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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 882


Senator PETER BAUME(11.49) —The Senate is considering the reference to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of matters relating to the needs of the Army and particularly matters arising out of threats to land holders in various parts of New South Wales. My colleagues Senator Durack and Senator Sir John Carrick, and particularly my colleague Senator Brownhill, have set out the concerns which we on this side have and the reasons why we support this reference. It is not possible for this debate to conclude without particular reference being drawn to the arrogance which the Government has displayed throughout this whole affair not only in the speech made by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) but also in the way in which the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has responded to quite proper representations made by senators for the State of New South Wales on behalf of their constituents. I will come back to that. The attitude from the Government has been: `We know best. Do not ask any questions. Accept our word that everything is for the best'-the real Dr Pangloss view: `We know what is best for you in this best of all possible worlds'.

As one of the senators for New South Wales I have received my share of representations and expressions of concern from citizens in a large number of parts of New South Wales-correspondence, telephone calls, deputations and visits. They all want to know where they stand and what is going to happen. The Minister has told us that an inquiry is pointless-those are his words-that it is a political exercise and that it will add nothing. That is what he might think, but we know that Senate inquiries have a history of uncovering facts, revealing analyses which were not previously public and showing that the advice which is given by the Public Service is self-serving advice on a number of occasions, and we have no reason to suspect that that is not the case here. What Senator Gareth Evans read out today was just too pat. The only trouble was we could not get to the facts on which it was based. This inquiry will lead to facts.

I remember the representations that came from the Cobar district and the rather bemused revelation to me that part of the area which was down for acquisition was an area through which the natural gas pipeline went. I had occasion to ask a question in this place about the kind of artillery practice that might take place above the gas pipeline. The Government had not thought that one through, but it was prepared to acquire an area for military manoeuvring purposes through which the natural gas pipeline ran-a large area of country which had been in the hands of people for generations and which was being used productively. We will have none of this nonsense from Senator Gareth Evans that it is poor land.

I have had representations from the people in the Wollombi area who told me that plans to extend the Singleton base threatened the acquisition of their farms and their areas in the Wollombi valley. That threat has now passed. I have received other representations from people representing the Singleton base. They say that they like having the base in the area. As Senator Sir John Carrick said, it is a welcome and necessary part of the community. As a voter in the electorate of Hunter I would want to know why the Government intends to move the Singleton base out of my electorate. I have had no good answer to that. We have had a whole series of conflicting views on the Bathurst-Orange-Dubbo area and Senator Brownhill referred to those matters. We have had passionate views on both sides. The mayors have told me they want a base for economic reasons, and the land holders have told me, quite reasonably, they do not wish to be dispossessed of their livelihood and of the assets which they have built up over generations. The land holders put to me their desire to see the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, to put a view to him. Is that such an unreasonable thing to want, to wait upon him to tell him what their concerns were? They went to some of their elected representatives and they came to me and asked: `Can you help us get to see the Minister, Mr Beazley?' On 26 July, not the first action I had taken but one action, I wrote to Mr Beazley on behalf of the No Base Central Tablelands Committee. I advised the Minister of the desire of that Committee to put a view to him on behalf of the landholders in a large area of my State. I asked Mr Beazley whether he would expedite this meeting. As an elected senator I was responding to representations from my constituents.

I mention arrogance. The arrogance of the Minister for Defence was revealed in the response which he sent to me on 13 August. I will read it. It is a short response. It reads:

Dear Senator Baume

I refer to your letter of 26 July 1985 regarding the No Base Central Tablelands Committee.

Since the Committee claims to represent electors within the seat of Calare I am of the view that they should approach me through their Member, Mr Simmons.

Yours sincerely

KIM C. BEAZLEY

That response says that the Minister refuses even to process my representations on behalf of constituents in New South Wales on this serious matter. Arrogance? This is the height of arrogance!


Senator Michael Baume —Contemptuous of the Senate.


Senator PETER BAUME —It is contemptuous of the whole process of democratic practice. It is contemptuous of the bicameral system under which we operate. It is contemptuous of the Senate. But most of all, it is contemptuous of the electors or central New South Wales. By what right does the Minister for Defence say that he will receive representations only through a Labor member of parliament? That is what he is saying. He is saying that he will receive representations only through his mates. This has been the whole approach: `Do not try to have the facts brought out. Just let us do it in the closed shop and, by the way, we will not accept representations that do not come through the Labor side'. We know that Mr Simmons, the honourable member for Calare, is a partisan in this argument. He is not an honest broker. He is quite open about the fact that he wants the Army base moved to his electorate. He has taken one side of the argument. What chance would the No Base Central Tablelands Committee have of getting active pursuit of its desire to meet the Minister if it had to go through a partisan of the other side of the argument? The Minister for Defence has shown contempt for democratic procedure and for the people of the central west. I believe that Mr Beazley has to explain why he says that he will receive representations only through Labor members of parliament on this matter. He has acted in a partisan fashion in refusing to agree to see my constituents. He has acted in a partisan manner by indicating that he would act only on representations from a local Labor member. As my colleague Senator Michael Baume has said, this is a snub to the central west residents who wanted to see the Minister and who chose to use an elected senator for New South Wales as the vehicle through which to proceed.


Senator Durack —A very good choice, was it not?


Senator PETER BAUME —I am grateful to my colleague for his confidence, but it was a snub to the Parliament and a snub to the Senate. Mr Beazley may care to explain the way in which he practises these partisan politics and make it clear that he does not have the interests of the landholders as his prime concern, but rather the interests of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Labor Party member. I put it to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that our system of democracy requires that Ministers treat all members of parliament in the same way and respond to their representations. This kind of thing is quite inappropriate. Mr Beazley's response has not hurt me. It has caused me no distress. The people it has hurt have been the landholders-


Senator Button —You could have fooled me, Senator.


Senator PETER BAUME —I am sure that it could have fooled you, Senator Button. But you share the arrogance of this Government and you would not understand the point we are making.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Tate) —Senator Baume should address the Chair and not respond to interjections.


Senator PETER BAUME —I will certainly address the Chair, Mr Acting Deputy President. Mr Beazley's response has not hurt me. It has hurt the constituents who have sought to get some redress to their rights. In the face of this uncaring arrogance the reference to a Senate committee is not only appropriate, but it is also necessary. I say to Senator Mason that it is good that this reference has come up. It is a pleasure for those of us in the Opposition who have an interest in this matter to be able to support it.

I conclude by drawing to the attention of the Senate the fact that this matter affects New South Wales and that not one Labor senator for New South Wales has seen fit to take part in this debate or express a view.