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Tuesday, 26 November 1974
Page: 2805

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I have waited as a number of Bills have been introduced upon which, on the occasion of the first reading, one may have addressed oneself to matters relevant or irrelevant to the Bill. I did so because I appreciated the circumstances in which the Government desired to get a number of these Bills on the notice paper. This first reading debate has now been adjourned for some time, and I wish to utilise the opportunity to speak on the first reading of this Bill.

Senator Poyser - Which Bill?

Senator GREENWOOD -The Bill which is currently an order of the day and which is for debate. I rise on a matter which I think is of immense public consequence and will become of greater public consequence as the weeks go by. Victoria is facing a state of prospective conflict which ought to concern everyone who is interested in the preservation of democracy in this land. The Victorian Government's authority is being challenged, not by constitutional processes, not through the courts, not in the Parliament and not in the ballot box, but by extraconstitutional means. The power of industrial blackmail is endeavouring to elevate the authority of a few union leaders above the authority of the elected and responsible members of the Parliament. It is, or it has all the indications of being, a classic case of legitimate power and authority being challenged by those who hold private power, in this case not by a few powerful landholders or by a few important companies but by a few trade union leaders who have influenced and persuaded a trades hall council and now the State Parliamentary Labor Party to an action which seeks to undermine the authority of the Government of Victoria.

Senator Cavanagh - What are you talking about? What action?

Senator GREENWOOD -This instance is no different from the classic examples which our history provides of those who claim special privileges and special powers attempting to prevail over lawful and legitimate authority. In this case it is a union power attempting to prevail over the power of the people. If" Senator Cavanagh is seeking to know specifically of what I am talking, it is the indication initially by about 5 unions, then 7 unions, then 15 unions and then the Trades Hall Council that they would prevent the Newport power station in Victoria being built.

Senator Cavanagh - Do you know the facts?

Senator GREENWOOD -! know a lot ofthe facts and those facts indicate to the hilt the points which I have been making. There has scarcely been any occasion on which the Parliament's authority has been more challenged by direct confrontation than by the attitude which the unions are adopting at the present time. The issue is whether the decision of the Government, backed by the unanimous vote of the Parliament, to construct a power plant at Newport is to be overridden by the decision initially of a few trade union leaders who in most cases have not even consulted their membership and who, in any event, even if the membership had been consulted and had supported them, have no right to place themselves in the role of government.

I ask the Senate and I ask anybody who is prepared to look at the issues in this case to analyse what is involved. The need to plan for greater power to be available to industry and to people later this decade and for the balance of the twentieth century is surely unchallenged. But whose responsibility is it to plan for that need? It is the responsibility of the elected Government and the elected Government in Victoria some 10 years ago, through its State Electricity Commission, commenced the investigation ofthe power needs of Victoria to meet peak loads and to meet the overall requirements in the latter part of the 1970s through into the 1980s and so on for the balance of this century. For 5 years intensive investigations were carried out, and those 5 years' investigations led to a report by the State Electricity Commission which was presented to the Parliament of Victoria for consideration. After the presentation of that report there was an Act of the Parliament- an Act for the establishing of the Newport power station- the State Electricity Commission (Newport Power Station) Act of 1971. That Act was passed on the initiation of the then Government of Victoria headed by Sir Henry Bolte, supported by the Labor Party Opposition and voted for unanimously, without a dissentient, in the Parliament.

Subsequent to the establishing of the Act and the commencement of the construction an Act was passed by the Parliament of Victoria providing for an Environment Protection Authority, an independent body over which the Minister had no power of direction and which had the obligation to pass judgment upon whether government decisions and government proposals were consistent with environmental protection. It was the Government of Victoria which requested the Environment Protection Authority to conduct an inquiry into whether the Newport power station should be built. The Authority had the initiative and it could have made the decision itself, but before it made any decision the Government requested the Authority to undertake the investigation. The Authority did so. The result was that in 1973 the Environment Protection Authority reported that under certain conditions, which the Authority said it could enforce and would enforce, the power station could proceed, be licensed and, as the report of the Authority said, be a compatible neighbour.

Subsequently, because there were some people who dissented from the Authority's report, an appeal was taken to 2 places. An appeal was taken by third parties- by interested conservationists- to the Environment Protection Authority, and from that Authority an appeal went to the Environment Protection Appeal Board. That hearing by the Appeal Board was heard throughout a period of, I think, some 29 days in the middle of 1974. On 24 July of this year a favourable decision for the power station project to proceed was given. I think it is relevant to refer to the decision of the Environment Protection Appeal Board because this proposal, costing $145m in 1971 and now costing a sum vastly in excess of that, has gone through the parliamentary procedures and through all the environment protection procedures which a Parliament has laid down. They are certainly rigorous procedures in Victoria. It has come through with a decision that under conditions which can be enforced this particular project ought to be sited at Newport. The Environment Protection Appeal Board said in its judgment:

The contribution of all witnesses to the available store of knowledge is very great and no doubt much of this evidence will form the subject of papers and theses and text book writings in the future.

In the present appeals, the third parties have focused public attention on the proposed power station in a manner which has called upon the Commission to justify to the fullest extent its proposed activity and to demonstrate that such activity will present no threat to the environment or to public health.

That the Commission was forced so to do should result in a public awareness that the power station is not to bc feared under the very stringent conditions of operations which have been imposed under the licences.

The Board concluded:

In the result the third party appeals will be dismissed and appeals by the Commission upheld in each case by directing that the licences issue with the conditions varied as agreed between the Authority and the Commission.

The water licences call for no further comment but with regard to the air licence, the variations involved are reasonable.

A modification is made to Condition No. 2 -

Then that modification is set out. The judgment continues:

The Board is satisfied that the proposed amendments are reasonable and that adherence to the revised conditions will not have any adverse effect on the environment.

The Authority and the Commission have further agreed between themselves on a modification to the permissible maximum quantities of oxides of sulphur in the flue gases when the boilers arc fired entirely by oil . . .

The Board is satisfied that adherence to these amended standards will meet the requirements of the Authority in having no adverse effects on the environment.

One could read- I have it here if anyone wants to see it- the full judgment of the Environment Protection Appeal Board and see from it that there is absolutely no risk either to the environment or to public health in Victoria, in the Board's judgment, if the conditions are observed. That is the requirement, of course, in all public health provisions- that the requirements be observed.

These questions, which in this case were decided by the Parliament and then through the environment protection procedures, are questions which ultimately are Parliament's responsibility. In a democracy the balancing of the various competing views which might be evident on any particular issue is charged to government. In our society that is a government which is responsible periodically to the people. No group of people, no matter how deserving they might claim to be or how public spirited their plea might be, has the right to put its judgment and its voice in the place of the judgment of the people as demonstrated through the elected government. That is what is being done in Victoria, and it promises to be a conflict which ought to arouse the interest and the concern of everybody who desires the preservation of our democratic system.

Senator Button - What do you want to do about it?

Senator GREENWOOD -Those of us who are concerned are making the people of this country aware, and if we have to start in this chamber with the Government of this country let us make the effort here. The plea is now being made by the unions through the Australian Labor Party in the hope that there will be a decision at the Federal Conference of the Labor Party next year for direct support of the whole Labor movement for what the unions are doing. The Constitution of this country requires that the Commonwealth Government shall provide assistance to the executive government of a State if it is confronted with a situation which is called in the Constitution 'domestic violence'. What is involved in what is now threatened in Victoria is something which we ought not to regard as outside that area, because the statements of some of the union leaders have been so threatening that one can only hope that when the Government is challenged the people will know what the issues are and will be overwhelmingly on the side of the people of this country and democracy. What sort of power, where the power plant should be located, what should be its energy, its fuel, its size, its cost and so on, are all matters upon which different opinions may be held but the resolution of those opinions is a matter for the Parliament. Our society requires that these matters ultimately be decided by or through agencies which derive their authority from Parliament.

Parliament is the ultimate authority upon which the people must finally rely.

Debate interrupted.

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