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Thursday, 18 October 1973
Page: 2316

Mr ANTHONY (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Prime Minister. He will be aware of the fact that, unless Queensland Mines Ltd is granted mining titles to its areas in the Northern Territory and is permitted to develop its uranium reserves, it will lose its areas at the end of this year and will be unable to fulfil its contracts. He also will be aware of the fact that, whilst the Minister for Minerals and Energy says that he supports the rights of the company and wants to see its contracts honoured, other Ministers have refused to grant the titles required. I ask the Prime Minister whether he will intervene in this matter to ensure that this company is not forced into having to forfeit its titles as a result of a difference of opinion between Ministers. I ask this particularly in view of the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister gave assurances to the company earlier this year.

Mr Whitlam - The Minister for Minerals and Energy will answer the question.

Mr Anthony - My question relates to a difference of opinion between Ministers.


Mr McMahon - I rise on a point of order. Mr Speaker, it is true that your rulings and the rulings of your predecessors have been that the relevant Minister - the Minister functionally responsible - has the right, if the Prime Minister wishes it, to answer questions of this kind, but the Minister for Minerals and Energy is not the proper Minister. He has already made his decision. The Minister who will not make up his mind-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The right honourable gentleman must be aware that it has been the general practice and procedure in this House always that the Prime Minister, if he so desires, can transfer the answering of a question to any Minister he thinks may be able to answer it more fittingly because it comes within that Minister's jurisdiction. The Minister for Minerals and Energy is in order in answering the question.

Mr McMahon - I pursue this point of order.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The right honourable member has taken a point of order and I have ruled on it.

Mr McMahon - But I had not completed my point of order.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I heard quite sufficient at the start to know what it was all about.

Mr McMahon - On a further point of order-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The right honourable member, as a former Prime Minister, knows that he had power to transfer questions to any Minister he thought more fittingly able to answer them. That has always been the rule of and the general practice in this House.

Mr Killen - Mr Speaker, I rise to order. My point of order is that the question asked was not directed to the administration of the Department presided over by the Minister for Minerals and Energy but related specifically to the Prime Minister seeking to intervene in relation to that Minister's administration.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I have no control over this. If the Prime Minister wants to transfer a question he has the right to do so. The Prime Minister has always had that right. No point of order is involved.

Mr Anthony - Mr Speaker, with due respect to you, as Leader of the Australian Country Party I am not asking a vicious question but am trying to get some decision from the Prime Minister as to whether he will intervene in respect of differences of opinion within his Government. If the House wishes it, I am prepared to read my question again. It is not an offensive question but its subject matter involves the livelihood and savings of many thousands of Australian people.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I have noted every point of order that has been raised. I reemphasise that I have no power to instruct the Prime Minister to answer a question if he desires to transfer it to the Minister for Minerals and Energy. This is a matter for the Prime Minister. The Minister for Minerals and Energy has the call and will answer the question.

Mr CONNOR - The right honourable gentleman's question is based on entirely wrong premises. There is no conflict between myself and my colleagues who have an interest in the uranium affairs of the Northern Territory. I have made my position very clear and that is that I want to see the uranium mined. Other colleagues of mine within their respective administrations have similar problems to consider and resolve and will do so. I cite in particular the case of, shall we say, the Minister designate for the Northern Territory who has returned only today from overseas and who no doubt will be directing his attention to this particular problem. The actual exercise is a matter of Mr Milner wearing 2 hats and deciding that as the Chairman of Kathleen Investments he will launch an attack on himself as Chairman of Queensland Mines, in respect of which Kathleen Investments holds a half interest and also to which it has loaned some money. It is purely an exercise in journalistic arm twisting. It is foolish and it is futile because in fact, as I pointed out in a telex message to Mr Milner, on 5 October, I fully support their being granted the leases. I have no reason to believe that my colleagues would refuse to give it their approval. In particular, Queensland Mines found the Nabarlek deposits and it is entitled to develop them in a proper way, at a proper time and on conditions that will be decided. But to suggest, as the Opposition attempts to do, that we will not renew those leases is a piece of political humbug.

Mr Anthony - I rise on a point of order. This is not a correct interpretation of the situation. The leases expire at the end of the year and the holders of these leases have been notified by the Department-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The right honourable gentleman does not have the call.

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