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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2279

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I rise simply to highlight the inadequacy of the Minister's explanation.

Senator Poyser - You will not get anything more.

Senator GREENWOOD - I do not doubt that the Minister personally cannot take the matter any further. We have the clown sitting behind him coming in with his usual type of interjection. That does not help the matter, either. The real points that have to be made here are that, firstly, the statement was highlighted in Australia as a statement made by Dr Cairns in Singapore. Secondly, the statement was highlighted in Australia because of the import of what was involved in that statement of the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns). If the statement is made that Parliament will be by-passed so that there will not be a waste of time involved in taking the legislation through the Senate, that is a matter of some concern. Thirdly, I think that when such a statement is made by Dr Cairns, who has a long record of indicating that Parliament is only one of the places in which power may be exercised it is a frightening apprehension that any one concerned with the future of this country will have as to whether or not Dr Cairns has something else in mind. Fourthly, although the statement received publicity at the time there was no denial by Dr Cairns or anybody in the Government on his behalf. I raised this question during the hearing of the Estimates Committee approximately a month ago. The matter was taken by the Minister to Dr Cairns. The Minister said he would seek information from Dr Cairns. In due course he was able to provide a reply to the Chairman of the Committee. That reply was passed on to me. So the matter must have come to the attention of Dr Cairns. The letter which the Committee received does not have any suggestion that the statement made was untrue. It was signed by Senator Wriedt and addressed to Senator Primmer as Chairman of the Committee. It states:

During the Committee's consideration ofthe estimates of the Department of Overseas Trade, Senator Greenwood raised matters relating to the establishment of an Australian Overseas Trading Corporation.

The situation is that on 7 August 1974 Dr Cairns made a Press statement about the creation of an Australian Overseas Trading Corporation. Copies of this statement are enclosed.

Before continuing with the letter I simply interpolate that in the statement which is made one finds no reference as to how this Corporation is to be set up except that it is intended that it will be operating before the end of the year; that is before the end of 1 974. We are now getting pretty close to the end ofthe year. The letter continues:

An interdepartmental committee has almost finalised a detailed outline of legislation for the establishment of the Corporation. As stated by Dr Cairns, in response to a query in Singapore, no definite decision has been made to depart from the proposed introduction of legislation.

However, given the attitude of the Opposition parties to many important Government legislative initiatives it is only natural that Dr Cairns and the Attorney-General, Senator Murphy, would study alternatives to the passage of legislation through Parliament should this contingency be required.

In the light of what was said by Dr Cairns as reported by Mr Richardson in Singapore, there is one aspect which ought not be ignored because the report in the newspaper, referring to Dr Cairns, states:

He said the proposal to invoke the Federal trade power and use the provisions of the Companies Act in the Australian Capital Territory in order to found the corporation and have it in operation by next year was not yet a definite decision. 'But it's pretty close to it,' he added.

My concern is to ascertain whether at this time the Government is prepared to state whether the proposed corporation will be set up by legislation or by this underhand means of bypassing Parliament. I suggest to the Minister for Agriculture that he is not giving a response adequate to his knowledge as disclosed by this letter or adequate in the light of the fact that Dr Cairns must have adverted to this matter, simply to say that there is no confirmation of the Press report. The letter acknowledges that a query was made to Dr Cairms in Singapore and that he responded to that query. He said that no definite decision had been made to depart from the proposed introduction of legislation. I suppose that is consistent with what was reported in the newspaper. But Dr Cairns also said that he was pretty close to the stage when a decision would be made, in fact, to depart from the legislation. Then we have this curious final paragraph that because the Opposition has proved difficult for the Government there is no wonder that people are studying other methods.

Is the parliamentary process such an impediment to an authoritarian government that it must seek to bypass the Senate in some way? That is the true style of the dictator. Time and again we have seen in this chamber an attitude that if the Opposition does not agree with a proposal which the Government is putting forward then, simply because of that disagreement, the Opposition must be wrong. I have always suspected that there can be no such thing as democratic socialism because the essence of socialism is that one can have a plan which must not be altered. But once we concede democracy then socialist plans can be altered and we have the worst of all worlds. What I am saying is that in these circumstances there is a desire to follow the traditional authoritarian path. In the light of what is in the letter and in the light of what the Minister conceded in what he wrote to the Chairman of the Committee I ask him whether he is still prepared to say that there is no confirmation of what Dr Cairns said in Singapore. That seems to me to be a way out which convinces nobody and only heightens the suspicion of what is going on.

Proposed expenditure passed.

Proposed expenditure- Department of Minerals and Energy, $44,181,000; Department of the Treasury, $132,627,000; Advance to the Treasurer, $75m; Department of Northern Development, $2,547,000; Department of the Northern Territory, $36,213,000; and Department of Manufacturing Industry, $162,293,000- passed.

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