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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2450

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - by leave- I somewhat deplore the attempt to make a political issue out of a project which I think we all desire to do the best it can to provide another means of livelihood for an unfortunate section of the community which has had one means of livelihood taken away from it. Yesterday I tried to give a full and truthful answer to every question asked of me. If there was anything in my answers which suggested that the use of the word dismissed' connoted some guilt of misdemeanours, I apologise for having given that impression. I think it was possibly the proper use of the word that was intended, and I verified my intention by saying that the Board would be restructured. I have not anywhere condemned the action of Senator Georges in the dismissal of Dr Bustard. No one can point to anywhere where I have condemned the action of dismissal. I condemned the timing of the dismissal because I knew full well that the whole Board would be dismissed. I wished to stop the misinterpretations of the newspapers and to keep the matter out of the newspapers.

I attended a Board meeting the week before last and made a plea that nothing be done until the Cabinet had made its decision whether Applied Ecology Pty Ltd and the turtle farming venture could not continue in their present forms- the public ridicule was so bad that it would be politically dangerous to continue them as they were. The Government had received 2 reports. If it acted on neither, it would have to discontinue the project, and there was no need for this dispute. If the Government acted on the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Environment and Conservation, chaired by Dr Jenkins, the project would become a conservation project and would become the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass), and I would not be responsible for it. If the Government adopted the Carr report the whole Board would have to be restructured so that it consisted predominantly of scientists rather than nonscientists. As a result, I asked that nothing be done until the Government had made a decision. That was my only request.

The 2 departmental directors on the Board refused to vote because they were carrying out the wish of the Minister. That was their excuse for not voting. I have seen most of the minutes of meetings of Applied Ecology Pty Ltd. I have not seen the minutes of the last meeting at which I believe charges were made and at which the decision was made to answer those charges. There is no condemnation of the action of the directors; I am condemning only their timing. If they have proof of some mismanagement or some wrongdoing on the part of Dr Bustard, I agree that he should have been dismissed. All that I am saying is that the Board of the company has to be reconstructed in accordance with the Government's decision. Three of the members on the Board at the present time meet the qualifications necessary for membership on the new reconstructed Board. Two of the present Board members represent only one interest, and the qualifications necessary for membership on the reconstructed Board include that members shall represent only one interest. Only two of the remaining members will be permitted on the Board for this reason.

I have been asked to reconsider the action taken in the light of the motion moved by Senator Byrne. I supported the motion calling for a full inquiry into the matter to show that I have nothing to hide. I think this is an unfortunate move because it is simply trying to smear a person connected with this company at a time so long ago that a Labor Minister was not even responsible for this matter. Such an inquiry would reveal many things which are not directed at the Labor Party because most of the things connected with the turtle farm happened before last December. But if the inquiry shows that there has been mismanagement or incorrect spending by Dr Bustard or anyone else, it does not alter the fact that we are trying to continue our policy of obtaining the best possible world expert advice. Unless we do so we can never justify the continuation of the turtle farm project and the continued employment of 120 farmers on the Torres Strait Islands at the present time.

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