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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 642

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Housing) - by leave - On 24th February 1973, accompanied by members of my staff and members of the Commonwealth Department of Housing and of the Treasury, I met with the Hon. V. O. Dickie, M.L.C., Minister of Housing in the Victorian Government and his officers, to discuss matters associated with the proposed Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement which, it is intended, should take effect from 1st July 1973. These discussions were regarded as private. No representatives of the Press were in attendance and, at the conclusion of the meeting, the Minister and I agreed that no Press statements or comment should be issued.

I have been concerned to note from the Hansard of the Victorian Legislative Council of 7th March, that a question was asked by the Hon. J. M. Tripovich of the Minister of Housing, the Hon. V. O. Dickie, M.L.C., regarding the nature of the negotiations and requesting that the Minister lay on the table of the Library, the proposals of the Federal Minister for Housing and other comments and documents applicable to discussions which ensued between the Ministers. In reply to the question, Mr Dickie said in part:

I can table the documents only with the approval of the Federal Minister for Housing. The documents relate to a ministerial discussion.

It will be agreed that the import of the Minister's reply is to the effect that only my approval for the tabling of the documents remains as a deterrent to that being done.

I believe it is important that such negotiations which represent a frank exchange of attitudes and ideas should be conducted in a confidential manner and at no time have I taken any course which conflicts with this attitude. However, I want it clearly understood that I have nothing to hide, nor has the Commonwealth. Accordingly, I have been in telephone conversation with Mr Dickie today and have told him of my preparedness to exchange the summary of our discussions, as prepared by our respective advisers, if he wishes. Mr Dickie has now informed me that he regards it as desirable that the summaries should remain confidential and that he intends next Tuesday in the Victorian Legislative Council to retract his statement to the Council of 7th March. Despite my declared willingness to table the summaries as requested, I believe that the negotiations may possibly be prejudiced by such action.

Accordingly, it is my intention to preserve the confidentiality of these documents, unless approval for their release is given by Mr Dickie. The question as to whether or not all documents relating to the negotiations should be made public can be further considered at the formal meeting between myself and the State Ministers, scheduled to take place in Canberra on 23rd March. As honourable members are aware, it is the policy of the Australian Government to pursue the ideal of open government. In keeping with this objective, I would be prepared to table any documents associated with the negotiations, provided such a course had the acquiesence of the State Ministers concerned.

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