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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 2788

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) - One could be forgiven, in listening to some of the remarks of the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes), if one overlooked for the time being the relation between this Parliament and the people of Australia. The honourable member's almost final remarks seemed to consist of asides between members of the Liberal Party as if they were almost in club. I hope he will forgive me for saying that, but that is the impression I had. He spoke about the problems that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen), who is sitting at the table, will have. Like many honourable members present in the chamber today, I have been greatly impressed by the speeches that have come from the Government side of the House. I look around the chamber and I see that there are 3 members of the Australian Country Party here, about 10 members of the Liberal Party and 14 or so members of the Australian Labor Party. I do not make any point of that, but it is an indication of something. This Bill has great national importance, as the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and the honourable member for Berowra have said, and yet being technical, as it is, almost of necessity it does not have great appeal for many members of this House. They are outside, working in committees or on other matters. They are not to be blamed for not being here, but the people of Australia are listening to the debate on the broadcasting system that links us with the world.

We heard the honourable member for Moreton make a magnificent speech. I have complimented him on it. In the short time that I have been here I do not think I have heard him or anyone else make a better speech in this Parliament. I have heard a number of other people say that, too. He listed, in impressive manner, the various reasons why this piece of legislation was urgent. If I counted correctly, I think he gave 6 reasons why its enactment was urgent in the national interest. This is the national Parliament. The honourable member spoke with considerable personal feeling of the growing, searching feeling among Australians for some sense of national identity, purpose or fulfilment. I think that a number of us share this feeling with him. Yet here again I fear there is a complete abdication of the role of this Parliament when it comes to having to consider a piece of legislation of this sort.

The honourable member for Berowra reiterated the urgency underlying this legislation. Nothing could be more important at this stage. Here we are calling ourselves an Australian nation and, after 72 years in existence as a Commonwealth, we are still trying to make up our minds about who owns or has jurisdiction over the immediate sea around our coast. Has it something to do with the States or is it owned by the Australian people as a whole through the national Parliament? The honourable member for Moreton spoke of his difficulty in understanding the emotionalism that has crept into the debate on this Bill. I have difficulty following it myself. I thought I was going to have a little light shone on the subject when I heard the honourable member for Berowra talk of dried blood. I thought: Hullo, here it comes. This is something that happened a long time ago - back in May 1970. It was certainly before my entrance into the Parliament. I have only read something about it. But surely before we go on we have to consider what is the reason and the problem preventing this Parliament from reaching agreement on legislation that everybody unanimously agrees is desirable. As I said last night, there would not be a man in this House who would not say that this legislation should become law. However, it is not to become law. What sort of strange quirk, odd situation or procedure have we created in the national Parliament that produces that result?

If honourable members went out into the streets of the towns and cities of Australia and said to the people: 'Do you know what they are talking about down there in the Parliament in Canberra at the moment?' Honourable members would not be believed if they said: 'They are trying to make up their minds whether to pass a law that everyone says should be passed; they are talking as if there is some hidden, secret reason why the legislation cannot be passed at this stage*. That is why I come back to what the honourable member for Berowra said. He seemed to discuss this matter as though they were in club. He would have us believe that there are problems with the States, or with the Premier of Queensland. Reference already has been made today to Mr Bjelke-Petersen and his backwoodsmanlike attitude to that sort of problem. Perhaps those were the sort of problems that the honourable member had in mind. I cannot help but think that they are problems peculiar to the party system of government that has grown up and is part of our tradition. But be that as it may, surely we can do something about this. If the honourable member for Moreton is correct, and he persuaded me; if the honourable member for Berowra is correct and he persuaded me, and when the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) speaks I am sure he will add further weight to the arguments that this legislation has to go through, why can it not go through? The honourable member for Moreton nods his head and I thank him.

Yesterday the honourable member for Berowra said: 'Oh well, the Labor Party in opposition has reactivated the legislation; it has brought the legislation on*. It is our job to do that. We believe that this legislation should become law. Frankly I do not understand why the Government should adopt this course just because this legislation may cause some embarrassment in government ranks because there is a difference of opinion or because of something in club. Are we to act as children or are we to rise above that? Do we simply say: 'All right, with all the feeling that the honourable members for Moreton and Berowra have displayed about the importance and urgency of this legislation are we to act like children and say that we are not going to embarrass someone?' I am not trying to seduce honourable members opposite and ask them to come over here. There is surely a greater principle involved. If this legislation is important and urgent as both honourable members from the other side have said it is, what strange procedural parliamentary system have we created that brings about a result that legislation that everyone wants is not going to be enacted? To mv mind this is bizarre.

If we went out on the streets of the cities of this country and said: 'Do you know that we do not know in Australia in 1972 who has legislative jurisdiction over the immediate waters off the coast of Australia, although nearly every other country with problems similar to ours and other different problems has solved those problems far better than we have and that we still cannot make up our minds', they would laugh at us. They would say that this is what they have always thought of politicians - that they are lazy, hopeless, overpaid, underworked and this sort of thing. They would be right. Yet, having said that, they are quite wrong. Anyone who has participated in or listened to the debate today would see the sense of purpose of both speakers from the Government side. Again I say: What peculiar procedure have we created that can produce this insane result?

I do not want to go into the legal side of this. Of course, I am a lawyer and it is of credit to the legal profession that lawyers have taken up this subject. This was done by the honourable member for Moreton in a very lengthy and fine speech. But obviously wc are faced with a political problem. The nettle has to be grasped; the bullet has to bc bitten- one can use any trite expression that one likes. But here we have a piece of legislation that this Parliament wants to enact. It is a piece of legislation that people would believe was enacted years ago. They would have great difficulty in believing that we have never put this matter at rest. Surely it is time it was put at rest so that we can go on as an Australian nation and play our part in the international conferences on this subject next year and so that we can get rid of the uncertainty posed so eloquently by the honourable member for Moreton in a set of examination questions given to the captains of naval ships. I speak here of the uncertainty that surrounds the Australian coast and the problem that arose with the Van Gogh' in the Gulf of Carpentaria. \ also mention the idea of drawing base lines and the conventions that were adopted in 1958. It is time. I am sorry; I should not have said that because perhaps it is embarrassing in view of a slogan that has been adopted by my Party recently. However, I repeat it. It is time that we grew up and enacted this legislation. It is time we got rid of the uncertainty in this regard.

I was attracted by the argument of the honourable member for Berowra, although I think that it was referred to in passing in an earlier speech made a year or so ago, that if this matter is to be resolved by the High Court - and I accept that it is proper that it should be resolved by the High Court - the only way to do this is to enact this legislation. We cannot seek an advisory opinion from the High Court as can our Canadian brothers. It has to be done in this way. Presumably a lot of thought went into the preparation of this Bill. No-one quibbles with it or argues about it. It poses a problem. It tenders the issue for the other side to join. The High Court will make a decision. From then on we enter into the agreements and this national Parliament will then make a decision. The Commonwealth must be able to negotiate from a position of strength. The Commonwealth would be able to make agreements such as those in regard to the administrative arrangements referred to in previous speeches. Mention has been made of royalties set at a rate of 60 per cent. If we try to carry on negotiations without having asserted sovereignty, we are standing the argument on its head. Anyone with any experience of negotiations or of trying to strike bargains will know that we will get nowhere that way. I am sure that is exactly what the honourable member for Berowra had in mind when he expressed cynicism or certainly lack of optimism about the results of trying to reach agreement with people when we have nothing to assert publicly and say: 'Look, we are the national Parliament; this is the Commonwealth of Australia. It is right and proper that these seas should be subject to the control of the national Parliament and :he people of Australia through their representatives here'. This should not be done through a system of government that was deemed appropriate in 1900.

I come back to the problems referred to by the honourable member for Moreton - the new colonialism, the mineral wealth of the seas, the rising population of he world, the struggles and the conflicts that obviously we will have to face and resolve in our wisdom, or lack of it, in the years to come. Who is to talk for Australia? Will the Queensland Government talk for the whole of Australia? Will that State make decisions that will bind or influence Victorians? Will Queenslanders make decisions which will influence Tasmanians? That cannot be the way forward. Really what it boils down to is that it is not so much a matter of law, although the debate has been contributed to greatly by lawyers, as a matter of politics and political leadership.

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