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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1104

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - Mr President,the whole approach of the Australian Democratic Labor Party to this matter has been one of complete objectivity. We wish to show no preference to either of the participants in this commercial battle. For this reason and activated by what we think is genuine national public concern and the public interest, we thought that this matter should come under not merely the scrutiny of the Government but the scrutiny of the Parliament itself. There being an appropriate body, in the form of one of the standing committees of this chamber, ready to receive such a reference and equipped administratively and in terms of its personnel, we thought that this reference should be made to that committee, namely, the Senate Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade.

The terms in which the motion has been couched indicate and, I think, reflect substantially this objectivity. Senator Murphy has propounded a series of amendments. We ourselves were disposed, in pursuance of this attempt not only to be but also to reassure the society that we are totally objective in our approach, to make, by leave, a small amendment to Senator Gair's motion in respect of sub-paragraph (a), lt would read:

The ascertainment of the degree of nonAustralian ownership whether direct or indirect of the Issued share capital of Ansett Transport Industries.

At a later stage Senator Gair will ask for leave to insert those additional words, which means that the extent of nonAustralian equity capital in Ansett Transport Industries would come under equal scrutiny with that of Thomas Nationwide Transport. That again would reflect the objectivity we would hope for in discussion, approach and reference. So' far as Senator Murphy's proposals are concerned, we adopt that part of his sub-paragraph (a) which refers to the financial structure of Ansett Transport Industries.

The PRESIDENT - You do not .adopt it. You are indicating your acceptance:

Senator BYRNE -Yes. Mr President. Senator Gairwill be prepared to ask for leave, if necessary, to amend his original motion to insert at the point I have indicated the words I have detailed. Our motion will then incorporate the idea embraced in Senator Murphy's subparagraph (a), that the reference should include investigation of Ansett Transport Industries in relation to its component of foreign equity capital. But we do not see any point in adopting the whole of sub-paragraph (a) because we feel that it is substantially embraced within paragraph 1 and other paragraphs of our original motion.

Senator Murphyin sub paragraph (b) refers to advantages or disadvantages to the public, and so on. We consider that our sub-paragraph (b) completely embraces that proposition. It refers to whether the exercise, if successful, might be prejudicial to the aviation industry, and what, if anything, might be done to minimise the prejudicial effects. We cannot see that Senator Murphy's proposition advances beyond- the point in our motion. We do not see that it adds or subtracts anything from our proposal and therefore we see no reason to substitute Senator Murphy's sub-paragraph

(b)   for our sub-paragraph (c).

Senator Murphy'ssub paragraph: (c) is in substantially the same terms as, if not in terms identical to, our sub-paragraph

(c)   . Sub-paragraph (d) refers to the manner of the proposed takeover. This again is substantially mentioned in our subparagraph (a), in which reference is .made to the ascertainment df the degree of nonAustralian ownership, whether direct or indirect, of the issued share capital, of Thomas Nationwide Transport and the financial participation of non-Australian financial interests in the attempted takeover operation. We again feel that that area of reference is sufficiently wide, to embrace the element of concern which is felt by the Opposition and expressed in the more specific proposal embodied in Senator Murphy's sub-paragraph (d), and perhaps (c). Therefore we do not feel there is anything which would add substantially to our proposal, beyond the insertion of the reference to the non-Australian component of the issued share capital of Ansett Transport Industries.

The next matter relates to television. We specifically drew (d) in the terms which honourable senators will read, having consulted the statute. We drew it in very precise terms and in a very mild manner so that in no sense could Parliament have been construed as in some authoritarian way attempting to stand over the Minister in the exercise of his discretion, but merely adding the weight of his considered opinion after investigation which might assist the Minister when he comes to the exercise of his ministerial discretion. In those circumstances it is a matter of very great moment. We therefore feel that because our sub-paragraph (d) is precise in terms of the statute and mild, we should not abandon it in favour of the proposal of Senator Murphy.

In respect of paragraph 2 of Senator Murphy's proposed amendment, Senator Gair indicated by interjection that the proposal it contains would normally flow from the deliberations of the Committee, no doubt as part of its investigation. In the course of examining the operative and available law and administrative procedures, suggestions would be made and I see no reason why there should be a specification of something which is normal, natural and will flow almost inevitably from the deliberations undertaken before the Committee reaches its decision. Therefore we do not find ourselves able to embrace paragraph 2 of Senator Murphy's proposed amendment.

We do see that Senator Murphy's paragraph 7, a machinery proposition, is a salutary provision, perhaps completely necessary. It reads:

The foregoing provisions of this resolution shall have effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the Standing Orders or in any previous resolution of the Senate.

As an abundance of caution that suggestion might be included and at the appropriate time Senator Gair would ask for leave to incorporate it in his own initial motion. The attitude of the Democratic Labor Party is that we would seek leave to make first a textual amendment so that the reference to Ansett Transport Industries would be included in sub-paragraph (a) of our proposal. At the appropriate place we would add paragraph 7 of Senator Murphy's proposal. Other considerations might be canvassed in a more ompendious motion, but the main object is to draw national attention and to express through Parliament national concern about this matter.

I think the terms of our original motion are sufficiently embracing, comprehensive and adequate to enable this to be done. To try to specify in too much detail might destroy the whole purpose and perhaps the chance of success of the undertaking. I am concerned at Senator Turnbull's observation because the Senate has expressed its concern on the question of foreign participation in the ownership of Australian resources and industry as has been said in the reference to a select committee of the Senate. That being so, it would seem to be a contradiction of the expressed will of the Senate if now, when there is a specific motion to invoke the scrutiny of the Senate, we should say: 'No, it is sufficient for the Government to scrutinise it'. The Senate has in the general field expressed its desire that the whole matter should receive the attention of the Parliament.

Senator Murphy'sparagraph 7 rather highlights the fact that this is a matter of concern to the Senate. A general reference has been made by the Senate to one of its select committees and it seems most appropriate and completely logical that this specific reference in a more limited field should similarly find ils home within a Senate committee. I particularly do not feel in any sense that the Parliament is trespassing in any way, if 'trespassing' is at all the right word, on the powers or authority of the Executive Government. It seems to me not only a right of the Senate but a duty to refer this matter to a standing committee.

I was also intrigued by Senator Turnbull's confidence in leaving this matter in the hands of the Government because, as I understood him, he indicated that the Government is sympathetic to the Ansett complex. Therefore he is prepared to leave the decision on this matter to a government which he indicates is partisan in its approach.

Senator Cotton - That was a quite incorrect observation.

Senator BYRNE - Quite incorrect, but that would be the senator's disposition. That being his disposition, it seems to me that it would be much more logical for him to say we have the warrant as a Parliament to look at this matter, and not with the partisanship of the Government which he alleges and I do not acknowledge towards Ansett Transport Industries. For those reasons the Democratic Labor Party will take a stand on Senator Murphy's proposal in the terms and manner I have indicated.

I wish to make one more observation to the Minister. A very severe time limit has been laid upon the Committee in which to present its report. In the meantime, no doubt, there will be great activity at the commercial level and in inter-company manoeuvres. Obviously the Government therefore will be called upon - perhaps quickly - to exercise discretions, to issue permits, to transfer authorities or, in some way, to translate or sign contracts. We do not think that the Government should proceed to do such things - unless there is an inevitability about the situation and it is impossible for the Government to do otherwise - while the Committee is deliberating and before the Committee has brought in its report. I do not think that there should be any precipitate action by the Government. Such a proposition could not be embodied in the motion. It is also not a matter to which the Committee could give its mind or attention. But I do feel that the Minister should be invited to indicate whether he will await the deliberations and the decisions of the Committee before he issues the necessary transfer licences or permits or in any way assists, as the Government will be required to assist, the execution of this manoeuvre and the finalisation of the ownership of the company concerned. It is for those reasons that the Democratic Labor Party has taken the stand I have indicated on the proposed amendments. My Party adheres substantially to its motion and it will seek leave at an appropriate time to make the textual amendments to which I have drawn attention.

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