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Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1290

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - This matter has aroused a good deal of fire at times from some honourable members. Because one has a command of English and one's oratory is regarded by some people as being pleasant to listen to, this does not mean that there is unlimited logic in it. The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) has been talking on this subject for quite a considerable time. I doubt whether in the whole of that period any people who have heard him have been convinced by his arguments. I certainly have not met any of them. If his contentions are so irrefutable and so logical, and if they are so perfect in their concept, it is rather a wonder that more people have not been converted to his point of view. I recognise that the honourable member has every right as has every member of this House to voice his opinion. I do not deny that right at all. But, at the same time, for any member of this House to rise and to suggest that because he has a particular view other views are not. acceptable, are not reasonable and that no basis exists for them is something that I certainly cannot accept. I will not use the words that I would like to use to describe that sort of approach.

The debate on the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill 1973 (No. 2) does emphasise the problems of federal government in Australia. But that does not mean that the only alternative is the acceptance of a government that is so centralised in outlook that it is determined to try to undermine all of the authority and functions of our State governments. I think that very few people who have taken any interest in the operations of the present Federal Gov.ernment have any doubts about its approach to State governments generally. This legislation gives the Government another opportunity to further that cause. The legislation certainly is not the only matter that it is going to use, but this matter does fall into that category.

I believe that the question under consideration at the moment is one that should be resolved. I do not argue that it should not be resolved. I would like to see it resolved by consultation with the States. I think it could be. One of the main factors preventing a greater degree of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth has been the very justifiable fear of the less populous States of the domination of the Federal Government. They feel that if they give away any of the rights that they have to the Federal Government this would be another step towards centralisation. Whatever reservations the Government of my own State of Queensland had previously - quite obviously it did - those reservations certainly have increased enormously since the present Labor Government has been in office. This change has been fully justified by many of the actions that the Federal Government has taken. The latest is the action of the Federal Government to refute the agreement made with the State governments of Queensland and New South Wales with regard to Pikes Creek dam. I quote that only as an example of the sort of thing that is happening. Can we expect a State government to have any confidence in this Federal Government if it will not honour an agreement that was undertaken by the previous Federal Government? If the Federal Government will not do that, what confidence can the States have that the Federal Government will co-operate with them to the benefit of the community generally? I have cited the Pikes Creek dam project as an example.

I repeat - and I accept completely - that a need exists for a clarification of sovereignty with respect to the matter under debate now. While there have been long negotiations - I concede that those negotiations cannot go on indefinitely - I do believe that the consultations should be continued. Probably there is a recognition by the States that those consultations cannot continue indefinitely. The States would be - and I feel should be - prepared to try to co-operate to achieve that goal of agreement.

The problem that confronts the States is that they must try to promote the general development of Australia. Faced with the problem of trying to promote their own ideas against the views of a population which is so centralised in the south-eastern portion of the nation, the States must naturally be most careful not to give away any of the powers that they hold that affect the promotion of their welfare. It is essential that there be cooperation between the States and the Commonwealth. That is the line that we in the Country Party have continued to take. I do not believe that because some difficulty has been experienced in arriving at a decision we should suddenly say that that is the end of the matter and that there can be no further consultation between the States and the Commonwealth.

I believe that if a reasonable proposition is put forward the States will consult with the Commonwealth. After all, the State governments represent the same people as we represent. Why would the State governments wish to hold these powers if there was no justification for it? Honourable members can talk about party lines. What is the attitude of the Western Australian Government on this question? What was its attitude at the Labor Party convention? The Western Australian Government was most reluctant and in fact was not prepared to hand over the powers to the Commonwealth as it was requested to do.

Mr Maisey - They were not prepared to do that under any circumstances.

Mr CORBETT - As my friend the honourable member for Moore (Mr Maisey) says, the Western Australian Government was not prepared to hand the powers over under any circumstances.

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - That does not make it right.

Mr CORBETT - It does not make it right and it does not make it wrong. The honourable member for Diamond Valley has adopted the attitude that because he holds a view it must be right, or because the Commonwealth holds a view it must be right and because the State holds a view it must be wrong. If that is the attitude of the honourable member all I can say is that it is a biased attitude and does not cut any ice with me at all.

The dissension between the Commonwealth and the States has continued longer than I believe any member of this Parliament would have liked to have seen it continued. Members on either side of the House could make some concessions to try to resolve this very difficult problem. Several problems are associated with my own State of Queensland. One of the things for which I gave the Premier of Queensland great credit was his determination to see that the Torres Strait Islands were not to be taken from the Queensland Government and handed to New Guinea. Will any honourable member on the Government side contend that the Commonwealth was not pre pared to alter the boundary of that State? We heard a good deal from the honourable member for Moreton about who can and who cannot alter boundaries. I suggest to him that he looks at the negotiations which took place with the people of the Torres Strait Islands. If one thing clearly came out of those negotiations it was that the Premier and the Government of Queensland were prepared to defend the rights of the people in those islands to remain a part of my own great State of Queensland. That is the clear cut position. It is another one of the things which makes the Queensland Government consider very seriously any further negotiations with the Commonwealth.

Mr Jacobi - What about New Guinea?

Mr CORBETT - If the honourable member wishes to promote the interests of New Guinea against the interests of Queensland that is his business; it is not my attitude. We heard a good deal tonight about how good the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and the honourable member for Moreton were. I think the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) made those observations. What did the honourable member for Blaxland and the Labor Party say in general about the attitude of those members? Do they agree with their general attitudes? If the honourable members are so accurate in their assessment of all matters I hope the Government will take notice of their attitudes towards many of the political problems of the day, or will the Government select only the attitudes which happen to agree with its own opinion?

There is one other matter I should like to mention. Before concluding my speech I thank the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), who is at the table, for the courtesy he showed in allowing me to talk beyond the time to which he had intended to allow this debate to continue. I wish to comment with regard to the problem of the exploitation of the mineral wealth that is contained in the continental shelf. I will quote what was said by the Minister when introducing this Bill. Anyone who has had a close association with the mining and oil industries will know how much they feel that the Government has or has not helped them. Never has the exploration for oil been dimmed as much as it has under this Government; never has the mining industry been more depressed than it is at present. Yet the Minister said:

I would now like to touch briefly on some financial aspects of this Bill and its associated royalty Bill. It is our aim to encourage, under Commonwealth control, off-shore minerals exploration and exploitation. We realise that these are costly operations and therefore intend to keep fees for such activities at a reasonably low level.

Honourable members should consider how the Government has treated those industries. No wonder the States are concerned about what would happen with the exploration and exploitation of minerals in view of the words of the Minister and after the States have considered the actions that have been taken by the Labor Government. I am certainly opposed to the Bill and I support the attitude of the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), the Deputy Leader of the Country Party, in his remarks on this Bill.




Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

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