is no cause for alarm about the overflow of Blowering. It overflowed only for a very brief period and did no harm. The rules adopted by the New South Wales Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission allow for a discharge from Blowering through the power station or irrigation valves at a rate of 3,000 cusecs. If flows occur over the spillway on Blowering the release through the power station or the irrigation valves is reduced accordingly. In a situation of some emergency there is scope for marginal change in these releases. Following a meeting of the Snowy Mountains Council on 26 September to consider this matter, arrangements were made for the total flow past Blowering to be raised to 3,100 cusecs. This increase does not create flood conditions along the Tumut River. The river level at the Tumut River pumping station was 4 feet 8 inches on 25 September and 5 feet on 5 October.

Thirdly, there has been no question that there will be inadequate water supplies for the Mumimbidgee Irrigation Area. Lake Victoria is full, the Hume Reservoir is full and the Menindee Lakes scheme is full. Blowering and Burrinjuck are full and Lake Eucumbene is at target level. With these water reserves, high rates of power generation could be maintained for 12 months or even for 2 years without concern over irrigation supplies. To put it bluntly, this whole tactic of scaremongering on irrigation supplies was used by the Minister, and supported in a most unscrupulous way by the Minister for Immigration, in an attempt to hide his real motive which was to support the blackmail tactics of the New South Wales trade unions. The real issue is that the documentary evidence shows that the Minister on the afternoon of 23 September told the Deputy Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Council to obey the demands of the people running the New South Wales power dispute. On that day the Deputy Chairman had been in telephone discussion with the members of the Council and they had decided to stand firm against the trade unions. The direction given by the Minister meant that the Council was overridden. More importantly, it also meant that in effect the 35-Hour Week Committee, with the connivance of the Minister, was running the operations of the Snowy Mountains scheme.

What the Minister said to this House on 26 September was completely irrelevant and completely misleading. This whole matter is now exposed for what it is - a direct and illegal intervention by the Minister in a State industrial matter. This is the unvarnished fact and the unclouded truth. It is clear that the Minister has completely misled the House in his explanation of his activities. He has hidden the truth. He is directly responsible for much of the hardship resulting from the power restrictions in New South Wales. He has interfered in a most unwarranted, distasteful and sordid manner in the administration of the New South Wales Government. The Minister secretly has used his authority to support worker control of the Snowy Mountains Council and has undermined established authority. He has encouraged worker-control lawlessness to force the introduction of a 35-hour week by blackmail tactics against the New South Wales Government and the people of New South Wales. He has acted contrary to the stated attitude of the Prime Minister who said that his Government had no right to become involved in the New South Wales power dispute. Yet the directive of the Minister still stands that the Council has to obey the working conditions set by the 35-Hour Week Committee.

The Minister has disgraced his high office and the propriety of this House by his evasiveness and his failure to reveal the full facts. (Extension of time granted). I thank the House. I will take only another minute. If the Government is to have any credibility, any self-respect, it has no option but to remove from office this Minister who has not treated this House with the dignity and the respect with which we believe he should have because of his failure to reveal all the facts. There has been a shameful disrespect of the authority and the proper place of this Parliament. If the Prime Minister at a time of a major ministerial reshuffle is to ignore the behaviour of this Minister, I believe that not only the Minister stands condemned but also the Government stands condemned for its attitude towards this 35-hour week strike and the Snowy Mountains power authority.

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