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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1733

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - The action which we are taking today is one of the most severe actions which an Opposition can take in a parliament. We have brought forward a motion of censure of a Minister for misleading the Parliament. In these circumstances, in any normal parliament, one would expect the Minister to be supported by the Prime Minister and by many of his Ministers. But where are they? The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is not even in the House. At one stage the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), who is under attack, and the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), who has just completed his speech, were the only Ministers in the House. I see that the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) has recently entered the chamber. All that the Minister for Minerals and Energy has had to support him is this poor, pathetic member for Riverina, the Minister for Immigration. Let me say why I believe that he is pathetic. He said that recently he had attempted to warn all the irrigators of the position. Let me read what he told them, because he told them nothing. To begin with, we know that this Minister wastes an incredible amount of money sending telegrams. Possibly he would be equalled by the Acting Treasurer (Mr Hayden) who recently sent a 600-word telegram to each of the 93 members of Caucus, but I think the Minister for Immigration is still in the lead. Let me read this explanation of everything that was given by the Minister to his electors and the irrigators in the Murrumbidgee.

Mr Grassby - And the Murray.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - If I were the Minister I would not mention the Murray. At the byelection held last Saturday in that area the Australian Labor Party vote dropped from 50 per cent to 25 per cent, so I would keep a little quiet about the Murray if I were the Minister. The Minister for Immigration sent an explanation in these terms:

Great pressure is being brought to bear on the Minister for Minerals and Energy, the Hon. Rex Connor, MHR, to release more water from the Snowy for power purposes. Eucumbene Dam is already half empty and, with light snowfalls, unlikely to refill.

Anyone who knows anything about Eucumbene knows that it will never fill, that it is designed so that it will not fill and that if it overflows money will be lost. The Minister continued:

Blowering Dam already spilling. Threat to further flooding in Murray Valley and flood threat in

Murrumbidgee Valley if rate of release maintained. Power authorities have used 70 per cent of year's water allocation in 4J months. Sustained rate of release will cause further flood threat and endanger irrigation supplies. Suggest your views on releases be made known to Minister urgently.

This is the way in which he completely misled his electors and the irrigators. He knows that there is no danger to irrigation supplies at present. Everyone knows this. Blowering Dam is full, with 1.3 million acre feet of water. Lake Eucumbene, which has 2 million acre feet, is shared two-thirds by New South Wales and one-third by Victoria. Burrinjuck, which is almost full, holds 830,000 acre feet when it is full, and it is only about 11 feet from the top level now. There, is something like 3 million acre feet of water sitting above the Murrumbidgee. That is certainly enough to irrigate for the next 2 years, possibly more. But the Minister is trying to say that irrigation supplies could be endangered.

Let me leave this Minister and come back to the Minister who is under attack for misrepresentation. That is why he is under attack. lt is no good the Minister saying: 'What I did was right, and I believe that it was right'. This is not the case at all. We are saying that he misrepresented to the House the action which he had taken. I believe that he no longer has the confidence of this House and is no longer fitted to hold the position of Minister of the Crown in Her Majesty's Australian Government. He has taken actions to the grave detriment of our nation and he has misled the House and the public, as I shall proceed to show.

On Wednesday, 26 September, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) proposed that a matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely, the serious situation caused by the New South Wales power strike. During the debate the honourable member for Wannon charged the Minister for Minerals and Energy with having exacerbated the effects of the power strike by ordering - perhaps 'directing' is a better word - the Snowy Mountains Council to operate in accordance with the 35-Hour Week Committee's direction. The Minister was all smiles when he stood up to reply to the charge. I should say as an aside that some sections of the mining industry think that when the Minister smiles it only makes him look a little more like a crocodile. The Minister said that there was a perfectly simple answer. He said that the Blowering Dam was overflowing, that each day water was spilling uselessly over its walls at a fate which would fully irrigate 44,000 acres of land, that Eucumbene was half empty and that we have to safeguard our food needs.

There was an incredulous gasp of surprise from members of the Opposition. Never for one moment had the Minister mentioned the 35-Hour Week Committee's decision, which we all knew was the reason why the Minister directed the Snowy power cuts. Who did he think he was fooling? Surely the Minister could not have been naive enough or stupid enough to believe that the reasons for his actions were not already fully known and understood by the New South Wales Government and by the power and water authorities. Did he for one moment imagine that the Opposition would be so gullible as to say: 'How convenient it was for the Minister that he had to order the Snowy Mountains Council to reduce power production because responsible management of water demanded this action be taken'? It is ludicrous to think that that was the situation at the identical time when the demands of the 35-hour Week Committee were being thrust upon the Council. Let us look for a moment at the excuses of the Minister to see how shallow and groundless they were. Let us take his first assertion. The Minister said:

At the present time Lake Eucumbene is SO per cent empty. . . . It is to be hoped that unusually high rainfall will curtail the deficiency and safeguard our food needs. . . . Each day water is spilling uselessly over the Blowering's walls.

Let me comment on that. First of all, as I said, Eucumbene was designed never to fill and it has never filled since it was built. It was designed to last through the long dry periods recorded in the earlier rainfall records of the district. The heaviest release of water from Eucumbene occurs between May and September. At present the level of Lake Eucumbene is 54 per cent of its total active storage. There is more water in it today than there was on 30 September in any year ,in which I was Minister for National Development, namely, from 1964 to 1969. As a percentage of active storage, Lake Eucumbene held at the end of September of each year since 1963 the following amounts: 1963, 42 per cent; 1964, 45 per cent; 1965, 38 per cent; 1966, 37 per cent; 1967, 30 per cent; 1968, 20 per cent - a decline due mainly to drought; and 1969. 52 per cent. In 1970 it rose to 68 per cent because water had been gained from other sources. In 1971 it was 60 per cent and in 1972 it was 69 per cent. Today it is 54 per cent. Obviously the availability of irrigation water - or the lack of it - had absolutely nothing to do with the Minister's decision to restrict Snowy power output.

As I have said previously, the Blowering Dam is now full. It holds over 1.3 million acre feet. Burrinjuck holds 840,000 acre feet when full. It is very close to being full now. It could also be used for irrigation as well as power. A total of something like 3 million acre feet of water, if the New South Wales share of Eucumbene is taken into account, is available. Of course, the Coombs Task Force, in a report which has only recently been presented - I refer to page 207 of the report - has stated that large volumes of water presently being stored in the Blowering Dam are unused. The New South Wales Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission has said that it will have need for some of the uncommitted water in the Blowering earlier than was originally anticipated. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the Blowering holds a good deal more water than will be required for irrigation this summer.

I turn to the Minister's assertion that at an overflow rate of 3,200 cusecs flooding would occur at the poplar plantations section of the Tumut River. Certainly, flooding has been a problem. But we are told that there have been no floods this year. Some years ago, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority bought up much of the land that flooded and planted it with poplars. Water does not affect the poplars. So everything that the Minister has said to try to mislead and misrepresent the case has been proved to be completely incorrect. I return to the nub of the matter. For some time the Electrical Trades Union members employed by the Electricity Commission of New South Wales have been limiting power output to attempt to force on the New South Wales Government their demands for a 35-hour week. The State Industrial Commission rejected the workers' claim for a 35- hour week. It was asked to re-examine its decision. It did so and the second time it reported that there were no grounds for reducing the hours worked in the industry. Even the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) has said in regard to the Commonwealth Public Service that there are no grounds for a 35-hour working week.

The Industrial Commission also rejected the phasing in of a shorter working week. No doubt, it took this action in view of the fact that the Electricity Commission of New South Wales has estimated that it would need another 682 workers if the 35-hour week were introduced. This would increase the shortage of skilled tradesmen in industry. But this decision of the Industrial Commission did not suit the militant left-wing workers. They decided not to abide by arbitration but to continue to restrict power so as to cause the maximum inconvenience to the public. No one is really sure whether the members of the Electrical Trades Union, in seeking a 35-hour week, are seeking more leisure, more overtime pay or just to disrupt the community and undermine our industrial production. The strike is in the hands of strong left wing control, including Mr R. Ross and Mr Jack Syme-

Mr Hunt - Of what party is he a member?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - He is a member of the Aarons - Carmichael Communist Party of Australia. He is the secretary-

Mr Grassby - Probably employed by the ITT.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - It would be nothing unusual for the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) to be associated with a member of that Party. This man is the secretary of the Electricity Commission Combined Union Delegates Organisation. Of course, the restrictions were not hurting people sufficiently as they were not severe enough. So deliberate acts of sabotage were planned. Munmorah power station, for example, the second-largest in New South Wales had to shut down completely. The word 'sabotage' has an interesting derivation. It comes from the French word sabot' - a shoe or a clog which the French workers threw into machinery to stop the works. It makes one wonder whether we are facing another revolution here.

Still the power situation in New South Wales was not sufficiently bad to bring about the severe blackouts which the Electrical Trades Union needed. One reason was that the Snowy was feeding between 1,600 and 1,900 megawatts daily into the New South Wales power system. Something had to be done to stop this. The way was soon found, with the active co-operation of a compliant Minister. Despite the decision of the Snowy Mountains Council to continue normal power production, the Minister, using his power under section 16.i.6 of the Act, directed that the works be operated in a manner that did not run counter to the intentions of the 35- Hour Week Commitee. At last the

Electricity Commission Combined Union Delegates Organisation was able to achieve what it had set out to do. Blackouts and restrictions became the order of the day. It mattered little that in the process a man in hospital died when power was cut off from his ward, that children received third-degree burns when candles ignited their cots or that a man with a heart attack died because the doctor who was called to help him could not find a light. What about the many hundreds of thousands of housewives and ordinary citizens who have been inconvenienced? The man directly responsible for this situation was a Federal Minister who had intervened in an industrial dispute on the side of the communists and the leftwingers despite the statement of the Prime Minister: 'This is not a matter where we can do anything as the employer. We have no right to intervene'. Even the Leader of the New South Wales Labor Party, Mr Hills, called on the men to resume work. King Canute tried to hold back the waters but failed. King Kong has succeeded where King Canute failed. This brings me to the point that the Minister has demeaned himself as a Minister of the Crown. He has given false information to the House. He is no longer a fit and proper person. It will startle everyone if this Minister is left where he is. Everyone will ask: 'Why? Does he have something on the Prime Minister?' When the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, was replaced, why was not the Minister for Minerals and Energy replaced? I support the motion.

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