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Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2089

Senator COLEMAN (Western Australia) - I rise to draw the attention of the Senate once again, as I have done over the past few weeks by asking questions in this House, to the situation which exists in Western Australia with the repressive legislation now in force there under the rather misleading title of the Fuel, Energy and Power Resources Act Amendment Act 1974.I want particularly to give an indication of the ignorance of the State Government in Western Australia in introducing legislation of this nature which could be used and abused at some time in the future. I think the Senate would agree that governments change; the world changes; our lifestyle changes. No one could possibly try to predict the ways in which there could be abuse now that this legislation is on the statute book.

There are certain sections of the Act which are not only repressive but in actual fact can be made retrospective. This is unprecedented in a democratic country, as ours is supposed to be. For instance, section 41 provides for emergency regulations to be made and have effect notwithstanding anything 'whether expressed or implied, in any other Act or in any law'. This gives the Minister the power to override centuries of common law rights, criminal law appeals, industrial awards and so on. In short, it gives the Minister power so sweeping as to be reminiscent of a dictatorship. Section 43 is designed to allow for a state of emergency when any situation exists which will affect the provision, supply or distribution of fuel, power or energy. So if members of a trade union, for instance, took action against a company providing any of those sources of power and the action was taken with regard to safety measures or wage issues, it would be enough to invoke these sweeping powers.

These powers are even more repressive if one takes into consideration the most unusual and most offensive provision in the legislation. I refer to section 45 which allows for retrospectivity. So an act which was committed before the emergency regulations were made and which was illegal at the time could in actual fact be made valid if regulations were made at a later date. There is little or no provision for the protection of the rights of the individual in Western Australia. Indeed, there are some sections of the Act which provide for the delegation of authority to any person or persons for any purpose with the exception of the actual declaration of emergency and the actual making of regulations.

Traditional individual liberties in democratic countries throughout the world have always provided for the right to refuse to incriminate oneself and that premises occupied are sacrosanct unless a search warrant has been issued. But under this legislation that is no longer the case. Regulations can be made requiring people to answer all questions on pain of penalty. Provision is also made for inspection of premises without the necessary warrants having to be issued. There are even provisions in this Act for the conscription of labour in the event of a state of emergency being declared. To say that this is an appalling situation is to put it mildly. No one in this chamber or in any other place should cast it off lightly. It is something which could extend to other States. The information which I have given has come from extremely reliable sources and I would like to name some of the eminent people who have spoken out against the legislation in Western Australia. They are: Professor Harding, Professor of Law at the University of Western Australia; the Law Society of Western Australia, in which only 4 members dissented from a report given on the Bill; various trade union leaders; Sister Veronica Brady, lecturer in English at the Western Austraiian University; and Mr Leslie Steen, lecturer in Law at the University of Western Australia.

I am sure that most honourable senators are conscious of the demonstrations that were held in Western Australia prior to the Bill actually being made law in Western Australia. In actual fact some of these demonstrations took place while the Bill was before the State House of Parliament. But just to refresh the memories of honourable senators let me tell them some of the things that occurred. There were 2 demonstrations. One was a very orderly march on Parliament House which was followed by a rally held on the Esplanade; and on the day that the Bill went before the Legislative Council a protest rally was held in the Supreme Court gardens. Most of the media acknowledged that some 15,000 to 16,000 people were present. There were talk-back programs on radio stations which kept the people of Western Australia up to date with what was going on at the rally and the points of view expressed by the various speakers. There was television coverage from an outside broadcast van to keep those who could not attend the rally abreast of what was happening. Commentators in the Press and on radio claimed that it was the largest demonstration held in Western Australia since the Second World War. But the Premier, Sir Charles Court, when asked for his comments the next day said with his customary contempt for the people of his State that it was just the usual gathering of people who had their lunch at the Supreme Court gardens to eat their pies. All I can say to that is that it must have been a record day for Peters. The resolution which was carried unanimously at that rally said in part:

We demand that the Government test its leaders' assertions that it has the people's support for the Bill by submitting the measure to a referendum.

Some members of this place may not be aware of the situation in relation to daylight saving in Western Australia. When the Labor Government took office in 1971 and endeavoured to introduce daylight saving quite a comprehensive campaign was mounted by the Opposition against a daylight saving Bill being introduced. The Labor Government tried for 3 years to introduce such a Bill. One of the first Bills that was introduced after the Liberal Government took office in Western Australia in March of this year was in relation to daylight saving. We now have the rather ridiculous situation that there is to be a referendum at the end of this period of daylight saving to ensure that the people of Western Australia do in actual fact get what they want next year. To me this is not democracy. If we can have a referendum on whether we should have daylight saving, surely to goodness we can have a referendum to ensure that the people's right are protected. The trade union movement has never been opposed to emergency legislation as long as it is not repressive. This Act is repressive in the extreme.

I have drawn these matters to the attention of the Senate in the hope that an examination of the legislation will be made to ensure that the rights of individuals in Western Australia are safeguarded and that the livelihood of residents is not in any jeopardy. No State government should renegue or be allowed to renegue on commitments where there has been ratification of the International Labour Organisation convention and the United Nations Charter on Human Rights. I ask that the Senate now give consideration to what has happened in Western Australia and to ensure that no such thing will happen in any other State in Australia, and that to the best of our ability here we will ensure that nothing in our Constitution is contravened but that we will, if necessary, go across State borders and ensure that the rights of the people in Western Australia are maintained.

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