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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1592


Mr RUDDOCK(10.44) —When this cognate debate commenced this morning I asked why the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill and the Christmas Island Administration (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill were grouped together. Madam Deputy Speaker, when you hear my speech I think you will understand that the relationship between the Bill relating to the Commonwealth Electoral Act and referenda and the Christmas Island Bill is really quite tenuous. In fact, the only relationship that I can see between the Christmas Island Bill and the other Bill is in terms of timing-the Government's early election timetable.

I suspect that the Special Minister of State (Mr Young), in his arrangements for having these Bills debated cognately, was, although perhaps a little obscurely, giving us the real reasons behind the Government's desire to see these Bills through at this time. The only relationship, and it is a very tenuous relationship, is the Government's desire to have amendments to the Electoral Act in place before the early election and the Government's desire to ensure that the people of Christmas Island are able to vote in the election, whenever it is held. It is for the purpose of the Government's political objectives that this legislation is being pursued in this way at this time. I think the Minister, in his determination to get it through, has signalled that more clearly than anything I could have done if the debate on the Christmas Island legislation had proceeded alone. I welcome the association, not because there is any real link but because I think it reveals very clearly the Government's motives.

The Christmas Island Administration (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 1984 has a number of purposes. The purposes of the Bill, as expressed in the explanatory memorandum, are as follows:

The . . . Bill will extend Commonwealth legislation in the areas of health, social security, federal electoral representation and education to the Territory of Christmas Island, following the decision of the Government to bring living conditions in the Territory into line with those in mainland Australia.

The Bill will amend the Christmas Island Act 1958 so as to enable the making of Ordinances of the Territory to regulate the use and occupation of land. A further amendment to the Christmas Island Act will enable Ordinances of the Territory to be made in relation to the Supreme Court of the Territory, that may have effect outside the Territory.

The Bill will amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 so as to place residents of the Territory within the boundaries of the Northern Territory for federal electoral purposes. An amendment consequent upon the amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 will also be made to the Northern Territory ( Self-Government) Act 1978.

The Bill will also amend the Heath Insurance Act 1973 and the National Health Act 1953 so as to make residents of the Territory eligible for benefits under that legislation on a basis equivalent to that for mainland Australians.

The Bill will amend the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 so as to place residents of the Territory within the Commonwealth Electoral Division of the Northern Territory for the purposes of referendums.

The Bill will also amend the Social Security Act 1947 so that a resident of the Territory will be treated as a resident of Australia for the purposes of that Act.

Of course, there are also some amendments in the area of student assistance. The Student Assistance Act 1973 will be amended so as to permit certain institutions in Western Australia to be able to continue the courses of study that they offer on Christmas Island and to ensure that students are eligible for the purposes of section 10 in relation to the payment of tertiary education assistance allowances.

That outline gives some idea of the breadth of this legislation. Honourable members will see that the electoral provisions are quite incidental to the impact that this legislation is designed to have in the Territory of Christmas Island. This legislation follows upon the Government's decision to bring into mainland Australia provisions relating to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. In some respects this Bill is different from that which operated to give much the same provisions of normalisation to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands situation. The fact is that in relation to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands there were no proposals such as are concluded in this legislation to enable the making of ordinances to regulate the use and occupation of land. Because there are certain proposals to dispense with the provisions of the Lands Acquisition Act to enable the making of ordinances on the Christmas Island territory to regulate the use and occupation of land I will in the Committee stage be proposing an amendment to the Bill.

The amendment is for the purpose of ensuring that to the extent to which the Lands Acquisition Act is dispensed with when there are dealings with land- particularly where land may be dispensed with and sold; I think it is envisaged that some land may be dispensed with and that industries might be encouraged to establish on Christmas Island-if the Government comes at a later point in time to acquire that land it will do so on the basis of just terms. The Lands Acquisition Act, which is to be excluded from operation on Christmas Island, contains procedures wherein the constitutional provisions that operate generally throughout Australia to ensure that the Commonwealth acquires land only on just terms will be excluded.

The purpose of the amendment that I will move will be to ensure that any ordinance or other laws made pursuant to the Christmas Island Administration ( Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill when it is enacted will provide for acquisition of land only on the basis of the provision of just terms by the Government to those from whom land is acquired. It is a very important amendment. The Opposition regards it as an important point of principle. We will be pursuing this amendment strongly in this place and in the other place if the Government is not prepared to accept it in the debate today.

I want to draw attention to certain other variations in relation to this Bill and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands situation. When we dealt with the Cocos (Keeling ) Islands (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill we found there was provision in it for the Commonwealth Grants Commission to make certain inquiries in relation to the financial arrangements for Cocos (Keeling) Islands. There is no similar provision in relation to Christmas Island. The argument that was put to me when I made some inquiries about this question was that it was not thought necessary in relation to Christmas Island because it was already a Territory of Australia and we were including the provision for a Grants Commission inquiry for Cocos ( Keeling) Islands because we were concerned that the--


Mr Uren —Mr Deputy Speaker, might I intimate to the honourable member that I do not object to the amendment. It conforms with the Lands Acquisition Act of 1955. We will accept the amendment proposed by the honourable member.


Mr RUDDOCK —I thank the Minister for Territories and Local Government for his intimation at this stage. The Minister has said that the amendment which I have proposed is in conformity with the Lands Acquisition Act. The fact is that the Bill, as drafted and proposed and before the Minister intimated his acceptance of the amendment, would have excluded the provision for just terms. It is for that reason that I have drawn it to the attention of the Minister. I am glad he has given me that intimation but I hope that the advisers of the Government and the Government itself will be conscious of that when considering amendments of this sort in other legislation and will always be aware of the constitutional provision which does provide for compensation on just terms where an acquisition of land proceeds.

The point I was making before I was interrupted by the Minister was that this legislation does not include provision for a Grants Commission inquiry. In the case of Cocos (Keeling) Islands provision for a Grants Commission inquiry was incorporated because the United Nations was involved and it was believed that it was important, from the point of view of our external presentation, for the people of Cocos (Keeling) Islands to have this protection. But where there is no external monitoring it is not thought necessary to have a similar provision for Grants Commission inquiries in relation to the Christmas Island situation.

The student assistance scheme provisions that I drew attention to in my preamble are, of course, an important difference as well. Provision is made for the operation of the Student Assistance Act in relation to Christmas Island. It does not operate in relation to Cocos (Keeling) Islands because there are no external courses operating there, whereas there are at Christmas Island. That brings me to another important point. It is appropriate that this provision should operate but it serves to emphasise the fact that there is a very close association with Western Australia in the area of education.

That serves to emphasise a point I made in the debate on the electoral arrangements for Cocos (Keeling) Islands. All of the substantial associations and contacts between Christmas Island or Cocos (Keeling) Islands and mainland Australia in the area of education and in each of the other areas in which there are mainland and territorial affiliations are with the State of Western Australia and not with the Northern Territory. Yet we have the Government persisting with the view that for Commonwealth electoral purposes the appropriate community of interest for the territorians of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands is the Northern Territory.

The Minister may tell me that for practical reasons-I accept in part that for practical reasons in terms of the election that is only months away-it is reasonably possible to incorporate electors in Christmas Island and Cocos ( Keeling) Islands only in electorates in either the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory. When the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill was being considered I pointed out to the House the desirability of a form of inquiry to establish where the people of the Territories thought their associations lay and that the Government should proceed to put in place electoral arrangements which reflected that community interest. The Government was not prepared to accept that amendment in relation to Cocos (Keeling) Islands and it is persisting with that attitude in relation to Christmas Island.

The Opposition would not wish to disenfranchise the territorians on Christmas Island any more than it would want to disenfranchise the people of Cocos ( Keeling) Islands. For that reason we are not persisting with the amendment we proposed previously to delete the electoral provisions. It is not because we believe that those arrangements are appropriate; it is because we do not wish to see the territorians disenfranchised in this election.

The Government should persist with an inquiry. I foreshadow that the Opposition would, in government, pursue inquiries that would permit the territorians to be affiliated in an electorate with which they had a genuine community of interest and associations. In a previous debate I suggested that an appropriate course would be for the Government to persist-I do not believe any reasonable person in Australia would want to resist the move-in a constitutional amendment to permit external territories to be attached to electorates on the mainland with which they have the greatest association and the greatest community of interest. In the case of Christmas Island that association, as with Cocos (Keeling) Islands, would be with electorates in Western Australia.

This is important legislation because it brings about a situation in which the Commonwealth is extending its legislation in the areas of health, social security, education and so on to Christmas Island. Christmas Island has a community whose livelihood has been derived mostly from phosphate mining. The future of the island is a matter which I know the Minister has under very serious consideration. All Australians ought to be concerned about it. However, while the Minister may be giving very serious consideration to these matters, he does not take this Parliament and this House in any way into his confidence. A large number of decisions have been made by the Government which impact upon the island and its future. I have sought, by asking questions on notice of this Minister, information concerning the future of the island, and to date lengthy questions, which I would certainly like to read in the debate today if I had the time, remain unanswered. They concern the future of phosphate mining and the future of the people on Christmas Island. I draw the Minister's attention, just in case he has not noticed, to the questions that I have on the Notice Paper concerning Christmas Island.


Mr Uren —I am aware of them.


Mr RUDDOCK —The Minister says that he is aware of them. I would like to know, first and foremost, when he intends to answer those questions because they are very serious questions and go right to the future of the island. They do require an answer from him as to what he has been about. This Parliament deserves to be taken into his confidence. The Parliament deserves a statement on the matters about which I have asked questions because failure to direct attention to them and to answer them leaves many unanswered questions about which, I think, all Australians would be concerned to have answers and which the Christmas Islanders would be concerned to have answers.

I have asked some questions, the first being when the Parliament resumed on 21 August. It is question on notice No. 1615. I asked the Minister whether he had been advised by the phosphate mining company that remedial action is required by that company to reduce costs to avoid a possible loss of $11.4m in 1983-84. One would think at this point in time that the Minister would be able to answer that question. I also asked him: What actions had been proposed by the company? Did the company make a profit in 1983-84 or, if not, what was its financial position ? I asked about the particulars of sales and for reviews of the long term viability of the Christmas Island operation. I asked the Minister whether any action was being taken to reduce costs, and whether redundancies were involved and, if so, what was the nature of the payments to be made if redundancies were being occasioned.

I asked the Minister about proposals that might reduce the island's population and about the nature of the expenditure that the Commonwealth might incur as a result of any proposals dealing with reduction of population. I asked him for details of the cost reduction proposals. I asked about the negotiation of agreements between the company and its employees. I asked what the terms of the agreement were and who were signatories to it. I asked the Minister to give us information on his involvement in relation to those agreements. I asked about the circumstances in which there were changes in the directorate of the Phosphate Mining Co. of Christmas Island Ltd, and what were the circumstances in which certain trade union representation was added to the board of directors, because there were certain matters there on which we needed clarification, particularly having regard to statements made by a Mr G. Bennett in which he demanded certain changes. I asked the Minister whether the statements of Mr Bennett represented the Government's intentions in relation to the future of the island.

When I became aware-not through any statements by the Minister-of the terms of the agreement, I sought certain information in relation to those agreements, particularly those made on 29 March, 29 April and 25 May 1984. These are documents about which the Parliament has not been told. I asked him about the level of financial assistance that had been provided by the Government to the company, the anticipated financial assistance to be paid this year. I asked about the circumstances in which unions were to receive financial assistance and compensation for reduced membership following redundancies, and the extent to which other unions might have been compensated in relation to such matters. The Minister has not provided information in relation to that.

I asked the Minister about the nature of resettlement services to assist Christmas Islanders and whether any payments were being made. I asked about the nature of the payments to those who had been made redundant, and about the positions of those who had been made redundant. It is interesting to see that people are receiving redundancy payments and possibly leaving the island, and then shortly afterwards they have to be replaced. The Government is still advertising positions for people to go to Christmas Island. These things need to be explained. If the Minister answered the questions that were on the Notice Paper, we might have some satisfactory explanation.

The fact is that it is preposterous that this important Bill, which goes to the very future of Christmas Island, is being debated in a cognate debate in which I suggest the Minister will not be able to answer these questions fully. Other members of parliament will not be given an opportunity to debate them either, because their preoccupation will be with the electoral matters.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.