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Friday, 15 May 1970

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - I am not in a position to decide who is giving the correct version of the undertakings, if any, which were given to the States concerning the legislation on the continental shelf and the mineral resources of the continental shelf. But the fact that the versions are contradictory is what merits censure. Also, what is patently obvious and has been patently obvious for some time is that certain members on the Government side hostile to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) are moving in for the kill in an effort to change the leadership of the Liberal Party and hence the Prime Ministership. In human terms my sympathies are with the Prime Minister, but the atmosphere of intrigue and undermining which has developed on the Government side means that sooner or later this situation must be resolved by the electorate. I believe that the matter of this dispute ought to go to the electorate. When a person as significant as the former Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) and other Ministers are in contradiction on a matter which relates to dealings between the Commonwealth and the States I believe the House should be dissolved and that this matter should be referred to the Australian people, and this is why I support the censure. We have seen the attacks on the Prime Minister going on over the last 6 months; in fact, since immediately after the declaration of the election results. The attacks on him have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime. There were some who contended that he was not the sort of man who ought to lead the Liberal Party because he was not an establishment man. I do not know what an establishment man is. Some suggest that he is one who has the approval of Melbourne finance and others suggest-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! During this afternoon we have had debate of a very high standard but I have pointed out to the honourable member for Lang, the honourable member for Forrest and others that the amendment to this motion is very specific. It states: and that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States by the previous Minister for National Development . . .

It does not canvass any other matter.

Mr BEAZLEY - I am, of course, debating the question of the charges upon which this matter has been based by the honourable member for Farrer.

Mr SPEAKER - Provided the matter is relevant to this particular case the honourable member will be in order.

Mr BEAZLEY - Yes. In the course of this discussion on the relationship of the Prime Minister to the States many issues have been canvassed and I want to establish why the Labor Party supports the censure morion in spite of the fact that on this question the Prime Minister's position over the continental shelf is identical with the attitude of the Labor Party which is that it supports the Commonwealth having the power to make the bargains concerning the mineral resources of the continental shelf.

I want to make perfectly clear where the Labor Party stands on this question of centralisation, which, from the point of view of certain Liberals, is supposed to be the weakness of the Prime Minister. Because he is supposed to have a centralising philosophy, it is charged that this has been the root cause of this breaking faith with the States. I want to make perfectly clear one or two things about our view on the power of the Commonwealth. The Labor Party does not start off with any philosophy of centralisation. We start off perfectly pragmatically in perceiving a fact and the fact is that State legislatures are rigged against the Labor Party.

Why on earth should we support matters being left in the hands of the States whether they are continental shelves or not when it is known that the States either have upper houses in which, even if we received the overwhelming support of the Australian public, we would have no majority or they have a legislature like the one in Queensland where with 2i times the vote of the Country Party we are battling to get as many seats. Now, the more matters that are transferred from the State sphere - where we have no chance of majorities because of malapportionment or because of upper houses and no chance of getting through the legislation in which we are interested - to the Commonwealth field the better as far as we are concerned. If the Prime Minister gave undertakings to the States from our point of view he should not have made undertakings to the States. These are national matters and they are matters which should be resolved in this Parliament. I have no mystique about the States. The manner in which the States have handled their mineral resources does not arouse my admiration. Some of them have handled their mineral resources quite disastrously and one of the things underlying this tension which has arisen between the Commonwealth and the States over whatever agreements the Prime Minister did or did not make with the States is that there are many sectors of business both national and international that have made their happy connections with the States. They know how to handle a State government. They know how to produce the kind of disastrous bargains that have been produced by State governments and the transference of these matters to the federal field is, from their point of view, a disaster.

But we are not in the position to judge whether or not the charges made by "the honourable member for Farrer are correct. We are faced with a complete contradiction in the versions concerning the bargain that was made, but behind all this is a state of tension on the Government side of the House which we believe must go to the Australian people. In any event we believe that now that this matter of the continental shelf and the mineral resources of the Commonwealth has become an issue of controversy within the Government, this issue is worthy of an election. Faced with the charges that have been made by the honourable member for Farrer and endorsed, to some extent anyway, by some of the Premiers, we believe that the whole matter should be resolved by the Australian people.

It is not a question of joining in any personal hostility to the Prime Minister. It is not a question of our declaring that we know for a certain fact who is putting forward the correct version. It is that we are confronted with a Government which on a very fundamental question - the question of the disposal of Australian mineral resources on the continental shelf - is in a state of argument, not only about what was actually promised to the State Premiers but also about what actually ought to be done with these mineral resources. On this basis I believe that a censure motion is merited against the Government, chiefly because it is a means of putting this vital question to the people. It is an opportunity to focus on the whole question of the disposal of minerals - a subject that has been a sideline in most elections while, disastrously, the ownership of the mineral resources of this country is passing, at very poor bargains, into the hands sometimes of outside interests. We realise, of course, that the dispute over the handling of the whole of the continental shelf does relate to some magnificent resources in the Barrier Reef.

We have had the Prime Minister charged by members of his own side with misrepresentation of the situation, with having permitted the honourable member for Farrer to go before the State Premiers to make promises on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to them and with having then repudiated those promises. In the whole of this question of credibility we are confronted with a number of disturbing features. I do not want to canvass the FI 1 1 aircraft decision, but we are being told that the Prime Minister is presented with the problems of a previous government. The Liberal Party is discarding its own past in this matter. The Prime Minister was a member of the previous Government. If members of the Government deny their responsibility in this particular matter it is quite probable that we are not going to be able to accept their credibility and integrity on the matter that is before us now - the question of the promises that have been made to the State Premiers. For a long time we have been getting confusion and contradictory statements in Government statements on all these matters. It is time that these matters were resolved.

My distinguished friend, the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham), who is shaking his head at me, is in exactly the same position as I am with respect to the conversations that passed between the honourable member for Farrer and the State Premiers. Neither of us was there. We are faced with these contradictory versions. We on the Opposition side, have been presented with the categorical charges of the former Minister for National Development and the reply of the Prime Minister, and bearing in mind how vitally important is the whole subject matter of this controversy over the mineral resources of the continental shelf, believe it is time that these matters were resolved to the satisfaction of the Australian people. When there is a dispute between ex-Ministers and Ministers on vital questions of promises it is time that this was put to the Australian people. There is only one way that this can be put to the Australian people and that is by the defeat of the Government. Whether people who made charges against the Prime Minister are prepared to vote against him is entirely their business. They may regard what he has said as being not accurate but not meriting a censure motion. I take it that the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) meant exactly that in the course of his speech. However, if an honourable member endorses the charges of the honourable member for Farrer and then votes that the Government should continue in office after having broken its promises to the States, he is in a very peculiar position. He may consider himself in a peculiar position if he overturns the Government. It is also a peculiar position to vote to sustain a government which he believes breaks its promises in vital negotiations with the States. That is a matter for him to resolve. We on this side of the House are confronted with a situation of specific charges having been made and not satisfactorily answered. In those circumstances these matters should be referred to the Australian people. That is why we are voting for this censure motion.

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